Our mind, individual and collective

The fifth verse [of the Fifty Verses on the Nature of Consciousness]:

“Whether from our family or friends, from our society or education, all seeds are, by nature, both individual and collective.”

Here we have another pair of opposites: individual and collective. And we should be able to transcend that idea of collective and individual. 

In the manifestation, in the manifested world, we discern the things that are collective and the things that are individual. The sun in the sky is thought to be something collective; we equally share the sun. And the backyard of my house is thought to be individual; I am the only person that can enjoy it. 

So one is individual, and the other is collective.

But if we look more deeply, we see that what we call collective is not entirely collective.

The same sun – but we live in different countries. We live in different states. We have different weather. So that is individual and collective. And there is the collective in the individual. 

The constitution, the law, is described as something collective. Everybody can enjoy the same constitution, the same set of laws. But there are people who know how to profit, and there are those who don’t know how to profit or to protect themselves.

So the collective and the individual, they inter-are.

Let us talk about a bus where fifty people sit. The bus is something collective to those fifty people. And I have my own body, which is individual. And as I continue to look at the other people, I can see their bodies, their eyes, their faces, their clothes, everything.

Even if a person wears a pair of glasses, which belong to him, I can see that pair of glasses. So, although they belong to him, I can also see and perceive that pair of glasses. That person is not me, but because I can see him, I can share his presence. So what that person thinks to be individual also has the collective nature in it.

There are also things I don’t see, like the nerve system of the driver. The physiological constitution of the driver, his optic nerves, I cannot see. The driver’s optic nerves seem to be strictly individual. But since he’s my driver, the quality of his optic nerves can determine my safety. So the optic nerves of the driver have something to do with me. Therefore, they are not strictly individual. They are also collective, to some extent.

So, when we look deeply at anything around or inside us, we can discover whether certain things are more collective or more individual.

Nothing is absolutely collective, and nothing is completely individual.

The fact is that the collective contains the individual and the individual contains the collective; if we continue to look, there is no absolute collectivity, there is no absolute individuality. Our ideas of collectivity and individuality are just ideas.

Let us consider our brain inside our skull. Is it individual or collective? The way you think, the way you judge, the way you evaluate, the way you like, the way you hate. Look deeply into the nature of your liking, of your hating, of your ideas, of your appreciation, of your anger. You’ll see that everything has the collective nature – but everything also has the individual nature. 

Look at the rise and fall of the stock market. What are the elements that determine the rise and the fall of these things? The collective and the individual.

The collective is made of the individual, and the individual is made of the collective.

The Buddha said, “This is because that is.” So simple. And yet, so deep.

You may like to ask this question: ‘Is my alaya [store consciousness] different from yours? Is there an alaya for everyone, collective alayavijñana for everyone? Or is there a separate alaya for each person?’ It’s very natural to ask.

We have said that there are pairs of opposites. When you see a pair of opposites manifesting, try always to look at the nature of interbeing. This/the other is another pair of opposites. Self and nonself. You and I. Father and son. 

We have had an opportunity to look into the nature of the interbeing of father and son. If the son can go back to himself, touch himself deeply, looking deeply into himself, he will find that he is the continuation of his father. And even if he has suffered so much because of his father, even if he has hated his father, even if he has declared that he doesn’t want anything to do with his father, he will still find that he is the continuation of his father. 

He cannot take his father out of himself. How could he? He is the continuation of his father. He is his father. So the wish to not have anything to do with the father is just an illusion. Because you are the continuation of your father; you are your father. There is one thing in you to be handled: that kind of anger, that kind of hatred which is born from your ignorance, from your delusion. 

Father and son are a pair of opposites. And if you look deeply into the nature of father and son, you discover the nature of interbeing.

Self and non-self is another pair of opposites. We said that the self is made of non-self elements. That statement may be very helpful for having a chance to look deeply; deeply touching the self, we’ll find that it is made of nothing but non-self elements.

Another idea: inside and outside. You may like to ask, ‘Where is our store consciousness? Is it inside the body, or outside the body?’

We have seen that each cell in our body possesses all the characteristics, all the elements, all the experiences, all the joys, all the sufferings of many generations of ancestors. With only one cell of our body, we can make a replica of ourselves. And it is possible to say that alayavijñana, our store consciousness, can be touched within each cell of our body.

All the genes in us, we can describe them as seeds, as bijas, properties. They are the properties that can be recognized, that can be touched.

The talents, the happiness, the suffering of all our ancestors can be recognized within each cell of our body. So it is possible for us to say that store consciousness can be found in each cell of our body.

But we also know that the inside is made of the outside. When we touch our body, we recognize the element of water, the element of heat, the element of air, and the element of earth in us. And we know that these Four Elements are outside of our body; if we continue to touch deeply, we realize that the sun is my second heart.

My first heart seems to be inside of my body. And I know if my first heart stops functioning, I will die right away. But the sun is my second heart, shining in the sky. If the sun stops, I will also die right away. 

So The Sun My Heart is the title of a book of mine. I have a heart outside of my body. Maybe my body is larger than this. My body is the whole cosmos.

The other night I said, ‘A piece of bread that we eat is the body of the cosmos.’ Each of us is also the body of the cosmos.

We are not limited to our body. And when we die, we don’t die. And we know that our body is not us. We are more than this body.

So, where is alaya? We can say that alaya is in each cell of our body, and we can also say that alaya is outside of our body.

The idea of outside and inside is also a pair of opposites to be transcended. 

We are sitting here in a lotus position or half lotus position. We are confident that one direction is the above and another is the below.

But people practicing sitting meditation on the other side of the planet would not agree. They wouldn’t say that the same direction is their above; it is their below. So the idea of above and below cannot be applied to the cosmos. Because above and below is another pair of opposites.

It would be very helpful to train ourselves to see in that way: the above contains the below; the below contains the above. The inside can be touched on the outside; the outside can be touched on the inside. 

We are caught in ideas. And that is why it’s difficult for us to touch the ultimate reality.  

[This transcript has been edited for readability.]

Watch the full short teaching here:


  1. Thank you so much for this great and wonderful teaching, so simple and deep. If I could train myself to see the way to overcome the opposites in everything, this will be my happiness and illumination. And the happiness for others too.
    A lotus of gratitude to you

  2. These words resonate deep in my being.
    Mindful of inter-being of the opposites- the ‘I of Us in other- can heal the world.
    As a gardener I love the images I received reflecting on the words ‘all genes are seeds…’
    Thank you all in Plum Village for your generosity
    in sharing this wisdom, which when we take into ourselves and ‘plant in our own fertile soil’ can heal the world.

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