Monday, October 1, 2012

Mirror of Dharma

               Long ago, a group of drunken noblemen were having a party in the forest. When they fell asleep, a woman from their entourage made off with all their valuables. Sakyamuni Buddha was in the area at the time, and the noblemen asked if he knew in which direction she went or how they could find her.

               Sakyamuni Buddha replied, "I understand the situation, but which is more important? Finding that woman, or finding yourself?"

Screenshot from the Buddhist film The Osha Castle Tragedy


               We tend to think that we are fully aware of our self, but it's actually the most difficult thing to know. This is why since ancient Greece it has been said to "Know Thyself." (Reason, p. 103)

               We are all seeking for happiness, but if we don't know our true self we will not be able to attain it.

               Thus, the key to happiness is to know our true self.

               These days we know all about the vast distant galaxies in the universe and even about the tiny specialized cells within the human body. But do we really know any more about ourselves?

               There is a very simple reason behind why we can't know our self. It's because we're just too close to it.

               The human eye can see outwardly many things at great distances, but it cannot see inwardly the things that are very close.

Original Photo by benjgibbs available on

               For example, can you see your eyebrows with your own eyes? ... Didn't think so. Our eyes cannot see our own eyes, just like a knife can't cut itself.

              In order to see something that is very close to us, we use a mirror. (Reason, p.107) There are three kinds of mirrors to see ourselves: rectangular, oval-shaped and round. 

The Three Mirrors

   Mirror of Others      Mirror of Self       Mirror of Dharma

               A mirror should reflect exactly how our appearance really is. When we buy a mirror at the store, we need to be especially careful that it reflects how things really are. Cheap mirrors may be warped or bent. Let's examine each mirror to see if it reflects our true self accurately.

Mirror of Others

   "Do people think I am a good person or a bad person?"

               This is the reflected image we see from the minds of others.We're all concerned about the way others see us. We worry about it, sometimes even from morning to night.

               So we put on makeup or wear fancy clothes to appear cool in the Mirror of Others everyday. But if we lived on a deserted island, no one would need these kinds of items because no one would be around to care.

               We want to be praised by others and to be seen as kind and caring. Sometimes we even do things we don't want to do just to win approval.

               Why? It's because we think our true self is reflected in this mirror.

Original Photo by dearoot available on

               That's why we get upset when others are talking badly about us. But suddenly when something good is said about us, we get happy and our feelings can suddenly jump way up.

               According to what other people say our feelings go up or down.

               Does this mirror reflect our true self? ... Not really.

               It reflects a distorted image that relies on others and their convenience. (Reason p.108)

               Let's assume a policeman is coming toward you, when you have just been threatened by a robber. The officer must look like an angel to you!

               Later you make a left turn a little too late at a red signal... and see the same policeman.

               He must look intimidating when he is holding that ominous yellow ticket in his hand. He looked like an angel before, but now he looks like a real devil. So which one is he?

Original Photo by woodleywonderworks available on
               Depends on your convenience, right? This is because it is all according to your own biased evaluation.

               Others are doing the same thing. They judge us according to how beneficial we are to them. With this mirror, we seem like a bad person and a good person on the same day. Which one are we truly?

 A Japanese priest named Ikkyu once said:

The human tongue
gives praise today, tomorrow
it finds fault --
laugh away or weep away,
it is all a tissue of lies.
  (Reason, p. 108) 

               Even though I may receive 100 compliments today, I still cannot feel at ease, because tomorrow I might be criticized 10,000 times. 

              That's why at the end of the day some of us often feel that, "Talk is cheap."

               So it's kind of silly to get depressed or rejoice over what people say and how they rank you. You're relying on another's rating of you that is solely opportunistic in nature.

               The Mirror of Others does not reflect our true image. It is obviously distorted. So what about the next mirror?

Mirror of Self (or Mirror of Conscience)

               We may think deeply about ourselves from time to time with many introspective questions in search of the truth.

  "Who is the real me? Am I a good or bad person? What am I truly?"

Original photo by diejule available on

                 But what kind of real answer can we give to these questions? Let's reflect on an old folktale for insight.

               One day a princess in the legendary Dragon Palace under the sea held up a jewel and told all the fish, "I will give a prize to anyone who can tell me what color this is."

               Each of them named a different color: the black porgy said it was black, the bluefish said it was blue, and the whitefish said it was silver.

               Then they asked the princess, "Which one is right?"

               She replied, "The jewel has no color of its own. It is transparent and simply reflects each of your colors." (Reason, p.109)

               Similarly, we see everything including ourselves through the prism of our thoughts and emotions. (Reason, p.109) When it comes to examining ourselves in particular, it is impossible to take off the tinted glasses of our partiality.

               We always want to see ourselves in a good light. That's why all our good qualities are easily identified, but it's so much harder to spot our own faults.

               It's not a problem for us to point out the shortcomings of others or blame them, but it's difficult once we look for those weaknesses within ourselves.

               We just can't get rid of our own biased vision.

Original Photo by Leshaines123 available on

               And if we don't like something about our self, we just look at someone else who is in worse shape. Compared to them, we can feel better. Examining this mindset, we can clearly see the conceit in it. Let's now break it down into detail.

Seven Types of Conceit
  1.  Pride of looking down on others who are below you
  2. Pride among equals
  3. Pride over superiors
  4. Pride even though I know I'm wrong
  5. False pride in the belief of having attained enlightenment
  6. Pride in humility
  7. Pride of wrong action
               How many times have we looked down on others regardless of their position, defended ourselves when we knew we were wrong, or concealed our pride by acting really humble? Too many to count!

               It's all because we're wearing those tinted glasses of partiality. In plain terms, we are conceited.

               If we could see our true self as it really is, then this mirror would be true. Since it isn't, we must look to the last of the three mirrors to see if it is true.

Mirror of Dharma

              The Mirror of Dharma, also known as the Mirror of Truth, is our image reflected in the eyes of Buddha.

              This mirror is not like the other two. It's a mirror of sheer truth. It never distorts anything and always shows us everything exactly as it is.

              One can become aware of one's true self only by approaching the Mirror of Dharma.

              But why is this so?

              It's because it's completely impossible to see our true self by using the Mirror of Others or the Mirror of Self. Using either of these two mirrors, it is too difficult for us to see clearly what is true all the time.

              Imagine, if one can see only the good in one's own child, how much more so is that bias directed at one's self?

              Look at your hand with your naked eye, and it looks clean. This level of sight is compared to the laws we use to protect society. Next look at your hand with a magnifying glass. You might begin to see traces of dirt here and there. This level of sight is compared to ethics and morality.

              The Mirror of Dharma is like a microscope. The teachings of Buddhism see deeply and clearly all the germs and bacteria contained within our true nature.

              In the same way when X-rays are taken, all people, whether pretty or ugly, rich or poor, male or female, old or young, are reduced to nothing but bones. (Reason, p. 137) Once our true self is revealed in the Mirror of Dharma, we realize for the first time all the flaws we've had hidden deep within ourselves.

              This is because Buddhism goes beneath our physical exteriors. It places all our actions into three distinct categories. They are Deeds of the Mind, Deeds of the Mouth and Deeds of the Body. (Reason, p.110)

Three Types of Deeds

||                                   ||
Mouth                           Body

              Buddhism places the greatest emphasis on the actions of the mind because it is the source.

              If we think of all the countless thoughts within our minds, we see how hard it is to get a glimpse of our true self accurately without the Mirror of Dharma.

             "In the deep of the night, a candle burned in a mountain cabin, convinced it was the brightest of all. Then came an oil lamp with similar delusions of grandeur. Next came the electric light, arrogant and full of self-conceit, so bright the candle and the lamp could barely hang their heads. Then when morning came, the Sun rose in the eastern sky. Thoroughly eclipsed, all three went dark." (Reason, p.137)

              Likewise, our conceit is the hardest obstacle while seeking for the truth. We must strive with all our might to see it as it is. Only then can we become happy from our core.

              So in order to know that true self deeply, you must listen to the Mirror of Dharma as well as practice its teachings.

Source Material: You Were Born for a Reason: p. 103-112, 135-138 // Know Thyself p. 103, Eye/Knife/Use a Mirror p. 107,
 Convenience p. 108, Ikkyu p. 108, Dragon Palace p. 109, X-Ray p. 137,  Mind/Mouth/Body p. 110, 
Candle Story p. 137

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