Something I picked up at the sangha I sat with for a while was the idea of seeing the buddha in other people. During each session our leader would have us bow at certain times, either to each other or towards a statue of Buddha. She was always very clear that we were “not bowing to Buddha. We’re bowing to the Buddha in each of us.” In my head, I just saw the bowing as akin to the show of respect that it represents in a dojo. However, later on, it took on a significance closer to what was intended.
I’m not sure if I’m alone in this but, as I got older, I found I had a harder time naturally making eye contact with new people I met. I have to consciously think about making that contact and holding it. I’m not really sure why this happened. It could be a result of moving into the city, where such eye contact is not always the best idea. Or perhaps it's simply part of the cynicism that creeps into our mindset as we get knocked around by our (sometimes negative) experiences with people in life.
Whatever the case, I wondered if ‘seeing the buddha’ in people might help change that. So I started thinking about it. Everywhere. With people I passed on the street. With people who cut me off in traffic. With people at work. I found that I started to naturally seek out people's eyes more. I was looking at them rather than simply dealing with them. It was an odd mental shift, and the fact I had to make it suggests there’s something I can learn from this.
Of course, it’s hard to focus on this idea all the time. It’s running counter to a mentality I’ve clearly formed over a lot of years. However, one positive side effect is that I find myself thinking more about what lies behind the people I meet. I also feel more at ease around people, and perhaps even a bit more positive towards them. I’m not sure where this will lead (if anywhere), however it’s interesting in that it seems to have tweaked my relationship to the world around me.