"Mirror mirror on the wall
Who is the fairest of them all?"
So asks the Queen, Snow White's stepmother. When I first heard this fairy tale as a kid, I'm sure I identified with Snow White and not the stepmother. Because especially at that age we tend not to think of self as a potentially 'bad' person. But the real lesson in the fairy tale is found in the part about the stepmother.
The stepmother is looking for affirmation or verification of her sense of self by asking the mirror. It's a habitual way of being I think everyone falls prey to. In fact, society tries to train us to live this way from the time we're born. But to live the richest possible life, to live to our full potential whatever our dharma and karma is, using the mirror to affirm our sense of self is backwards. Many of the lessons in zen try to show us that. Beginning with the white wall in zazen.
The word 'fair' is an interesting one especially in this context. Fair can mean either beautiful or in accordance with merit, effort or significance. As long as we hold onto the view of a self separate from the rest of the world, life isn't always going to be fair.
We typically ask the mirror, which is the ten thousand things, to verify our sense of self. We tend to become frustrated, sad, angry and resentful when they don't affirm us. We react to defend our sense of self. With these reactions we build walls around self that prevent us from fully experiencing the beauty in the universe, the ten thousand things and even our selves.
Being a clear mirror is to be un-self conscious. Self becomes fluid and flexible reaching out and actting to verify and experience the beauty in all things. When we incorporate the clear mirror into our way of being, it's not like we don't become frustrated, sad, angry and/or resentful anymore, but the trigger of those emotions is different, the emotions don't arise in an effort to defend the sense of self. We remain open and experience things more fully. And we learn to respond, instead of react.
The lesson in Snow White is this:
The Queen was being terribly unfair. But the person the Queen was the most unfair to was herself. While the Queen was suffering and worrying about her own beauty all the time, and probably how people would judge based on appearance, even when circumstances were treating her well, she was missing out on the real beauty in life.
Image from: Weirdwebbed.