The Secret of Beauty

“What is the secret of beauty? Purifying the heart. A heart is not purified in a day or two, six months, or a year. It is said that a person is responsible for his looks after the age of forty. Your strivings and the way you have lived over the past forty years are revealed in your face. Throughout the past forty years an invisible chisel has been shaping your face night and day; as you were happy, angry, or sad, the chisel made its mark. The kind of marks depended on what was inside you, and they will have given you the kind of beauty or ugliness that make-up can hardly conceal.”

From Zen Seeds: Reflections of a Female Priest by Shundo Aoyama Roshi.

Aoyama Roshi is the revered Abbess of the Aichi Semmon Niso-do (women’s training monastery) in Nagoya, Japan.

Commentary: By the time we are forty years old we have lived quite a bit of our life and it shows on our face. Is this such a bad thing? In our culture we want to erase the lines and wrinkles on our faces so everyone will think we are young. But we can never really get rid of what life has put right out front for everyone to see. Do we have a kind face? Do we have a face that reflects a life of hardship? Can’t we have a face of hardship and joy?

I don’t agree that the life we have ‘chiseled’ on our face cannot change after we are forty. Our face will always reflect our past as well as the fleeting moments of each expression at just this moment. We should never feel that we are doomed to a face of anger or sadness. Yet, as we reflect on each moment and cultivate our gratitude for this life, more and more we will find humor and a smile.

Last night I saw pictures of two men on the local TV news. Both had just been convicted of crimes. Both were young men, certainly not forty yet. One man had a face inked with a tattoo on his cheek and his eyebrows slanted downward. He had a hard look. The other man had a kinder face, seemingly lighter somehow. The second man’s face seemed to be one that you could imagine smiling, while the first man seemed perpetually angry. Of course, no one should be condemned based upon how their face looks. But we should consider how our heart’s understanding, joys, disappointments and appreciation will reflect and drive the decisions we make. I think this is the point of Aoyama’s teaching. We must realize that the way we see the world is going to impact our experience and how we face the world.

Do we meet each situation bringing forth the totality of our best effort to find gratitude, compassion and skillful means or are we constantly caught in judgement, ill-will and fear? We owe it to ourselves (our beautiful face) and to all of our fellow travelers in this world to practice in such a way that we can find peace and stability. This is the original face we desire to bring forward as we meet each moment.

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