The Original Face

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Which of those thoughts tumbling through your mind is more important than seeing into your true nature? Why do you allow these random ideas and sensations that are passing through to distract you from seeing your "original face?" I can hazard a guess. Because all of our lives these thoughts, these bodily sensations, keep flipping through the pages of the mind. This is this, these are is the closest things to us. Each of us has this, all of us deal with it one way or another, and we begin to think that all this mental activity and physical sensation ... this is all ME. "That it is what I am." And we forget that there is something before me, this thing that has been called the original face.

Before we were born, before we had a name, there was still something. This something is what may be called "the Lord God," it may be called "Buddha Mind," maybe it’s Creation, maybe it’s just Life. But we all have that and that is the only thing that really drives this person, this machine that I call me. I think I’m doing it, but that is the delusion. There is much more to it.... We are all connected; we are all interrelated, this great powerful energy called Life. Has some purpose, some intelligence. We can’t get to that without stopping all the tumbling and the page flopping, and the awareness of itches and numbness and tingling, a sore butt from sitting on a cushion that's too hard. All are delusions, all distracting us from the purpose of our zazen, seeing who we really are -- "The Original Face."

There is a one-page lecture in the book, A First Zen Reader by Zen Master Dai Kokushi, translated by Trevor Leggett. This teacher lived at the turn of the 14th Century. Let me read a short paragraph: "All Zen students should devote themselves at the beginning to zazen, sitting in either the locked or half locked position (that’s the Lotus), with the eyes half shut, see the original face which was before father or mother were born. This means to see the state before the parents were born, before Heaven and Earth were parted, before you received human form. What is called the original face will appear. The original face is something without color or form, like the empty sky in whose clarity there is no form."

This is what a lot of the Western religions call the spirit or the soul, I guess. In our tradition, there's something before we were born, but it has no substance, it has no color or form. That's why the great bodhisattva Kannon saw that form was emptiness, and emptiness is form.

We find it so tough to tear ourselves away from these mental gymnastics that we perform all the time. It's not really that difficult, if we follow the established procedure. Sitting quietly and just watching things happen. But not being driven by them. Again and again we clear our minds, follow the physical breath, and gradually we see.... It may take a while to discover all the details of that original face, b u t –- what else have we got to do? It's all in the effort, my friends. There’s no magic spell. Just increase your efforts....