This week, Payton took a different look at the concept of not-self which we have been discussing by considering the classic Zen koan, “Original Face”. It is first presented in the Platform Sutta,
This very moment, before thinking good or bad, show me your original face.
Payton began with excerpts from a talk by Max Erdstein, available here:
The talk explored the meaning of a poem by Dogen with the same title:
Summer, the Cuckoos
Autumn, the Moon
Winter, Snow that does not melt
Each season, pure and upright
– Dogen, “Original Face”
Then Payton played excerpts from a talk by Stephen Batchelor, available here:
Stephen looks at the Koan from a more practical perspective, pointing out that in the original version of the Four Noble Truths, the words “noble truths” were not present, leaving just “The Four”. Or, as the talk suggests, “The Four Noble Tasks”.
This is also the essence of Dogen’s koan, “Why is practice necessary if we are already innately enlightened?” He had his reasons for asking it that way, and I had my reasons for asking it my way, but it all boils down to that one thing – we’re already there, and yet practice is necessary. He solved it when he realized that practice is how we express it.
Examine your own life and look deeply at the questions and conflicts that bug you – the ones that really get you. Look at them very carefully. Then clear away irritation and opinion – “I don’t like this,” “That shouldn’t be” – let all that drop away. This doesn’t mean you surrender to what you think is wrong, but you sit still with it and drop all the extra baggage. Be very still and let the underlying question arise. Then you sit still with that until you come to the one wordless question. The answer to that cannot be put into words, you simply open to it. Just like you can’t tell a paraplegic how to accept his situation – but someone can demonstrate it. That’s what it’s like.
Transcript of a Dharma Talk by Kyogen Carlson: https://dharma-rain.org/personal-koans/