Looking at a face, what do you see? The beauty of symmetry, research says, biases our opinions toward others. Those who more closely approximate perfection receive more assistance, more rewards, better treatment and so on. The farther from perfection, the less likely is one to receive promotions, raises, the winning votes in an election and so on. Strangely though, doesn’t it seem that those same beautiful people, if they misbehave in some way–quickly become the object of schadenfreude? It is as if while we reward their appearance, we envy them and happily revel in their fall from the pedestals on which put them. In Buddhism, appearance is one of ten factors that are an operational or functional part, if you will, of the workings of karma.
Like anyone else, I too am struck by the face of beauty. Yet I am often, not always, able to see beyond the superficial to the genuine appearance that lies beneath. Bodhisattva Never Despising, an allegorical character in the Lotus Sutra, was said to walk about bowing to everyone he met, saying he could not despise them for they would eventually attain Buddhahood. The people, in turn, would strike him with sticks or stones. The worth of individual human beings is always there, beneath the skin. The eyes, some say, are the windows of the soul. Whether by looking into the eyes, listening closely to the voice or following the subtle movements of one facial feature or another, I can see the inner beauty, the Buddha, the transcendent worth, the valuable contribution an individual is making to human existence. It takes no special talent or effort, just a shift in perception that comes with the practice of Buddhism.