Just try to imagine, if you share a table with 4 people in your family or friends together, which table would you prefer, a round table or square table? I would choose maybe a square table. I know that a round table looks cute and reminds me of a trendy café in somewhere like in Paris or Italy, but we cannot put as many plates and cup on it as we can on the square one. Therefore, I personally think that the square one is more functional than the round one.
There is a difference not only in the functional aspects between the two shapes of the table, but I would say the shapes of the table might affect how we behave when we sit across the tables.
When we sit at the square table at a café or restaurant, we can easily know “the border line” between us and others and naturally separate each individual space to allow ourselves to put plates, cups, and utensils away from others because each person has each side of the square for themselves. On the contrary, when we sit at the round table, the things might be a little bit different. On the round table, it might be a little bit difficult to see each individual space because the border line which we had with others is sort of melted away. It is sometimes confusing to determine which cup is ours. I have sometimes happened to take water from my friend’s glass by mistake when I sit at the round table with many plates and cups. This kind of incident sometimes happens to others, too. So, I would say that we need to pay more attention to our own space, border line and our actions on the round table in order not to mix up our stuff with others than when we sit at the square table.
In Buddhism, if we tried to express the shape of enlightenment, what would it be like? 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 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 the squared one.
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 living here like whether we can accept the differences between us or not, whether one invades another’s borderline or not like insisting “this is mine, this is my life” or “that is yours, that is your life. it is none of your business!”
The same with sharing a round table with others, as when we have is limited and border line is vague, it might be sometimes annoying because sometimes someone’s way of eating might annoy you or your friend or family’s elbow bumps into you, but 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 on this big round earth peacefully.
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 continues to accelerate more especially because of this pandemic. But, this world is not squared like a table. We are sharing this big circular planet with everyone. Different from the squared one, a round table has a 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 a 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 in between others will melt away like sharing a round table with others.
Next time when you have a chance to eat out with your friends or family, why don’t you try to sit at a round table to practice living harmoniously with others?