Developing Mirror-like Buddha Wisdom

We were speaking about the five types of deep awareness and the relationship that they have with the five aggregate factors that make up our experience – or the five skandhas – and the five types of disturbing emotions. There are many other systems that we can correlate this structure of the five types of deep awareness with, but those are topics to explore in the future. As I’ve explained many times previously: In our study of the Dharma, what we obtain are various pieces of the puzzle. And these pieces fit together in many, many different ways, not just in one way. And so, as we continue our studies, then we can fit various things together and go deeper and deeper.

Let’s look now at the basis level of our five types of deep awareness to recognize what are their limitations and what we need to work on in order to get them up to the point of a Buddha.

What Mirror-like Deep Awareness Can Reveal

Mirror-like deep awareness. When we are with somebody then all the information is coming in, but we don’t pay attention to a great deal of it; we don’t even notice it. But this can be developed further and further, especially when we combine it with the reality awareness of what this is, what that is. For instance: when we see somebody, there’s a tremendous amount of information there that can help us to be able to equalize and individualize and relate to this person.

For instance: when we see the person, a lot of information is there in terms of what they actually look like. Like, for instance, do they look tired, do they look happy, do they look bored? We can see the type of gross emotion that they’re experiencing by the expression on their face. So the body language is very important here. We can see also are their muscles tight or relaxed. You can see this very much in their forehead and around the mouth and the eyes. The shoulders – are they up at attention, or are they relaxed? Are their hands in a fist, tight, or are they relaxed? That says quite a lot, actually. Are they sitting still or are they constantly fidgeting? Like those people that, when you’re sitting at a table with them, they’re constantly tapping the table. Or I have one friend like this that whenever she’s speaking and she’s making a point – with each point that she makes, she bangs the table. It is very, very annoying, actually, but it also says a lot about her. It works like punctuation in her sentence.

Then, of course, we can tell a lot about the person in terms of – if it’s a woman – do they wear a lot of makeup or no makeup. Do they wear a lot of jewelry or no jewelry? Do they pay especial attention to their hair, always having their hair done at the beauty parlor, or are they a little bit more relaxed about that? That says a lot about the person. Do they color their hair? Do they not color their hair? And then also how they dress says a lot about the person. How clean they are, or not so clean. Do they shave every day or not shave every day? That says a lot about the person, doesn’t it?

We take in all of that information – when this person is with a group, do they just sit by themselves or are they with the other people, talking – all the information is right there. The mirror-like awareness takes it all in.

It’s very funny. There’s some physical expressions that are mentioned very much by Shantideva, the great Indian master who wrote Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. He pointed out that when one listens to the Dharma, it’s improper to sit with your arms folded in front of your body – akimbo, it’s called in English – because that indicates a state of mind that’s closed. You’re closing yourself off and protecting yourself from what you’re listening to. Your arms need to be relaxed at the sides so that it reflects the state of mind that’s open. Not with your arms folded, sort-of judgmentally, looking at something. It’s interesting.

If you think about it: If we’re speaking with somebody and they have their arms crossed in front of them, you don’t feel very comfortable, do you? It doesn’t appear as though they are really open. So we can see: do they have the shields up or the shields down? The same thing in terms of when we are speaking with somebody. When we listen to them speak, you can tell an awful lot if you really listen. Does the person speak very loudly or speak very, very softly and you can hardly hear what they say? That says a lot about the person, doesn’t it? Do they speak very, very quickly or very slowly? Do they speak in correct language or do they speak in very incorrect language? Are they speaking in a way in which you can understand or are they just showing off by using big words? And obviously we can tell a lot about the emotional state of the person by the way that they’re speaking. From the tone of their voice, and so on, you can tell is the person very depressed, are they very sad, are they excited, are they very happy? All of that is there in just the sound.

In the West, we would say that what we want to develop then is more sensitivity, to be sensitive to what we see and what we hear, particularly when we’re interacting with somebody. And also, I think, in terms of interacting with the environment; seeing what’s going on around us.

So we have the basic mechanism there. The mirror-like deep awareness. The problem is that it is limited; we’re not using it to its fullest capacity. So let’s think about this for a moment.


Limiting Factors

All the information is coming in, with this mirror-like deep awareness, on all the channels. The limiting factors here are the mental factors of attention – how much attention we pay to what is coming in, to this information. And, in order to pay attention, what we need is interest, don’t we? Without interest, we don’t care; so we don’t pay attention. Therefore we need to pay attention and we need to take interest. So how do we do that? The way that we do that is by identifying what prevents us from paying attention; what prevents us from taking interest.

Well, one thing that prevents it is mental wandering: We’re thinking about something else. And we are commenting in our head, being very judgmental: “Ooh, you look so terrible today,” “Oh, that was a stupid thing you just said,” and so on. Or we’re bringing up old history: “Oh, there you go again. You’re getting angry again.” Or we’re talking in our head about wishes that we have: “Ooh, I wish she would look at me, take interest in me,” and probably further wishes beyond that. Or we may be running mental movies in our head; for instance, imagining what this person would look like undressed. So all of these things cause us to not really pay attention and also not to be interested, because we’re thinking about something else. Thinking about ourselves – “Ooh, I hope they’ll like me” – or thinking about something totally unrelated to the interaction, and so we don’t pay attention. We’re not interested. We’re more interested in what’s going on in our own thoughts than with the other person.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced that. You’re speaking with someone and they’re speaking very, very quickly. And we’re thinking about what I want to say in return to this person, and we’re just waiting for them to maybe catch their breath or take a breath so that we can interrupt and say what we want to say. We’re not really paying attention at all to what they’re saying; we’re just thinking “Oh, why don’t you shut up already, and then I can say what I want to say.” Surely we’ve all experienced that. It’s very difficult, isn’t it? But this is what we need to work on. Therefore we need to quiet the mind and just pay attention with a quiet mind, not thinking anything extraneous.

The Caring Attitude

Also we need what is called the caring attitude. This is a difficult term to translate, but what it means is we need to consider the other person as important, relevant. This is a human being and has feelings just as I do. In other words, we take the other person seriously. What type of mood they’re in, and so on, we take that seriously. That’s important in order to be able to interact with them. And the way that I speak with them and the way that I interact with them – this is also something that I take seriously. If I act like this or act like that, it’s going to affect them.

It’s this mental factor that allows us to not act destructively but to exercise discipline in order to act in a constructive way. So it helps us to refrain from thinking about something else or just saying anything stupid that comes to our head, so that we will interact with them in the most beneficial way as possible; the most appropriate way as possible. If I didn’t care, then it’s equal to me: it doesn’t matter what’s going on with you; I just want to say what I want to say.

We can identify the absence or presence of this mental factor when we speak with somebody on the telephone, I think, quite easily. Or when we notice that they’re speaking to us. Ever have people that, when you speak on the phone with them, they only are speaking about themselves? They never ask us how we’re doing. Similarly when we speak to them, are we only just talking about ourselves? Or do we also care – this is the caring thing – does it matter to me whether you’re busy or not busy? Does it matter to me how your day went? Or it’s equal to me. I don’t care what’s going on with you; I just want to tell you what I want to tell you – about me.

So a little bit here of this mental factor of a caring attitude is going in the direction of what we call in the West consideration of the other person. And consideration of ourselves as well, of course. How am I acting? How am I interacting with this person? Am I making a fool out of myself, or am I acting like a wild person, or am I acting like a human being? Therefore, if we have this caring attitude – that you’re a human being and have feelings, just as I do; and sometimes you’re busy, just as I’m busy sometimes; and sometimes you’ve had a good day or a bad day, just as I have – then we will take interest and we will pay attention to what’s going on with them, to the information that’s coming in with this mirror-like awareness.

I think that’s very important, particularly in our current modern age of the cell phone. What is our attitude toward the cell phone? Is it that I can call whomever I want to and interrupt them at any time whatsoever and they must listen to me, because what I have to say to them is really much more important than anything they’re doing? That attitude.

Let’s take a moment to observe our attitude. Do we really care whether the other person is busy or not busy, or do we just interrupt? This syndrome is what I was referring to when I spoke earlier this week about this inflation of ourselves, of thinking that I’m the center of the universe; I’m the most important one. It’s when we think that that we feel that I can interrupt anybody, at any time that I want to, with my cell phone, because what I have to say and what I want is the most important thing in the world, far more important than anything else that the other person might be doing or wanting to do. That’s the attitude, that I’m the center of the universe, isn’t it? After all, we’re just another penguin in that huge flock of a hundred thousand penguins. There’s nothing special about me.

In order to develop further and further the deep awareness that is like a mirror that’s taking in all the information, we need to quiet the mind and develop this caring attitude so that we will pay attention and have interest in this information that’s coming in. This requires quite a bit of practice, of course, to quiet down. And, also, if there’s not enough information, ask. When we call somebody: “Is this a good time? Do you have a moment? Do you have a minute?” And if they don’t, then be flexible; change. “When would be a good time to call you?” And use equalizing awareness: I know that this person usually at this hour is eating dinner or putting the baby to sleep; it’s not a good time to call.


The Quiet Mind

Also, when we are taking in this information and using the reality awareness to know what it is, then the first question is: Do we have to verbalize it in our heads? If we see somebody, our friend, and they look terrible today and they look tired today, do we have to say in our head “You look terrible,” or do we just know that? Think about that. We don’t have to verbalize it, do we? There are two situations, then, in which we are seeing somebody – observing somebody – with a quiet mind. One is with a quiet mind that doesn’t understand anything; we’re sort of spaced out, looking at somebody. And the other is the situation in which we have a quiet mind but we understand what we’re seeing. That’s correct, isn’t it?

To think of another example: Our car isn’t working properly, so you open up the hood. There’s a big difference between us looking at it and not understanding anything of what we see, or an auto mechanic looking at it and being able to understand immediately what’s wrong (but certainly not giving a whole discourse in his head verbally of what’s wrong). In both cases, the mind is quiet.

That quiet mind that has understanding is what we are aiming for with this mirror-like awareness. And of course to understand requires equalizing awareness and individualizing awareness, etc., doesn’t it? And also flexibility to be able to adjust, if we interpret incorrectly what we see. For that of course we need interest, to check whether or not my interpretation was correct: that you actually are emotionally upset and not just have an upset stomach. When we see an expression on someone’s face, is it that they are emotionally upset or is it that their stomach is upset?

Take a moment and then we will try some sort of exercise.


Physical Limitations

Our mirror-like awareness is very limited now because of lack of attention, lack of interest, even because of a lack in the hardware of our body. For example, we might be very tired – because our body gets tired – and so it’s difficult for us to really take in all the information. We can’t hear sounds that are above or below a certain frequency; a dog can. We can’t see too far away. We can’t see in all directions at the same time, either.

Actually I read something very interesting on the internet in the news the other day which was talking about the new technology that they are developing based on the eye of an insect. The eye of an insect is made up of many tiny, tiny little prisms, which allows an insect to see much more than we can see with our human eyes, because an insect can see multi-directionally. And so they’re trying to make now cameras that when you swallow them – they’re these tiny little cameras for looking what’s going on inside your intestines and stuff like that – that it will be able to take a picture simultaneously in all directions around, based on the physiology of an insect eye. Interesting, isn’t it?

So our hardware – this machine, this body – is rather limited, and so that also affects the scope of our mirror-like deep awareness. But if we were a Buddha and didn’t have this type of limited body and this type of limited mind that gets tired, and all of these sorts of things, then the resultant stage of this mirror-like deep awareness would be that it could take in all the information of everything, with equal attention and care and interest and so on.

It is very interesting. I’ve seen examples of this. My own teacher, the old Serkong Rinpoche, used to sit next to His Holiness the Dalai Lama during teachings that His Holiness was giving, and he was always looking down respectfully. Occasionally he’d look up and just look for one moment at the audience. Then, afterwards, he would be able to say – because he would say to me – this one was asleep, that one wasn’t paying attention, and so on. Just in a very short moment, take in all the information and process it.

I remember when traveling with him in the West, once we went up to the top of the Eiffel tower in Paris. Our hosts wanted to take us up there. And Rinpoche – we got up to the top of the tower and he looked out for approximately one or two seconds, and that was it. Then he said “Why are you just standing there with your mouth open – duhhh – looking at the scenery? You’ve seen it already.” And his comment also was “What was the point of coming up to the top of this tower? You just have to go back down again.” In his last life he also was a “nothing special” Rinpoche. There’s nothing special looking out from the top of a tower. No big deal.

That’s what we are aiming for, is to have this mirror-like awareness that is able to take in all the information. And not just stare with our mouth open: duhhh. To understand it instantly and respond accordingly.

When I first went to India, I lived with a Tibetan monk. And in the evening – the house that I had on the side of a mountain had a spectacular view of the sunset, and so I always would go outside and watch the sunset. My Tibetan monk friend could not understand at all why I was sitting outside and just staring at the sunset. Nothing special.


Actually that gets into another point that is very, very interesting to explore, which is: what does it mean to enjoy something? And to really enjoy it, does it have to last a long time? That’s an interesting question. To see something beautiful for just a moment, or to see it for ten minutes – is it only if we see it for ten minutes that we really enjoy it? Or a much more nasty example: if we just have one taste of a delicious dish and we enjoy it, is it really necessary to eat so much of it that we make ourselves sick in order to really enjoy it? If we only have a taste, did we really enjoy it? Think about that.

I think from this example we can identify the mental factor of clinging that I was mentioning the other day, which is what activates karmic potentials. In other words: clinging, when we enjoy something, not to be parted from that happiness; or when we are unhappy, to be parted from that unhappiness. It’s because of that clinging. Enjoying it for one minute is not enough. I don’t want to be parted from that. I have to enjoy it for an hour in order to really enjoy it. It’s that clinging that activates karmic potentials. It’s like when we’re with a good friend. We can enjoy being with them for fifteen minutes. But no, we cling: “Don’t go yet. I want you to stay more.” Shantideva said it very nicely. He said that whether you dream for an hour or you dream for a hundred years: when you wake up, the dream is finished. Whether we’ve enjoyed something for one minute or we’ve enjoyed it for an hour: when it’s finished, it’s finished. Same thing.

Although this is not specifically our topic here, I think these are very important points. Actually very helpful, this issue of what does it mean to enjoy something. Or not enjoy something, for that matter. We don’t enjoy having our tooth drilled at the dentist.

The Exercise

The deep awareness that is like a mirror, then, we want to be able to develop this more and more and more. So we can practice doing that on the pathway level. We can do it here as an exercise. However, this is the type of practice that we can do anywhere when we are with anyone. In other words, the information that comes in when we see somebody and when we listen to them, try to do that with a quiet mind – not making comments, not thinking about something else – and pay attention. Because we care what’s going on. I’m interested. Not just curiously interested in the mating habits of some birds in the trees that I’m watching through binoculars – this birdwatching type of phenomenon we’re doing with other people – but as a human being who has feelings, and I want to relate to them.

So let’s try this, while we’re here, as an exercise. This is an exercise that we do in the sensitivity training that I developed in a book called Developing Balanced Sensitivity. It’s on my website, if you’d like to see it. You can buy it if you want to buy the book, but it’s there for free on my website.

To do this exercise, we need to look at each other. Therefore I would request you please to rearrange the way you’re sitting, so that you are in a few circles. With whatever number of people is convenient. There are six, seven, eight people. You don’t have to do a huge moving of your chairs up where the chair section is, but just have the chairs facing each other so that you see a number of other people.

What we do is, basically, we try to first have a quiet mind. So if there’s a lot of verbal thought going on in our head, to just sort of release it as we breathe out. The way that you do that, by the way, is to not take any interest in the verbal thoughts that are going on in your head: they’re really boring. We only hang on to them because we’re interested in them. That’s an important guideline to remember when you’re trying to go to sleep and that voice in your head is just going on and on and on and on. Try to recognize that voice as boring – it’s boring, this garbage going on in my head – and just quiet it.

The point is that we don’t want to stare at each other like in the zoo. If our eyes meet each other, just pass by; don’t get stuck staring into another person’s eyes. And sometimes people when they do this might start to laugh. That just is a nervous reaction for being unfamiliar with this. So if one person in the circle starts to laugh, let’s try not to be like a pack of dogs: when one dog barks then all the rest of them bark. Try to focus on the breath. That can help us to calm down from laughing.

So we quiet down. Let go of all the verbal garbage and movies that might be going on in our head. And recognize that all these people that we see around us are human beings and have feelings, just as I do. Right? I’m not just looking at people on a television screen. These are real people with feelings just like I have. And then just be the camera and look around, without staring. And take in the information without commenting. Take in all the information of how the person holds their body, how they take care of themselves, all these various features. Do they look stressed? Tired? Energetic? Okay. So let us try that, please.

First we start by looking down at the floor, and we just breathe normally through the nose to quiet down. If all sorts of extraneous thoughts are going through our heads then just let go of them – they’re not very interesting – and as we breathe out, we imagine that they leave us.

Then, maintaining that quiet mind, we look up and see the people around us. The way that we pay attention to them is with the factor of attention or consideration, which is: I’m considering them as human beings with feelings just as I do. And then when we have established that we’re paying attention to others with a quiet mind and a caring attitude, then just be the camera. Look around at each one and just take in the information without commenting and without being judgmental. Try not to be like the person who knows nothing about car engines looking inside the car hood. And when the mind starts to make up some sort of story about the person, just let it go; breathe it out.


Then to end the exercise we again look down and focus on the breath, and just let the experience settle.

So that is this first exercise about the mirror-like deep awareness. Quite interesting, isn’t it? So please digest this further.


Thank you.