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Thread: On Dogen Time

  1. #1

    On Dogen 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 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 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.

    Anyway, I have not even begun to scratch the surface. If you want to read Dogen 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; 12-02-2012 at 10:47 AM.

  2. #2

    Re: On Dogen Time


    Wonderful and, pardon the pun, timely, as I was just reading Linda Goodhew and David Loy's essay, "Momo, Dogen, and the Commodification of Time." ( ... y-Momo.pdf)

    "The time we call spring blossoms directly as an existence called flowers.
    The flowers, in turn, express the time called spring. This is not existence
    within time; existence itself is time." (Dogen)

    Gassho, Rod

  3. #3

    Re: On Dogen Time

    "I would go forward to find .... the theory of everything." Is it ironic that my computer froze while waiting to connect to hear Stephen Hawkin's answer.
    Thank you Jundo and Rod for both sharings; Momo reminds me of Alice; through the looking glass. Dogen reminds me to ask Toto, " Are we still in Kansas?"


  4. #4

    Re: On Dogen Time

    And the days just keep om coming !!!

  5. #5

    Re: On Dogen Time

    Time is such a fascinating subject, especially when viewing it in terms of the universe of how long it takes light to travel from a star billions of light years away. I love contemplating space; it gives such a fresh perspective.

    I recently saw a Discovery show about the universe (narrated by Alec Baldwin which was odd, but still. lol ) where they were talking about in theory it would be possible to travel faster than light by warping space. That is magnificent!

  6. #6

    Re: On Dogen Time

    Quote Originally Posted by cyril
    Time is such a fascinating subject, especially when viewing it in terms of the universe of how long it takes light to travel from a star billions of light years away. I love contemplating space; it gives such a fresh perspective.

    I recently saw a Discovery show about the universe (narrated by Alec Baldwin which was odd, but still. lol ) where they were talking about in theory it would be possible to travel faster than light by warping space. That is magnificent!
    Thank you for taking the 'time' to write.

    I also am very conservative in trying to connect the ideas of modern science to Buddhist practice. I do not care for the way every New Age crackpot tries to legitimize his assertions by dropping the word "quantum" into it, or how a 1-to-1 parallel is often drawn between, for example, Buddhism and modern physics.

    On the other hand, I find that the core of Buddhist theory works quite well even with our modern ways of looking at reality. For example, the idea that the "self" is fundamentally a mental construct or label placed upon constantly changing underlying conditions is VALID whether the physical elements are considered to be fire/air/earth/water or quarks & leptons. The idea that that self, with its demands on life and feeling of separation from other phenomena of the universe, is a source of suffering remains valid. In fact, our deep interconnection has been shown in new perspectives by modern science, and we can now see that we are not just "individuals" but other entities too when viewed as such, such as components of wide ecosystems, collections of cells, particles and fields of energy. And, while Dogen's ideas of time may not be the same as Einstein's conception of time they are, again, not incompatible.

    One thing about the universe that both modern physics and Buddhism completely accord with: We cannot say that the universe is "big" or "small" (as what are we comparing it to) ... we see, both in physics and Buddhism, that actions here have dependence on events far across the cosmos, and our actions here likewise have some effect there. Physics has developed the "principle of mediocrity", namely, that all places in the universe are just as ordinary and unimportant as any other place ... while we tend to see a certain sacredness in every single place which is just as much part of the whole as any other. Creation, the Big Bang, did not happen long ago and far away ... but is still ongoing, and, moreover, happened here there and everywhere, in every atom of you (because all matter-energy popped out of the Big Bang all together, no place in the universe is not "where the Big Bang happened").

    I find very little conflict between the most wild discoveries of modern science and the Buddhist vision.

    By the way, there was this interesting finding recently ... perhaps just coincidence ... ... s-20101017

    Gassho, J

  7. #7

    Re: On Dogen Time

    If self is really a mental construct, time, which is nothing but a human idea, is actually absolutely nothing. There IS no "time."
    Been chewing on that for "a while" now.

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