The original face is a well-known Zen riddle
What is your true face, your original face which you had before your parents were born ?
The original face is a well-known Zen riddle where the pupil is asked, when you were born, just when you were born, your face was covered with little wrinkles. When you were young your skin was smooth. When you get old your skin is covered with wrinkles again. Now what is your true face, your original face which you had before your parents were born? It’s quite easy to work out a philosophical answer to this. We can say, well, of course the true self has no attributes. These wrinkles or absence of wrinkles, they are all attributes. True self, they aren’t attributes, and so the original face is the true self. The teacher never accepts such things. If the pupil persists in them he hits him quite hard. Now he has to go and find the original face.
He can think well, I know it, Hakuin quite easily said. These attributes, these passing things: reputation, money, poverty, illness, they are not me they are passing attributes. But in actual fact, when something happens, I find there may be masks but they are actually me. Hakuin was a great Zen master, very famous, and a girl in a neighbouring village became pregnant. Her father was a very strict man. She thought she might escape punishment by saying that Hakuin was the father of the child. And as she expected, the father said nothing. When the child was born he took it to the temple, threw it in front of the priest and said, “It seems that this is yours”, and he shouted at him for a few minutes and then went. Hakuin said “Is that so?” He lost all his reputation. He took the baby round, went begging for milk for it. He who had been so great was now totally disgraced. One day the true mother saw him as a child and her mother’s heart was touched. She went to her father and said, no, it wasn’t, and she told him who it had been and her father also was touched and they took back the child.
Now how many could say when their reputation, great reputation has been totally destroyed, they can say, “This is not me, this is not my true face”. The method of presentation of the truth can vary according to the tradition in which it is being expressed. We can say that the Indian tradition has been strong on analysis. For instance the Sanskrit language, the first grammar which still holds and is a masterpiece (our Modern philologists still follow it and admire it) was about 400 B.C.
No one can say the Greeks were fools, but it never occurred to them to analyse their own language until in Alexandria about 200 A.D. they had to teach it to foreigners. Then the first Greek grammars were written. The Japanese never had a grammar until the 16th Century A.D. They had no interest in analysis and perhaps no confidence in it. They are great poets. There are five million poets in Japan, many of them are women. The language has developed not, in the way of analysis, but in the way of creating poetry and we know from some of the historical incidents in the Middle Ages that the peasants in Japan in the 12th Century were well acquainted with poetry. So the presentation of the truth in China and Japan was not done so much in an analytical way, in fact the Chinese failed to understand the subtleties of the Indian logic, and it was presented much more in the form of vivid incidents on which the pupils were to meditate and finally live into until something awoke. Now each of these methods has its strong points and its weak points.
The strong point of the Indian analysis is you get precision. The weak point is that it is liable to become a word knower: a man who knows words, and who feels the words in a way are enough. I know them. It doesn’t have the actual experience. When we walk we balance ourselves by these verticals. If they construct a room in which the pillars are all slightly like that, the average man falls over because he is aligning himself with these verticals which now are not quite vertical. But a man who has been trained in balance has an inner sense of balance. He doesn’t rely on outer verticals to keep his balance. A man who is deceived by the art of verticals which have been twisted, if he shuts his eyes immediately, he can feel the balance. But that is not with him all the time. With a trained man it is with him all the time and he can stand easily on one foot in a twisted environment. And in the same way the first experiences of inner realisation are often had in meditation so to say, the outer twistings are removed, but it has to be with him finally all the time. There has to be developed an inner balance so to say. There must be direct experience.
We can be exalted by perhaps by a lecture, perhaps by some wonderful landscape or work of art, perhaps by music. But when we go back we are still the same. We feel exalted. The Chinese use many vivid examples, some of them to our ears are not particularly refined but they do make the point quite well, and one of the things they say is that if the inner self, what we feel to be our inner self, is distorted and dark, then no amount of elevating thoughts and ideas put on top of it will make much difference. And the Chinese say, a stray dog has run up the steps of your garden and made a terrible mess on the top of the steps and you go out and you think, ‘Oh, how disgusting’ so you get rose petals and you scatter them over the top and you say, ‘Oh, isn’t that beautiful now’ but there is still a terrible smell. And to say it in the same way unless we go deep into ourselves then a surface of spiritual knowledge or practice won’t make much difference. We have to be willing to penetrate and that will mean disturbance.
Some of the great Buddhist stupas in India were destroyed. The foundations still remain. Some of them were enormous, bigger than the area of this room: it was a flat, brick foundation. It was a good thing to build your village on it. In one or two cases it is known that these villages on top of the depths of a stupa and in those depths there will be treasures. But somehow the villagers never get around to getting together and moving off and digging. It’s too much of a business with aunty’s coming next Thursday and then after that we always go there and I couldn’t change one’s house, and it’s all sort of unthinkable.
So, things remain as they are, and this can happen in our lives while we are fairly comfortably off. There has to be a willingness and in fact a sort of compulsion in the air to go much deeper. While the present mask is reasonably satisfactory, we are liable to stay there. But sooner or later, with everybody and later in life in some ways it’s favourable, there will be a desire to go deeper, to find the original face. It’s called in one of the systems, the eighth consciousness. However this is just another word. Now the Chinese are sometimes asked about learning, spiritual learning.
The man who came to a Zen master and said, “Should I study? Should I study the Sutras, the holy text?” A teacher looked at him and he could see this was a very arrogant man. And he said, again this to our ears does not necessarily sound very attractive but it has a deep truth, he said, “When a man gets the infection called roundworms, the worms live in him and they eat the food, and he eats more and more but he doesn’t get more healthy. The worms thrive inside him and finally he dies. You have in you the worms of arrogance and pride.
The more learning you take in the more your arrogance will increase but it won’t help you. You have to learn for the sake of truth and realisation, not to nourish arrogance.” A Japanese Jesuit who didn’t read Spanish told me once he was in the West and he wanted to consult a point in the spiritual exercise of Loyola, the Spaniard who founded this movement, this order, and those spiritual exercises are written it is said in the most wonderful Spanish. Well, he couldn’t read Spanish. He knew English and German. So he went to a Spanish colleague and he said, “I suppose you haven’t by any chance a translation into German of the spiritual exercises which I could read?” And the Spaniard said, “Oh, certainly, yes, I always read it in German.” He said, “What? You? A Spaniard? And this marvellous Spanish? Classic and you read it in a German translation?” He said, “Yes. The fact is I’ve had to study that Spanish text so much to pass examinations and to do research papers and to study the frequency of word occurrences and sentence lengths that now it’s all dead for me. But when I read it in the German the meaning jumps out of the page at me.” To learn but to keep our learning alive.
Learning can become a mask like all the other masks over the original face. There is a story from Poland of a teacher of the system called the Cabbala which has some secrets and the teacher of this visited a village where the Rabbi was locally well known as a spiritual figure. So the Cabbalist stayed right there and met this Rabbi. They talked for a little bit. Now the most famous sentence in the old testament is: “Here oh Israel, your God is won. You shall worship the Lord with all your heart and soul and strength.” Every pastor has to recite it twice every day. And the Cabalist said to him, “You know there is a secret in these words”. The Rabbi said, “Oh.” And the Cabalist said, “But it can never be spoken out loud but I could whisper it to you so that you could, when you are saying it, you would know this secret.” So the Rabbi said, “Oh, yes.” So the Cabalist whispered into his ear the secret meaning of ‘the Lord is one’. The Rabbi said to him, “Oh, I never thought of anything like that when I recite it.” So the Cabalist said, “Well, how do you recite it then?” He said, “Well, I throw myself into the presence of the Lord, into the life of the Lord, and then I recite ‘the Lord is one’. The whole village shook.” The Cabalist whispered, “I can’t say it like that.” This is the difference between learning and actual experience. This is an example from Europe. There are many stories on the Zen lines.
There are many riddles in our texts and we must wake up and not read the holy text simply nodding. In the New Testament, for instance, well there are two different accounts but in one of them Jesus is asked,
“What is the First Commandment?” He said, he quoted this, the most famous text in the Old Testament: “Thou shalt worship God with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength.” And Jesus changed this. It’s never been explained. If you look in the Commentaries you will find no explanation. Most of them don’t even notice. Why did he put in ‘mind‘? These are riddles in our own tradition. We don’t have to find riddles necessarily from the Zen tradition although they can help us. Then there are masks over the original face.
Some of them can be masks of passion, masks of hatred and then masks of pride, masks of learning, even masks of virtue. They tell us we must try to take off these masks. This is me. I am like that. Some people are always looking for the opportunities, inching ahead, and they play a game when they play chess then, like that. They are boxing then, like that. That’s me, in business, he’s always looking for another chance. He walks down the street, he sees a half open gate. He just looks inside. Anything doing there? No? Alright. Always like that. Then there are others who, no no, you don’t want to get excited over things. Just wait. Just wait and see. When they play chess they play a defensive game. Let him attack, yes, yes. Then you count. That’s me, just the same. His boxing’s the same. Just wait, waits with the counter, block block block, waits with the counter. That’s me. But those masks have to be taken off. There are people who are constantly counting. They say, ‘I must express myself’. Then a man comes. Now here is a man, he’s going to commit suicide. Now say something. ‘Oh, oh, I don’t know what to say then. Oh, it’s terrible for you, oh.”
They talk, talk and talk. But they can’t really speak. We must be able to speak and we must be able to keep silent for years together. Forcibly keeping silence again is no good. Hakuin reports he met a man who talked continuously and he said to him, “Brother do you think perhaps you might try silence sometime?” And the man said, “Oh I did.” He said, “I kept a vow of silence for 20 years when I was young.” All that had been bottled up under that vow was coming out. The suppression by force is no good. They give two main methods. One is to see that our desires and passions and hates and arrogance are based on illusions. We can agree with that theoretically, but whether we can agree in practice, when we agree in practice we shall become gradually more free of them, more independent.
The so-called Bullet Train in Japan is called the Shinkansen. it is very famous, even now, and when it first came in was of course a tremendous thing and the children in the distant villages had all heard of this famous wonderful Shinkansen. Well the parents of the children in one village arranged and expedition to the capital and they described they took them to the nearest big station and then they put them on the train which was Shinkansen. But by some mistake the children weren’t told this and the parents describe how they were in this train and they were shooting through the countryside and then they saw another one. And the kids all crowded to the windows saying, “Look, the Shinkansen, the Shinkansen”. One of the parents said, “You’re in the Shinkansen, now. You don’t need to look in it, you’re in it.” It was an illusion that they hadn’t seen. There was something in themselves which was as great as anything they could see. A Zen student is expected to find in himself something which will set him free from the passionate grasping for things outside. The Upanishad says and the Gita says, “He who has his light within and his joy within and his sport within “not just a dentist, not an isolationist, light within, joy within and sport within.
I heard a Japanese teacher give an address and he was referring to the great film star in Japan , Alain Delon, the French actor, and he that was much appreciated. He said, “You see the Japanese wife, she spends the afternoon perhaps looking at the television instead of doing the household chores, and she is looking at Alain Delon. And then about 5 pm she, oh, he’ll be back soon. So she starts working and she puts on the apron and she works hard and she greets him in the apron still. She thinks he’ll think ‘what a hard working wife I’ve got’ and then he comes in and she thinks ‘why aren’t you more like Alain Delon?’ But he’s been reading in the train on the way back a magazine article about Alan Dillon and he looks at her and he thinks ‘why are you more like the glamorous women that Alain Delon seems to come back to?’ And he said that both of them have brought something into their lives which is an illusion because there is no such actor as you see on the screen. It’s a creation of makeup and lights and camera shots. When you meet them, when you meet the film stars, they are nothing like that at all. This is something quite illusory. They’ve brought it into their lives and they’ve given it reality.
Our fears can be illusory and one example that is given is an Indian example. A girl who has an appointment in a park with a close friend and a scholar happens to come there and he sees her and he looks at her rather maliciously and said, “I suppose you don’t mind if I sit here to do my study.” So she thinks and then she says, “Oh no, it’s alright now. This terrible dog, but eh, he’s gone. Since the tiger came the dog absolutely vanished so it’s alright now.” The scholar goes. The fear can be illusory and if the fears are examined and we go deeper and deeper the damage is done to the masks, not to the original face. But we have to be able to take off the masks not think, “this is me”. This is one then great method and in some Buddhist schools this is the main method: to examine the passions and to see their illusoriness and to discard them.
One method that’s given for people who are really sincere, who really want to do something is to go before the dawn and sit on a hilltop, collect a bag of small stones and to sit on the hilltop looking towards where the sun will rise, and to sit in mediation. And as the thoughts come up, take a pebble, as the thought comes up, not wanted, throw it down the hill. Another thought comes up, not wanted, another one, unreal, not wanted, unreal. Well these practices are given to us. We can practice them or not as we like. If we have a crisis in life when we actually want to do something or find something then those practices can be done.
To free ourselves to some extent from the illusions, to get a little bit of freedom, of independence, instead of feeling oh I must constantly do this, I’m like this, I always do that, oh no I never do this. And the second one is to create a focus. We have the feeling oh well I would like to choose, what could we choose now? Yes. It’s not like that. The devotee doesn’t choose the God or the Bodhi Sutra. The Bodhi Sutra chooses the devotee and the devotee must study widely or read with a certain width, not obsessively, different traditions, and finally one will jump out at him. He will find this is where my devotion is to go and he will be able to pour his devotion there. They sit and they visualise vividly the image the classical image of the Bodi Sutra or the God. For a long time that image is supported, it is created, I can think well I can think of Jesus as standing or sitting.
Quite often the pictures of preaching the sermon on the Mount are given standing although the text distinctly said that Jesus sat and he always sat, as is traditional in the Far East. For a long time that picture is created, it is supported, but the time comes and this is explained both in almost the same words in the Indian text as in the Chinese, the time comes when the image becomes radiant. And then it has its own existence. Then he knows the Bodhi Sutra is there. This is not a creation of his own mind. And this brings concentration. He has to have application and in some of the Zen schools they give these riddles because they are very good for catching the mind. What is your original face before the parents were born? Well it produced various answers. The teachers: no, no, no. Well then what? In monastery slang it’s called Shiboli: ringing out a cloth until all allowances, you’ve thought of all of them.
One Zen pupil I knew, his teacher had written a number of books, and he had a particular riddle: the sound of one hand, two hands make a clap. What sound does one hand make? Well he used to go through the teacher’s books looking for the answer and he found what he thought were several answers and he gave them to the teacher and the teacher never accepted them. It corresponds to something in ourselves which we have to find. We have to find the original face in ourselves. We have to find the sound of one hand in ourselves, not an idea. The ideas are masks. There is something deeper than an idea. We think oh well, deeper than an idea, oh yes. Then we get another idea. It’s deeper than the mask of the ideas. They practice every day. It takes about 8 minutes for the disturbances to die down.
This is the experience of many teachers. Of course if varies with individuals and so on. Supposing I have read a book about the Himalayas or the Alps. Oh, marvellous, and then I collect some slides and I think I’ll show my friends and tell them about what I have read. Oh that’s a good thing to do and a kindly thing to do and its expressive so I do that and that goes very well and they enjoy them and they are very interested in my explanations. Then somebody happens to drop in and he says, ‘Have you been there?’ “Look, I’m showing you these wonderful pictures and don’t you think it gives a tremendous … “. ‘Have you been there?’ “Well I’m trying to explain the spiritual atmosphere of these … “. ‘Have you been there?’ “Well no, I haven’t actually been there.” ‘Well to me somebody who talks sentimental nonsense about a place they’ve never been to is just an idiot.’ And he walks out. Well then the party finishes somehow, then I sit down to meditate. The teacher says it will take about 8 minutes before that thought of ‘Have you been there?’ will stop coming up in my mind. And it takes an athlete about 8 minutes to warm up for his exercises. So we can say the first 8 minutes will be something like calming the mind. Sitting in a fixed posture the same every time will be a great advantage because the body then begins to adapt. The nervous excitements begin to die down of themselves if it’s done in the same posture in the same time in the same place every day.
But we can expect that about 8 minutes and then can go deeper. We don’t want to discuss technique because technique is something that has to be learnt on the actual occasions but these general statements can be an encouragement. The masks are thick and the illustration is given like thick clouds where we can’t see the sun at all. The sun must be there or we wouldn’t be able to see that the clouds existed but we can’t see the sun at all. When the clouds begin to become thin in places they become radiant because the sun strikes, you know, the edges of the cloud. We can’t see the sun. Then we are liable to think those radiant edges of the clouds that is the sun. But it is only a reflection of the sun. We are nearer the sun, the clouds are thinning, but we are not seeing the sun itself. Well this example they give when the passions become less and enquiry into truth becomes stronger then the clouds begin to thin. Now one example given is this: the fingers are tightly interlaced and we can’t see through them at all. When they become slightly released then we can see a little bit and the light becomes to come through.
The aim in meditation finally is to withdraw them altogether and be able to see. In the same way with meditation for a time we see only clouds, different forms of the masks, but they are thinned by knowing that they are illusory and by concentrating on a point of devotion. Then when they become thin they become radiant and we begin to feel that the inner layers which are more pure, the Buddhi, which is reflecting the light across so clearly, then this is realisation, this is liberation. But this is still a very pure and fine mask. And this too has to be taken off. The purification of the memory. In meditation first of all a man knows I am sitting here at a time and place and I know my name and I’ve got perhaps another 25 minutes to do and I am meditating on this and that and I think today I’ll visualise this form.
Gradually those associations will begin to drop away. The words will begin to drop away. Without words you’ll begin to meditate. First only for a short time, then the words will come up again. Then later on when it goes deeper, when he meditates on the same thing every day then place and time will drop away. And finally the duality, myself here, and first of all him, and afterwards Thou, you, them. That will begin to drop away. Then the layers are becoming very thin and then from that inspiration comes. If we look at the lives of some really great geniuses we can see this process. In the West we are more impressed with scientists than artists cause we feel well who is to say that a thing is a masterpiece or not but science, ah, that is different. That can be confirmed. In the East they tend to think well scientists, they can make lucky guesses and they often do, and there’s no sign of inspiration at all but nobody can fluke a masterpiece.
In the West if we look at a life like Pasteur where it’s not one discovery that seems to come about by an extraordinary chance and not merely chance, by an extraordinary behaviour on the part of the scientist, but repeatedly 5 times he made these great discoveries in different fields. Now if we look at them we find we can clearly see the inspiration in them. When his assistant forgot and the virus as we shall now call it was left in the laboratory for 2 weeks they came back and it was nearly dead. Well now the assistant would have thrown it away and Pasteur for no logical reason at all stopped him.
He tried many things to try to revive them, no they’re dying. Well, inoculate the chickens and just see. And the chickens of course it had no effect on. But later on when they were inoculated or injected with the full strength, they survived. And this was the principle for vaccination. Now we can’t explain Pasteur’s behaviour on that occasion because it was completely against the logic of his own teaching as well. He was inspired, he did something. It wasn’t just a chance. He himself did something which led to the discovery. If we look at his life we shall see that it’s a spiritual life. He was an artist when he was a boy. Didn’t like science, did no good at school, then was inspired by a teacher, went to Paris, became too homesick to stay there, had to be brought back, nearly had a breakdown, went again, then he begins to write about will, duty and concentration. He lived in Paris, unusually then as now as a Brahmachari, as a celibate student. He worked very hard and then he began to make these discoveries. Now he was an extraordinarily modest man although he changed the face of medicine against great opposition.
He was sent to London as a delegate to the London Medical Congress I think about 1870 and he was asked, as they were all asked, to get there early, to be sure to be in their places early because the Prince of Wales was going to come who was very popular and the crowd, the audiences liked to cheer him. Well Pasteur thought he was in time but as he went in the cheering started and he was lame, he had a stroke, but he hobbled to his place, and then the chairman Sir James Paget caught him by the arm and said Mr. Pasteur, don’t hurry. He said, “Oh, I am late. The Prince of Wales has come. They are cheering.” He said, “No. They are not cheering the Prince of Wales, Mr. Pasteur, they are cheering you.”
That had never occurred to him and we can see the spiritual qualities and this tremendous concentration and this purity of life produced not once but five times these totally new and unexpected insights which even today the search for a preventative against hepatitis now is still based on Pasteur’s insights. It’s a limited sphere but this, when it is very pure and there is great concentration, this area on which he concentrated became radiant and he became inspired But from the spiritual point of view we have to go deeper than that. Pasteur also had some religious inspiration. He was a very religious man but he didn’t feel the impulse to go deeper than that but we are told we must go deeper and deeper and deeper until finally the thoughts we have in meditation will go to what’s called the 8th. The 8th consists of the fundamental convictions of our life. These are often not conscious to us and part of the job of the teacher is to bring them out to consciousness.
There’s a huge Chinese character in front of some interview rooms which means the frontier gate. The frontier gate, we would call it the Customs, all your baggage is opened. They say, “Have you anything to declare?” and you say, “Oh, this and this.” And they say “Well, we’ll have a look.” And everything is opened. Well in the same way a that frontier gate everything in the personality is opened. Things that we are afraid to look at ourselves, things we didn’t know we had, or didn’t, weren’t willing to acknowledge that we had, are opened. Beyond those fundamental convictions the saying is to thrust a sword into the 8th consciousness. Sometimes it says the 8th consciousness breaks open. The consciousness of being an individual, of having these limitations, these strong points, these memories, this name, these hopes, this is all broken open and then a light shines through. And then we can say well what, what’s the distinction between what one thinks ordinarily and what is in the 8th consciousness?
An example is this and I heard the president of the Judo Headquarters tell it. He was a very learned man and he founded the modern system of Judo. In those days the laundry used to be beaten out by soaking it in soap and then hitting it with fists. The dirt is beaten out of the cloth. It’s not particularly good for the cloth but it gets the dirt out. In the kitchen he used to go sometimes and see them doing the laundry and he taught the maids to strike like this, with the edge of the hand, not this way (thumps) and to be able to exactly calculate how. He showed them how to use the body not just the arms as they were doing, to use the whole body. And he made them do the laundry that way. They thought well, marvellous, very famous, great man, bit eccentric but we’ll do the laundry that way. And then one evening one of them was visiting a sick parent and she came back late. This was in the end of the last century, long sleeves, and as she passed the end of an alley hurrying back late through a door, a tough caught her sleeve. And without thinking at all she broke his arm.
Now Dr. Kano said if she had been taught to do this and told about it, ‘now if you should get caught like that you should strike like that’ she would have panicked because it would not have been in the 8th consciousness. But because she had done it every day, they do the laundry every day in Japan they won’t have dirty things about the house, every day for years without thinking, it came to her. Supposing I’m a music enthusiast and I hear that they are going to play the reconstructed Schubert’s 10th symphony and I’m very keen on Schubert. Ah, and then I have a chance of a ticket. Now there are two old parents and it’s my turn to be looking after them for these three months. The doctor says well they both have bad hearts you know. They shouldn’t alone ever they might go off anytime. Well I arrange for auntie to come in. Oh, yes, very pleased to look after them for that evening. So I get there. Then there’s a telephone call from auntie to say she has fallen down and broken her wrist and she can’t come. Now I think, well, they’ll probably be alright. Watching television they will be alright probably: I go.
On the other hand I have promised to look after them and I really aught to do that. Whatever I do, if I go to the concert I’m going to be thinking about them at home perhaps fighting for breath and the other not knowing what to do. If I stay, then I’m going to have this resentment against them for keeping me there. Well, supposing I stay and then Mother says, “You know, I think I feel sleepy. I think I’ll fall asleep.” Trust Mother to do that. And then Father thinks yes, I won’t watch the television. I think I’ll have a nap too. And instead of being the sort of sympathetic care nurse you’re a sort of night watchman when all the time Schubert’s concert is going on. So you think well I’ll do something, I’ll wake them up, I’ll make them some hot milk and give them something at least have something. No, we don’t want that. And then, at the end of the evening, when Mother wakes up about the time I would have been back from the concert and she said, ” You’re a fusspot, that’s what you are. I’m going to tell everybody you’re a terrible fusser and Father says, “Can’t leave us alone, that’s the trouble. Spying on us.” And you begin to think Doctor, where are these heart attacks you keep talking about.
Now in these situations we can scatter flower petals over them. I can think well what a good son I am. I mean it’s marvellous really. And I’m sort of stabbing myself to the heart to the sound of solemn music, sacrificing myself and so on, but it’s no good, there’s still this terrible sort of stench. Now there’s something else in that situation. There’s something else, something quite different. Not from outside but in the actual situation itself. I think, oh well, I’m making good karma, marvellous karma. The Buddha said, looking after the old there’s nothing higher than that. No, that’s bringing in something from outside. That’s scattering flowerbeds. There’s something in the actual situation. The teacher says you must find this. I say but what is there? All I know is that I have completely uselessly sacrificed my chance to hear that wonderful concert for something that had no point at all. He would say now in that … These are the sort of riddles which are said in Zen. Not theoretical riddles, something in our actual lives.
To show the original face, to find the original face not just in myself. I think oh, sure, well, I’ll do it sometime. Put it off, put it off, … and I’m just thinking another 10 minutes and then I’m free. Now he said now. Now is the time. Don’t think what you’ve been doing. Don’t think what you are going to do. Look at this. You’re scrapping with the wool, metal wool, on a rusty pipe and you see the original face of the metal begin to shine through the rust. Look carefully. You think oh well it’s just metal, that’s how it was. No, look carefully. Become aware of something.
The Japanese have moss growing around the monastries, it’s cultivated. Here moss is a sort of parasite, pest, but there moss is cultivated and moss stands for spiritual illumination, spiritual realisation because it can’t be forced, it can’t be hurried. The main thing with cultivating moss is to remove the weeds. It’s not strong and it can lose out with the weeds so you, all the monks from the abbot down are on their knees every two or three days weeding moss. Now he will say don’t just weed. The original face of the moss is being purified. See that as you weed. You’re weeding yourself and the original face in you is beginning to shine.
These are just words, no. When you see those monks who have practised, their weeding is different. The action of the hand is different. You can’t say exactly what it is but there is a difference and after you return you find you are calm. You’ve just been weeding but you are calm. In those circumstances, in their presence, and the teacher again and again says don’t search in exhausting circumstances mainly, search in these very small jobs of daily life where you don’t have to do a lot of thinking, when normally your mind would be racing about some quarrel you’ve had or some ambition you’ve got.
Try to find in those things. You say well, what good does such a man do in the world? And there are some who speak who are very eloquent and some who never speak. One such man, he was a great saint, and he was asked, “Why don’t you speak? Why don’t you tell them?” And he answered in the words of Confucius: “Does heaven speak? The seasons follow each other, the rains come when they are needed, flowers bloom and autumn comes, the leaves turn red, in winter the snow, but underneath the snow there’s thunder in the earth, there’s life in the earth. It comes up in the next spring. Does heaven speak?”
There is a message for us and many of us can find it but heaven doesn’t speak in words when in the same way that saint didn’t give addresses but the people were changed by his presence. Well, the last one, perhaps you’ve heard it before but ah, this is a famous Chinese story which they think is historical. Poets and painters used to take the boat and drift down the river and a group of them were passing down the river and they were silent. In admiration for the scenery and feeling their own inspiration which would come out later in the paintings and the poems, and a man poorly dressed was walking up the bank of the river as this boat of silent people drifted slowly down.
He looked at them and he took out a flute and he stood and he played like a great master. The boat slowly went past and he put his flute away and went on. If he hadn’t done that they would have thought oh well he’s perhaps a village clerk walking back home after the work. They would never have known because they were silent and reverent he recognised this and then from this master musician they heard this wonderful music. Well, our teacher told us that these are the true forms of expression. We can say well it was only 10 minutes. But this was embodied in a story which is one of the foundation stories of Chinese culture written by one of the poets. The effects will go on, they will have spiritual vigour and The original face there was expressing itself.
This is a transcript of a public talk given by TPL
© Trevor Leggett