“The primary face” is possessed by every one of us. According to Zen, it is not only physical but at once physical and metaphysical, material and spiritual, gross and subtle, concrete and abstract. The Zen master wants to see this kind of “face” presented to him by his monk. In one important sense “this face” must go through the baptism of “Do not think of good, do not think of evil,” and of “Have no thoughts whatever.” For the face we have on the surface of our relative psychological way of thinking is not “the primary face” demanded by the master.
(Taken from ‘Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D.T. Suzuki, p. 286)
Can you reveal your “primary face” right now? This is, as often described in Zen Buddhism, ‘the face you had before your parents were born.’ What on earth does it look like, this multifaceted façade? Is it, indeed, a mere façade at all? Well, yes and no. “The primary face” is not to be mistaken with your human face, limited by certain features, and yet, neither is it to be differentiated from it. Hopefully, this is making no sense to you whatever – for what we are after is completely beyond reach of the intellect. Thoughts cannot trap it…
What can possibly be concrete and abstract, and yet neither good nor evil? Your Buddha Face, to give ‘it’ another name, isn’t a something, but on the other hand, it isn’t the absence of things either. It’s abstract to the degree that it can’t be pointed to as being here or there, as our human faces can, and yet, these very faces are none other than the Buddha’s own. I can see my face in the mirror, and I can feel it here; it exists in a concrete way. This blob of flesh exists in the same (no-) space as my Buddha Face, however; they are two and yet not two; one and yet not one.
All this contradictory talk has a purpose, of course, which is to take us beyond the reach of the rational mind, to a place where we can experience that to which all this verbiage points: “the primary face.” If you want to see your primary Buddha Face, it isn’t really all that difficult. (I think the old Zen masters and their students are having us on, entertaining us with their jolly shenanigans.) Try out the following experiment in awareness with an open mind, and see what you come up with.
- Gaze into the mirror and see your human face. That’s you, as Tom, Dick, Harriet, or whoever.
- Now turn your attention to that which is aware of your reflected façade – what is that?
- Does it have features of its own? Is it limited to a particular location? Is it beyond the concrete world of form, and, as D.T. Suzuki would have it, abstract?
- And yet, is there a here and there right now? Is not the reflected face really located in the same place as that which is awake to it? Scratch your face – where does this happen but exactly where the Buddha Face is?
If we wish to experience what the Buddha, the Zen masters and forest monks have pointed to for thousands of years, we must cast off the rational part of the mind. Koans, or ‘Zen riddles’ are one course of action; constant mindfulness another. Alternatively, we might like to experiment with awareness, and see things in the light of no thing. “The primary face” that Daisetz Suzuki writes of above is always present, waiting to be looked upon by the very same awareness that is this beautiful, shining ‘Buddha Face’ that we all posses.