We Are What We See

Once upon a time, two good friends, a poet and a monk regularly sat together drinking tea and discussing philosophy.  The poet had a bit of ego, often turned those peaceful discussions into debates with a desire to win.  However, the calm and grounded monk, although didn’t try, won those debates most of the time with his deep wisdom.  

One day, the poet tried to provoke his monk friend again to see who would win the debate.  He asked the monk what: “What do you see in me?”  The monk replied: “I see a Buddha in you.”  Then the monk asked: “What do you see in me?”  Looking at the monk wrapped in a dark brown robe with his legs crossed on a mat, the poet replied: “I see a pile of shit.”  The monk simply smiled and said nothing.  The poet was quite satisfied with the result.  

Once arrived home, the poet was excited about his triumph of the day, he couldn’t wait to share the story with his sister who was also a poet.  After hearing it, she couldn’t stop laughing.  A while later, she said: do you know the Universal Truth that Buddhism teaches? The outside world is a projection of our inner world.  What we see outside is a reflection of what we have on the inside.  When the monk sees a Buddha in you, it is because he has a Buddha in him, therefore, he sees everything from a Buddha’s perspective, full of compassion.  When you see a pile of shit in him, that’s because you have a pile of shit inside of you.  The moment you call him a pile of shit, you have already lost the argument.     

What this story illustrates is a classic mistake most of us make because we are unaware about the Universal Truth.  In the physical world, what we see is what we see.  Just because we see a table, it doesn’t make us a table.  However, in the non-physical world where thoughts exist, the logic is always the opposite.  Because we are all connected through energy as part of Oneness, there is no other but extension of ourselves.  Because the world is big, we cannot see everything except what resonates with us.  For this reason, here is an important Universal Truth to keep in mind: We are not what we think we are, we are not what others think we are, we are what we think others are.  

This is not to say if we see a thief, then we are thieves ourselves or if we see someone irresponsible, then we are irresponsible ourselves.  If we are unbiased, calm and grounded, most likely what we see is the truth.  But if we are emotional triggered by a specific behavior or events, it can indicate an emotional resonance.  What does this mean? It can have multiple implications, both positive and negative.  

On the positive side, this can be a signal through which to discover our life mission.  For example, Candace Lightner’s daughter was killed by a drunk driver, at a time when drunk driving wasn’t illegal.  Driven by the desire to prevent similar tragedies from happening, she went on a mission to change the reality by creating the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) organization. The organization subsequently changed the legislation on drunk driving, and offered education and infrastructure to prevent drunk driving in multiple countries.  Her interest on this subject was triggered by deep emotional resonance.  Similarly, many people who experienced poverty in their childhood, once they become wealthy, they dedicate their lives to help the poor and the vulnerable.  These are examples of turning our own struggle into motivation for positive social changes. 

On the negative side, emotional resonance can be triggers to expose our own shadows.  What we resist the most is what we need the most, in terms of areas of personal-growth.  We often expose such shadow by projecting it onto others.  We do this in two ways.  Either we accuse others of what we dislike the most about ourselves or what we want but currently lack in ourselves.  For example, calling others arrogant, when we actually admire their self-confidence. Instead of acknowledging, we project onto others and blame others as “a pile of shit”.  

Let’s illustrate this with a few real-world examples.  In a specific team, there are 3 special members – A, B, and C.  In the very first team meeting, out of blue, Member A announced the following: “The kind of people that I dislike the most are those who promise to do something but never follow up with actions.”  In the following months, the team discovered the most noticeable pattern about member A is that he makes promises but doesn’t deliver.  

Member B accused another colleague as “narcissistic” because “that colleague thinks she is perfect and better than everyone else.”  Over the following months, the team couldn’t identify those characters in that colleague. Instead, they found something interesting about Member B.  like the poet, Member B had a strong tendency to be right and to feel superior.  If other colleagues announce: let’s make sure we arrive the meeting on time tomorrow or let’s make sure we do our best the next month, Member B is likely to take it personal as if he was personally attacked.  He would argue, I always come on-time, have I not done my best?  What Member B doesn’t recognize is his own “narcissistic” tendency – always try to draw attention to himself and make himself appear to be perfect.    

Member C was given a detailed and agreed job description, but the tasks were not completed.  Although the team leader reminded her and offered to support, there was no response, and no improvement.  When the team leader reminded her again and tried to help her improve, instead of reflecting on her own performance, Member C turned the focus and blame on the team leader: “You think that I am not qualified to do this job.”  The team leader was surprised.  He only focused on helping Member C improve performance, never questioned whether she was the right person for the job.  Like the previous two members, Member C potentially revealed some truth about herself the team leader never considered before.   

From these examples, we can see how the human mind works.  As a rule of thumb, the outside world simply serves as a mirror.  If we don’t like what we see, the sure way to improve is to change ourselves instead of blaming the mirror or others.  When we want to judge, blame or criticize others, we could pause and reflect, turn it into a learning opportunity to increase self-awareness.  Ultimately, as part of Oneness, what we give out always comes back to us.  Let’s be mindful about what we share with the world and choose with clear intention.  

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