Note: This article is based on the book On Having No Head, by Douglas E. Harding (www.headless.org)
“Merely remaining as the eye (i.e. Self), which is the One Space of Consciousness, by having annihilated the ‘I am the body-form’ and by having lost all the conceptions of the mischievous mind, is rightly and perfectly seeing God.” — Sri Muruganar
THIS IS IT. This is obvious and simple. If you take this joyous journey with total innocence and with a spirit of curiosity, seeing into eternity will open before your cosmic eye in zero distance and time.
You have no head and no face, just one big cosmic eye. That is right! What is amazing is that this fact has escaped us for so long. Well, that old game we played with that old face, fun as it can be, is nowhere near as fun as the discovery that you have no face at all. The idea is pretty revolutionary, don’t you think? Maybe a little crazy? The ancients of the Zen tradition called it the original face. I used to think they meant this to provoke doubt, as a Zen koan would, but now I think they meant that there is literally no face, as you are about to rediscover.
The silence, the infinite, stillness, or whatever label you give to it, will help to clarify what you know about your original face.
When you think of yourself as a person, what do you usually do? If you are like me, you project an image in your mind of what you look like. This image is of how others view your face from several feet away. Isn’t that amazing and just a little bit strange? Conjuring up this image has become a tragic habit.
Is this image of you the same one you had when you were a child? Is it not true that this image has evolved and changed as you grew up? Yet, what has remained changeless behind this image. This is your true face.
When you were a child and had never actually seen your face, your mother pointed to an image in the mirror and said, “This is you — this is what you look like.” Over time, out of innocence, you began to project this image in your clear mind to become your self-image. If you were good-looking like me, you would frequently visit it as if it were the most precious thing you own.
There is only one eye. You never had two eyes, but this is how other people see you. This is not how being (your true nature) sees the world. Therefore, this is not how you are actually seeing. How you see is through a distorted perception. This image is only a mental fabrication and reflects your identification with your puppet image. There is only the cosmic eye.
As a child, you looked out of the one cosmic eye and could not identify that image in the mirror as you. It was just an image like any other until someone pointed it out. But suddenly, you identified yourself, and abracadabra, you had a face.
I have to admit that sometimes I do strange things when I am alone and nobody is watching. Don’t tell anyone. Sometimes I dance or make faces in the mirror. When I was younger, I would stand in front of the mirror and stare at my eye until my image distorted and then disappeared completely from view. More recently, I pointed at my face and noticed that my image in the mirror was pointing “there,” which was the opposite to pointing “here” at my face. Obvious? I think the obviousness escapes virtually everyone.
Identification with your image as a body happens very early, as I remember. Something happened in kindergarten that I’ve never told anyone about before, because I was too embarrassed. There I was, sitting in class and learning how to write properly. Everyone was behaving and quietly working on their writing when, out of the blue, I got up from my desk and started to dance. It was as if disco music had started in my head and all I could do was jump up from my chair and wiggle like crazy. All the kids started to laugh, and there was only bliss. Looking back, I must have had an energetic joy bubbling up, and all I wanted to do was get down and get funky.
My world changed suddenly when I became aware of my body and, more importantly, my image or sense of self. When I got up to dance that day, the teacher said, “Well, guess who needs some attention? Everybody stare at him.” I saw all those eyes focused on me, and I became overcome with shame for acting out like a crazy kid. I had done something terribly wrong. As I grew up, my image became incredibly important to me, especially what others thought of that image. My self-worth was based on this image, and because of that I was paranoid, anxious, and insecure. As if I had multiple personality disorder, I changed my image repeatedly to receive the attention and acknowledgement I was looking for. It never came.
How we see ourselves in our mind is a copy-cat version of how others see us (our appearance) from a distance. They do not see what we actually are. As a case in point, as you look at these words, notice what you are looking out of. How many eyes are you looking out of? Do this without going into your mind and imagining that you have two eyes because other people told you so. How many? One, right? Now close one eye. How many? One! Now close both eyes. If you are still reading this, your eye is open.
Now here is the important part! Like a child, point your finger at these words appearing on this page. Go ahead, don’t be shy. Notice that the words on the webpage have form and color, and that they will disappear when you click away. Point at your foot and look at its form and color, noting that it will also perish and disappear one day. Now, point at the ceiling, notice its color and texture and that it will one day disappear. Now point at your tummy and notice its shape and size and that it will one day disappear and perish.
Now point directly at your one eye. Based on current scientific evidence, what is it that you are pointing at? Does it have a form? A shape? A color? How does it compare with, stillness, space, nothingness, emptiness, infinity, eternity? Is there a limit to this space of nothingness? Also notice how its transparency is allowing everything in this room to take a form — these words, this screen, the chair you are sitting on, your body, the room, the building, street, city, and a whole world expanding into the entire universe. Now keep pointing at your eye and take your attention inward, seeing how far you can stretch your one and only eye. Isn’t the eye of nothingness incredible?
Absolutely everything appears in your magical cosmic eye, which itself remains untouched, pure, and without any image. This transparent emptiness is the space for all human beings, turtles and frogs to exist. Without the capacity of your cosmic eye, images cannot appear. Even those images you don’t like appear there. You know that guy at work.
Also interesting is this: if everyone in the world stood up and pointed at their faces and you could see them all, they would be pointing at faces with varying textures and colors. From your view, you would be the only one pointing at empty nothingness or infinite space, a container for everyone else to exist. Thanks to you, I appear to exist. Thanks to you, I can get up and dance for no reason at all. Thanks to you we all can appear to dance in this life.