“The world is a looking glass. It gives back to every man a true reflection of his own thoughts.”

A kind reader of this blog alerted me to this one yesterday: “The world is a looking glass. It gives back to every man a true reflection of his own thoughts. Rule your mind or it will rule you.”

This is a composite fake quote. The final sentence, “Rule your mind or it will rule you,” is one I’ve dealt with elsewhere. It’s a paraphrase of a quote by the Roman lyric poet, Horace (65–27 BCE).

The first two sentences were correctly identified by my correspondent as being from the work of the Indian-born English novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray. But actually it’s a misquote, from the novel he’s best known for, “Vanity Fair.”

The actual quote is, “The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.” It’s our “face,” not our “thoughts” that Thackeray says is reflected by the world.

The quote continues, “Frown at it and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it and it is a jolly kind companion.”

This composite misquote/paraphrase (not-quite Thackeray plus not-quite Horace) is frequently misattributed to the Buddha.

It’s shockingly common. It’s found on the major quote sites, as you can see from the illustration above. It’s also common on Pinterest and on Twitter, as in this example:

Incidentally, the author’s name is Thackeray, not Thackery. A lot of people who post the misquoted Thackeray quote (with “thoughts” instead of “face”) get his name wrong, too:

Interestingly, the Buddha did talk about mirrors in a metaphorical sense. Talking to his son, who was an ordained bhikkhu (mendicant), the Buddha said:

What do you think, Rāhula? What is the purpose of a mirror?”

“It’s for checking your reflection, sir.”

“In the same way, deeds of body, speech, and mind should be done only after repeated checking.

At another time he talked about how a practitioner can become “skilled in the ways of their own mind”:

And how is a mendicant skilled in the ways of their own mind? Suppose there was a woman or man who was young, youthful, and fond of adornments, and they check their own reflection in a clean bright mirror or a clear bowl of water. If they see any dirt or blemish there, they’d try to remove it. But if they don’t see any dirt or blemish there, they’re happy with that, as they’ve got all they wished for: ‘How fortunate that I’m clean!’ In the same way, checking is very helpful for a mendicant’s skillful qualities.

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