I wrote this in response to Lethe Bashar’s excellent post on Taking Off The Mask.
I did the above sketch around September last year on exactly this topic.
We adjust our character in accordance to our audience, so that it is easier for the target audience to accept us. However, this pose an interesting dilemma: How far to alter our own image to fit the audience vs how much identity to retain?
Especially on the internet, any person can craft an online ‘mask’ that is totally different from his/her true identify. Also In real life, we mingle with various groups of people. People in the workplace, strangers in the streets, and so on. I’ve discussed this phenomena once with my fellow buddhist friends a few months ago – we finaly agreed that this ‘mask’ is actually a form of hypocrisy.
Definition – Hypocrisy:
# insincerity by virtue of pretending to have qualities or beliefs that you do not really have
Hypocrisy is inherently based on the act of lying to others and oneself.
The mask we put is what the audience see – those without the perceiving eye will see only the mask, and will perceive the mask as ourselves. It is an act – we want the audience to think that the mask is the real deal, and we have to act the mask out to make it come alive.
The opposite of hypocrisy is self-respect. A person with absolute self-respect will not be capable of lying to oneself. “Why should we be a different individual other than our own self?” This is what it means to live as a person of absolute integrity.
But of course, we all know how difficult this is – And yet we also know how liberating this must be, to have NO Mask to wear – no make-up nor persona to maintain, to just be you through and through in all circumstances, with all audience.
The first question is this: How far to alter our own image to fit the audience vs how much individuality to retain?
Unfortunately, the mask does not come for free. It come with a price. It took a lot of energy to maintain the appearance to a mask, because each mask needs a certain level of acting to make it come live. And the mask – based on hypocrisy – will at some level present inconsistencies with our own character
If there are zero inconsistencies, then the mask will be an exact replica of our own self, in which case there is no mask needed!
This begs yet another the question: What is the price of maintaining all that mask?
The more insecure a person is, the more layers of mask that person will wear. The more audience/group the person interacts with, the more variety each mask will have. The purpose of the mask is to hide the self. But only if there is a self to hide. Remember that the longer the mask is worn, the more it will chip away your genuine self.
In today’s society, I would say it is IMPOSSIBLE for a person to not have a mask, unless he/she embarks on deliberate practice to attain that character of absolute integrity. I consider it to be one of the key aspect of attaining enlightenment (from a buddhist perspective).
Buddhas in the past, present, and in the future never appear as one persona for one audience and then another persona for another audience. He remains a buddha, through and through, in face of adversity, calamity, as well as in joyous occasion.
This quality of absolute integrity and purity is succinctly expressed in a poem I stumbled upon many many months ago (from this page) by the Zen monk DOGEN.
Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.
And so, we arrive at the final question to ponder: in Dogen’s poem – and do think about this closely – what quality is possessed by the one tiny dewdrop that enables it to reflect the majestic beauty of ‘the whole moon and the entire sky’ ??