What’s in a Smile?

Few people would be able to survive intact the nature of the no-self experience that thrust Bernadette Roberts into the very core of Voidness Itself. Even those who are seasoned contemplatives and who have progressed from the torturous Dark Night of the Spirit into the peaceful unified whole of the divine embrace would not be able to withstand the form of assault that afflicted Bernadette on her path beyond self-discovery into something new and terrifying, but ultimately rewarding and liberating. The liberation came in the form of a simple smile, one that unfolded itself from the murky depths of nature…

It was late winter and the muddy waters of the river were jammed with burnt debris from a mountain fire two years before. Every day, my son and I would stand on the banks to measure the height of the swelling waters, and then he would use the swift moving logs as targets for his rocks, for he had a strong pitch and a good eye. One day, however, he was late in coming, so I walked down and sat on the river’s edge, watching the dead wood in its speedy descent to the sea. With neither reason nor provocation, a smile emerged on my face, and in the split second of recognition I “saw” — finally I saw, and knew I had seen. I knew: the smile itself, that which smiled, and that at which it smiled, were One (emphasis mine) — as indistinguishably one as a trinity without division. And what I saw was merely how this was so. There was no insight, no vision, no movement of anything, but a seeing that was as natural and spontaneous as a smile on a face — not another thing more. In my journal I called this “the grin-of-recognition.” 

This is a continuation following the event of the “smiling flower” from our previous blog.  This grin of recognition places Bernadette in good company with Zen Buddhists whose own foundation stems from the Flower Sermon in which the Buddha silently twirls a flower and is only received with that grin of recognition by his disciple, Mahakashyapa. Her own grin of recognition became one with Mahakashyapa; this was her own stupendous wordless transmission. She came to possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous Nirvanic-Mind, the true form of the formless.

What I learned was that the unknown object (of the smile) was identical with the subject, and not only that, but the smile itself was identical with these. And what is the smile? It is that which remains when there is no self. The smile is neither the unknown subject or object, yet it is identical with it. It is that aspect of the Unknown which is manifest. The implications of this seeing are tremendous and yet, they cannot be grasped by the mind…

The relative mind cannot apprehend this reality; only a non-relative mind sees because what Is is equally non-reflective or non-self-conscious. Since what Is is all that Is, it has nothing to see outside itself nor within itself and thus, has no such thing as a relative, reflective, self-conscious mind. Nor is it a mind at all, nor consciousness, for no man knows what it is, only that it Is. Therefore, once we have been rid of a reflective, relative, self-conscious mind, then and only then can we come upon what Is: that which sees and is seen and the act of seeing itself are ONE.

THAT IT IS—what a marvelous recognition! A non-Buddhist has become ONE with the Buddha’s own silent and wordless transmission. What glorious insight! “It has nothing to see outside Itself nor within Itself and thus, has no such thing as a relative, reflective, self-conscious mind.” Bernadette’s spirit has become ONE with the formless and imageless Unborn. Her spirit is witnessing AS ONE with the other side of Revealed Suchness THAT has nothing whatsoever to do with the self-conscious mind’s limited purview. Thus her story is a continuation of Mahakashyapa’s own story—what a revelation! The dharma-gate is thrown open to all who see the Dharmadhatu from the vantage point of the True Dharma Eye.

But what sees this Oneness and knows that it sees? The eye that looks is not within, it is not of mind or body, it is not of the self. Unknown and outside — at first like glasses, then later, above the head — the eye was known to exist, but it could neither be seen nor looked at. It did not dissolve into Oneness — the seer and seen were not identical. But a greater mystery still: what remained in the absence of self? What is this that walks, thinks, and talks? What is this that is aware of the eye upon Oneness? Among them — no-self, the eye, the Oneness — no identity could be found.

There is no longer any form of personal self-identity here. The self IS NOT when YOU ARE THAT. End of transmission, end of story.

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