Appearances Arise from the Mind

The old Chinese saying “appearances arise from the mind” can teach us a lot about ourselves. It is used as a warning, and it explains how appearances can change depending on our state of mind.

The following story can explain its meaning:

One day, a young man called Su Dongpo, a great genius with an extraordinary mind from the Song dynasty, went together with Foyin the monk to a temple to meditate.

After meditating, feeling very comfortable and at peace, Su Dongpo asked the monk how he looked like while meditating. Foyin replied, “You looked like a very solemn Buddha statue!”

Su Dongpo was very satisfied with that answer. The monk took advantage of the occasion and asked the genius the same question. To that, Su jokingly replied, “You looked like a mound of cow dung!”

The monk said nothing. As Foyin was not showing anger at his words, Su thought that he had defeated him.

When he returned home, he told his younger sister, Su Xiamoei, about the conversation he had with the monk and his clever jest with an air of grandeur.

She thought for a moment and gently pointed out, "My dear brother, you have lost. Foyin has the heart of a Buddha, so he saw you as such. You saw him through a heart made out of cow dung, so you could only see cow dung."

After hearing those words, he felt confused. Then, he realized that the monk had done an incredible job in enriching his soul — even when he was treated unfairly, he was always able to maintain goodness in his heart.

This story explains that only when we have compassion in our hearts can we see things in a positive way and offer constructive responses.