Life is a mirror: We must be happy in order to be happy

“The world is my mirror. When I smile in front of a mirror, the mirror smiles back at me. If I do not smile, the mirror will not smile either no matter how long I wait.”

— Korean Buddhist master Rev. Hyogwang of the Jogye order 

Happiness in life

Most of us depend on the outer world to find happiness in life. We believe that in order to be happy, certain conditions must be met and certain desires must be satisfied. Therefore, most of us try hard to manipulate outside conditions. However, as long as our happiness is dictated by external circumstances, we cannot find lasting happiness.

As repeatedly mentioned, the outer world is essentially illusory by nature. Life itself is illusory by nature. True reality lies within us. Outer life is a mirror of inner reality. It always reflects back to us how we feel inside, what we send out, and what we carry in our inner space. The following Korean folktale imparts great wisdom to us on this subject.

Mirror, mirror

Once upon a time, there lived a farmer and his family who had never seen a mirror in their whole lives. One day, the farmer visited a city and brought a mirror as a present. His 5-year-old daughter first picked up the mirror and said excitedly, “Thank you so much, daddy! You brought a playmate for me. Now I can play with her all the time.”

Incredulous, his wife snatched the mirror from her daughter. When she looked at the mirror, she saw a young, feisty-looking woman staring back at her. “That’s good,” she said. “You brought a maid for me. Now I don’t have to work so hard anymore.”

His mother was elated to hear that they would have a maid. So the mother also grabbed the mirror to check out the new maid. But when she saw an elderly lady in the mirror, she scowled at the reflection and mumbled in a disappointed voice, “She looks so old. We cannot use her. Why did you bring this old lady?”

life is a mirror

Your outer life is a mirror of your inner space

Just like the farmer’s family in the story who do not know that a mirror reflects their own faces, many of us do not know that our outer lives reflect our inner space. Therefore, many of us still try to change external circumstances, instead of directly working on our inner space.

However, this is like asking the mirror to change our reflection. If you want to see yourself smiling in the mirror, you do not demand that the mirror show you a smiling face. You understand that the mirror merely reflects the image in front of it. So if you want to see a smiling face in the mirror, you just smile without trying to manipulate the image in the mirror.

Life is a mirror too. So, we must stop reacting to the “mirror” and instead, create an “image” we want to see reflected in the “mirror.”

Find happiness within and let your life reflect your happiness

If we want to find lasting happiness in life, we have to generate the feeling of happiness from within and let our life reflect that happiness back to us. Once we generate the feeling of happiness from within and maintain this feeling, life will support our happiness by giving us more reasons to feel happy. There is a time delay in this process, so we may have to be patient and trust the process, before we can see tangible evidence.

However, we can rest assured that what we create internally is always reflected outside since outer life is a mirror of inner space. Instead of demanding that the mirror present a different image, we can create the image that we want the mirror to reflect.

Now, go over your desires and examine if you are making your happiness dependent on the fulfillment of your desires. Are you saying, I will be happy if I make this amount of money or I will be happy if I find someone to love, etc. etc? Instead of relying on outside circumstances, create the feeling of happiness first, regardless of outside circumstances, knowing that if you maintain that feeling long enough, the world will validate it with tangible things for all to see. The key is to achieve unconditional happiness.

In other words, we must internally create happiness unconditionally regardless of external circumstances. There does not have to be any reason to be happy. We want to be able to achieve happiness unconditionally without any reasons or justifications to feel happy. We can create any feeling or emotion we desire separately from outer circumstances. This is the ultimate freedom we have been given.