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Thread: Time Being

  1. #1

    Time Being

    Greetings Jundo and Sangha
    This is the second attempt to get this first post out of my lounge room as I struggle with computers.I am reading Moon in a Dewdrop,a collection of Dogens writings.The chapter titled Time-Being has befuddled me as I have so far been unable to plumb its depths.It seems I need a stonger light than my own to illumine some of Dogens work,so if anyone can provide assistance it would be appreciated.

  2. #2

    I think that sometimes Master Dogen's writing should be absorbed, rather than understood. I also recommend the Nishijima and Cross translation vice Moon in a dewdrop. That may help a bit.

    Take care,

  3. #3
    Hi Malcom,

    I would agree and disagree with some of what Jordan said. Sometimes Dogen is hard to understand because it takes a little explaining, or because it goes against our normal way of seeing things, or because of language references, or due to a lost literary reference, bad translation or the like. Then, we have to let Shobogenzo just wash over us.

    But, really, most if it is quite consistent and predictable, very logical (its own internal logic), and quite understandable with a bit of explaining. This will become clear, I hope, when we start talking about the Genjo Koan chapter of Shobogenzo in a couple of weeks.

    Oh, and Jordan is right in this way too: Even when we understand the logic of Dogen, that is not enough. We must still -taste- his meaning through the lens of our Zazen, letting it wash over us through Zen Mind. Kodo Sawaki Roshi (who I have been reading today) wrote this ...

    30. To you who say that the ShŰbŰgenzŰ is difficult to understand

    Master DŰgen doesnít expect anything from us thatís not humanly possible. Itís simply a matter of becoming natural, without empty thoughts or peculiarities. Buddhism in general doesnít demand anything special from us, only that we become natural. Some verses in the sutras might seem special to us, for example, ďThe white hair between his eyebrows illuminates the 3,000 worlds.Ē But thatís only a literary symbol for the samadhi that is the king of all samadhis.
    As to Dogen's conception of Being-Time. I can give that to you in a nutshell. I wanted to point you to a scholarly treatment to read too, but I cannot access it on the internet. So, you will just have to do with me. Here is my quick version. 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 clock is not your 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.

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4
    Hola Todos,

    As an aside, there is a book that just came out by the late Dainin Katagiri Roshi, which deals with this Dogen teaching. It's called "Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time." While I havenít read it, Katagiri Roshi is one of my favorites. Here's the Amazon link: ... 622&sr=8-1


  5. #5
    Fleas and the direction of time

    The idea that time is symmetric and that the past and the future are therefore interchangeable is referred to T-symmetry in physics. If you watch a movie of elementary particles, how would you know if the film was running backwards or forwards?

    You can't really, and the reason is that the dynamics, the laws governing physics are pretty much observe T-symmetry.

    Except for the kaon particle. No kidding, you can't make this stuff up.

    Now there is a distinction between the apparent direction of states, and the symmetry of the dynamics. When discussing symmetry, physicist mostly refer to the dynamics, as states where we live are pretty directional.

    On the scale where the laws of thermodynamics form part of our everyday observation, there are obvious directions of time. Things go from ordered to disorder. The film of a dropped glass of milk shatters and spills, not the other way around. This direction from order to disorder, defines which direction our calendars are oriented. This measure of complexity and disorder or Entropy increases in time.

    But that isn't the end of the story. For simple systems, the direction of time isn't always so apparent. Only as systems become more complex does the direction become apparent.

    Take two dogs and some fleas. Place two fleas on Fido and bring flea-free Fifi close to Fido. Soon one jumps onto Fifi and then maybe the other and sometimes both return to Fido. Played backwards or forwards, the movie of the fleas on Fido and Fifi give no indication of the direction of time.

    Now take 300 fleas onto Fido and bring poor Fifi over. Equilibrium is reached in a few hours and to a state with equal fleas on both. The movie now clearly has a sense of direction, the likelihood of all three hundred returning to Fido is tiny, one would have to wait eons for all to return to Fido.

    The direction of time appears to depend on complexity.
    (Ehrenfest's Dog Flea Problem see also Maxwell's demon)

    ps an earlier post, Avatasaka Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism: Indra's Net got me thinking about the parallels in cosmology. Maybe start my own blog?


  6. #6

    time being

    Wow Louis!
    No, you stay right here and learn me a few things!

    And Jordan--I guess I have the same absorption/understanding view. I think understanding 'ripens' in its own time. Good teachers can take you from where you are to there, but for me, it's like letting someone else drive me to a location. To truly understand, and know my way there I need to get there under my own power. But I don't mind not understanding, I discovered that I really don't need to. I only need to understand if I'm going to explain it to someone, and then....I'll just let Louis do it!


  7. #7

  8. #8
    Wow- thank you Louis! I love that we live in an age in which our understanding of physics is strong enough that we can see parallels between how we now know the world operates (on more subtler levels) and how the world is seen to operate through the works of the great masters...

    gassho, greg

  9. #9
    That was fascinating louis, thank you!

  10. #10
    I recall reading something in Discover magazine recently that said there is research to suggest that because of structures in the brain (nanotubules I think) electrical activity is happening at what is called the Planck scale. The significance here is that things occuring below the Planck scale are currently off-limits for viewing because the physical properties of the universe break-down or at least undergo a sea change of sorts. One conclusion drawn is that our consciousness may extend down into and be part of the 'sea' of quantum activity which pervades the entire universe. In other words, as far as conciousness goes, we are all connected in our conciousness below the Planck scale.
    The article actually began with a discussion of what is called the "rainbow body" in the Tibetan tradition as a lead in to discussions of the mind/matter issue.

    Did anyone else read this? Am I remembering it correctly?


  11. #11

    I think I do recall that article! I seem to recall (perhaps I'm mixing this up with another article) a discussion on the possibility that the brain sent information backwards through time- somehow related to the operation at the planck scale... anywho, the planck scale is very interesting, when traditional classical mechanics break down and quantum mechanics take over...

    an interesting article resides here:[/url]

  12. #12
    Hi Greg, Harry, and everyone.

    I found the article. Discover magazine, June 2007.
    The article is basically a survey of some of the current brain/concisousness theories coming from scientific circles. I think it really has little, if any, bearing on my Zazen practice, but it is still interesting when science starts to suggest things similar to the things that Shakyamuni, Dogen, et al have been saying.


    here's the link

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