“There is no ‘I’ existing as some substantial thing; there is only the ceaseless flow. This is true not only of me, but of all things.” — Kosho Uchiyama, “Opening the Hand of Thought”

Listening to so much Bob Marley over the past few days has renewed my interest in the philosophy, faith and beliefs of the Rastafarians.  As someone perpetually interested in what goes on in the world and why, the Rastafari movement was one that I found interesting as soon as I came into contact with it many many years ago. 

The Rastafari movement is not called “Rastafarianism”. The “ism” is somewhat offensive for quite a few reasons, mostly to do with Babylon things.

They especially reject the word “Rastafarianism”, because they see themselves as “having transcended -isms and schisms.” This has created conflict between some Rastas and some members of the academic community studying Rastafari, who insist on calling this faith “Rastafarianism” in spite of the disapproval this generates within the Rastafari movement. Nevertheless, the practice continues among scholars, though there are also instances of the study of Rastafari using its own terms.

from Rastafari movement

There is a well developed religious philosophy and several major sects within Rastafari. For a brief time there was a Black Supremacy aspect to some of the Rastafari philosophy. This tended to coincide with civil rights issues in other places at the time. However after a speech in 1963 by Haile Selassie Emperor of Ethiopia (who is considered to be the second coming of the Christ by the Rastafarians) at the United Nations in which he said:

“That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil….

We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community.”

much of the issue was reoriented away from dominance thinking back to a more egalitarian viewpoint.

I won’t go into all of that but one thing that really strikes me, as a Buddhist, is the concept behind Iyaric or particular vocabulary used in Rastafari.

I&I (or I and I or InI)

From Rasta-ites Question and Answer

I&I signifies I&I unity with JAH the Most High. As in I and I God, it is also used to signify I&I Rastafari bredren and sistren, also signifying I&I unity with the Most I. So it can mean I or we or even you, although now more I’s would say “the I” for you.

The dictionary definition below is from the Rasta Patois Dictionary

“I and I, I&I:
I, me, you and me, we (1)Rastafari speech eliminates you, me we, they, etc., as divisive and replaces same with communal I and I.  I and I embraces the congregation in unity with the  Most I (high) in an endless circle of inity (unity).”

From Rastafarian vocabulary

I replaces “me”, which is much more commonly used in Jamaican English than in the more conventional forms. Me is felt to turn the person into an object whereas I emphasises the subjectivity of an individual.

I and I is a complex term, referring to the oneness of Jah (God) and every human. Rastafari scholar E. E. Cashmore: “I and I is an expression to totalize the concept of oneness, the oneness of two persons. So God is within all of us and we’re one people in fact. The bond of Ras Tafari is the bond of God, of man. But man itself needs a head and the head of man is His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I (always pronounced as the letter ‘I,’ never as the number one or ‘the first’) of Ethiopia.” The term is often used in place of “you and I” or “we” among Rastafari, implying that both persons are united under the love of Jah.

The recognition of the oneness and unity of people, people with their god concept and people as equal expressions of a god or as maintaining a “sameness within difference” has appeared in many religions. Hinduism is the example that first comes to mind.

Within monotheistic traditions one might mark the differences between the god concept as either “transcendent” or “immanent”. Transcendent gods are differentiated from people and unreachable. Immanent gods dwell within or can be reached by human beings. Sufism, gnostic traditions within Christianity and Judaism all have the element of the immanent which sets them apart from the mainstream which views a god as something “other” or “out there” somewhere.

With traditions that don’t maintain such god concepts there is still this sense of unity. Buddhism exhibits that.

The I&I expression strikes me as quite similar to a lot of Buddhist concepts.

Interdependence (another I word) in the English language doesn’t go far enough to really capture how we are all in this together.

Intermersion if there is such a word might be more apt.

There is no end of one I and beginning of another.

I and I.


A little history and background of the Rastafari movement

Musical Interlude-Niyabinghi chants

Reggae music is not the only music associated with the Rastas. Burra style drumming, which influenced Hip-Hop appears. Of more central importance in the expression of the Rasta beliefs are Niyabinghi chants. Niyabinghi is also the name of one of the major “houses” or “mansions” (groups) of Rastafari.

Niyabinghi chants

are played at worship ceremonies called grounations,[14] that include drumming, chanting and dancing, along with prayer and ritual smoking of cannabis. The name Nyabinghi comes from an East African movement from the 1850s to the 1950s that was led by people who militarily opposed European imperialism.

Here is a grounation in South Africa which includes Niyabinghi chants, preaching, worshipful dancing and group walking chants in circumambulation.

And here is a much larger grounation with onlookers in Jamaica.


Someone in YouTube comments has written down some of the words for this latter video.

Them gi wi basket fi go carry water. Them gi wi basket fi go carry water. Ohhhh Jah Rastafari rule this land. Ethiopia land, Waa go home a Ethiopia land . Waa go home a Ethipian lan land oooh. Jah Rastafari rule the land. Repartriate, Go get a dread mek wi repartriate whaooo, Jah Rastafari rule the land…..

5 comments on “I&I

  1. Very interesting. I was wondering about all those Bob Marley songs.

    I’ve always sort of rolled my eyes at the “Jesus was a Buddhist” crowd. Lately I’ve revisited some of the Gnostic gospels and the Kingdom parables a bit, though, and I’ve been shocked to discover that they actually make perfect sense through a very Buddhist-y kind of conceptual lens, much more so than through what we usually think of as a Christian worldview.

    I still think it’s rather unlikely that the Christ had had any significant contact with Buddhism, beyond coming across a few concepts that had arrived in his neck of the woods through cultural diffusion. However, it’s looking more and more obvious that he was something else—a mystic. In other words, he was mapping the same territory as the Shakyamuni, the Rastafaris, the Sufis, and all the rest of them. It’s striking how similar the outlines of that terrain appear, regardless of who’s approaching it.

    It’s a shame that those mystical and contemplative traditions of going to the desert for forty days have been relegated to dwindling monasteries. I heard that Zengården in Sweden had to start making its own zafus because the Church of Sweden had bought up the entire supply in the country for their own retreat centers. While it’s way cool that the Archbishop does zazen, it’d be even cooler if they rediscovered their own mystical traditions. Perhaps the Rastas could give them a few pointers (although I’m not sure how well the ganja would go down).

  2. I agree with Petteri that Jesus, like many other spiritually realized folk, was accessing a mystical “territory” (for lack of a better word). I do think, however, that the way someone interprets these mystical experiences depends on cultural and linguistic factors. I mean, it’s not surprising that Buddhists report different experiences than Hindus sages, and Christians different than Taoists. Part of what you experience depends on what you expect to find in the first place. For Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus, it’s God, but not for Buddhists. So I think that any inter-faith dialogue needs to keep culture in mind.


  3. This is really interesting. I’ve listened to the lyrics for years, but never really thought about or understood the significance of the I&I. I agree, it is absolutely in line with Buddhist concepts. I also believe that Jesus was influenced by Buddhist teachings, for similar reasons – readings of the gnostic gospels, etc., and I often enough find myself saying quite matter of fact-ly, “Of course I believe in Jesus Christ – he was a Buddha. It’s the church and the people who created it with whom I am a bit nonplussed.”

    “It’s a shame that those mystical and contemplative traditions of going to the desert for forty days have been relegated to dwindling monasteries.”

    I wanted to comment on the above a bit. I think it is important to know that not all Buddhists believe you must go off to the desert for forty days, endure prostrations and austerities, or be lucky enough to be born into the position.

    In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni teaches that we all possess the potential for Buddhahood, and that there is no discrimination — everyone has the same equal capacity and potential. He teaches that this is not an ability requiring an intermediary, or any kind of supplication of desires, but rather it is an inherent part of who we are, and it is available to us all, equally, at any moment.

    Which brings me to this question – I really like your blog, but I am surprised and a little sad that there is no mention (that I have found) of Nichiren Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai International. I wonder if you are aware of it.

    Our practice is different from those that most people are familiar with. It is soundly based in Shakyamuni’s teachings of the Lotus Sutra. My tradition believes in the ability of each individual to tap their Buddha nature right here, right now, through the meditative chanting of Nam myoho renge kyo. The reasons why are simple – but long in explanation – and I will not go into it here.

    So my question is, do you have entries related to this practice? If not, I hope you’ll investigate, and I’ll look forward to reading a future post about it!


    – Kim

    PS: Here are some links of interest:
    Born in the USA: Racial Diversity in Soka Gakkai International – Tricycle Magazine
    or http://www.sgi-usa.org/newsandevents/newsroom/tricycle.pdf for PDF version

  4. @LITC – well, there is one mention that I can recall…

    Truth be told, I don’t know much about Nichiren or SGI, beyond some very superficial reading I’ve done on the Net. I certainly don’t know enough about it to be able to say anything remotely intelligent about it. Perhaps some day.

  5. Ha! You got a laugh out of me today. No small feat as I’ve been a pretty grumpy person with a bad cold, stuffy nose, and headache for the last couple of days. Hence all this extra time to be typing to strangers on blogs and facebook… So thanks!

    Seriously, I have found it to be very powerful approach to life, surprisingly more helpful than you would think, based on the simple recipe of a twice a day mantra….it can be really surprising what you will….discover, uncover, create, develop, change, improve, achieve, overcome, attract, conquer….but the best part is a general deep, unshakable happiness, with oneself and with life in general, in spite of whatever comes your way. (Except when there’s a bad head-cold involved, that is.)

    So, f you are ever interested in learning more than what you’ve read on the net – and there is a lot on the net that is exactly that – superficial — and I’d add inaccurate, uninformed, and even mean! — I hope you’ll check out something more substantial….like :

    Recently published (I’ve not even finished mine yet)
    The Reluctant Buddhist: A Personal Look at Buddhism in the Modern World – William Woollard

    The wonderfully detailed scholarly-type’s choice (my favorite, of course!)
    Buddhism, the First Millennium, by Daisaku Ikeda
    (out of print i think but may be at your local library or you can order from the publisher here)

    The fairly recently published everyman layman’s favorite
    The Buddha in Your Mirror: Practical Buddhism and the Search for Self by
    Woody Hochswender, Greg Martin, and Ted Morino


    And the British layman’s pseudo-scholarly
    Buddha in Daily Life, The: Introduction to the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin by
    Richard Causton

    http://www.wisdom-books.com/ProductDetail.asp?PID=6097&MATCH=2 (good description there, but you could get it on Amazon, and also available at many libraries)

    And the true anti-organization cynic’s pick (another of my favorites!) –
    Encountering the Dharma – Richard Hughes Seager

    Let me know what you think…would be happy to discuss…whenever “some day” comes.


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