The Original Face

You cannot describe it or draw it
You cannot praise it enough or perceive it.
No place can be found in which
To put the Original Face;
It will not disappear even
When the universe is destroyed.
— Mumon

As I have been studying the Bendowa and particularly, this past month, the Jijuyu Zanmai, Self-fulfillment Right Acceptance Samadhi,  the metaphor of the “original face or the original person” runs through Dogen’s writing.

“Therefore, it enables Buddha-tathagatas to increase the dharma joy of their own original grounds and renew the adornment of the way of awakening. Simultaneously, all living beings of the dharma world in the ten directions and six realms become clear and pure in body and mind, realize great emancipation, and their own original face appears………..At the same time, they turn the incomparable, great dharma wheel and begin expressing ultimate and unfabricated profound prajna.”

This paragraph is so chock full of all we need to know! Firstly, he talks about increasing the dharma joy of their original grounds. We need the refreshment of the joy of detaching from our stories. Whenever I use the word “detachment” I cringe, however. It’s so easy to misunderstand that phrase. Better is the phrase: detachment in the field of unconditional love. With this new context of detachment, detachment doesn’t become indifference or coldness. It is a way to find equanimity within the actual conditions of our life with no escape and turns us around to face our karmic life from a new standpoint — the standpoint of the original grounds. Dogen also emphasizes that practice is deporting oneself freely in this Samadhi. Disporting is a translation of two characters that both mean to play or transform. To frolic, to be free. In Daigo, he writes that we should play freely with the mudballs of life. This is to realize great emancipation and because of our vast perception of interdependance, we can still tenderly with compassion and precision attend to the details of our karmic life. Then the dharma joy can arise.

Let’s look at the phrase to turn the dharma wheel. This is the oneness of giving and receiving and doing and non-doing. There is a great wheel of cause and effect. If we do nothing, the wheel doesn’t have any inspiration to spin. It is a flat tire on the side of the road. But if we put a little energy into moving the wheel, the wheel will start to move and the front part of the wheel will come back to us and be the back part of the wheel and on and on. We practice and work on our lives but then we have to let go, and see what returns from that effort we have made. This is called call and response. We call out and see how the karmic forces answer us back. They will answer us. This is also the practice of making effort without holding on to the results of our actions. It is doing but fully knowing that we are not in control. The whole dynamic of interdependence is the driving force. Dogen often suggests that it is the power of zazen that makes our transformations happen. They do not happen from our own will-power. For those of us who sit a lot, we know that we don’t understand AT ALL what happens in zazen.

Earlier in the Bendowa, Dogen writes:

“For disporting oneself freely in this Samadhi, practicing zazen in an upright posture is the true gate. Although this dharma is abundantly inherent in each person, it is not manifested without practice, it is not attained without realization. When you let go, the dharma fills your hands; it is not within the boundary of one or many. When you try to speak, it fills your mouth; it is not limited to time or space.”

One word, unfabricated, is of great interest to me, sometimes translated as unconditioned, non-conceived, or going back to the original ground. Unfabricated is translated from mu-e; mu meaning no or negation, and e meaning human action. This is activity that is not tainted or stained by human desire, greed, anger and ignorance. This does not arise from the sense of being an isolated “self” or does it arise from our thoughts, ideas, and conceptions. It is what Katagiri Roshi would call “pure activity” and Dogen says, “realization that is not deluded with human sentiment and is not associated with perceptions.”

Uchiyama Roshi’s very simply practice of letting go of the hand of thought,  is very helpful in realizing unfabricated life. Or Pema Chodron’s instructions to let go of the storyline and drop into the energy of the moment. These practices can help us find the pure activity of the moment that goes beyond our intellectual or conceptual idea about the moment. This is living life without an agenda. We deeply penetrate each moment as the source and as the phenomena completely intertwined.

In order to begin to express ultimate and unfabricated profound prajna , we have to learn to completely let go of control which we think is legitimized by our concept and ideas about life. In order to let go of control by the so-called self, we have to trust in a way we perhaps have never entered before. In this deep understanding of letting go and our deep understanding of effort/and effortlessness, of turning the dharma wheel and the dharma wheel turning us, we begin to have Buddhist Faith. Faith is this deep belief in the turning of the wheel and our deep belief in the transformative but not comprehensible power of zazen.

Dogen writes,

“Continue to live in such a way, and you will be such a person. The treasure store will open of itself, and you may enjoy it freely.”