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.