Monday, July 29, 2013


It’s time to talk about time again because it’s a thought-provoking subject.

A Western encyclopedia defines time as a measurement in which events can be organized from the past through the present into the future. Also, time has to do with durations of events and the intervals between them.

The same encyclopedia says time has been a major study in religion, philosophy, and science. But here’s the kicker. Defining time in a way applicable to all fields without running around in circles has consistently eluded researchers.

That’s like saying the more we know about time, the less we can agree on. To scrunch it down even more, the more we know, the less we know.

 Today’s talk is not centered on religion, or science or philosophy. Instead it’s based on the notions of someone who lived almost a thousand years ago and who knew nothing next to nothing about religion or philosophy or science. He did knew about time. I’m speaking of Zen Master Dogen, and I’m referring to his talk titled “Uji.”

Uji is a Japanese expression that can be translated as Being and Time. However, such a rendering has caused certain scholars to think Dogen was involved in some philosophical speculation such as the Western existentialism of modern times. Existentialism, which was promoted by the 1940s philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte, says that in a logical sense, an individual exists, and existence is that person’s essence. That’s an interesting theory, but it has little to do with Dogen, who steered clear of speculative thinking and logic in favor of truth and reality.

Dogen presented Uji to his monks in written form rather than as a Dharma talk. Maybe he wanted it to be studied carefully rather than being absorbed by hearing it once.

Maybe he wanted it to last for a time.

The phrase Uji has two components. The first part refers to being, the second half to time.  Together they spell out “The Time Being.” Dogen was perhaps focusing on his own experience of being unattached to the existence of a personal self that exists independent of time.

We live in time. We are time. From instant to instant we are ever-changing. To paraphrase Yakusan, an ancient Soto Zen master, Uji is the time when some form of being endures,

Time and existence may seem like two different concepts, but they are the same. The past and the future do not exist. Only the present moment exists because it’s the point where existence and time come together.

At the beginning of his Uji talk Dogen quoted Zen Master Yakusan:

Standing on top of a mountain is time,
Moving at the bottom of the ocean is time,
A Buddhist image is time,
A stick is time,
Earth and space are time.

Time is not an appliance or a gadget, but humans have invented years, and months, and hours to make something out of nothing. Especially in the Western world, time has become something to be reckoned with. We have watches and clocks and hourglasses. We measure time and live by the notion of its coming and going.

But time does not come and go. Time is now. In the interval that you can say the word “Now” it’s all over. It’s already “Then.” When I strike this singing bowl I create “Now.” This is an example of time being.

No-sound, sound, and no-sound. There is no here today, gone tomorrow. There is only now.

Dogen wrote, “The phrase ‘is for the time being’ implies that time in its totality is what existence is, and existence in all of its occurrences is what time is.

“Mountains are of time, oceans are of time. If there was no time, there would be no mountains or oceans because they are of the present time.

“When I was climbing a mountain or crossing a river I was there in that time. So there must have been time in me. Furthermore, I actually exist now, so time could not have departed. Time is, was, and will be.

If we think of time as fleeting or flying away then time would have holes in it. But there are no openings in time. Time goes on the same, without change.

What changes is us.

Albert Einstein was tuned into time. He claimed that the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen all at once.


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