Shinji Shobogenzo Book 2, Case 47.

Koan Commentaries

Master Rinzai Gigen preached to an assembly; There is a true person who has no rank. He is always going in and out through your face. A beginner who has not experienced this should look carefully. Look!

Commentary by Nishijima

Master Rinzai’s expression, “There is a true person who has no rank,” is widely known in Buddhism. It points in the same direction as the concept of sunyata or emptiness. Reality exists, empty of, or beyond, the various concepts and discriminations which we impose on it. So this expression represents a person without any social attributes, and it also suggests a person who has grasped the truth. How can we see this true person? In Buddhism we are training ourselves to be true persons, to recognise “the true person,” and we should not confuse the person with their social attributes.

Master Dogen accepted the expression “true person who has no rank” as an expression of reality, but he said there is also the “true person with rank.” This means that discrimination and concepts are also an aspect of reality. They have a place in the Universe as well. Difficulties arise if we become confused about their real nature.

Commentary by John Fraser

Master Rinzai said that there was a true human being without rank who went in and out through our face.

When we hear ‘face’, we may think of Original Face, the face you had before your parents were born.

If we pay attention, we can be aware of the musculature of the face; the fixed patterns we hold, the tensions, the habitual moving contours. And if we have this awareness, we can experience our face as a kind of mask. Indeed, we might identify our sense of self with this social face. If we didn’t have a face to present to the world, could we have a self to present to ourself?

Rinzai’s person without rank is something in us which is true and alive, and which can never be entirely suppressed by our social face. And so, he emerges. And sometimes, we suppress him. And so, he goes back in. This person without rank is our original face. There is not a true face behind our social face. There is not another self behind the self. There is just life channelled by us, like light falling through windows.