The face is a fascinating part of the body. Most people, when they are born and when they die, have a serene, buddhalike expression. The problem is the interval between these two events. There are great differences among people. The faces of those who have done many good deeds look cheerful and refreshing; the faces of those who have done one bad deed after another are darkened by some sort of shadow.
One of the many reasons I enjoy watching television is that I can see so many different faces; it is as if the people were standing right in front of me. I sense that a scholar looks like a scholar, a teacher like a teacher, a doctor like a doctor. If the doctor is a pediatrician, it is obvious at a glance. The face is always gentle and kind. Long years of medical practice have given that face its special features.
In the world of sumo wrestling, most young men join a training organization when they are fifteen or sixteen, and live with and train under a master. The trainees seem to develop a certain resemblance to their master. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, young maidservants employed in wealthy households came to resemble the lady of the house after living so many years with her.
The attractiveness of someone's face is not determined by their features but by their heart, their character, and their experience. Everyone has seen that even a pedigreed dog can look stupid, and that a well-trained sheep dog may look clever. This is even truer of people. A well-known episode in the life of Abraham Lincoln illustrates his awareness of how a face reflects character. When Lincoln became president a friend proposed a middle-aged acquaintance for a post in the government, and Lincoln agreed to interview him. After the interview Lincoln told his friend he would not be able to employ the man. When asked why, Lincoln replied that he had been put off by the man's looks. When asked how even a president could judge someone by his looks, Lincoln replied that a man who has reached the age of forty is responsible for his looks. A Japanese master of aphorisms, Soichi Oya (1900 - 1979), wrote in much the same vein, "A man's face is his resume."
Moreover, I believe that the face is the window of the soul. My respected mentor, the former chief priest of the temple Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, Rev. Ryokei Onishi (1875 - 1983), wrote in Zazen Wasan Kowa (Discourses on the Hymns in Praise of Zazen) that no one looks like an aristocrat or daimyo (feudal baron) at birth. Babies tend to look alike. But a boy brought up as an artistocrat or daimyo acquires something of a natural dignity, whatever his features. He went on:
So someone like me does not count for anything. I am poor, so sometimes I eat and sometimes I do not. I am always thinking about what the day will bring, so my face has come to look this way. Whether a man has really eaten or not, if he always tries to look like he has, keeps his dignity, and wears an expression like the richest man in town, it will leave permanent traces in his face. And if a man thinks he is essentially a buddha, he will come to look like one.
Buddhist scriptures offer another example. There was once a somewhat dimwitted young man named Chulapanthaka who, with his more intelligent brother, went to the Jetavana Monastery to join the Buddhist Order. During his training, however, he could not memorize even a single verse of a sutra and was driven out by the older followers of the Buddha. As he stood sobbing at the gate, the Buddha appeared and led him back inside, handed him a broom, and told him to recite over and over as he swept, "Sweep away the dust," and "Take away the dirt." Day after day as he swept the rooms clean, Chulapanthaka tried his best to recite these phrases, but if he remembered "Sweep away the dust," he would forget "Take away the dirt." As months passed, however, he succeeded in remembering both phrases, and after doing that for several months eventually attained enlightenment. One day his brother, whom he had not seen for a long time, came to the monastery to visit him and saw a new light in Chulapanthaka's eyes and radiance in his face. Struck by these facial changes, the elder brother incredulously exclaimed that Chulapanthaka had attained enlightenment. Among the Buddha's followers were many great figures like Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, but nothing they did inspires us with as much courage as Chulapanthaka's transformation.
Since we are all the Buddha's children, we should try not to think ignoble, improper, scheming thoughts, but regularly recall that we are in essence buddhas, and engrave that thought on our hearts. In our daily lives we should determine to behave like children of the Buddha. If we do that, our faces will take on a look of nobility, others will like and respect us, and we will get along well with them.
The face is the window of the soul. Acquisitive or short-tempered though we may be, we will unknowingly take on a look of amiability if we make a habit of giving alms and greeting others with a smile.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.