A complete stranger recently asked me what TRIBE I was from. For days I remained fascinated by the question. My TRIBE? Usually the word refers to a group harmonized in certain ways, bound by certain commonalities: a common journey, common circumstances, common language, common calendar, common beliefs, common needs, common interests, common boundaries, common laws, common goals and often by common enemies.

Families are a certain kind of tribe. Groups of friends or co-workers are another kind of tribe. Spiritual communities and religious groups must also count as tribes, as do people belonging to the same race, the same country, state or territory or perhaps the same school, project or team. But these are all microcosms of varying sizes within larger macro-tribes.

The prefix tri is Sanskrit for the number three, so etymologically and structurally the word ‘tribe’ means something along the lines of ‘to be three’ … Tri-Be. Given the importance of the trinity in the ancient India, hundreds and hundreds of Sanskrit words contain the prefix tri. The word most resembling ‘tribe’ in the Sanskrit language is actually tribha, meaning three zodiac signs that form one season or quadrant of the year, or 3 x 30 degrees of a circle). Tribhuj means ‘three-fold’ and tribhuja means ‘triangle’ or ‘triply born’.

The equilateral triangle is the first 2-dimensional shape born within the circle. It seems to me that this triangle within the circle is an archetypal tribe, a first tribe of sorts – three points of the same circumference, 120 degrees apart, emanating from and bound to the same seed/source and bound to the same laws – three who share one heart and one field or journey. No matter what essential tribe or trinity we wish to acknowledge, whether it be father, mother, and child; or past, present, and future; or the Indian trigunas: rajas, sattva and tamas (i.e. creation, preservation and dissolution) it is good to recall that each member, or each element of the group, holds its own perfect place within the circular or spherical whole. Sri Aurobindo writes of the ‘three powers of the eternal manifestation’:

'While the Divine is One, it is also manifold... It is at once Transcendental, Cosmic and Individual. By knowing the eternal unity of these three powers of the eternal manifestation, God, the Cosmos and the Individual self, and their intimate necessity to each other, we come to understand existence itself.' -- A Synthesis of Yoga

[Image from The Gnostic Circle]

Perhaps if more micro-tribes were aware of this essential Tri-Being, this triadic structure of our shared existence, harmony between men would not be so hard to come by. In our day and age the universal and eternal A-U-M, hum or tone of the Tri-Being is apparently a hard tune to summon in the depths of one’s heart/being. It is as if most have forgotten to even long for such a grand ‘Tribe’, for such a harmonizing tone, for such a unity among all our parts.

Harmony certainly has not been the outcome of sciences that examine the material creation with no realization of spirit, or the outcome of religions that recognize something of the spirit (such as the Divine Father or Absolute) but consider the cosmic and individual aspects of existence to be a temporal illusion to be transcended or escaped.

Indians, especially those in tune with India’s Vedic heritage, seem to be the Earthly tribe most aware of themselves and others as individual Tri-beings, representatives of a larger universal Tri-being. The idea of a tri-fold unity in which spirit and matter and all individual beings (or forms) are One – the Many who are eternally One – seems better understood on the Indian subcontinent than elsewhere. The entire population hums along, consciously or unconsciously, to the primordial triadic tone of AUM.

Yet many Indians and most of the world’s religions or spiritual philosophies have given up on the idea that matter/material creation is in itself the divine in motion – have given up on the idea that the Divine Mother or Divine Maya is in profound, constant, visible harmony with the Divine Spirit (God the Father). As a result the absolute and the relative (the source/point and the circumference/material and temporal circumstance) are not recognized as equally divine. Perhaps if this situation, this view, were corrected and the true relationship between the temporal and the eternal were seen, the Earth tribe could settle into its common divine ground, its common divine substance, its common divine journey in time, its common divine language and its common divine goals rather than continuing to crave transcendence or heaven or a nirvanic dissolution of the evolving soul into a timeless and formless void.

So … my Tribe? I certainly belong to a smattering of micro-tribes. But to me the question itself is strange, something akin to: ‘Who do you identify with at the expense of others and at the expense of embracing a wider vision of your Self and World?’ Why cling to the smaller frames of one’s Self? Why limit one’s being to small ideas, small goals and to fragmentary, isolated bands of existence?

Why not recognize the whole of existence as one’s community? Why not place oneself within an all-inclusive sacred design (sacred body) that lives and breathes and moves, ALL together, in time and space? Why not strive to be a universal being, to learn what one truly has in common with all others? Perhaps it is a steep challenge. Maybe the thought of betraying or loosing one’s old tribal connections, bonds, belief systems and such is just too overwhelming, too frightening. But how could any progress towards recognizing and reuniting with one’s universal Tribe not be worth whatever struggles arise along the way?


  1. Great post Lori. I love the concept of a Universal Tribe. When I first started reading your thoughts here on commonly accepted concepts of 'tribe,' the thought that clearly came through me was that I am of the "people": tribe or "earth" tribe. There was nothing nationalistic or race based in my self-conception of tribe, although there is a little that connects to my father's Ashkanaz tribe roots. After spending many months in India, I feel much more globally connected than I had been feeling prior to traveling.

    Your concept of taking that to a Universal level is intriguing, although at first blush, if we are all part of the same Universal tribe, then doesn't that defeat the concept of tribe, which is a way of grouping? Is that what Tribe is, a way to group and separate, or is it simply a form of collective identification with no need for differentiation? I do like the concept and will likely stew over it some more. Haile Saraswati!

  2. Thanks for the comment Ted. Am glad you are reading along and engaging with this newbie blog.

    After re-reading my post I did wonder if I made it sound like I am anti-tribe (anti-micro-tribe). My thought is more that individuals and tribes (i.e. differentiated beings or groups) have their place within the whole ... that they form the body of the whole. Think of the solar system ... each planet is an individual being with its own particular combination of elements and characteristics, but they all orbit around the same Sun. They all travel the same 360 degree path. The planets are differentiated beings but have a common source/sustaining force and a common field. They are part of the same being, the same living whole.

    It seems to me that the earliest conception of 'tribe' concerned the zodiac and various divisions of the 360 degree circle. In Vedic India, 'tribha' apparently described a 'tribe' of three signs of the zodiac ... four such 'tribha' formed a whole - the four seasons forming the whole year. Thousands of years later the '12 Tribes of Israel' are mentioned repeatedly in the Bible; and in our day and age many recognize that the '12 Tribes' are the 12 signs of the Zodiac. 'The Lion of the Tribe of Juda' for instance is known as the sign of Leo.

    Tribes in these two cases were used to describe/communicate a CIRCUMSOLAR COMMUNITY - a community of four seasons that join to form the Earth's yearly journey around the Sun, and a community of twelve signs or months that also join to form the Earth's yearly journey around the Sun.

    I suppose what I am getting at is that all tribes are different strata or arcs of the same circle/whole and if these tribes are not aware of their common Self evolving together in time ... not aware of their true relationSHIP, then a truly conscious harmony between them is impossible.

    The order and the harmony of the Whole already exists, whether we are concious of it or not. Perhaps it is our collective yoga at this point in our collective evolutionary journey, to dissolve certain structures that obscure the inherent order and harmony of our Wholenss. One result of success would be that individuation/differentiation would no longer be seen as a mortal sin or an illusion or as a cause of perpetual suffering; but rather as an essential element of the Divine expression ... a sacred expression within a sacred design.

  3. Thanks Lori. that makes a lot of sense to me. keep writing....

  4. Love the mention of the three gunas. In physics there are same forces recognized, creation, destruction, and maintenance forces. We tend to live in a binary mindset, perpetuated by a culture more comfortable with clear dineations - black and white, not gray. Gender conformity is a ubiquitous example of this. Read my web page on this and notice how it makes you feel. It is about my own exorations out of the binary and into the triad


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