“Awareness reflects how things are, how you’re acting in the world, how you’re living in the world. So not only do I have the capacity to engage with life, I also have the capacity to reflect and notice how I’m engaging with life. Just as the mirror reflects my physical posture, awareness reflects the mental-emotional attitude I am coming from in any kind of encounter in life.
That’s really the secret of Buddhism – it’s this capacity to reflect. Because without that, without using that reflective capacity, you tend to be very much just involved with life. You try to do it well, keep the precepts and so on, but we don’t really understand life. We come from a kind of attitude of ‘I should be this’ and ‘I shouldn’t be that’, ‘I should do this’ and ‘I shouldn’t do that’, and we have our responsibilities. But we don’t really understand life.
Where we begin to understand life is where we have this kind of mirroring going on called reflection. And Buddhism is about understanding life. It’s not about just being moral. But morality and generosity are a basis for a reflective capacity actually being stronger. When I live in a way that’s morally impeccable, when I live in a way that has a generous heart in it, it’s much more easy to be reflective, to be aware. If someone is living in a way that’s exploitative of other beings, the environment or hurtful to others, it’s very hard to be reflective, because one doesn’t want to look at the results of that. I don’t want to look at my mind if I’ve been hurting people. I just want to keep it distracted.
We see that in people who are dying. If they’ve lived wholesome, meaningful lives, and then as death comes … the person who has lived a good life, they have no problem with awareness. ‘Oh yah, I remember that, I did that well.’ Whereas a person who has lived a poor life, a divisive life, it’s very hard to be aware - and they need distractions. That’s quite a strong lesson.
So we all have the capacity to reflect. We all can do that whether our karmic formations are very depressed or difficult, or very bright and lucid, we all have this capacity to reflect. And the Buddha’s teachings on awareness are really encouraging. Just begin by awakening to what’s going on in your life. Begin by really just noticing how you live your life, how you speak with people, how you do what you do.”