“When I do not know who I am, I serve you.
When I know who I am, I am you”
Hanuman in Ramayana (750–500 B.C.)
In the mirror of the Buddha, I see a boy. He looks like me. He talks at me. To find the wisdom of Anatta, I visited a Buddhist master. He gifted me this mirror. I know Anatta means non-self, but I still do not understand what that non-self means. He claims that this mirror of the Buddha could help me give insight into non-self.
I should be grateful, but I do not think I am grateful for this gifted mirror. I do not like what I see in the mirror.
In the mirror of the Buddha, I do not see myself reflected. I do see someone reflected, but that is not myself. This mirror does not reflect who I am. I may look in the mirror, but there is no way that this boy, I see reflected, is me. He talks nonsense at me. Our opinions are too separated from each other.
I shared my troubles I experienced at work. In response he said I was stubborn. That is not fair. Whatever I try, I am unable to succeed in convincing him I am not stubborn. I am unable to convince him that his view about me is wrong.
The boy in the mirror judges me: “You are stubborn. You cannot deny you were stubborn when you were a student. Now you got it proven again at your job.”
It is not just him. As a student, I built a reputation of a stubborn boy. I strongly believed in myself. I had a strong will and was willing to fight to follow my heart. I still drag those consequences of my fighting spirit as a student. Even now, when I do not feel like that strong-minded person any more, I cannot shake off that reputation. I am exhausted by constantly hearing I am stubborn. It is so frustrating! Why do people have to keep judging me?! Can’t others just listen to my troubles for once?! I feel haunted by my student past.
In my defence, I respond: “I am not stubborn. It is important to me to stay true to who I am. I respect everybody’s opinion. I do not have any intention to convince others of my opinion. However, I do find it important that my opinion is respected as well.”
Hopefully he recognises himself that he is wrong calling me stubborn.
That stubborn reputation has to come to an end. I must get rid of that reputation of bullheadedness. I am not that person any more. He does not know me. He knows me as himself, but not as me. It is so obvious that he does not listen to a word I am saying. Before I even uttered the last word of my sentence, he already has his response prepared. The only person, that boy in the mirror is occupied with, is himself. I feel misunderstood by him.
Shortly after I finished my sentence, the boy gives his prepared response: “You are not the centre of the world, neither is your opinion. It is important to give in to what the other person thinks from time to time.”
This discussion is hopeless. Whatever I had said, the boy had his reaction prepared anyway. He talks, as if I never go along with the point of view of others.
He doesn’t know me. I cannot blame him for that. It is also my fault. Do I share anything that truly tells something about myself? I am more focussed on opposing his arguments, then I am with truly expressing who I am. Instead of trying to give counterarguments to his words, I should express my own words. No wonder that boy in the mirror knows me only as himself. I am not that boy in the mirror.
If I keep opposing his words, then I keep myself trapped by his words. I keep serving his words, but not myself. I am saying what he expects. I need to liberate myself from his words, but how? And why are his words about me about being stubborn? What makes him determined to keep calling me stubborn? What does he want from me?
If I keep persisting my counterarguments, then I will keep supporting his view that I am bullheaded. As long as I remain opposed to him, I will not succeed in convincing him of anything. I have to change tactics. To liberate myself from his words, I need to get us together on the same side.
With a gentle voice, I make my attempt: “Of course you’re right. I will not argue that it truly is important to go along with what the other person thinks. I do not oppose you, by saying it is also important to stay true to who you are. You do not have to betray who you are, when you go along with what the other person thinks. We are on the same side.”
Unfortunately, my attempt to come together fails. Is the boy in the mirror truly that determined to proof me wrong? Does he truly think that low of me?
In a quick response, the boy opposes me: “No! Yes, but… You are always arguing. Sometimes it is necessary to flatter and to praise, but that is hard for you. You kept arguing with the professors at the university. You must realise that you cannot always win the argument.”
I have to restrain myself not to fall into arguing again to defend myself. I admit I fought hard at the university to write the way I was passionate about. I learned a lot. I also got exhausted by my arguments with the professors. I am no longer that rebel. I no longer have that desire to argue with others. I notice the energy draining out of me, due to this discussion with the boy in the mirror.
This discussion is hopeless. There is no win for me, in any way. Even if I give up this discussion, he would think of me as stubborn and a fighter.
But is winning the discussion that important to me? Why does it matter what he thinks of me? If he thinks of me as stubborn, does that also makes me stubborn? Is the truth dependant on what other people think of it? Who I am, is that truly dependant on what other people think of me? Who is it, that I try to defend in this discussion?
The truth does not need me defending it. My pride may need me defending the truth, but the truth itself does not need me. It remains the truth without me defending it.
I am done having myself as the centre of this discussion. Being self-centred in this discussion is no fun at all. I am very focussed on myself, but who is that? On who am I focussed on? What is the self I am defending? I waste so much energy on defending the fiction I have about myself, but is that fiction truly who I am?
I am who I am. What he, and others, may think of me, that does not determine who I am. Even what I think of myself, does not determine who I am. Words do not make me. I am, that’s all. Even that may be too much said.
If that is so, why do I then waste so much energy on arguments, which in the end do not decide in any way who I am?!
I am done focussing on ‘myself’. I stop focussing on what he may think of me. I let go of those self-centred questions, like: How do I come across? How can I be better? Do I agree with him? Does his words make sense to me? I am done wasting my energy on those fantasies about ‘myself’. I decide to grab this opportunity to get to know him better.
I vulnerably ask: “How do you experience people that are stubborn?”
I am a little scared to listen. I am afraid what he may think of me. I am afraid to truly listen how he may think very different than me. However, it is not about me. Even if I do not agree with a word he is saying, even then this conversation is not about me. Maybe I am afraid that he looks more like me, then I am willing to admit. I do not know. That is not important. My insecurities, my ignorance, my fears are not what matters. My focus is on him and what he has to say.
To my great surprise, I hear the boy saying: “Stubborn people keep me from being myself. They do not listen. They are so occupied by what they think of me. They do not seem to have any interest in how I think about myself. I feel misunderstood by them. Others do not know who I truly am. I do not seem to get rid of the image stubborn people have of me. In that situation, I cannot express myself properly.”
I listen to him with great interest. I recognize myself in his words. I am not the only one that feels misunderstood. I am not the only one that cannot lose the image other people have of me. We look more alike, then I was willing to see. His struggles are my struggles. This mirror may be a mirror after all. I want to hear more.
With great curiosity, I ask: “How do you cope with the fact that others do not understand you?”
I listen more deeply. My attention grows, while I let go of my self-centred attention. The more he talks, the more value and truth I see in his words. The more value and truth I see in his words, the more I feel I truly get to know him. I feel I truly see him in the mirror.
However, it is still a mirror. Is it the boy in the mirror I get to know better, or do I see myself reflected in him? Is it not myself that I get to know better, while I get to know him better? Is it not myself that I see better, when I look at him better?
I know myself. I do not require any confirmation, nor do I need to convince myself that I know myself. Even if I do not know myself, I do not like to have a confirmation about that either.
Because I know myself, I can let go of myself. I get to know him as myself. Because I know myself, and thus I do not have to waste energy on myself, I am the other person.
When I look now in the mirror of the Buddha, I see myself reflected. There is no dualism, no separate I and no separate you. There is no separate self, not my separate self, nor his separate self. Finally I realise: I am him. I have always been him.
In the mirror of the Buddha, I see a boy. He is me and I am him. I smile. He smiles.
In the mirror of the Buddha, I see myself smiling back at me.