The original face

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

Or how to retain nothing of oneself, to forget oneself and forget oneself again to display one's true face.

An extremely well-known and very stimulating koan preserves a simple exhortation from the master to his student: "Without depending on right and wrong, show me your face before the birth of your parents!" ".

This invitation may seem comical and absurd, and yet... We receive this injunction every day, there is not a step, a breath, a movement, a word or a silence which does not offer this pivotal moment where this face which does not depend neither time nor concepts can manifest. A face washed away with the passing of age, without youth, except that of the marvelous freshness of the moment, without seniority, except for the calm and tender depth of his gaze. A face that is far from the one that we compose, painted and made up, a face where we appear as we are without the masks that social ceremony imposes on us or lends us. Without those smiles or those looks of circumstance that we wear out of habit or laziness. The face before the birth of our parents is then an improbable fertile property. Freed from conditioning and relieved of the weight of ancestry, what or who do we end up looking like?

"Me, I", really?

Because here we are, we have ended up believing all these stories, ours and those that others have written just for us; there are family tales and legends where we are condemned to never be more than the youngest child or the congenital awkward with all the variations in between. There are also the stories woven on the fabric and the profession of our friendships and relationships, the acid words and the seemingly innocuous little sentences, distilled by our traveling companions. Finally and above all, there is our own monologue, this voice which, on the edge of sleep or in moments of solitude and withdrawal, gives body and substance to this self that it kneads and shapes. We are therefore elaborated and constructed by all these voices whose threads and nets agitate a very strange puppet. For want of a better word, we call it “me” and sprinkle it and punctuate our sentences as if to reassure ourselves: “Me, I”. So much so that we no longer end up living our life, but that of one or another whose existence and paternity we constantly claim. We live under the folds, grins and wrinkles of one or another. Changing masks and faces according to encounters and situations. We take our thoughts for the real, and our antics for true expression.

To be in the world absolutely and unconditionally

The path of Zen, on the other hand, is the abandonment of the voices. This is what Daito Kokushi invites when he suggests to Emperor Hanazono to let go of every thought as soon as it arises. To give oneself to the action of sweeping away the thoughts. He continues in these terms: “When we drop the thoughts, the original face appears. Thoughts are like clouds which, once dissipated, give way to the moon. This moon is that of the eternal truth of the original face”. The most important point is not to fall into the trap of fascination or the search for this face, above all not to become attached to it or even to name or trace it, which would amount to further obscuring it. You have all met these poor madmen, their heads lost in a mirrored screen and who, in a famous narcissistic gesture and encouraged by digital technology, take a picture of their head against a setting they have chosen for themselves. In this new cult returned to the self and its mirages, they gargle with a simple image that takes the place of the world to them, becoming intoxicated and enchanted by it. Mirror, oh mirror...

“When thoughts are dropped, the original face appears. Thoughts are like clouds which, once dissipated, give way to the moon. This moon is that of the eternal truth of the original face. » Daito Kokushi

To really meet the real woman or man, all you have to do is practice, breath after breath, step by step, without freezing or defining anything. Without seizing, brandishing or claiming anything. Above all, it is important not to worry about it. This face is present on the condition of forgetting it, it is in spite of oneself that it happens and without our being able to contemplate it. No selfie or pose can summon him to appear. It is the dynamic totality of our being in the world and its dance beyond the illusions of the dual world. The act of sweeping away thoughts by returning to reality, what one is doing and where one is, is already the manifestation of this.

In a marvelous text, the Diamond Sutra, it is written that our spirit is like the dawning star, the bubble in the waters of the stream, a flickering flame, a ghost or a dream. In fact, we are floating in a floating world. Woven of evanescence and mirages, we are devoid of the slightest attachment. The absence of ego is not something that is practiced, it is our DNA. So there is no one to get rid of. Since our birth, so many faces and faces have followed one another. Who are we and who is the truest?

In fact, the original face cannot be expressed; he is the ineffable, the unspeakable. And the Japanese monk Dôgen, never short of a paradox, yields to the exercise of saying it. He writes a short Waka by putting it as a title:

original face

In spring, the flowers,
In summer, the cuckoo
In autumn, the moon
In winter, the snow
Seasons, pure and clear

Here, not a word about me. Nothing remains except the simple succession of the seasons. This poem is, in the eyes of many lovers of Japanese culture, a pure and just expression of its subtlety and self-sacrifice. More directly, this is the face that each of us will be able to experience in the stripped presence of self-care, in abandonment to others and in the poetic beauty of the world. A “spiritual selfie” open to the universe as it is. It is enough to be in the world absolutely and unconditionally. To retain nothing of oneself, to forget oneself and to forget oneself again.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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