“You’re a decent looking guy,” I said to my reflection one night before work. “You’re funny, smart, creative, and caring. I like being you.”
That was a good night; everything went smoothly and people were genuinely a joy to be around.
The next night, I looked in the mirror and sneered. “You fat, ugly piece of shit. You’re a boring, clueless, selfish failure. I hate you.”
That was a night from hell. There was so much confusion around the store and everyone seemed to hate their lives.
Interesting isn’t it? Which John was the real John? Which perception was accurate and clear? Am I really the smart, creative, caring guy or am I the miserable, slovenly piece of shit? Is work really not so bad, or is it really sublimely awful?
Logic tells me that one of these two Johns is real—viewed with a clear mind—and the other is false—viewed with a confused mind. But the Buddhadharma takes a different stance.
Since both moods, perceptions, and overall self-concepts were impermanent and dependent on cause and effect, neither of them were accurate; neither John was the real John. The same goes for work. It’s neither inherently awesome nor inherently awful. If it was either of those things, it’d be so all of the time and not subject changing conditions.
That’s the benchmark for reality in a Buddhist view. Is it permanent? Is it causeless? If the answer is, “No,” to either of those, then it isn’t real, it’s like a dream, a bubble, or a shadow. Like a drew drop or a lightning flash (Diamond Sutra).
Anything that I take to me I, me, or mine that is changing or that came to be via cause and effect, isn’t really I, me, or mine. The sky doesn’t belong to the lightning, the stream doesn’t belong to the bubble.
In the same way, these views and perceptions don’t belong to me; if they did, I could keep them with me. They wouldn’t be positive one night and then negative the next. I also don’t belong to them, because I can’t find any “me” within them. And, even as they come and go, awareness is just awareness regardless of what it’s aware of.
With a dab of mindfulness, there’s a quality of attention that doesn’t seem affected by the comings and goings of views, moods, perceptions and identities. Many, such a Vajrayanins, Advaita Vedantins and some Yogacarins and Zennists have called this enduring awareness the True Self.
Is it? I wouldn’t know. All I know is that the dude I see in the mirror is never the same from day to day.