Introduction to the Self-Reflection Meditation
In this meditation, you are cultivating the foundational skills of concentration and mindful awareness. In order to practice wise and compassionate self-reflection, it's important to cultivate what's called "Right View" according to the 8-Fold Path, the heart of the Buddha's teachings.
The Importance of Right View
Right view allows us to move in the right direction on our spiritual path towards wakefulness and liberation. And, it enables us to practice self-reflection as a tool for realization.
The kind of self-reflection that we are trying to cultivate is a way of looking at ourselves in a manner that is not bound or entangled within our self-cherishing and clinging to all that we think we are and know. We are training to see ourselves in a way that is beyond the limitations of our fixed views, and the habitual beliefs and actions that arise from them.
The Dharma Mirror: A True Reflection
We want to be able to look into the Dharma Mirror to see a true reflection. But this mirror is typically covered by the dust of our habitual ignorance. It is covered by the thoughts, emotions, fears, grasping, aversions, etc., that we mistake as reflections of ourselves and the world. But they are like dust that clouds the mirror, obscuring the truth of what is actually present in the moment.
Training to See Clearly
So we need to train ourselves to remove the dust. It's as if the mirror itself is kind of sticky. But that stickiness is our self-clinging. Clinging to our habitual views and intentions. If we let go of this clinging, and even let go of the belief in some kind of self that we identify with, we will actually remove the stickiness. And we will see the self that is presently standing in front of the mirror more clearly.
Beyond the Self
It's not that we will not see thoughts, emotions, or the sensory world of which we are a part. But we will see them without identifying with them. Without needing to grasp onto them. Or push them away. We will see that they are all arising within an infinite ever-changing web of interdependence and causes and effects. There is no fixed self to get caught or identified with. We break free from a smaller sense of self and realize a greater self-nature.
Awakening to Wakefulness
This greater nature is our wakefulness. It is a nature that is free from the limitations of the smaller sense of self through which we typically see our lives. We become able to see through our wakeful eyes, with its capacity for great wisdom and great compassion. It's not that our smaller self does not exist. It does. But we see that it too arises according to the causes and conditions of this interconnected life. We see that much of this smaller sense of self is born out of our positive and negative Karmic conditioning. Self-reflection sees all of this, but through the eyes of our Buddha Nature.
Deep Reflection in Meditation
So, this meditation is like a mirror. Where we look deeply into it with the intention to see our true reflection, which is the ripe fruit of our Karmic conditioning interwoven into the universal web of interrelated causes and conditions.
Balanced Observation and Insight
We are training ourselves to see it all in a balanced, concentrated, and mindful way. We are training to see in ways that are not caught up within our smaller conditioned sense of self. But we are seeing it arise. When we see the nature of our conditioning at play, we can gain insight into it. We can better understand what is healthy and beneficial for ourselves and others, and we can see what is unhealthy and unbeneficial.
The Concept of Emptiness
Another way of thinking about this meditation practice as a mirror is a bit more abstract. All things are arising and passing away within our concentrated mindful awareness. In this tradition, we know this to be "Emptiness". All things are empty of a fixed sense of self that we can call the eternal or true self. Everything arises through causes and conditions. If one thing changes, so does the so-called "self". Therefore, it is said to be empty of a fixed unchanging nature. This applies to ourselves and everything else in existence.
Embracing Empty Reflection
So we can say that the true reflection is empty. And the self, you and me, who look into the mirror is also empty. Everything that arises is empty. Yet it is full of all that is created in accordance with Karma and inter-dependent co-arising. So, it is emptiness looking at the fullness of emptiness arising and passing away. Empty of what? Fixed self. Full of what? All interrelated causes and conditions.
The Challenge of Conceptualization
With all of this said, in this meditation, we are training to see in this way. We can't think too long about it because our thoughts will never accurately capture the experience of this way of seeing. In fact, the more we imagine what we will see, the more obscured the mirror will become by the dust of our preconceptions.
Simplicity and Profound Realization
This meditation may at first appear to be too simple to be able to awaken us so profoundly. Thankfully, It is simple, but simple does not mean easy, nor does it mean that it is not effective in showing us how to see differently. This it's magic is in the actual practice. It's not something to understand so much as it is something to do. And if we do it with sincerity, we will see it. When we see it over and over, we uncover our Buddha nature. And we slowly come to understand how we have become enchanted by our smaller sense of self. And because we see this enchantment, we see how it is both driven by and creates the cycle of dukkha, or samsara.
In this meditation, please practice it with sincere diligence. With wise and compassionate effort. Remember, putting the breath at the forefront of your experience connects you to the present moment. But you're open to everything. You're looking into the Dharma mirror. You're not identified with the smaller sense of self. But that's what you're seeing. You're even curious about it. But you're letting it all rise and fall. You're learning how to differentiate your Buddha eyes from your ego eyes. You're learning to see what is "not-self". Which paradoxically opens you up to your true nature. It is your true nature, your Buddha nature, through which you want to see the world. Not only through your an attachment to a smaller egoic self. And, in this way, you are getting to know the nature of both.