“Not thinking of good, not thinking of evil, just at this moment, what is your original face before your mother and father were born?”
— Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng
In the practice of Zen, the seeker’s mind is entangled within idealizations or hypotheses of what he imagines the truth of Zen to be. It is especially the case with Hui-neng’s “original face” which preexists thought determinations. Hence, to think of this original face is to make a non-original face. In fact, any ploy the Zennist tries, in answer to the whatness of the original face, posits a derivative face. It falls short of the original.
The Zennist’s eagerness to find some sort of answer stirs the repository of consciousness (alaya-vijnana) which is like the smooth surface of a pond the wind has caused to form ripples . Mind, it should be understood, has a positing side as well as a receptive, alaya-vijnana side. Everything of which we are conscious (vijnana) can be likened to a wave formation—small or large—on the alaya-vijnana ocean. But as for the original face, itself, which is to be distinguished (prajna) from the receptive alaya-vijnana, a deeper introspective search has to be conducted.
This is where the Zen master, like Hui-neng, steps into the picture, who has seen his own original face firsthand. His job is to push the seeker towards the mysterious dark (hsuan), forcing the seeker to leap into it. He knows, however, that the leap is nothing dangerous. What the teacher has to deal with is the student's basic fear of the unknown. It is like telling someone in an area infested with poisonous snakes to pick up a rope in the dark. Hopefully, the poor chap will not die of fright imagining the rope to be a cobra!
Directly intuiting the invisible nature of the original face is further compounded by the seeker’s impatience and his unwillingness to learn to see his original face in its own light; as it were, to approach it by a different means than he is usually bent towards. Accordingly, the right answer largely depends upon renouncing one’s old habits which desire to see the world commonly; through old patterns and assumptions.