The Mirror of Dharma
Not all of Buddha’s teachings are of the warm, fuzzy feel-good variety. Some of them are hard for us to hear and accept, but these teachings are often the ones that we really need to take to heart because they will really help us on our spiritual path if we honestly put them into practice. One of these difficult teachings is about recognizing our faults in the mirror of Dharma.
No one wants to examine their faults. They are painful to look at and admit we have them. Intellectually, we all know we are not perfect; after all, that is part of what makes us human and not fully enlightened Buddhas - at least, not yet. But ignoring and pretending we don’t have the faults that we do, whatever they are, only causes us more problems. One thing to remember is that having faults (and we all do) does not make you an inherently faulty or bad person. We all have Buddha nature that is covered with delusions; these delusions, in turn, cause us to have faults.
While we may understand that cherishing others benefits not only the recipient, but us as well, we still don’t practice it all the time with everyone we meet. Why don’t we do this if we know that is beneficial for all involved to do so? Because we are too busy cherishing ourself, of thinking we are more important than others, or at least our time is more important. We have made a habit of this self-cherishing mind. The good news is, just like with any other bad habit, the habit of self-cherishing can be broken with effort and practice.
Just as we tend to ignore our faults, we likewise tend to exaggerate our good qualities and take pride in them. As a result of this deluded pride, we develop an inflated view of ourself, and consider ourself superior to others in some way. It could be in our appearance, intellectual ability, physical ability, talents, knowledge, or experience. Our pride makes it hard for us to accept our mistakes, admit to being wrong about our views, or accept any criticism of ourself at all. We may even deflect the criticism by placing the blame on others (i.e., my parents raised me to be this way; it’s their fault!). We become defensive and may even retaliate in anger. This leads to further conflicts, pain, and suffering for all involved, and the negative actions create negative karma for ourselves that will ripen later, creating even more suffering in the future. Clearly, we need to do something to stop this cycle.
We don’t want to think about our thoughts because doing so is uncomfortable and disturbing to us. But if we do not recognize our faults, we can’t do anything to diminish and eventually remove them from our mind. If examining our faults just gets too painful, there is another practice we can do to help diminish our pride and increase our compassion: we can focus on the good qualities of others, and cease searching for and exaggerating their faults. We will naturally come to cherish them as a result, which will make both them and us happier and more peaceful. This is also an excellent way to generate merit (good karma).