Mind Onlyness

A recent article by Dr. Nobuo Haneda, of the Maida Center of Buddhism, discusses the idea of Mind Onlyness. Usually, we think of the world as being made up of two types of reality. Subjective reality is the world as we see it. Objective reality is a world based on facts. However, Buddhism teaches that there is no objective reality. The world is one of Mind Onlyness, facts as we interpret them. Dr. Haneda uses the following parable as an example.

Long ago in Japan lived a country couple. Their life was a primitive one. Neither of them had ever been to the city. Therefore, one day when the husband went to the city everything he saw was new to him. Coming upon a mirror shop, it was the first time he had seen such an item. What he saw amazed him. There was his late father looking back at him! How wonderful to see his father again. He purchased the mirror and took it home.

The mirror was precious to him so he put it in a special room. He told no one abut this mirror, not even his wife. Every day he would go into the room to visit his father and feel great joy.

Not knowing what was in the room, his wife began to become suspicious. Why was her husband spending so much time in that room? One day, while he was away, she sneaked into the room. Looking into the mirror she was shocked to see a woman’s face. This was why he spent so much time here, he had brought a mistress back from the city! Upon her husband’s return she shouted, “You are cheating on me. You brought a mistress from the city.” A tremendous argument ensued.

Just then, a Buddhist nun stopped by to visit. After listening to both of their stories, the nun was perplexed and asked to see this object. Looking into the mirror she saw a woman with a shaved head wearing robes. Turning to the couple, she announced happily, “Look, the woman has decided to become a nun.”

One mirror, three people, three different realities. The man saw in his reflection the face of his father and experienced joy. The wife, being suspicious, saw her reflection and decided it was her husband’s mistress. The nun, seeking a way to resolve the conflict, saw in her reflection a woman who had chosen a life of celibacy.

The world around us is our mirror. When we are happy, laughter seems to fill our life. When we are sad, it is a world of tears. Angry, conflict seems to surround us. Our human nature tells us that we must correct the negatives we see in order to become happy. The Buddha taught that this approach is futile. The cause of our suffering is not outside ourselves. The suffering comes from how we view the world. The choice of reflection is yours.

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