Dogen's Time Being (Uji) 2
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | August 26, 2009
Abridged and edited by Ryusen Barbara Byrum
What I would like to do now is go through some more sections of the text, and do what I did last time: give you my paraphrase, my impressionistic, interpretive translation. I'll pause a little bit for you to feel that section for yourself, then I'll read my interpretation, and then we'll see if anyone has anything to say.
I am starting at section 4 in Kaz's version:
Know that in this way there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses throughout the entire earth, and yet each grass and each form itself is the entire earth. The study of this is the beginning of practice.
When you are at this place, there is just one grass, there is just one form; there is understanding of form and no-understanding of form; there is understanding of grass and no-understanding of grass. Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time-being is all the time there is. Grass-being, form-being are both time.
Each moment is all being, is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment.
I'll remind us all that in the previous section Dogen had just been talking about the self. He had been saying that when you look at the self closely, you see that the self and the world are really the same thing. If you look closely, you really can't limit the self - it just continues on to include the whole world. He says the self arrays itself as the form of the entire world. And then he says that the self is time.
So, in other words, space is time, and self is space and time. This is one of the great, deep secrets of meditation practice. If you really sit in meditation and enter the breath fully, you see everything. You don't need to see anything more than what is in this one breath, because everything is complete - right here.
Here is my interpretive translation:
"Understand, therefore, that there is no end to the variety and diversity of the world. And no one will ever encompass it all objectively. And yet, each and every thing in the world encompasses the whole of the world. To study this fact, to experience it, to stop wishing for otherwise and elsewhere, is the real beginning of practice. Knowing this, you are not looking for something else. You see that wherever you are, whatever you are, all things are always included and nothing more is needed. Knowing this, there is always the effort to understand things as they appear, and the recognition that you can never understand anything, because everything is too immense to be understood."
There's actually a wonderful footnote for this very passage in Cleary's translation. He said the following: "Clarifying and sharpening relative understanding, while at the same time being aware of the ultimate inconceivability of existence in itself, is a Zen art." I think that is really good. It is one of the pith secrets of our practice. "Clarifying and sharpening relative understanding, while at the same time being aware of the ultimate inconceivability of existence in itself, is a Zen art."
So the idea is that we are not uninterested in the world. We are as interested as we could be in the relative world - understanding what makes ourselves tick, what makes our friends tick, how does the world work? Why is the economy so bad? Why is the government in a mess? How can we make it better? Why are our children so confused? Why are we so confused? Whatever we can learn about the world, whatever our field of endeavor, we want to learn as much as we can and be as skillful as we possibly can about the relative world. And at the same time, absolutely understanding and never forgetting that everything is fundamentally inconceivable. You can't understand anything. Really.
So these two things are not in contradiction. You'd think that if we recognize that everything is inconceivable, we wouldn't bother or care to learn about anything. Who cares? Or, on the other side, if we were really interested in the relative world, you'd think that we'd abhor the idea that things are inconceivable and that we can't understand them. But Zen is the art of holding these two things in dynamic tension, and, in fact, they support one another. Because the way in which you can understand the relative world is going to be different when you understand also that nothing can really be known. And the way you hold the fact that nothing can really be known is very different when you take a huge interest in the world around you.
And this is really the heart and soul of our practice -- when you think about it, the heart and soul of zazen. Because in zazen you are not trying to push away and be uninterested in all the stuff that comes into your mind. You are interested in your body and your mind and everything that arises, but you also know that none of it explains anything. None of it can be encompassed. It is all inconceivable.
So my version was that there is the effort to understand things as they appear, and also the recognition that you can never understand anything - because everything is too immense to be understood.
I'll go on and finish my interpretation of this section. "Since there is nothing but just this moment, ‘for the time being' is all the time there is. Everything, in being what it is, is all the time there is. All the time there is, is all the being there is - all the myriads of worlds." Think about it. Is this moment lacking in anything? Is it lacking in any time? Is it lacking in any world? Can you see that everything is always here, always full and complete - wherever you are and whatever you are?
So to go on a little bit. I'll read Dogen and then I'll give my version. Section 5,
Yet an ordinary person who does not understand buddha-dharma may hear the words ‘the time-being ' this way:
For a while I was three heads and eight arms. For a while I wasan eight- or sixteen-foot body. This is like having crossed over rivers and climbed mountains. Even though the mountains and rivers still exist, I have already passed them and now reside in the jeweled palace and vermillion tower. Those mountains and rivers are as distant from me as heaven is from earth.
It is not that simple. At the time the mountains were climbed and the rivers crossed, you were present. Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away. As time is not marked by coming and going, the moment you climbed the mountains is the time-being right now. This is the meaning of the time-being.
Does this time-being not swallow up the moment when you climbed the mountains and the moment when you resided in the jeweled palace and vermillion tower? Does it not spit them out?
So this is my interpretive version. What I'm doing, to a great extent, is explaining in my translation the different references and de-mystifying them. "Yet an ordinary person, with a conventional view of time and being, may understand the time-being in relation to spiritual practice like this: ‘At one point in time I was a deluded, angry person, but later on I became enlightened. That is, I went through an unfortunate past, that really existed, to a really existing present in which I am enjoying the fruits of my spiritual endeavors. And that past is far beyond me now.'"
So isn't this what we are all hoping for? But he says, "No, it's not that simple. In the so-called past, you were you, and as we now know, the you that you really are is all of time and all the world. So although time appears to pass away, in fact it also always remains. Time is always time. It does not truly pass into some imagined realm we call ‘the past.' Time is always time. It doesn't come, and it doesn't go. So your deluded past is still here for the time being. It doesn't go away, and you don't go beyond it. The meaning of impermanence - of time's coming and going - is exactly that you are time, and all of time is exactly now, here, in time, for the time-being."
"The time being swallows up the past and the present and spits them out. Time is always eating and excreting itself. So don't be so sure you know what the past has been. And don't be so sure you know what's going on right now. You should be more doubtful and more humble about your spiritual accomplishments, because you haven't changed at all. Time-being includes everything, and also much more."
And here I've added the implied doubt. I think in this passage the intention is that we would all recognize how time looks to the ordinary, average person. We'd all recognize ourselves and say, "Yeah, that's right, that's how it looks to me." And what he's telling us is that you should be more doubtful about that, and you should be more humble and more willing to experience your life, rather than measure it in terms of spiritual progress, or thinking that you have gone beyond yourself in the past, to the present, where you're getting better. You are just committed to being with your practice and with your life in this moment - with openness and questioning and not-knowing.
[After some questions and answers.]
We can all agree there is no past. So we agree on that and then go on to the next day, and yet we experience a past. So what Dogen is saying is that we will experience a past. How do we understand that? How do we work with it? How do we live with it? What he's saying is, "Don't think the past is just dead behind you somewhere." And I think we all understand this in our own way. The past is right here. Everything that ever happened to you is operative in everything you do and in every word that comes out of your mouth. We don't know if the past ever happened or not - but we certainly know what we are now. And there it is. It's here in our present functioning. And it's the time-being.
It's a very hopeful thing, in a way. Because otherwise you could say, "All these bad things happened to me in the past, so I'm screwed. There is no way that I am going to have a decent life here." But he is saying, "No, the past is operative right here. If you enter the time-being this moment, your life is the life of Buddha. Your life is the life of awakening, regardless of the content of the past. The question is how you understand the past and how do you hold it? You could certainly understand the past in such a way that you are screwed - "No way. I give up." And you could live that life, and a lot of people do. Or not thinking that way but just reacting to the past in such a strong way that you create problems for yourself all of the time, and you say, "Well, it's because of my past." Well, yes, you did have that past, but at the same time, it's the way you're holding and understanding that past and reacting to it that is really the source of the present anguish. If you understood it in the way that Dogen is speaking about, it's very uplifting, and spiritually there is always possibility, no matter what happened in the past.
Okay, one more. This is number 6:
Three heads and eight arms may be yesterday's time. The eight- or sixteen-foot body may be today's time. Yet, yesterday and today are both in the moment when you directly enter the mountains and see thousands and myriads of peaks. Yesterday's time and today's time do not go away. Three heads and eight arms move forward as your time-being. It looks as if they are far away, but they are here and now. The eight- or sixteen-foot body moves forward as your time-being. It looks as if it were nearby, but it is exactly here. Thus, a pine tree is time. Bamboo is time.
So, my version: "It may be true that in the past you were deluded and angry, and that in the present, at least for the time being, you are enlightened. Yet the past and the present are both here in the high, wide, and endless vista we call ‘now.' Yesterday's time and today's time do not ever go away. There is nowhere they could go to that wouldn't also be just for the time-being. Your deluded past moves forward with you, as you are. It may seem that it is far away, but it is always with you for the time being. Sometimes it may seem close, but it is even closer than it seems. It is exactly arising now. Time-being is eternal, unmoving time. And it is the passing hours, days, months, and years of a lifetime."
Maybe we could take a moment or two to meditate with how we hold and feel about the past - our own personal past. So settle your body and breath. When your mind is a little quiet, bring up some image or feeling that you have about the past. It could be yesterday, or it could be fifty years ago. Whatever image of the past or sense that comes into your mind first. Just breathe with that image or sense of the past and be with it for a moment. Notice how you're feeling about it - how you're holding it. How real you take it to be. How liberating it is. How restricting it is. How heavy, how light. Just be open and curious about it.
Let's just do one more section, and then we'll close. Number 7,
Do not think that time merely flies away. Do not see flying away as the only function of time. If time merely flies away, you would be separated from time. The reason that you do not clearly understand the time-being is that you think of time only as passing. In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments. Because all moments are the time-being, they are your time-being.
So my reading of it is: "Don't think time passes. Don't see time passing as the only way time goes. If time only passed, there would be a gap. You would be here, and time would be over there. But as you are time and time is you, and you are here, time has not passed at all. To think of time as only passing is to misunderstand yourself - to construct a gap between yourself and yourself. Whether they exist in the same moment or in many different moments, all things in the world that are, are linked to one another intimately. Whether they are the same moment or different moments, all moments are just for the time-being. And it must be your time-being, because you are."
Think about all the ways that things and people are different from one another. People are so different from one another. Men are different from women. People in one language group are different from people in another language group - or religion or culture. But that's nothing compared to the differences between people and rocks. When you put rocks into it, people are almost exactly alike. Rocks are really different from people! [Laughter.] But then if you put all the people and all the rocks that exist in one category, compared to the things that don't exist, they're really different! I mean, what could be more different than something that is from something that is not? Right?"[DR3] Think about it!
Therefore, everything that is, is very much the same. Quite connected. Quite intimate. We're all cousins. We're cousins with rocks and clouds. And so that's what he's saying here. Because we are - we are absolutely intimate with and connected with everything. And it's personal. That's why he says at the end that it's your time-being. The intimacy of things is very personal and friendly to ourselves. It's right at the heart of what we are.