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Living in a Round Earth

When four of us went to a restaurant, we had to choose between a square table or a round table. Which would you choose?

We chose a square table. I know that a round table looks cute and reminds me of a trendy café, but we cannot put as many plates and cups on it. I think that a square table is more functional than a round table.

There is a difference, not only in the functional aspects between the two shapes of the table, but the different shapes might affect how we behave when we sit.

When we sit at the square table at a café or restaurant, we easily know “the borderline” between us and others.

When we sit at a round table, things might be a little bit different. On a round table, which is seen at some Chinese restaurants, it might be difficult to see each individual space because the borderline sort of melts away. It is sometimes confusing to determine which cup is ours. I have sometimes taken the glass of water from my friend by mistake when I sit at the round table with many plates and cups. This sometimes happens to others, too.

We need to pay more attention to our own space, our borderline and our actions in a round table.

In Buddhism, if we tried to express the shape of enlightenment, what would it be like? The workings of enlightenment are without color or form, but if I were to venture to apply a form to it, it would be a circle. There is a Zen temple called “Genko-an” in Kyoto, Japan, which displays a pair of windows which have two different shapes in its main hall.

On the right is a rectangular window that is known as the window of delusion, with each of the four corners representing the suffering mortals are destined to go through in their life: birth, old age, disease, and death.

Beside it is the circular window of enlightenment, whose lack of corners represents the Zen concept of Universe and enlightened life beyond pain or suffering. A circle has no boundaries; it is an infinite form with no beginning and no end. And, because of its symmetry, a circle is also a perfect shape, and its continually flowing motion represents the mind without captivity, and free from attachment that Buddhism teaches. We can say that a circle has an image of peace, calm, and harmony as the window of enlightenment shows us.

However, as we realized when we shared a round table with others, it is actually hard for us to share and live in a circle with others because we sometimes need to care about others by reading the room and sharing the space with one another.

Maybe, because we are not good at this, we can have a meal more easily and comfortably with a square table.

I would say that living in a round earth is almost the same thing as sharing a round table with others. On our big, round earth, there are countless conflicts among people such as whether we can accept the differences between us or not; whether one invades another’s borderlines; or whether we insist “This is mine, this is my life”” or “That is yours, that is your life. It is none of your business!”

When this goes too far, it can lead to discrimination, slander, and violence because of race, gender, a feeling of inferiority, or different abilities. Unfortunately, this is happening all over the world.

There is no life that is worthless, no life that can be taken away. However, in the real world we live in, contrary to the wisdom of the Buddha, people's minds and lives are divided, and the idea that all that is good is good enough for oneself has become so prevalent that it is difficult to see equality and kindness in the true sense of the word.

As is the case with sharing a round table with others, when the borderline is vague, it might result in some annoyance because someone’s way of eating might bother you or your friend, or a family member’s elbow bumps into you. Even so, we try to make an effort to have a good time with others by caring for one another.

Maybe we can say that eating on a round table is the first step of practice to live with others peacefully on this big, round earth.

We try to keep a distance and separate ourselves from others like saying “This is none of your business! This is mine. This is my life.” This tendency has continued to accelerate nowadays, especially since the pandemic. But, this world is not square like a table.

We are sharing this big, circular planet with everyone. A round table has wonderous potential to allow us to accommodate more people if we can share the space and care for one another. Just like Buddha goes beyond any difference, calculation, borders, it reaches to us, extending equally its compassion to anyone, anywhere here and now. That is the round, big heart which accepts anyone with the great compassion.

As Sakyamuni Buddha shows us, if we can be more mindful that we are interconnected and interdependent with each other in our lives, the borderlines which we have with others would melt away like sharing a round table and we would be more compassionate.


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