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Secrets of the Zen Circle

By Vincent Paul Cooper

I would like to talk about the Zen circle and give my own interpretation as to what meaning the symbol is trying to convey. The Zen circle is a simple, stark black circle usually painted on white paper in ink. Typically the circle is said to represent the material world that continues endlessly without cessation. There is a beginning to life (where the brush first touches the paper) and an end (where the brush leaves the paper), but this beginning and end continue one after the other, thereby signifying the wheel of birth, death and rebirth. The space within that circle is the emptiness, or the void, the understanding of which lies at the heart of Zen and the experience of which is the goal of meditation.

All well and good, but I would like to suggest a very different lesson that can be learned. If you want to actively participate then grab a pencil, an eraser and a clean sheet of paper.

First simply draw a circle on the paper. It doesn't have to be very 'good' from an artistic point of view and an approximation is adequate.

Now step back and take a look at the paper in its entirety. What do you see? What you will inevitably notice is the circle. After all, it is the only thing to actually see.

Now shift your focus to what is inside the circle.

And now take a look at what is outside the circle.

Inside the circle and outside the circle.

What is inside and what is outside is the same. The circle - the idea of separation - is an illusion. The circle, which creates the duality of 'inside' and 'outside' or 'here' and 'there' is a false representation. The cycle of 'life' and 'death' that the circle shows is itself nothing more than a trick of the conscious mind that habitually creates opposites where none in fact exist.

So take your eraser and wipe away the pencil mark on your paper.

This is the enlightened mind. The mind that is beyond duality. Limitless and formless. Infinite. The circle, to me, has been particularly selected to indicate that it is an eternal truth that all things are inherently connected. It was true then, it is true now and it will be true in the future.

There are innumerable instances of how this understanding can be applied to personal development. One of the most important is to begin viewing your life in its totality. Accept that your physical well-being is directly connected to your emotional state which in turn is influenced by your spiritual insight into the deeper questions of life. Recognize that a change to one aspect of your life will inevitably lead to other changes. Whether those changes are good or bad is dependent on you and the choices you commit to a life of growth and development.

Once the choice has been made internally and you begin to change your life prepare yourself to be amazed at the reaction you get from those around you. What is inside is outside; what is outside is inside. As within, so without. This ancient wisdom is as applicable today as it was centuries ago. Make a positive change within yourself and see that positivity reflected back at you by the people around you and the circumstances you find yourself in.

Finally, take the time to meditate on the meaning of the Zen circle in a fuller sense and how its secret applies to your life. I have only scratched the surface here; there is so much more to discover and share.

Vincent Cooper works as a coach, drawing on his vast experience and understanding of Asian spiritualism and martial arts to create a unique approach to self-growth and spiritual insight.

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