Dogen's Time Being (Uji) Talk 3 of 5
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | September 2, 2009
Abridged and edited by Ryusen Barbara Byrum
Last week we were reading in Uji about the past as a place in time, a unit in time, or as a flavor of time. Does the past actually exist or not? What does the past feel like? And when we say the past, do we think about being a child, or the past an hour ago, or the past a moment ago? How does it condition the present? What's the feeling tone or flavor of passing time in your life? We were asking everybody to tune into that during the week. See if you can notice how time in the past, whatever that may be, surfaces and affects your days.
I would like to continue with what I was doing before. I'll read a section from Kaz's (Tanahashi) translation; I'll pause a moment for everybody to digest that; and then I'll read my interpretive version of that same section.
So we're up to the eighth section:
The time-being has the quality of flowing. So-called today flows into tomorrow, today flows into yesterday, yesterday flows into today. And today flows into today, tomorrow flows into tomorrow.
Because flowing is a quality of time, moments of past and present do not overlap or line up side-by-side. Qingyuan is time, Huangbo is time, Jiangxi is time, Shitou is time, because self and other are already time. Practice-enlightenment is time. Being splattered with mud and getting wet with water is also time.
Just a word before I read my version of that. This is a very difficult thing to talk about. Here Kaz translates time as "flowing." Time is flowing. The Shasta Abbey translation is that time has "continuity." Cleary says that time is "passing." And conventionally that's how we talk about it. We say, "Time passes." Time doesn't stand still. Time doesn't get bigger or smaller. It seems to have an even, perfectly regulated continuity. No lumps. No glitches. No one moment jumping over another, getting out of sequence. It seems to go along really nicely. We can count on it.
The trouble is that all these words - continuity, flow, passing, and so on - are metaphors that must only make sense in relation to things. We were saying earlier that time is exactly nothing, but all these words only make sense in terms of things - as in water flows. If you're standing by the banks of the stream, there's flow, there's continuity, there's passage. You are standing on the bank watching something flowing by. But the trouble is that all these metaphors are not even inherently - though Dogen can't help but use them - what time it is about. Time is exactly not like water flowing, or like anything else that we can talk about in physical terms, because we're not standing on the bank. There is no bank. There's nothing that exists that could be out of time. So even though time passes, or seems to pass, it can't flow in the way that anything else flows.
So that is background to this section. Here's my version: "For the time-being can't ever be static or still, because it isn't anything at all. It could only move, flow, or pass, and then it is gone before it arrives. You can catch a cup of water from a stream flowing by, but you can't catch time. We speak of today, but today is already tomorrow. Today is already yesterday. But since yesterday is also not a something, it isn't anything at all. Yesterday is already today. Still, each time does have its appearance and its function, and each time holds everything. So today is already today, and tomorrow is already tomorrow. Because of this quality of time (although we can't really say that time has qualities), there can never be any glitches. Moments don't pile on top of one another, nor do they line up, end-to-end. Qingyuan is the time-being. Huangbo is the time-being. Jiangxi is the time-being. Shitou is the time-being. Because "self" is the time-being, and "other" is the time-being, these great masters are each different, and they share the time-being and do not share it. Also, they are the same, because, in essence, they are just for the time-being. That's all they are, or were, or will be - exactly like you and me. Their practice-enlightenment - and that's always one word for Dogen, "practice-enlightenment" - is the moment of practice." (The idea of practice-enlightenment is central to our practice. We're not practicing for a future enlightenment. You can see now why that term - that concept - is so crucial for Dogen. Behind it is Dogen's whole idea, his whole feeling for time.) "So their practice-enlightenment is only for the time being, as is ours. Struggling and helping each other through our struggles. This is also only for the time-being."
So, Dogen's point is that we always miss the point. We do see time as the medium in which we are operating. We do see time as flowing, with all the various fish and us in it. We think that the ancient masters are upstream. They lived in the past, upstream, and they were really great. And we are in the present, downstream from them. And we're not so great. They're enlightened and we're not. However, we have some hope that if we continue swimming downstream, we can be good enough, and we can be enlightened. This is exactly what Dogen is arguing against. He's saying "Yes, conventionally there is an upstream and downstream. Conventionally there is a self and other. But at the deepest level of reality, there isn't. Time is always just for the time-being. It doesn't come from anywhere. It doesn't go anywhere. So self and other, past and present, enlightenment and struggle, are all just for the time-being. As such, they share something much more than the differences."
Next one, section 9,
Although the views of an ordinary person, and the causes and conditions of those views, are what the ordinary person sees, they are not necessarily the ordinary person's truth. The truth merely manifests itself for the time-being as an ordinary person. Because you think your time or your being is not truth, you believe that the sixteen-foot golden body is not you.
However, your attempts to escape from being the sixteen-foot golden body are nothing but bits and pieces of the time-being. Those who have not yet confirmed this should look into it deeply. The hours of Horse and Sheep, which are arrayed in the world now, are actualized by ascendings and descendings of the time-being at each moment. The rat is time, the tiger is time, sentient beings are time, buddhas are time.
"Although we all have our views, and we all have sensible reasons and causes for those views, these views are not what we really are. They don't encompass the simple truth of our being for the time-being. That simple truth merely manifests itself for the time-being as you and me and our various views. Because we don't realize this and believe so much in our views, we believe we know who and what we are, and who and what others are. We are convinced that we are ordinary persons and not enlightened buddhas. So although this may seem touchingly humble, the truth is we're frightened of our own awesomeness. We're trying to escape being what we really are, because we think it's too much for us. But even as we try to do this, in the very doing of it, we're manifesting the time-being, and our immensity is never hidden. And if we don't see this yet, we just need to look more deeply. The hours and weeks and months and years that paint a picture of a world are nothing other than the endless risings and fallings, the shiftings and ruminations, of the time-being. Being yourself is the time-being itself. Being a buddha is the time-being itself."
Let's go on a little bit - number 10,
At this time you enlighten the entire world with three heads and eight arms; you enlighten the entire world with the sixteen-foot golden body. To fully actualize the entire world with the entire world is called thorough practice.
To fully actualize the golden body - to arouse the way-seeking mind, practice, attain enlightenment, and enter nirvana - is nothing but being, is nothing but time.
"The time-being lights up the whole world. Our anger and confusion light up the whole world. Our wisdom, our love, lights up the whole world. And the whole world lights up the whole world. That's what we call thorough practice. Becoming a buddha, going through the steps and stages of a buddha's career, arousing compassion and commitment, practicing all the virtues, becoming enlightened, entering nirvana - this is just for the time-being. It's what the time-being always is, was, and will be."
I want to do just one other section, because it has to do with what I would like us to think about for this next week. The next one is section 11:
Just actualize all time as all being; there is nothing extra. A so-called "extra being" is thoroughly an extra being. Thus, the time-being half-actualized is half of the time-being completely actualized, and a moment that seems to be missed is also completely being. In the same way, even the moment before or after the moment that appears to be missed is also complete-in-itself the time-being. Vigorously abiding in each moment is the time-being. Do not mistakenly confuse it as nonbeing. Do not forcefully assert is as being.
"So just constantly investigate the time-being, and there's nothing beyond this. Even something beyond this would be nothing other than the time-being, because we can never limit, enclose, define, know, or appreciate the time-being. And still, it is completely the time-being, because half of the time-being is all of the time-being. And even a moment missed is a moment fulfilled, as is the moment before the moment missed and the moment afterward. The time-being is always completely fulfilled and incompletely fulfilled. It's just for the time-being. Don't think of it as non-being, but don't think of it as the time-being either."
So that's a good segue to what I would like us to think about and look at this coming week. Clearly, as this section makes most obvious, there is a paradox at the heart of what Dogen is doing in this essay. He's definitely trying to communicate something to us. He wants to tell us that every moment of time, every moment of being, is our life. And our life, even with all its many imperfections, is always whole and always deep, if only we could look at it. He's telling us this, and yet, he really wants to avoid making this into another doctrine, concept, or idea. We're always making everything into something. So he's trying to do this very difficult thing of trying to communicate something that he's serious about, and that's really important for our living, if not the most important thing. And at the same time, he wants to avoid making it too clear or making it too pat so that we now hold this up as a banner. He wouldn't be doing this if he didn't think that it would really make a difference to us to have the right idea about our lives. It does make a difference, and at the same time, he doesn't want us to build a big edifice out of this idea.
The implications of that for our lives are really immense, because you can't not have some idea. Dogen knows that we're going to have some idea about our lives, so we should have an idea that's fruitful, rather than an idea that is nothing but bondage. But if we cling to that idea, no matter how fruitful it is, it becomes bondage. And yet we have to have ideas and concepts and identities. So that's the point: How do we hold the things that we think? How do we hold our thoughts, our identities, our concepts in such a way that they don't oppress us? In such a way that they don't become fixed, and become cannon fodder for more suffering that is aimed at ourselves or at someone else?
For instance, our favorite idea of all: Me. This is our favorite idea, right? Me! There's a big difference between "me" as a fixed concept and "me" as a lightly held, ongoing experience. We're not looking for the disappearance of me. That will come soon enough. We're looking for the possibility of me as a lightly held, ongoing experience. What does it feel like to do that, and what does it feel like to have a fiercely grasped concept of me?
So study your fixed ideas this week. Take a look. When is it that you're holding onto a concept such as "This is what is really happening," or "This is what I really am," or "This is why I don't like this"? Whatever it is. Is it possible to hold your ideas in a different way, so that they no longer become sources of suffering? So that they can open a door towards liberation?