What is your original face?

Usually we answer the koan, “What is your original face?” with an emptiness response. It is a koan used to help Zen practitioners drop the stories and structures they believe as “self” and enter into a connection with ultimate existence. Sometimes, it’s even supplemented by saying, “What is your original face before your parents were born?”  Asking us to let go to even more of our conditioning.

Dogen turns this koan around in his style of upside-down seeing . Helping us to see that neither side, existence or non-existence, is a nest where we can land and be secure or solid. Those opposites, form and emptiness, are functioning dynamically in every moment and cannot be compartmentalized into opposites. It is a constant flow of change with no nest or stationary place.

Dogen has taught me to treat each phenomena that arises in my life, no matter what its appearance, as the truth itself; the only moment as Thich Nhat Hanh would say. Completely bringing form and emptiness together in a unified whole. This is Awakened Awareness, which receives all “content”, empty or formed, as equal. The appearance of the moment is us, and we are it. There is only seeing. The “I” has dropped away.

Poem expressing the original face
Spring, flowers
Summer, cuckoos
Autumn, the moon
Winter, snow does not melt
All seasons pure and upright
Translated by Okumura Roshi
In “Zen of Four Seasons: Dogen Zenji’s Waka”