Now and Then

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We break our world into pieces by the words we use. Two such words are “now” and “then”.

Of course, in our day-to-day lives, we need to live in changing time … past becomes present beomes future … we awake in the morning, go to bed at night … we are born, are children, grow up, grow old … work must be done on time, bills paid on time, our kids brought to school on time …

This is all necessary, and so long as we live – we must live in passing time. Even monks carry wristwatches in their robes, for the noon meal must be served at noon, the evening bell rung in the evening. Nothing is “wrong” with time, there is nothing about it to escape, and time will keep passing so long as we live. It is life, and living takes time.

But those monks may know another experience of time, for the dividing words “now” and “then” can be dropped from mind. Passing time is simply forgotten. We discover something that is not “then” and not “now”, yet is both of those. It is not “past/present/future”, but more “is/is/is”.Even “present” is empty absent a “past” or “future” in contrast. Instead, it is “what-is-that-was-that-shall-be”. Thus, we don’t “live in the present,” but “just live!” We can call it “just being.”



Putting aside all philosophizing about time, “timelessness” can be tasted in Zazen as another model of reality, an equally valid perspective on life. The parts of the brain that create a sense of time become quiet, and we realize that, “Oh, I can experience life in this way too!” Both time and timelessness are good ways to see things ... at the same time.

We can stop time too, and each moment may be viewed as perfectly just-what-it-is, whole in its instant: When you ring the evening bell, each strike of the bell is just that moment’s single strike. When you are late for school, you are perfectly late just at that moment. In such sense, each moment is completely each moment, with nothing in need of change. Time stands still while it flows.

And this can be experienced, not merely philosophized about.

Think of all the little complaints made meaningless by our dropping a sense of passing time: “life is too short”, “where has my life gone?”, “children grow up so fast” etc. etc. Part of us can stop rushing, for that part of us can never be late.

Master Dogen wished to convey that each moment of time and being is not anything apart from you, is your existential time-and-being. So, he wrote in Uji, Being-Time ...

Because real existence is only this exact moment, all moments of Being-Time are the whole of Time, and all existent things and all existent phenomena are moments of Time …

If Time does not take the form of leaving and coming, [a task done in the past] is the present as Being-Time, If Time does take the form of leaving and coming, you yet have this present moment of Being-Time, which is just Being-Time itself
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