Looking In the Mirror

Mahjima Nikaya sutta 61 (MN 61: Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta: Instructions to Rahula at Mango Stone) recounts the Buddha's teaching to his son, Rahula. This sutta is often cited in dhamma talks to illustrate the importance of right speech. The real importance of this sutta, however, is the instruction it gives for how to integrate practice in daily life.

One of the essential tasks practitioners must address is how to evaluate the effectiveness of the teachings in their own experience. In other words, how do I know if I am on the right track in my practice? In MN 61, the Buddha lays out a very particular method for doing just that. The Buddha asks Rahula what the purpose of a mirror is and Rahula answers that "it is for reflection." The Buddha then says:

"In the same way, Rahula, bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions are to be done with repeated reflection.
"Whenever you want to do [are doing, have done] a bodily action, you should reflect on it: 'This bodily action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Would it be an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then any bodily action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction... it would be a skillful bodily action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then any bodily action of that sort is fit for you to do."

The Buddha goes on to enumerate verbal and mental actions in the same way. Contemplate, reflect before doing, saying, thinking (if possible), while doing, saying, thinking, and after to evaluate in the laboratory of your own experience whether these are skillful or unskillful. That is, do these bodily, verbal or mental actions cause harm to yourself or others?

This is why we meditate--to give ourselves a mirror for reflection, awareness and skillful evaluation. We may need to experience the effects of unskillful actions, speech or thoughts many, many times before we finally and fully understand the suffering they bring. But sooner or later, there is a tipping point, and we find that we have relinquished unskillful behaviors and adopted more skillful ones.

Posted by Deb.