Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Washing Your Face

Imagine you are washing your face...

I believe this is a very powerful meditation. 
Could anyone explain how to do it? 

What do you see when you wash your face? 
And now what do you see? 
And now…? 

I look forward to hearing whatever insights you have about how to do this and what you experience...

I would like to share some extracts of the Sōtō Zen monk Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253), who taught on three separate occasions of the importance of washing one’s face (literally), the third time in 1250 from which the following was translated. The complete text from which this is taken is Shobogenzo Ch. 55, which may be found here:

On Washing Your Face

In the Lotus Scripture it says in verse:

Anoint your body with fragrant oil 
After having washed away all dust and dirt, 
And put on a fresh, clean robe, 
So that you are clean both within and without.

This Teaching is one that the Tathagata voiced before the Lotus assembly for the sake of those who practice the four forms of conduct that ease the way of practice.

Bodhisattvas who are in their final body are different from other types of beings in all matters. Their meritorious wise discernment and the splendour of their body and mind are most precious and unsurpassed. The same will also be true for their methods of washing and cleansing, not to mention the fact that everyone’s body and mind, along with their limitations, differ according to the times. Within the time of one period of seated meditation, it is said, three thousand worlds have passed away. Even though such a period of time is like this, it is not some measure of self or other: it is the meritorious fruit of the Buddha Dharma. The measure of body and mind is beyond ‘five feet’ or ‘six feet’, because body and mind are beyond the five or six feet that we conventionally define as ‘five feet’ and ‘six feet’.

The place where body and mind exist is also beyond both the limits and the limitlessness of the realms of self or other, or of the whole universe or immeasurable universes, because “Right here is where the What is, whether the Matter is put clumsily or put delicately.” The dimensions of mind are beyond anything the discriminations of intellective thought can possibly know: they are beyond anything that the non-discriminations of not thinking can possibly fathom. Because this is the way the dimensions of body and mind are, it is also the way the dimensions of cleansing are. To grasp what these dimensions are and to train until one fully realizes them are precisely what Buddha after Buddha and Ancestor after Ancestor are concerned with and have held to. We should not take our estimate of ourselves to be foremost, nor should we take our estimate of ourselves to be real. Therefore, it follows that when we wash and cleanse ourselves in this manner, we fully fathom the dimensions of body and mind, and we make ourselves immaculate. Whether we see ourselves as comprised of six elements, or five skandhas, or of That which is indestructible, through our cleansing we can make everything immaculate.

This does not mean that we are immaculate only after we have fetched water and washed ourselves with it. How can water be inherently pure or inherently impure? Even if it were inherently pure or inherently impure, we cannot assert that it makes the place we bring it to pure or impure. It is simply that, when we preserve the methods that the Buddhas and Ancestors have trained in and actualised, then a Buddha’s methods for using water with which to wash the body and using the Water with which to cleanse the mind will have been handed down to us. Accordingly, in training to realise Buddhahood, we go beyond ‘clean’, we discard ‘unclean’, and we abandon ‘not clean’ and ‘not unclean’.

Hence, even though we may not yet have soiled ourselves, we wash and cleanse ourselves, and even when we have reached Great Immaculacy, we still wash and cleanse ourselves. Even if we were to reduce the five vital organs and the six forms of entrails to particles of dust so minute that they were like empty space, and then completely use up the waters of the great ocean in washing them, unless we washed the inside of these particles, how could they possibly be immaculate? We make use of Emptiness to cleanse emptiness, and we make use of Emptiness to cleanse body and mind. Those who, with faith, accept cleansing as a form of the Dharma will be preserving what the Buddhas and Ancestors trained in and came to realize.

In India and China, kings, princes, ministers of state, government officials, lay Buddhists, monks, men and women in court and country, all the people throughout wash their faces. After lay Buddhists and monks have washed their faces and straightened their clothing, they bow to those in heavenly states, and bow to the resident spirits, and bow to the Ancestors of their lineage, and bow to their parents. They bow to their teachers, and to the Triple Treasure, and to the myriad beings in the three worlds of desire, form, and beyond form, and they bow to the benevolent guardian spirits. There are none who forget to wash their face, not even farmers and rice growers, fishermen and woodcutters. Even so, they do not chew the willow twig. Meanwhile in Japan, amongst emperors and ministers of state, old and young, courtiers and gentry, householders and monks, both ordinary people and those in lofty positions, all remember to chew a willow twig and rinse out their mouth, but they do not wash their face. In each country, it is a case of one strong point and one shortcoming. To preserve and hold to the practice of washing the face and chewing a willow twig corrects this deficiency and is the luminous manifestation of the Buddhas and Ancestors.

This was published originally on Buddhist Travellers in 2011.

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