In INSIGHTS by Erik Pema Kunsang2 Comments

The Indian master Padmasambhava used the mirror and its reflectivity as one of the most powerful metaphors for consciousness. That means the conscious thing which we are, all of us without exception. Throughout human civilization there have been attempts to formulate that conscious ability in response to the question, what are we really, of what is experience made, where does perception takes place, what is it that feels emotions, and the big question, can consciousness, meaning us, know what it is, directly, by itself and without the use of technological instruments?

A meditator in the field of empirical science enters an entirely different sort of laboratory to carry out his field research. Often a cushion or a chair is sufficient. The meditator could also simply be standing in his shoes or walking, eating or lying down. The difference between normal life and the scientist-yogi’s inner exploration hinges on a very simple but vital point: consciousness studies itself. The observing mind is the object of observation.

How is it even possible for thousand of years to pass in human history without the nature of consciousness having become an observable, obvious fact for every woman, man or child? How has this most fundamental and common dominator for all of us evaded detection? Is it very shy, incredibly crafty, or something very different?

Like images appearing in a mirror, no thing in itself, yet everything is reflected. —Padmasambhava

The answers to these questions are often withheld as a secret among the teachers of esoteric knowledge. One may wonder whether this secrecy is stinginess in disguise, a power-trip, or possibly an act of kindness. I have learned that the reality of consciousness only becomes authentic knowledge in the absence of any and every preconceived idea. That its truth has to be uncovered individually, as an adventure travel, an inner research in the meditator’s mind. A journey undertaken with an imitation of understanding rather than the direct insight that results from meditation training, could be a barrier and therefore an unkindness. It’s exactly at this point that meditators are told to set texts about ultimate reality aside. This is to help the meditator avoid using lofty words, borrowed from buddhas and enlightened masters, to whitewash a temporary lull in the vague and blind emotional consciousness. Whitewashing dualistic mind with words of nonduality is still dualistic mind.

A teacher in the art of experiential investigation would therefore ask questions rather than giving answers. You find this approach exemplified by Buddha in many of the sutras. The reality of consciousness, its timeless nature, has to be discovered, or rather uncovered, in the absence of our concepts. It is the task of the meditation guide to facilitate this uncovering. Rather than being told, isn’t the understanding that you personally discover much more convincing? In hinting, questioning and prodding the meditator along, a teacher of insight uses metaphors. Some of them are beautiful and evocative, but they are just that, metaphors for how the mind is. They are not the mind itself.

The mirror is one of the most used and easy to understand metaphors. In Padmasambhavas words, “Like images appearing in a mirror; no thing in itself, yet everything is reflected.” When you look into a mirror, isn’t it true you don’t see the mirror, only the reflected image? Why is that? And how does it describe dualistic mind while perceiving this fleeting life? Let’s find out!

About the Author
Erik Pema Kunsang

Erik Pema Kunsang

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Translator of ancient Buddhist scriptures, author, bridge-builder to modern life, Buddhist teacher & meditation instructor. Board of director at 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha. Founder of Rangjung Yeshe Publications and LEVEKUNST art of life. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author. Erik's website & retreats.

Featured image by Jill Wellington, Michigan, United States. Photo of water by Bonnyb Bendix,  Germany.

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    re: the mirror posting. CTR said this same thing to me 45 years. to 90% of the questions I asked him he said “find out” to the other 10% he said “wait”
    I love your translation FOTG. Its always within arms reach.
    Thank you for your translations. I would never know such inspiration were it not for what you have written. jk

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