Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Names and Faces

"Happy Face/Sad Face"
What’s in a name? We love and hate names. We cherish some names: the ones which bring us pleasure and correspond with our thoughts about how things should be. We hate other names: the ones which bring us pain and disrupt our sense of order. One of the most famous Zen koans concerns names: “Who were you before your parents named you?” It’s a good koan since it forces us to release ourselves from the unimportant and move toward what is important.

In truth names are just handles—pointers to what is real. If we use the name “God” a certain image is evoked along with a lot of residual baggage. If we use the name “Buddha-Nature” a very different image is evoked with different baggage. Since Buddha-Nature has no baggage, the question is “who does?” Some of us were given dharma names when we received precepts. We had a name before and a different name afterwards. Sometimes when a woman is married her name changes (less and less now days). Our names can change but our fundamental nature remains the same. Sometimes in Zen terms, that original nature is called “Original Face.”

Bodhidharma put it a slightly different way. He said, “Despite dwelling in a material body of four elements, your nature is basically pure. It can’t be corrupted. Your real body is basically pure. Once you recognize your moving, miraculous aware nature, yours is the mind of all Buddhas. If you don’t see your own miraculous aware nature, you’ll never find a Buddha even if you break your body into atoms.”

Names are just waves on the ocean of consciousness or like the moon reflected on surface ripples. They are fleeting handles pointing to the deep.
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