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Thread: Emptiness of time lesson

  1. #1

    Emptiness of time lesson

    Here in the US we switch to daylight savings time every spring. In our parlance, we "spring" ahead, so 7AM becomes 8AM, and 10PM becomes 11PM, and so on throughout the whole day. Our general reaction is "WHAT time is it really?" We wander around for a few days constantly asking ourselves that question and trying to figure out the answer. To make it even more confusing, we "lose" an hour. Where did it go? But eventually, we all get used to it and things settle down... until fall when we go back to standard time and we "gain" an hour. Huh?

    I have been coping with this time change by being mindful enough to catch myself in that wondering and figuring "what time is it really?" moment to remind myself that it is now, only now. Sunday was terrible. Monday was weird. Today I am settled enough to write this. The time change is the best real life example of time as emptiness I have experienced. The day is the same. Nothing has changed except for this construction we have put on it, and it throws us for a loop. Time is such a huge part of our daily reality, yet it is empty.

    Of course, time is also form. If you have to be somewhere at 8AM and you end up late because of the confusion, which is common, there are consequences. I have heard there are more car accidents and other serious things that happen right after we spring forward, so it is important to pay attention to the form of time, even if the changing of its form is silly.
    AL (Jigen) in:

    I sat today

  2. #2
    I tend to live my daily life with a pretty linear conception of time. It's only when I sit back and analyse it that I realise how relative this conception is. Sometimes I have caught myself at work, wishing that the time would go quicker. Other times time has seemingly gone in a flash (mostly when I am immersed in something).

    I think this is most evident to me when I meditate. Sometimes an hour seems like fifteen minutes and fifteen minutes sometimes seems like an hour. I wonder, am I overthinking this? (ie: am I not letting go?) or is this a natural part of life/zazen?



  3. #3
    In the currently accepted cosmological construct, time and space are the same thing ("space-time") because they originated simultaneously with the Big Bang. It is also accepted that the universe (space) is constantly expanding at a constant rate. Of course, this implies that time is constantly expanding at a constant rate. Eventually, we may be lucky enough that one day all beings understand that the time is always "this moment" and that this moment is vast and expansive.



  4. #4
    Simon, today my zazen got all messed up because my heater came on three times instead of two, so I thought my timer was malfunctioning and I was in zazen "overtime" (?), so I stopped and saw that I was right on time (yes, Jundo, we are always right on time during zazen), but it was just really cold this morning. Think about it, we sit and drop all concept of time (emptiness) while on a timer (form): That's Zen.

    William, Space-time? Seriously, see above paragraph. Plus, I am just trying to figure out what this time right now is. It feels like lunch time, but DST tells me I am moving into the middle of the afternoon. Space-time is beyond my form capabilities right now.
    AL (Jigen) in:

    I sat today

  5. #5
    Hi Alan

    Thank you for bringing this up.

    These past weeks, time has been a topic that comes out often to mind while sitting. How does time work? Why did we invent it... or did we only discover it?

    I've come to think that the universe has it's own time. It moves and evolves and takes as long it needs to do so. And it works perfectly. But then came men with this unique concept of time and hurry. We live counting time, wishing for it to slow down or go fast. We fight against it and we get this false sense of victory when we beat it.

    But what do we beat? Time itself or own haste?

    When we try to beat the Time of the Universe, a lot of suffering comes in.

    Speaking of Daylight Savings Time, I've always liked it. Gives me this sense of my days getting longer and it gives me the chance to do more useless stuff. It's awesome.

    But then comes the question: is time so easy to change that we can easily move forward our watches and hour and that's it?

    I understand why people get upset about it.

    Even if Time is as empty as we are.

    Just some silly thoughts.



    PS If I'd ever need a definition, I think the Doctor is dead on.

    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  6. #6
    Hello Kyonin,

    I don't think you are having silly thoughts. It makes sense to think of time as empty (as with all things I guess). I think the more I try to grasp onto it the harder it becomes to understand because I'm looking for a concept that's not there (at least in the way I perceive it).

    @AlanLa: I think it's all too easy for me to forget that I need to just sit without judging. Sometimes thoughts can be so subtle that it takes me a while to see them for what they are. Something small becomes a chain reaction and the next thing I know I'm totally caught up. I think my conception of time does that a lot to me.



  7. #7

  8. #8
    I have always thought of time as a backdrop we have constructed to judge or measure our lives. Also I've often thought the concept of linear time is incorrect, I feel it may be more of a pulse or in other words..I don't know.
    Gassho, Jakudo
    Gassho, Shawn Jakudo Hinton
    It all begins when we say, I. Everything that follows is illusion.
    "Even to speak the word Buddha is dragging in the mud soaking wet; Even to say the word Zen is a total embarrassment."

  9. #9
    I have only a little time, so let me just post this. I once in the past (or was it the future then?) tried to spend some moments with Dogen's wild sense of UJI Being-Time ...


    For those folks unfamiliar with his writings, Master Dogen had some very interesting perspective(s) on time. And I emphasize the word "perspective(s)", because he wrote of an infinite variety of ways of looking and experiencing time (and "no time") ... some seemingly contradictory, each true in its own way.

    Now, for those who would say that this is just "Buddhist philosophy" and offers nothing to our Practice, let me tell you why penetrating these perspectives is Golden. Most are not our typical, day to day way of looking at time ... but are freeing. For example:

    - Each moment, whatever its content, happy or sad, is true and sacred and a sparkling jewel. Push none of it away ... "sad childhoods" and "scary futures" included.

    - But, from another simultaneously true perspective, there really are no "separate moments", nor "happy vs. sad" (without the human mind to cut things up that way and impose judgments such as times we like and times we dislike). The trees and mountains probably do not need to think to themselves "Today is Tuesday, and it is better than yesterday, and I hope tomorrow it rains"). One aspect of this is that, in a sense, "sad childhoods long ago" and "scary/desired futures" exist primarily right now between your ears. Be more like the trees and mountains!

    - All time is so interconnected and whole, that ... not only does the past flow into the future ... but (like the top of a mountain that flows into the bottom, and the bottom of the mountain which flows into the top) the future flows into the past.

    - All time is so interconnected and whole ... that each moment, from one perspective, contains and expresses all moments. ... like each single step of a ballerina holds and expresses the whole ballet she is dancing.

    - All time is so interconnected to life, that it may be said that all things, each of us, lives in our own 'being-time' ... like our own picture which we are constantly painting, and which we make and remake with every step and choice, gesture, word and thought ("this moment is the start of the rest of your life" is just the tip of the iceberg!)

    - "Long" and "short" are really just human judgments (the Earth does not say to itself "Gee, it takes me a long time to get around the sun!" The firefly does not say, "shame I only shine for a fortnight"). Those measurements can be dropped from mind, whereby concepts such as "long life" and "short life" can be dropped from mind.

    - All time (from another simultaneously true perspective) is a state of mind ... and there is no true "past" or "future" or "present" when the mind stops cutting up "just this" into categories, which the human mind imposes all manner of judgments and divisions upon. Even the word "present" then has no meaning if there is no "past" or "future" to compare it to. What remains is the ultimate "just going with the flowing".

    and other perspectives too ...

    I wrote the following awhile back (perfectly what it is in that moment and this) .. .


    As to Dogen's conception of Being-Time. I can give that to you in a nutshell. It helps to realize that Dogen was always proposing Reality from several perspectives at once, some seemingly contradictory (X exists, X does not exist), but just different vantage points, each true in its way:

    So, we usually think that time flows past to present to future, and that events over 'here' and 'now' are not events over 'there' and 'then'. Well, that is true in its way. But Dogen also pointed out that the past is just a memory of the mind (it was, after all, just the 'present' back then), and the future is just a dream of the mind (what future has there been yet?). In that way, 'past' and 'future' are just dreams. So, without there truly being a 'past' or 'future', what need have we even for the word 'present' (which only exists as a concept in contrast to what is -not- the present)? If we compare it a little to a 'river', it is a little like saying that there is no 'upstream' or 'downstream' or 'here' to the river, if we just see it all as a single 'just-the-river'.

    And because every place on the river is 'just the river', every drop of the river is 'just the river', everything happens SIMULTANEOUSLY! Both the top and bottom of the river are present simultaneously and are one. Because everything that is of the river is just the river, everything that happens 'here' happens 'here' 'there' and 'everywhere' too. (I don't like overly connecting modern physics to Dogen, but there are parallels: For example, we think of the 'Big Bang' as something that happened in the past, but in some mathematical models, it is happening right now and every time too. Furthermore, where in the universe is the 'Big Bang' not happening(?), because all came out of the Big Bang at once).

    Further, there is a past and future too (there is, and there is not). But the future flows into the present which flows into the past. It is a little like saying that, though a river flows from upstream to downstream, you cannot have downstream without upstream. Downstream also flows into the upstream. Modern physics has come intrigingly close to this by saying that all timelines actually can be seen as running in two directions (the dominoes falling down can also be seen as the dominos 'unfalling up').

    And every drop of the river flows into every other drop of the river, so that what happens to Drop X is the time and being of Drop Y. If you drink a cup of coffee, it is the whole universe drinking a cup of coffee. And if you are doing it here and now, the whole universe is here and now.

    Furthermore, everything in the universe had its own 'time'. (Again, by coincidence perhaps, Einstein stumbled upon a model something like this a few centuries later). My life-clock is not your life-clock.

    We also think of time as 'long' or short' ... but would a creature that lives its lifetime in a day or a creature with a lifetime of 10,000 years view time the same way as mankind? Are not 'long and short' subjective judgments of men, and is not 'time' just" time' (just what it is, not long or short)? And can we not say too that every moment is an eternity unto itself? .

    And, of course, time is not separate from being, and being is not separate from time ... In other words, all of the above is just YOU!

    And on and on it goes. It is just another way of seeing life and being as of one piece with all of space and time, with all Reality. It is just another way too of tossing a monkey wrench in our normal way of seeing events and who we are.

    Now, I am out of time ... so time to stop.

    Anyway, I have not even begun to scratch the surface. If you want to read Dogen's original words in Uji, have a look here ...

    And a scholar's paper here:

    Does that help?

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - If you think anything I wrote is "weird" ... I just happened to hear a short bit of Stephen Hawking's interview yesterday in which he posits that time travel is possible if space were sufficiently warped (star trek fans) ... although ya might wreck all space-time in the process ... :shock:]
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-14-2013 at 03:46 AM.

  10. #10
    Recently I saw a very nice documentary about "Time" by Physicist Brian Greene on TV. Highly recommended and even comprehensible for those who are not familiar with Theory of Relativity, etc.
    I found it on YouTube - you can skip the somewhat sensational introduction in order to save some time (sorry for the clownish joke, but I could not resist) and begin at 3:35.


    no thing needs to be added

  11. #11
    Sweet Timo, thank you for sharing.
    Gassho, Jakudo
    Gassho, Shawn Jakudo Hinton
    It all begins when we say, I. Everything that follows is illusion.
    "Even to speak the word Buddha is dragging in the mud soaking wet; Even to say the word Zen is a total embarrassment."

  12. #12
    Hi guys, great posts again!

    Personally I think time does not exist in the absolute sense. Time seems to be closely linked to the rithm of life and death and always a relative term. As soon as we step out of this big blue bal, where there are no sentient beings ( I know, I know, let’s not go there ), all concepts about time turn to be only a a partial explanation or no explanation at all.

    A star, way out there in space, shoots a ray of light our way and what happens then is incalculable and wondrous. I mean this, Let's sit in the garden on a clear night for a moment and look up. What we see up there, is actually the past, a picture from millions and millions of years ago. Our much sung and praised starry night is what ws, its a picture or a snapshot. The star is there we say, but maybe relative to the star itself, it's not anymore by the time we look up at it. We won't know for sure for millions and millions of years from now. We do try to get a grasp of it don’t we? Awesome minds worked on it al their lives and none came up with a real answer because we all look at it in a relative sense. Relative to us. That's the genius of Dogen's Being Time I think? His way of looking at time sounds weird because his starting point is no-starting point. It's absolute, where time is always relative.

    Let's say Jundo does zazenkai and no one shows up. Almost all of us sit the same zazenkai with him eventually or in the end, what end is that? And when? And who? Maybe someone will join Treeleaf a year from now and sit that very same recorded zazenkai looking at the clock because the knees hurt? Can we really say he or she was or was not there at the time Jundo sat zazen? And what happens if we sit it twice???????

    Now I all confused!!!


    Enkyo/Peter/Potato peal

  13. #13
    Maybe this will help:
    When we look and see that star we are seeing the past.
    We are the past.
    We are that star.
    When someone sees us seeing that star they see the past.
    We are their future.
    We are that person and that star.
    AL (Jigen) in:

    I sat today

  14. #14
    To think all of this comes from thinking about that machine going “tic tac tic tac”! All of this life is so beautiful and profound, don't you think?

    I rather enjoy
    this steady, beutifull star
    within this one breath

    Gassho Enkyo

  15. #15
    Stomach hurts. Meow says Zen master. Oh, time to eat says student. Human serves milk to Zen master wearing no watch.

    Gassho, John

  16. #16
    I've been reading 'Opening the Hand of Thought' today and I came across what I thought was an interesting quote:

    "Ordinarily, we take it for granted that we all live in time, but through sesshin we are able to experience directly that this is not so. Rather, it is the life of the self that creates the appearance of time."



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