137. The metaphor of the mirror in zen

In Chinese Buddhism the image of a mirror is very frequent, both to describe practice and to describe enlightenment.

It is quite difficult for us to understand, because when we think of a mirror we think of two: the image in the mirror and the owner of that image.

The whole point of the metaphor however is that there is not two: there is just the mirror.

In the mirror, what appears to be separate is really just part of the whole image.

So each individual thing is there and not there.

Similarly, and perhaps unlike the thing itself, we can look on the image with equanimity.

Understanding all this, we are inclined to see the mirror as being a description of how the universe is. But actually, it’s a description of how the practitioner is. It’s a description of practice.

The reflection is the whole body: the masks of the present moment reconnected with the faces of the past, the tendrils of thought dipping deep into bodily sensation. The mirror is infinitely angled: from the past to the present, from the mind to the body, from this body to all bodies, from the storm to the lingering debris; all directions.

We can’t see it with the eyes.

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