Buddhism and permaculture philosophy have unique contributions to the idea of what "community" means. According to Buddhism, every sentient being has buddha nature, which means that every human and animal being has as its fundamental nature, enlightened awareness. From this perspective, our problems, our neuroses and conflicts arise not out of what we fundamentally are (good or bad, holy or evil), but out of our recognition or ignorance of what we truly are. Like a jewel covered in dirt that need only be cleaned, our enlightened awareness is constantly trying to sparkle through every kind, mean or indifferent thing we do.
What does this mean for our communities? First of all, it eliminates any essentialization of our identity: we can no longer make absolute statements about who is "good" or "bad." People may do things that hurt themselves or others, help themselves or others, but these actions are just helpful or hurtful acts. Interestingly, this perspective seems to free us up creatively on a couple of levels. On the one hand, it allows us to avoid all of the guilty self-flaggelation or condemnation that we do to ourselves and others. What is left is a more spacious sense of inquiry that allows us to look more closely at what is really out of harmony between our ideals and our behavior. When we are busy feeling bad and condemning ourselves, there never seems to be time or the desire to look very closely at what is not working in our lives or our relationships because looking closer seems to bring more condemnation and bad feelings. When we begin to connect with our fundamental nature which is clear, spacious and uncontrived nobility, we are able to short-circuit the guilt that stops us from examining and inquiring into our blind spots.
Another contribution this makes to our communities is that this notion of buddha nature automatically gives value to every human being and creature. If buddha nature is the most cherished wonder in the universe and everyone has it as their fundamental state, heirarchies no longer define our value in this world. This is also the view of permaculture philosophy; from this perspective, the problems that communities face are problems that communities can solve. From a perspective of intrinsic wholeness, we need only get together and share our concerns with total mutual respect and a desire to discover each person or creature's unique contribution to the collective.
Professor John McKnight writes in his book The Careless Society that our communities are in crisis now because of our dependence on the professionalized service economy. Communities are constantly being manufactured into "problems," and people within the communities are being defined by "what they lack" in order to fuel the machine of the service industry. But McKnight proposes a way out of this dilemma, and the way out is the vision of wholeness described above. When communities start to acknowledge that they understand the problems they face better than any outsider, when communities begin to creatively collaborate in order to discover their visible and hidden capacities and wisdom, then we will begin to dynamically rebuild our world. Dynamically, because as "insiders," we must continue to collaborate. We must continue to find new and unprecedented ways to discover our capacities and our wealth so that we can constantly pursue the point of harmony within our ever-shifting challenges instead of relying on "outsider professionals" to come in to merely "fix" the symptoms of our problems again and again.