PRANA – Keeping Relationships Connected for Over 2600 Years

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

In the Sigalovada Sutra the Buddha speaks at length about relationships with friends and family to lay-householder Sigala. He teaches of the importance of these relationships and how to honor them through our actions. The Buddha realized that relationships can be a source of joy and contentment, or one of suffering and discontent, and that it was our responsibility to take the appropriate actions to maintain and strengthen them. One category in the Sigalovada Sutra was traditionally called Husband/Wife, what I creatively re-described for contemporary practitioners as Domestic Partners is the intimate relationship most likely to be a cause and effect of suffering, discontent and anguish. There is a path to a rewarding and fun intimate relationship and that way is through PRANA.

In the beginning there is love and it is fantastic! Heart’s a-flutter, breathing is shallow and rapid, and skin tingles. After that comes the relationship and time to put in some effort. After seven months in a monogamous relationship a sense of deep connection and intimacy is formed, you’ve begun to rely on sharing. Seven months isn’t long in terms of time, but it is long in terms of psychoemotional attachment. This is a positive thing. You come to rely on your partner being there for you, and you for them. There is someone to share with. This is something worth effort and commitment. You’ll want to be proactive as a partner. You’ll want to do things that strengthen the bond, engage in activities that bring about positive development. While you know that over time the dynamics of relationships will change, you can keep them on a path of positive transformation.

The seven month figure comes from an article by Robert Epstein in an issue of Scientific American Mind, Jan/Feb 2010. He went on to say, “The fix for our poor performance in romantic relationships: extract a practical technology (knowledge or dharma) from scientific research on how people learn to love each other — and then teach individuals how to use it.” For a pragmatic Buddhist the dharma, and the knowledge gained through making it part of how we are is certainly a practical technology.

P.R.A.N.A. – Dharma Technology

Prana (not to be confused with prajna which means wisdom) is a Sanskrit word that refers to our interconnection between our life force and the causal Universe. It is similar to the Chinese, qi — Japanese, ki — and Greek, pneuma. Each of which also speak to the connective force between people and the world around them. Relationships are all about connection and P.R.A.N.A. is a tool for helping you keep that relationship strong.

There are typical complaints when it comes to relationships. He/She doesn’t listen — has lost interest — doesn’t appreciate me — isn’t affectionate – doesn’t help out around the house. P.R.A.N.A. is a proactive approach that touches on these issues and offers ways to avoid them.

Partings: Before saying goodbye to each other for the day take 2 minutes and ask, “What is one thing you plan to do today?”

Reunions: At the end of each workday have a low-stress conversation. Take 20 minutes to talk about some cool plans for the time away from work, how the garden is looking, or exchange humorous stories about your day.

Appreciation: Take 5 minutes to show genuine (sincere) appreciation for something your partner did for you. This can be as simple as, “Thank you for being you.” After all it is the “you” you fell for in the first place.

Novelty: This is an opportunity to be creative. Arrange a weekly date. For 2 hours find a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere (it could be right there in your own home or in your backyard) and do something together. it can be a shared interest, learning about your partner’s interests, or even sitting quietly and enjoying each other’s company.

Affection: Try a little tenderness. For 5 minutes engage in some hand-holding, kissing, hugging and maybe even a little groping, but do it with tenderness, with gentleness, and most of all with compassion.

Do the math, that’s 5 hours a week to keep a loving, committed relationship creative and fun, 5 hours of pure practice of compassion, and 5 hours that will have lasting karmic effect. This is definitely a win-win situation.

Note that with some minor adjustments P.R.A.N.A. can be a guide when dealing with your children too. For example, after school ask your kid, “Tell me one thing you did at school today and it can’t be about lunch or recess.” It can also be tweaked and applied to family relationships. For example, taking a day each month to spend with a relative can go far in maintaining a stronger, more positive connection. Relationships with friends can also benefit with a little creative re-description of PRANA.

Your relationships, like the Universe, are based on dependent causality. You get out what you put into them. It is your awareness of the needs of your partner or children, your acceptance of ways to fill those needs, and the taking positive action that will lead to a harmonious relationship. Your example will likely become their actions as they realize the positive encompassing effect it is having on both lives.

Livelihood: Intent Matters — Imagination in Meditation 2




Business in weapons, business in meat, business in human beings, business in intoxicants, and business in poison were not appropriate livelihoods in the Buddha’s time and culture.

Now one must take a more appropriate view of livelihood.

Arms dealers profit from business in weapons . . . soldiers use weapons as tools to protect others.

Industiral farms cause suffering . . . butchers prepare food to alleviate hunger.

Pimps are slavers . . . adoption agencies find families for children.

Meth and heroin are dangerous poisons . . . marijuana is sold for medicinal and recreational purposes.

Chemical weapons are used to kill . . . pesticides (when used properly) are used to protect families.

Intent matters.

Now it is not the title of the job that makes it inappropriate . . . it is how that job is engaged.

What we do matters.






I bow with respect,

Wayne Ren-Cheng

Bodhisattva, Spiritual Guide

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

A bodhisattva can be compared to a wilderness guide who leads all sorts of people – young and old, experienced and novice, men and women – into a trackless forest. It is a task that requires the three aspects of skillful action: permission, preparation and resources. The guide must have the permission of those traveling with them to lead them into unknown territory as well as self-permission based on their knowledge of themselves; they must have taken the time and effort to prepare themselves, the gear, and their charges; and they must have the resources of knowledge of the terrain, the ability to respond appropriately to any situation, as well as the material goods such as food, water and shelter to sustain all that travel with them. The guide also needs the wisdom to be able to discern the minds of those traveling with them, what their strengths and weaknesses are, as well as the practical knowledge to make the most of both in any given situation. The guide must be willing to endure all hardships in order to reach their destination without loss of one being and then be as willing to go back and do it all again.

Why Am I A Buddhist . . . Why Are You A Buddhist?

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

In St. Louis, Missouri a common question gets asked whenever strangers meet, “What high school did you graduate from?” The answer can make or break a possible friendship if one is found to have attended a rival school back in the day. The answer is important. Get more than one Buddhist in a room and the question, “What brought you to Buddhism?” will probably be asked. It isn’t the answer that is really important . . . it is the willingness to answer that is. I’ll venture to say that not one of you reading this would reject the friendship of another person because they didn’t come to Buddhism the same you did. Why we came to Buddhism really isn’t that important; why we choose to continue to pursue the Middle Path is. It is what defines practice.

Recently someone asked me, “Why are you a Buddhist?” Granted I’ve been asked this question before but it suddenly occurred to me that the reply that starts, “I found Buddhism because . . . your story goes here”, isn’t answering the question that most people are asking. It is actually a pragmatic question they are asking, one meant to reveal what is useful and productive about being a Buddhist in the West. Legitimate question, but having a legitimate answer requires me to listen deeply to myself, to be honest about why am I a Buddhist.

My response begins, “I practice Buddhism because . . .” and within those four words is a major reason why I am a Buddhist. I’m a human being and I want to be an even better human being and Buddhism offers me that opportunity through the guide offered by the Four Ennobling Truths and through how I choose to engage that guide in practice. I’m not expected to be perfect or to have all the answers but I am expected to keep practicing. Yeah, I know the saying “practice makes perfect” but honestly I’ve never seen any proof of that. In my experience I get better at being Buddhist but being “perfect” isn’t ever part of the agenda. In my experience “practice makes more practice” and I am good with that. For me it is in the doing, not in the done.

My response finishes with, “ . . . what we do matters.” Four words that encapsulate for me the whole of Buddhist psychology, philosophy and spiritualism as I have come to realize it. The Four Ennobling Truths are all about how our actions are the cause and effect of suffering – and that what we do matters. The Three Characteristics of Existence that include suffering and add impermanence and not-self are rooted in the ideal that we are each a unique part of dependent origination – what we do matters – we can bring about positive change on an encompassing scale. I haven’t read a sutra or legacy teaching that wasn’t sending the message “go do it”. The ideal that what we do matters renews my intent to be the best human being I can be. I want to cease to do harm because it matters. I want to do good because it matters. I want to do good for others because it matters.

“I practice Buddhism because what we do matters.” I am a Buddhist because my experience has proven to me that acting like a Buddhist engenders personal and social positive effects. Combine my practice with friends, family, sangha and consequential strangers who also recognize that what we do matters and that is a force for positive transformation that can’t be equalled. There is a dark side to the “what we do matters” that a Buddhist must view realistically. The negative actions of others also matter and we, Buddhist or not must not hesitate to act appropriately and decisively whenever we can to mitigate the negative karmic consequences that can arise. We can control what we do and how we react to the results of the actions of others. This is all about karmic consequences.

Acting pluralistically is the I and We. It makes no difference to me what faith, religion or tradition another person is . . . they are part of the We. Our commitments may differ but it is the goal of alleviating suffering that matters. It is engaging in thought and action that promote human flourishing that matters. What we do matters.

Taking action is highlighted in the words practice and do. Am I a Buddhist because I take action or do I take action to be a Buddhist . . . doesn’t matter as both are more likely to result in positive karmic consequences. Buddhism is all about action. The psychology, philosophy and spirituality of Buddhism has roots, beginning with the Four Ennobling Truths, in action. It takes personal action to recognize the reality of suffering and it takes engaged action to realize the alleviation of suffering. The Eightfold Path guides me to actions that will improve how I am and how I can be an agent of positive transition in the world.

The two words in the middle have their significance. I am a unique factor in dependent origination, and ‘because’ is causality, think ‘be causal’ . . . in a positive way. This happened because that happened. I practice to “be cause” of more positive than negative ingredients in the karmic stew. Each moment, each experience and situation are also unique factors so I’m mindful of the WHAT. What is the reality of the situation and what would be the most harmonious action to take NOW.

The eight word sentence is a mirror of what keeps me on the path. Action and responsibility, being the cause of good, the I and We of pluralism, do something, actions have karmic consequences so each action matters. My personal mantra, and you are welcome to make it yours – I practice Buddhism because what we do matters.

Ask yourself the “Why am I a Buddhist?” question before someone else asks “Why are you a Buddhist?”. Without the ability to be honest with yourself about the answer your chance of having a deep and engaged Buddhist practice is slim. Curiosity, desire, life experience, or wanting to be cool might have caused you to look into Buddhism but why you continue when it takes such effort and commitment is what is more important. It is there you will find the depth of your practice and what you can do to enhance it.

I picture Siddhartha sitting under the Bodhi tree after his awakening and thinking, “Man, what I just awakened to will really matter. Acting like that is going to take some practice.”


by Wayne Ren-Cheng

The Universe is not wise, it is not compassionate, and it is certainly not fair. The Universe only acts from the causal conditions that occur within it. You only have to view the Universe through a lens that strips away delusion and personal perceptions to recognize these truths. This not only leads to the realization that bad things happen to good people, but that good things happen to bad people. You can be the best Buddhist you can possibly be and you will still encounter moments of suffering in life the Awakened One fully realized in the Four Ennobling Truths. You can be the worst type of human being possible and still encounter moments of joy and wonder that doesn’t seem deserved. This too is an aspect of the first of the Four Ennobling Truths. Doesn’t hardly seem fair . . . does it?

Ryugen Fisher, the Venerable Shi Shen Long, over his lifetime (and this continues today with his students and their students) created a list of Life Lessons that arose from his own experiences, or the experiences of others. I often refer to the list for insight, inspiration and a dose of spiritual humor. Rule #11, The Rule of Expectations, offers a view of fairness: Expecting life to treat you “fairly” because you’re a good person is like expecting the bull NOT to charge at you because you’re a vegetarian. Like the bull the Universe doesn’t care WHAT you are, it responds only to HOW you are.


Not sure where this perception of a fair Universe arose but it is believed by many who’ve been acculturated to the notion that the world is supposed to be inherently fair. You only have to look around to prove this belief is a delusion. Students struggle for high GPAs in high school and college only to find themselves without job opportunities. Some business people engage in illegal and immoral activities and become unimaginable wealthy. People live lives of exemplary compassion only to be struck down by genetic diseases. Innocent children are abused and abandoned. The Universe rolls along with human beings evolving within it, but we aren’t steering it. We have our role as part of its motive power but it also needs the bad weather, steep hills and earthquakes because they are just as important to the workings of the machine. So what if those things make our lives difficult, the machine is just the machine. This means from our perspective that the ideal of fairness is a delusion.

There is no compassion, wisdom or fairness inherent in the Universe. There is also no vengeance, ignorance, or bad intent inherent in the Universe. The perception of the Universe meting out cosmic justice or punishment is the result of a misunderstanding of the reality of HOW it works. What happens is causally conditioned by all the phenomena taking place each moment. There is no doubt you can take actions that lead to unwholesome consequences . . . which is why a Buddhist looks to the Three Pure Precepts (cease to do harm, do only good, do good for others) to guide us way from such actions. You don’t have any control over unwholesome decisions made by others, the arising of new diseases, or what the rest of the causal process of the Universe is doing. When bad things do happen you must avoid attaching to them the perception that it was because of something you did, and focus on practicing ways to make situations better. By realizing that the “fair Universe” concept is a delusion, and that you are not 100% of the karmic consequences, you will come to realize . . . and here comes the good part . . . that you have the ability to engage in wholesome transformation of your self and the global society you are interconnected with, and interdependent on.

You are not 100% of the karmic consequences . . . still, what you do matters. Life’s circumstances can sneak up on you. When you develop an awareness of the conditions under which difficulties arise, and that chances are there was no intent to directly harm you, though is may feel so, you become better prepared to accept them and take appropriate actions. Your actions do play a significant role in future experiences but your’s are a part of them, not the whole of them. Not only what you do matters, but what you control over what you do.

You are part of a causal web and the rest of the Universe is too. The concept of “personal karma”, while it has its validity, is an ideal not encompassing enough to recognize the broader reality of karmic influence. Causality, what makes karma a reality, is how the Universe reveals its neutrality. The Universe doesn’t add a view, an intent, an action, or any effort to make things happen. You are not a target of it. It is egoistic for you to believe things happen TO us, or that they happen FOR us. They happen as a result of nonlinear consequences of causality and you just happen to have a role in a particular experience.

The realization that you are part, but not the whole of the karmic web is actually empowering. It is why you engage in becoming the best possible you, the best possible example of a wise and compassionate human being. The “small” role as one thread interdependent on the threads of others whose intent and actions mesh with your own is how incremental wholesome transformations happen. The web becomes larger and the probability of snaring positive consequences increases exponentially. Things may not happen TO us, or FOR us, but they do happen BECAUSE of us. We are each unique expressions of the Universe and our actions within it have unique consequences.

With the knowledge that you play a role, no matter how small, comes the responsibility for your actions. What you do matters . . . negative, positive or neutral . . . how you act, how you respond is what makes personal practice so important. It is through intent and action that a sense of fairness will arise. Fairness arises as a result of awareness, compassion, generosity and acceptance.

You occupy a part of the karmic web and so have a responsibility to the strand you control. You must develop both mindfulness and awareness so you can overlay the “personal” with the “global” karma and find ways to improve both. You accept that there will be situations that you can, and can’t control. You learn to take wise actions to be the cause and effect of positive transformation whenever, and where ever the causal Universe offers you the opportunity.


by Wayne Ren-Cheng

What’s in it for me is not the question a bodhisattva-in-training asks before taking action. Actions to promote human flourishing are meant to be taken without any expectations of reward. No atta-boys, pats on the back, raise on your paycheck, or new car. The ideals of nirvana and enlightenment are dangled as possibilities, not as rewards but as destinations that may, or may not be at the finish line. There is a commitment to putting in a lot of selfless effort to be a better human being without any expectation of how that will benefit you.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a notion of enlightened self-interest in the choices one makes. Not enlightened as in the Buddhist philosophical sense of the term, but in the Western view of performing acts with the understanding and knowledge that personal gain of some sort will be one effect. There is a wide difference between expecting something in return and the knowledge gained through experience that there are selfish reasons to be a better human being. The Buddha knew that the Noble Path, given the effort and commitment needed to walk it, would initially be walked for reasons of self development, of self betterment, of enlightened self-interest. He accepted this dharma and so should we all.

It takes commitment to walk the path of a bodhisattva-in-training. Whether it is walked as a lay person or as a monk there is a lot to be mindful of, and a lot of practices to be mindful of as the causal world is engaged. However many people are on the planet . . . you vow to lead them all to liberation through the example you set with your own life. However many delusions you hold about yourself and the world around you . . . you vow to extinguish, to make fall away each and every one of them. However many Dharma teachings there are . . . and there a bunch . . . you vow to learn about them and practice them . . . all. However far the Noble Path stretches . . . you vow to walk it to the end. It is a huge commitment. And, to top it all off you are supposed to commit to it without any expectation . . . at least once Buddhist practice and knowledge of causal consequences matures.

In the Saddha Sutra the Buddha taught that there were rewards for the committed practitioner. There were five rewards that truly good people would “give”. The sutra was originally written for the monastic disciples to spark their self-interest so that they would pursue positive self-transformation. The Buddha knew from his own experience that through time and mindfulness that self-interest would fall away and selfless loving-kindness would arise in its place.

Saddha Sutra

NOTE: Know that I’ve taken the liberty to put this sutra into contemporary language and have used the buzz-words of the Pragmatic Buddhist tradition. Venerable David and myself have often discussed if any of sutras re-worded (or creatively re-described) in such a way could offer the same intent as the those translated directly from the Pali, and holding to the symbology and textual references of that time 2600 years ago. In this instance I’ve replaced monk (bhikkhu) with lay person so that lay practitioners can gain the appropriate view that this teachings is of equal value to them. The sutra re-described was initially translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu – “Saddha Sutta: Conviction” (AN 5.38), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, .

“For a lay person, there are these five rewards of commitment. Which five?

When the truly good people in the world show compassion, they will naturally first show compassion to people of commitment, and not to people without commitment.

When visiting, they naturally first visit people of commitment, and not people without commitment.

When accepting gifts, they will naturally first accept those from people with commitment, and not from people without commitment.

When teaching the Dhamma, they will naturally first teach those with commitment, and not those without commitment.

A person of commitment, on death, will leave behind a legacy of positive thought and action. For a lay person, these are the five rewards of commitment.

Just as a large banyan tree, on level ground where four roads meet, is a haven for the birds all around, even so a lay person of commitment is a haven for many people: monks, nuns, male lay followers, & female lay followers.”

The commitment spoken of in the sutra is the commitment to ideals like the Three Pure Precepts: cease to do harm, do only good, and do good for others. The karmic causal process of the universe clearly reveals that a person looking to do good is more apt to offer their skills, gifts and practice to those people striving to do good themselves. So, in the name of enlightened self-interest it is better to be seen as doing good so positive causal effects can be experienced.

When the truly good people in the world show compassion, they will naturally first show compassion to people of commitment, and not to people without commitment.

It is not an expectation that because you act with compassion that others will show you compassion; it is knowledge that can be experientially verified through your own actions. You freely offer compassion to a person volunteering their time and skills in a nursing home. You naturally find it more difficult to offer that same compassion to a child molester.

When visiting, they naturally first visit people of commitment, and not people without commitment.

It is in a person’s self-interest to first visit someone with whom they have a shared commitment, or at least a parallel commitment. It is with those people that positive personal development will strengthen. Later, when visiting those without commitment that gained strength can be put to use building new commitments.

When accepting gifts, they will naturally first accept those from people with commitment, and not from people without commitment.

A bodhisattva-in-training must practice skillful generosity. Offering skills, gifts and practices to those people and organizations that will pass along that generosity doesn’t take a lot of conscious thinking. Offering the same to those who may not appreciate or acknowledge it is a more difficult practice. Engaging with those with similar commitments allows one to experience the feelings of acceptance and gratitude that future acts of generosity may not generate.

When teaching the Dharma, they will naturally first teach those with commitment, and not those without commitment.

There is an ideal in Buddhism that the student will come to the teacher. The teacher commits to teaching someone is showed the commitment to find a teacher. A layperson offers the dharma through their actions, so someone already committed, at some level to becoming a better human being is more likely to aware of the lesson and mindful of its value.

A person of commitment, on death, will leave behind a legacy of positive thought and action. For a lay person, these are the five rewards of commitment.

Many people regret their actions as they lay dying. They winge and complain about what they could have, or should have done with their lives. They regret not committing to something positive. This is part of the foundation for the traditional Buddhist philosophy behind rebirth and karma. There are many people who come to practice Buddhism as a way of expunging their past negative choices (stealing, sexual misconduct, killing, etc.) or past negative experiences (loss, illness, pain, depression) in order to pave the path for a better next life. This is an ultimate form of enlightened self-interest. In Engaged Dharma there is a more pragmatic, and selfless way of viewing this. A person committed to, and acting with the knowledge that what they do matters now, and after they die, will endeavor to always cease to do harm, do only good, and do good for others. In this way they live a life of enlightened self-interest that is also enlightened selflessness.

Just as a large banyan tree, on level ground where four roads meet, is a haven for the birds all around, even so a lay person of commitment is a haven for many people: monks, nuns, male lay followers, & female lay followers.”

The actions of a sincere and committed bodhisattva-in-training are clearly evident to those people with, or seeking the same commitment to human flourishing, and to positive personal transformation. Siddhartha is our example of the reality of this phenomena of karmic causality. Others, of all castes, were drawn toward the cool abiding shade of his wisdom and compassion. Enlightened self-interest arose as a need to figure out the human condition. After his awakening he questioned whether he should, or could offer what he discovered about the realities of human existence, and choose to allow enlightened self-interest to transform into enlightened selflessness.

Art of Renewing Vows

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

There is a tendency for people to misunderstand the purpose and value of the vows taken when one first accepts the Noble Path, and on through lay and monastic Buddhist practice. This fundamental misunderstanding likely arises as the word and concept of promise is given as a synonym for vow. The ideal of promise carries the heavy emotional weight of ‘a promise cannot be broken’, and ‘a promise is forever’, giving promise an aura of permanence. This view is one of clinging that will lead to unsatisfactoriness, discontent and anguish when some causal factor arises that necessitates the promise being broken. Such situations lead to anger or guilt depending on which side of the promise a person is on. Often, promises broken lead to an abandonment of the target of that promise. Vows are meant to renewed whenever the need arises.

In Japanese art there is a practice known as kin-tsugi, “golden joinery”. Ander Monson, in his book ‘Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found In Libraries’ is this note found in a returned library book – Kin-tsugi is the art . . . in which a broken bowl is fixed and seamed with glow, cracks to the forefront, filled in by gold, rendering the repaired thing more remarkable, honoring its shatter. The result is neither broken nor unbroken, but both at once, shadow, object, corona around an eclipsed sun. Rather than discard a broken item of beauty and usefulness the Japanese artisan sees the object with a different intent. There is an emptiness to viewed in the shattered pieces, neither broken nor unbroken. There is a form to be viewed in the shattered pieces, both at once. A vow is both emptiness and form. Emptiness of potential and the form of thought and action.

A vow taken in Buddhism should be viewed as a commitment; a commitment to being willing to return to the intent of the vow as many times as needed without recrimination or guilt. Each return to a vow strengthens it with the gold of intent, the silver of mindfulness, and the copper of compassion.

Like the kin-tsugi artisan honors shatter, so can the practitioner honor themselves and their vows. Rather than deny and hide the ‘cracks’ . . . view them clearly and seam them with better intentions, with stronger practice, make them more remarkable by honoring them.


by Wayne Ren-Cheng

See Right View: Individuality Paradox Part One

The Buddha awakened to unnatural craving being at the core of unsatisfactoriness, discontent and anguish experienced by human beings. That was true then and it is true now. In the contemporary Western culture there is an aspect of societal interaction that is a major causal factor for feelings of unsatisfactoriness, discontent and anguish. Human beings crave associations based on group, interest and worldview, etc. Current and possible interactions and interconnections are decided upon based on those associations. This way of determining interconnections can, and often does, result in the arising of violence, hatred, envy and mistrust. Associations are natural expressions of individuality, and are causal factors in how a person is, but they should not be the determining factors in how a person connects and responds to the others.

In the sutras, legacy texts or teachings there are no teachings that delve into the propensity for human beings to crave an individual identity tied into a self, or societally defined group of people. The Buddha found it necessary to separate his disciples by gender, and after his death there is historical evidence that Buddhists sects divided themselves into traditions on the grounds of belief, of ritual, and of practice. Yet, this is never addressed as directly opposing the Buddhist doctrines of interdependence and interconnectivity. Sounds paradoxical but in Buddhist philosophy there are many paradoxes that one must find their Way to an understanding and acceptance of.

People crave being the individual . . . the whole unique expression of the universe ideal, but that craving is also connected to being an individual within a group of like-minded and/or physically similar individuals. People crave the company of others that they view have the same qualities that they have, or think they have. Identifying too strongly with any social group leads to an Us-vs-Them mentality. The recognition that they aren’t like I view myself and my group as being, so they are wrong, bad, dangerous, immoral, illegal or alien leads to conflict. Since primitive man realized that there were primitive women the divisions began to arise. It likely started with gender within the species, but it expanded quickly to include all those emotions and concepts that the ego revels in . . . territory, sex, money, material possessions, intelligence, faith, race, political choices, etc. It only takes a modicum of mindfulness and awareness to realize the unsatisfactoriness, discontent and anguish this view has caused.

I have listened to Americans speak eloquently about the dangers and inequality of the caste system in India, or the cultural divisions in other countries; then in the next sentence proclaim their own ‘caste’ through their words or actions. Their proclamation might arises as one based on political affiliation, sexual preference, education, race . . . and the list is a long one.


In the Venn diagram above is a representation of the layers of association that many people surround their Buddha-element, the essence of ‘how you are’ with. While these are shown in a specific order, the order will be different for each individual dependent on which cultural division they deem most important. This way of defining ones’ self makes it extremely difficult to experience interconnection with all but those people who can pierce each layer. White, black, brown, yellow, red . . . ? Gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, asexual . . . ? Humanist, racist, nudist, revolutionist, pacifist . . . ? Vegan, omnivore, carnivore or vegetarian . . . ? Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green . . . ? Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, Buddhist . . . ? High school, college, MBA, PhD, none . . . ? Geek, Millennial, intellectual, hippie . . . ? 10, 20, 30, 40 . . . ? Cancer survivor, alcoholic, ADHD, gym member . . . ? Each of the categories define an aspect of what, who, when, why and where a person is. At the center will be found ‘how you are’ . . . if that center can be reached.

There is a Venn diagram that illustrates what Professor Thomas P. Kasulis, in his book “Intimacy and Integrity,” termed an intimate relationship (see Right View: Individuality Paradox Part One). It is two circles that overlap depicting the shared experiences and connections of two people. If the initial layer can’t be breached due to a difference than an intimate relationship of any level is impossible to achieve. Professor Kasulis also offers an illustration of an integral relationship. Two circles that instead of overlapping have a line depicting a temporary or sporadic connection that benefits both without leading to actual shared experiences. While the interdependent nature of a relationship can be achieved given this diagram, there will be little chance of any deeper relationship developing.


The above Venn diagram offers a different way of viewing layers of associations. Instead of layers they take on the look of a cluster of Intimate Venn diagrams within a circle, one that is indicative of influences rather than associations. Note that the categories all overlap and have varying degrees of interdependence. They are not separate aspects of an individual. They combine, each as causal factors that are interconnected and interdependent, to have an effect on how one is. It is the choices one makes interdependent on those factors, and others that determine how one interacts with themselves and the world around them. In this illustration the core of ‘how you are’ is at the center leaving the possibility of intimate and integral relationships wide open. There is space to interconnect without the preconceptions and judgments that come with social categories.

That race, sexual orientation, worldview, diet, politics, health issues, age, social group, education, religion, and other categories are factors in causal conditioning, they shouldn’t be used to limit interconnection. They must be factors in developing and strengthening encompassing interconnections. Race needn’t make one a racist and politics needn’t make one a staunch partisan. Education needn’t make one judgmental and religion needn’t make one a fundamentalist. How one chooses to be must be based in knowledge and wisdom, not in an attachment to any category.

Causal conditioning does arise as a result of the associations one accepts. Some, like race and sexual orientation are genetic factors that come with the individual; others, like politics and religion are choices. Whether genetic or choice they shouldn’t become dispositions or habits that inhibit positive personal transformation. These associations are interconnected and interdependent parts of how you are and of how you choose to be. In the case of genetic factors, while they are permanent in that you can’t alter them, they don’t have to dictate how you interact with world. Some people let race for example hinder their interactions with people of other races . . . becoming the disposition of racism. That is a choice that is causally conditioned and can re-conditioned with a more appropriate view of the similarities between all human beings. Choices can also hinder interactions when they are allowed to dictate thought and action. Whether one is chooses to be a vegetarian, a carnivore, or an omnivore doesn’t make them better or worse than the other. None of these associations should limit connections between people.


The above diagram illustrates the near impossibility of achieving deep interconnections when presented with a bodymind dominated by a Layered Associations. As an example, someone whose religion and education are the same can penetrate those layers, but connection ceases at social group; one may be a Millenial, the other a Mason. There is little chance that either will experience how the other person really is. ‘How you are’ is too deeply protected the layers of ego, so an intimate relationship is difficult to achieve and to maintain.


This diagram illustrates an individual whose sense of ‘how you are’ is the entirety of their being. Note the circles depicting others are unlabeled. It isn’t the label that is important, it is how those individuals interact with others. There can be different levels of intimate relationships that respect the associations while cherishing the similarities.

Associations must not become mechanisms of judgement. I am Republican . . . you are not. I am a geek . . . you are not. I am a particular Buddhist tradition . . . you are not. This is dualistic thinking. Judging others based on these divisions is dualistic action.

It must be accepted that no one will be just like us . . . we are each unique expressions of the universe. Each individual is the product of different experiences, different associations, and different external factors. It must equally be accepted that everyone is a human being who encounters suffering and joy, gain and loss, fear and courage, all the ups and downs of existence . . . we are not unique in the universe. Accepting this reality will lead to thoughts of enlightenment, awakened moments when interconnection and interdependence are fully realized and become a deep part of how we are. It will cause the arising of the knowledge that what we do matters on an encompassing scale, so we must engage in thoughts and actions that promote positive individual and societal transformation. It is a matter of choice.




There is a paradox in the human bodymind that causes suffering, discontent and anguish. There is a craving for individuality, to stand out from all other human beings, to be unique. There is also the need, admitted to or not, to be part of a group, to have a circle of other human beings to be accepted by and who hold similar worldviews. Therein is the paradox of individuality.

It is a truth that you are each unique expressions of the universe; and it is equally a truth that you are each not unique in the universe. Realizing this appropriate view of human existence by coming to terms with this individuality paradox will open up your bodymind to the knowledge that it isn’t what, who, when, why, or what you are is not as important as how you are. How you are in relation to other human beings is what determines how effective a social self you can be. How you view and act upon relationships is key.

Relationships begin as the result of a variety of stimuli – family, love, respect, friendship, mutual goal, locality, hardship, need, want and . . . I’m certain you can think of others. Relationships thrive when those same stimuli are nurtured where appropriate, creatively re-described when needed, and accepted for what they are. Most often the questions concerning relationships arise from within those involving family and loved ones because these are the folks we likely have intimate relationships with, relationships in which loss and pain can arise when they are broken. Relationships with co-workers, acquaintances and people outside your circle tend to be integrity based relationships, relationships that are temporarily engaged in due to want or need.

Your circle is composed of beings, beings because pets and service animals are included, with whom you have a deep sense of sharing your life. This type of relationship is an intimate one, one of experiences shared, situations endured. Intimacy involves a sharing composed of many connections, connections that are missed when there is a loss of personal contact. In his book, “Intimacy and Integrity”, Professor Thomas Kasulis defines the concepts of intimate and integral relationships across many spectrums of human relationships.

Intimate relationships develop as the result of shared experiences, while integral relationships arise with individuals who supply wants or needs, but whose relationships ends with the immediate transaction. Intimate relationships arise between parent and child, close friends, domestic partners and in the bond that can develop between students and teachers. These are the bonds that can have dramatic effects on how one views themselves and the world around them. Integral relationships develop with friends who part ways as a result of time or distance and consistently arise in the connection between employer and employee. The relationship dynamic that can define whether it is one based in intimacy or integrity is the sharing without expectation.


To visualize an intimate relationship start with two circles. One is you and your experiences; the other is a close friend or family member and their experiences. Bring them together and overlap them. The section that overlaps is experiences shared in each moment (a+b) — talking about problems and successes, seeing the same movie or reading the same book, taking vacations together, it is where your lives intersect in intimate ways. Pull the two circles apart and the sharing of experiences is lost to both; the memories remain but the state of active involvement is gone. In an intimate relationship this loss of active involvement can cause suffering and unsatisfactoriness, depression and sadness. You lose what has become part of yourself, a sharing of experience and building of memories.

Intimate relationships are not always the result of positive interactions. Human beings look for connection, even if that connection is a negative one it can be viewed as ‘better than nothing’ for someone craving closeness. The Stockholm Syndrome experienced by hostages is one example, a co-dependent abusive one example. Response to captivity can change from rebellion and fear to acceptance and understanding, albeit a deluded understanding as the relationships become more intimate. Hostage totally dependent on their captors for survival; the captors dependent on the hostages as tools needed to accomplish their goals. There are documented examples of hostages that feel a loss after being rescued or released. The loss of active involvement causes the arising of suffering and discontent. A co-dependent abusive relationship is similar in the fact that one, or both individuals remain over fear of losing connection.


Integrity based relationships can also be illustrated with two circles; ‘a’ and ‘d’. Instead of an overlap there is a temporary line between them that represents an interaction. A relationship built on integrity is based solely on an individual-to-individual connection and it is often a singular interaction meant to benefit both. Think about the cashier at your local grocery store. You connect with them when you need food, they take your money, and when you leave neither person loses anything; these are shared moments, not shared experiences. Once the interaction is completed the line fades without a feeling of loss. The relationship with the cashier is renewed when you return to the store but it tends to toward the same dynamics each time.

Interaction complete the relationship dissolves. Some integral relationships repeat frequently; dentist, doctor, librarian, bus driver. Others may have little chance of repeating; person you meet on vacation, classmate, police officer. Individuals ‘a’ and ‘d’ have the potential of reconnecting. There is the chance of a repeated encounter that could lead to a more meaningful relationship, possibly an intimate one. Equally an intimate relationship can transform to an integral as interactions change, though residue of the intimate connection is likely to persist. Divorced parents fit this model.

Intimate and integral relationships aren’t limited only to person-to-person connections. We have links with possessions, ideas and delusions that can seem just as strong and just as important. In “Intimacy and Integrity”, Professor Kasulis gives an example of just such a individual-to-possession relationship. “Someone steals your wallet. Both the money and the treasured family pictures – negatives lost long ago – are gone. The money belonged to you; it was your money. But the pictures belonged with you not to you. In taking the photos, the thief stole part of your self, not merely something external like the money over which you held temporary title.” Cash is the integral relationship; the photos, the intimate.

We view these two aspects of relationships separately as a skillful way to understand them. In practice though there is no dualism when it comes to how we act as Buddhists whether it is an intimate or integral relationship . . . they are all relationships that require the same level of mindfulness, compassion and ethical behavior.

There is another ideal that affects how a relationship begins and develops. Along with the desire to be an individual, is the desire to be part of a group. These social divisions can weaken or strengthen relationships dependent on how the individual manifests them in their bodymind. Is your relationship circle one that excludes, or includes others?

More to come in PART TWO.

Unique Expressions: Buddhism from the Garden

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Awareness of the world we engage each moment, coupled with mindfulness of our own perceptions that lead to our thoughts and actions allows Buddhist lessons to arise even in the most mundane of activities or experiences. We are part of a community gardening project. In two 4′ X 8′ spaces we grow all manner of vegetables . . . but I must admit to being partial to the tomatoes. Each morning I tour them, check the progress of all the plants, water when needed, weed when necessary, and always marvel at the joy of being a farmer, even an urban one. This morning the realization that a lesson was being offered arose and I listened deeply to it. Tomato plants were the muse of realization this morning.


There is a sort of mantra in Engaged Dharma that connects to an important ideal. It is meant to act as an intentional reminder that while there are always differences, those differences don’t separate us. The mantra is ‘We are each unique expressions of the Universe . . . we are not each unique in the Universe.’ At each end of the eight foot garden space are tomato plants . . . 2 Big Boys, 2 Lemon Boys, 1 yellow cherry, 1 red cherry. The six plants on the left are growing and maturing significantly faster than the right side. They were planted at the same time; the soil is the same; they get watered with the same frequency; yet there is a clear difference in their development. The ones on the left flowered first, and have the most flowers. The ones on the right haven’t grown as tall or as bushy. They are unique expressions of tomato plants . . . but not unique in the garden. PG_TT1      PG_ST1

Each of us are like those tomato plants. There are factors that make each human being unique. Even those that ‘grow in the same soil’ have characters, skills, goals, thoughts and dispositions that make them unique expressions of the universe, that make them unique human beings. Each of us are like those tomato plants. There are factors that make each human being not unique in the universe. The Buddha teaches of the Four Ennobling Truths. Every human being in the known universe encounters moments of suffering during their lives, suffering that arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of how the causal universe works. For those human beings there is a path, a way to minimize and ultimately alleviate suffering. That way is the Middle Path, the Eightfold Path. In this era and culture there is a lot of time and effort put into proving and reveling in whatever unique expression someone may be. So many human beings are focused on what makes them separate from others that they deny or ignore what makes each human being similar. Focus on differences weakens compassion, weakens interdependence, and weakens interconnectedness. Focus on similarities strengthens compassion, strengthens interdependence, and strengthens interconnectedness. Tomato plants don’t care whose is taller, more bushy, or who has the most flowers . . . it the fruit of their actions that is important. It must be the same for human beings. PG_TT4       PG_ST4

‘We are each unique expressions of the Universe . . . we are not each unique in the Universe.’