A Table and the Universe

A table and the universeConsider the Humble Table

When I was reading The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, I came across a section that really struck me deeply. It had such a profound effect on my thinking that I just had to write about it here. The section was about simple contemplation of a table and the universe. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from the book;

Consider the example of a table. The table’s existence is possible due to the existence of things which we might call “the non-table world”: the forest where the wood grew and was cut, the carpenter, the iron ore which became the nails and screws, and countless other things which have relation to the table, the parents and ancestors of the carpenter, the sun and rain which made it possible for the tree to grow.


If you grasp the table’s reality then you see that in the table itself are present all those things which we normally think of as the non-table world. If you took away any of those non-table elements and returned them to their sources – the nails back to the iron ore, the wood to the forest, the carpenter to his parents – the table would no longer exist.

The Five Aggregates

The whole idea here is to realize how everything is interconnected. The Buddhists talk about the existence of five aggregates (things that bind all things together);

  1. bodily and physical forms
  2. feelings
  3. perceptions
  4. mental functionings
  5. consciousness

With just a little thought about any thing, it’s easy to see that it can’t exist in isolation to everything else. All things are interconnected and rely on each other. About the five aggregates, Thich Nhat Hanh says that;

You meditate on them until you are able to see the presence of the reality of one-ness in your own self, and can see that your own life and the life of the universe are one.

And he goes on to say that;

We must learn to see that the person in front of us is ourself and that we are that person.

I find these concepts very interesting, but also getting a bit deep for me at my current stage in life.

A table and the universeWhat does it all mean?

I find the thought about the existence of the table very easy to follow. It sort of opened my eyes to realize that something as simple as a table actually depends on the whole universe. It couldn’t exist without every other part of the universe. That’s deep and profoundly thought provoking. From here, it’s not much of a jump to see that we, ourselves, only exist because the whole rest of the universe exists as well, including all the other people. And then that leads us to the concept that we’re interconnected with every other person as well, and that we’re not really independent entities as we’d like to think.

Thinking about this type of interdependence really started occupying my mind and confusing me a bit. It’s a bit hard to grasp. But then, a bit further on in the book, Thich Nhat Hanh says the following;

If one clings merely to a system of concepts, one only becomes stuck. The meditation on interdependence is to help one penetrate reality in order to be one with it, not to become caught up in philosophical opinion or meditation methods. The raft is used to cross the river. It isn’t to be carried around on your shoulders. The finger which points at the moon isn’t the moon itself.

The important thing for me from this whole story is to realize that we are not isolated human beings. In fact, we’re not isolated from the universe at all. It doesn’t take much thought to accept the truth in this. We are part of the universe, we depend on all other people.

At some level, for us to have successful lives, we must have a positive effect on the collective human entity and the whole universe as well. If we didn’t do this, how could we justify our time here in this life?

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2 Responses to “A Table and the Universe”

  1. jefferson

    Thich Nhat Hanh’s words are always beautiful poetry.. Opening his books are like stopping and staring at a bed of flowers..
    I love the table analogy.. and I hadn’t stopped to think about the way that everything is connected lately. It is certainly a good thing to stop and remind ourselves. Thanks for posting this.

    • Pete

      …like stopping and staring at a bed of flowers…

      Thanks Jeff. I really like that imagery.


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