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The Two Bundles of Reeds

Straw of the rice

There is a Buddhist concept called "dependent origination" (Jpn. engi) which means that all phenomena are interrelated. In other words things exist only in relation to other things. Though the term engi has now come to mean omens or luck in popular usage and is often used in a negative context, it originally meant "arising in relation." That is, not a single phenomenon, whether sentient or insentient, exists in isolation, independent of other phenomena. Everything in this world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions. We see this in the web of nature, in the relationship between man and woman and their environment, between the individual and society, between parents and children, husband and wife, and so on.

This concept is extremely sophisticated, and the people of ancient India may have found it very difficult to understand. Shariputra, a disciple of Shakyamuni who was known as "foremost in wisdom," explained the concept by means of the following analogy:

Suppose there are two bundles of reeds. They can remain standing as long as they lean against each other. In like manner, because this exists, that exists and because that exists, this exists. If one of the two bundles is removed, then the other will fall. Similarly without this existence, that cannot exist, and without that existence this cannot exist.

This is a skillful metaphor. It definitely hits home in describing the problem of environmental disruption whereby both human beings and nature fall together. Moreover, I think it has something to teach us in terms of our human relationships.

Human relationships are not easy to handle. Misunderstandings between husband and wife, conflicts between couples and their in-laws, and so on, are as old as human history, but they still remain very difficult to resolve. However, if even one person embraces the firm view of life that "because of that, this exists"--or, in other words, "because of that person I can develop"--then he or she need never experience pointless conflicts in human relations.

The other person's good or bad points do not determine one's happiness or unhappiness . . . One who realizes this point can turn everything, good and bad, into an impetus for personal growth.

Of course, I am well aware that this is easier said than done. I think, therefore, it is all the more vital that we foster a sense of community and coexistence based on the awareness that we are all interrelated.

We are all human beings who, through some mystic bond, were born to share the same limited life span on this planet, a small green oasis in the vast universe. Then how can we quarrel with each other or victimize one another? I firmly believe that profound mutual compassion is what will change discord into harmony.

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