Everything you experience, sense, and think is perceived through the mind. And the mind interprets everything. That means that most—if not all—of what you experience are mental interpretations.
However, your interpretations of life are not based on fact. Instead, they are mentally distorted stories. You could call them misperceptions, illusions, or projections.
I have a Buddhist mirror, called a melong, that reminds me of this fact. I found it at a little shop at Pema Osel Ling, a Buddhist retreat center not far from my home in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The copper disc is curved and shiny.
When I look into it, I see only a blurry, distorted image of myself. And that’s the point—to not see yourself clearly. That unclear image helps you realize that what you see is a mental illusion.
What You See in a Buddhist Mirror
As the young shopkeeper explained, the Buddhist mirror is a metaphor for reality being a reflection of your mind. Thus, a look in the mirror is meant to liberate your mind by helping you realize that life is an illusion.
What you see is not real. It is not reality.
When you look into any mirror, you see a mental interpretation of yourself. You see an image you understand with thoughts, beliefs, and stories created by or in your mind. And those thoughts, beliefs, and stories are inaccurate because they are not based on fact but on interpretations of fact.
Look in a Buddhist mirror…or any mirror. You don’t see the real you but what you think or believe is you.
And your mind does the thinking, right? So, you see a mental construct—an interpretation.
The Origins of the Buddhist Mirror
Intrigued by this little mirror, I did a little research. I discovered that Buddhist mirrors can be traced back to Yogācāra, which literally means “yoga practice.” This influential school of Buddhism developed around the 4th century CE focused on internal perception. Specifically, Yogācāra examines how human experience is constructed by the mind.
One of the Yogācāra theorists, a 5th-century Indian called Vasubandhu, discovered eight levels of consciousness. He claimed the top-level shines with the light of wisdom, “like a great mirror…” Out of this came Buddhism’s The Great Wisdom Mirror or Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom. This level of consciousness reflects the universe as it really is, free of distortion from ego, thoughts, beliefs, or experiences and our incorrect understanding.
Sometimes called a Buddhist initiation mirror, these mirrors were used in initiations into the nature of the enlightened mind. The Lama would show the adept the mirror and explain, “Your mind is like the mirror, in itself empty, but it will reflect everything that is exposed to it without changing because it has no judgment or attachment on what it reflects.”
The Meaning You Make from the Images You See
As you look at yourself and your life, your mind takes what you see—or experience—and gives it meaning. The meaning is based on habitual ways of thinking, old belief systems, and past experiences.
Actually, nothing has any meaning except the meaning you give it. So you make everything mean something.
For instance, you decide that the number on the scale means you are fat or that your boss firing you means you aren’t good at your job. These assumptions might be totally incorrect. You might actually weigh precisely what you should weigh, and the lost job might have been caused by the company’s financial issues.
Several lessons in A Course in Miracles speak to this concept.
- Lesson 1: Nothing I see means anything.
- Lesson 2: I have given everything I see all the meaning it has for me.
- Lesson 7: I only see the past.
- Lesson 9: I see nothing as it is now.
When you realize that what you see is always interpreted by the mind, you can disengage from the false meaning you assign to things, events, and circumstances. You can start seeing with eyes that, like the melong, are empty of judgment or meaning.
Accomplish this higher level of consciousness and way of seeing the world, and you stop seeing a reflection of your mind’s interpretations. You will see the truth. You will see reality.
The Possibility of Seeing the Truth
You might be wondering: Can you, as a spiritual being having a human experience, see this way?
Yes, you can.
To accomplish this goal, though, takes constantly reminding yourself that what you see is a reflection of your mind. Everything you see is through your mind’s eye, and that’s like looking at life through a blurry, distorted mirror.
Clean the lens! Ask what is real? What is true? If I don’t see through my mind’s perspective, what do I see then?
I can’t say that I see this way often…yet. But I know I can if I continue to apply myself.
After all, the great teachers of the world, like Buddha, Jesus, and Moses, have accomplished this level of consciousness. They were human, just like you and me. Therefore, we can do it, too.
Look at yourself in a mirror…or a pond or lake. Remind yourself that what you see is simply a reflection of your mind. It’s not the truth. Try to see yourself without the meaning you give to the reflected image. Ask yourself if what you see is real.
You can do the same for everything in your home or environment. Do you see things a certain way because of the meaning you have given those things? How would you see them if you gave them no meaning…if you dropped all interpretations?
You may have heard that life is an illusion. The Buddhist mirror reminds us of this truth. But you can strive to see past the illusion, and that opens you to an entirely new way of seeing yourself and the world.
Have you tried this spiritual “mirror practice”? Tell me in a comment below. And please share this post with someone who would benefit from reading it.