What We Learn from the Story of “Matsuyama Mirror”

The Taste of the Nembutsu cover image

A message from Rev. Daido Baba which appears in the book, “The Taste of the Nembutsu,” published in 2016 by the HHMH State Ministers’ Association. The book is a collection of dharma messages by each of the active ministers.

To extend the reach of the dharma within these messages, we will publish one per week on our website.


What We Learn from the Story of “Matsuyama Mirror”

Rev. Daido Baba

The teachings of Buddhism are often compared to a mirror. This is because it teaches us to reflect on human nature.
In the modern world, a mirror is essential for us. We often use a mirror to look at ourselves and see our own reflection. We especially look into a mirror each morning before going out. We look at ourselves in order to make sure that we are presentable; we may take time to fix our messy hair or to apply makeup. For us men, we need to shave off the overnight stubble from our faces. Thus it is important to look at oneself in the mirror of life every day.

There are a lot of stories about Buddhism and a mirror. Here I would like to share one of my favorite stories about a mirror. This story is one of the Rakugo. Rakugo is a traditional way of comic story telling from the seventeenth century in Japan.
Long ago in Matsuyama Village in Echigo, now part of Niigata prefecture, there was a man named Shosuke. He was such a devoted son who never missed daily visits to his father’s grave in the 18 years since his father died. Moved to hear of his devotion, a local government official said, “On the government’s honor, I’ll give you whatever you want.” Shosuke responded, “I want to see my father again for even just one glance”. The official wanted to grant his wish and gave him a mirror, saying, “Don’t let anyone in the village see it.”

As a peasant, Shosuke had never seen anything like a mirror. Nobody knew about a mirror in Shosuke’s village. When Shosuke received a mirror, he was so astonished, believing that the reflection of his own face to be his father’s. From that point, Shosuke hid the mirror in his barn. Secretly each day, Shosuke gazed into the mirror and greeted his father each morning and night, without telling his wife.

His wife, Omitsu became suspicious of her husband’s behavior. While Shosuke was out, Omitsu searched around the barn. Digging through and around the dusty barn equipment, Omitsu was astonished to find the mirror. “My old man has been sheltering a mistress in our barn! How dare he!” When innocent Shosuke came home, Omitsu was so outraged that she began yelling and cursing at Shosuke and an argument followed.

At that moment, a Buddhist nun passing by heard their unkind words and intervened. Listening to them shout and argue, the nun saw the cause to be the mirror. Looking into the mirror, the nun said. “The woman is sorry for causing your argument. She is apologizing by shaving her head.”

Do you understand this story? Does it make sense? They didn’t understand how a mirror worked. They didn’t know they were looking at themselves in the mirror. Of course, the nun didn’t know that the reflection of the shaven head was just the nun herself. Japanese nuns shave their heads. The mistress whom Omitsu misunderstood to be someone else, was just Omitsu herself. So, they didn’t know themselves. Wouldn’t it be scary not to know your own reflection?

Anyway, when we stop to think about this story, we each have a mirror and know how it works. We recognize ourselves when we look into a mirror. However, do you have a mirror that can reflect your heart or your true colors? If you don’t have one, this means you don’t know yourself. Even if you knew your outer appearance, you may not know your true inward nature.

Through the teachings of Buddhism you may be able to see what is truly in your heart/mind. To know yourself is meaningful for your life. When faced with a problem, the teachings of Buddhism can help to solve it. Buddhism suggests to me that the key to a solution is often within me.

If the mirror or the teachings is warped or broken, there is no meaning. I want you to find a credible mirror. Please find the self whom you don’t know through the teachings of Buddhism. You must not hide the mirror you received in a chest or a closet. Please use it to reflect on your true nature. Namo Amida Butsu.