Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 11 (III) Uji – Existence-Time – Dogen’s different views of time

In Uji Dogen presents several different ways to look at time, including the ones we’re most familiar with. Most basically, in this world we live in time passes. We also have different roles we play through our life both on any given day, and also as we grow older.

The leaving and coming of the directions and traces [of time] are clear, and so people do not doubt it. They do not doubt it, but that does not mean they know it.

[Human] skin bags recognize [time] as leaving and coming; none has penetrated it as existence-time abiding in its place.

..in the time of the common person who does not learn the Buddha-Dharma there are views and opinions: when he hears the words “existence-time” he thinks, “Sometimes I became [an angry demon with] three heads and eight arms, and sometimes I became the sixteen-foot or eight-foot [golden body of Buddha].


When we arrive in the field of the ineffable, there is just one [concrete] thing and one [concrete] phenomenon, here and now..

From a practical standpoint, the moment of Existence-Time that we that we think of as Now is primary. Because Now is the only moment in which we can act, in which we can practice, in which we move forward through life. 

On the other hand, although living in the immediate moment is a helpful, practical, and even necessary perspective, to limit our view this way denies the law of causation and limits our sense of direction. Dogen acknowledges this, recognizing that in the immediate moment our past and our future are part of us (even though the actual future we will experience is unknown). 

For example, it was like crossing a river or crossing a mountain. The mountain and the river may still exist, but now that I have crossed them and am living in a jeweled palace with crimson towers, the mountain and the river are [as distant] from me as heaven is from the earth.” But true reasoning is not limited to this one line [of thought]. That is to say, when I was climbing a mountain or crossing a river, I was there in that time. There must have been time in me. And I actually exist now, [so] time could not have departed. If time does not have the form of leaving and coming, the time of climbing a mountain is the present as existence-time.

The three heads and eight arms pass instantly as my existence-time; though they seem to be in the distance, they are [moments of] the present. The sixteen-foot or eight-foot [golden body] also passes instantly as my existence-time; though it seems to be yonder, it is [moments of] the present.

Then Dogen goes a step further to point out that we (and every other thing in the Universe) are Time itself. Because we are always in the moment of now, but moving forward carrying time with us, we are the way that time expresses itself.

The rat is time, and the tiger is time; living beings are time, and buddhas are time. This time experiences the whole universe using three heads and eight arms, and experiences the whole universe using the sixteen-foot golden body.

The mountains are time, and the seas are time. Without time, the mountains and the seas could not exist: we should not deny that time exists in the mountains and the seas here and now. If time decays, the mountains and the seas decay. If time is not subject to decay, the mountains and the seas are not subject to decay. In accordance with this truth the bright star appears, the Tathagata appears, the eye appears, and picking up a flower appears, and this is just time. Without time, it would not be like this.

So if we are time, how big can this moment of Now get? And if we are time, by extension doesn't this Now include not only our past, all our different roles in life, and all our futures -- whether realized or not?

To universally realize the whole universe by using the whole universe is called “to perfectly realize.” Enactment of the sixteen-foot golden body by using the sixteen-foot golden body is realized as the establishment of the mind, as training, as the state of bodhi, and as nirvana; that is, as existence itself, and as time itself. It is nothing other than the perfect realization of the whole of time as the whole of existence; there is nothing surplus at all.

All here and just now –
The field of ineffable
Past duality.

The nows coalesce
Into the always present
That now passes through.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Reflections: Shoes!

I was checking out my old high school's website and found this picture. Its cool that they have a 'meditation class' now!

mmm... though possibly they haven't said much about mindfulness yet?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reflections: In control, out of control. Returning.

I love mornings because they are times I feel most at peace with the world. Then the day starts up and often the day just takes control of me according to specifics I seem to have no control over.

If I am staying 'on course' with my practice that sense of peace I have in the morning stays with me throughout the day. But sometimes there are stretches of days where that doesn't happen. Does that mean my practice is 'off course?"

Today the word that I keyed into while musing about this was 'control'. I think its important. When we get comfortable in our practice we can start feeling like we're in control or something.

Life is like sitting. To practice just means to keep coming back... It doesn't mean to be in control.

Just the same, I think I'm going to incorporate another stretch of sitting into my day if I can...

And yeah. I totally admit it. I wrote this post because I feel a day of 'monkey mind' coming on.

UPDATE: The zazen helped.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Antaiji Update - Abundance

Just got this email from Antaiji. Its nice to feel connected.

Hello everyone connected to Antaiji!

Thanks to a long and very hot summer this year, we had lots of tomatoes and eggplants. Now we are harvesting potatoes, and the carrots and daikon radish are slowly growing thicker.

There is a Japanese saying that "The more abundant the rice grain, the lower it would hang its head"

Antaiji's rice used to be famous for always keeping its head high even in the strongest taiphoon, but this year the rice harvest was so abundant, that for the first time in 20 years many of the plants fell over because their heads were so heavy.

This year we will release the Antaiji yearbook again at the end of November, and as every year, everyone who lived at Antaiji this year, or who contributed to last year's yearbook, is invited to write an article. The deadline is November 6th.

If this is the first time you contribute, you can have a look at last year's version at http://antaiji.dogen-zen.de/yb/2009/eng/index.shtml

You do not have to write in English though. Any language is OK, any topic is OK.

We are looking forward to your contribution,

Muho and the rest of Antaiji

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 11 (II) Uji – Existence-Time – Living in the Absence of Doubt

The doubts which living beings, by our nature, have about every thing and every fact that we do not know, are not consistent; therefore our past history of doubt does not always exactly match our doubt now. We can say for the present, however, that doubt is nothing other than time. We put our self in order, and see [the resulting state] as the whole universe…Practice, and realization of the truth, are also like this. Putting the self in order, we see what it is.

About a year ago I began making some pretty drastic changes in my life and the birth of this blog was a celebration of that decision. In a lot of ways things haven’t changed that much, much less than I’d imagined at the time – for now anyway.

The reaction of family and friends has been a bit out of proportion to the actual changes, often making me feel buffeted by some pretty strong winds and weather. There have definitely been moments when I’ve felt disoriented by changing circumstances and the sometimes stubborn and seemingly deliberate misunderstanding of others. Which is funny because my mind has been perfectly clear for a long time now. Funny in a way that sometimes makes me laugh and sometimes makes me cry, probably more than ever in my life…

The reality of that sense of clarity and certainty has only grown though, even in the face of uncertainty about the specifics of ‘tomorrow.’ What I can say is that the‘true self’ or ‘universal self’ and the fullness of‘emptiness’ that is there when I drop off during sitting seems to be there more and more, not just when I sit, but as I meet and move through each day.

It is the deepest sense of trust I have known. When I sit I realize and know that trust. And it comes from being grounded in the moment and knowing that nothing has really changed as I keep getting in touch with Now on a moment-to-moment basis.

So I’ve stopped doubting. I recognize that in terms of conditions and circumstances there’s a lot I could have doubts about. External things might not turn out the way I would most like them too. In fact, in some ways I can say that’s already been the case over the past year or so, not to mention the rest of my life. But my trust has only grown and if I follow my past doubts and fears back in time, none of them has amounted to much. That sense of ground is going to be there for the rest of my life one way or another.

After reading the above quote and recognizing the immense trust in the Universe I feel during zazen, I asked myself, why not let go of doubt? Doubt is something that has to do with circumstances and not this sense of ground and trust I feel. When I do that in life, as opposed to just during zazen, I see what is… And its what IS. I don’t need a picture to see it. 

Just this moment, this
Now, these colors, this hush -- ground
That I know so well.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 11 (I) Uji – Existence-Time – The Whole Universe is in the Present Moment

Awhile back, while I was reading Uji, I told someone that Dogen’s writing ‘shimmers.’ Each time I read it, this chapter manages to enthrall me a bit because of the beauty of Dogen’s language, as well as the different ways he looks at time and what it means for our existence. Each time I read it, I see something new, something thing else that resonates with me. And each time, I get the sensation like I am standing at the edge of something...

To me the ‘reality’ of Now described in this chapter far transcends any words that attempt to describe it, although Dogen comes close. It transcends, to paraphrase Uchiyama-Roshi, in the same way that any definition of ‘fire’ cannot actually be fire.

Most basically, Existence-Time is just us meeting this moment right now, plain and simple. Most of us know this already, having Ram Dass’ “Be Here Now”, or more recently Tolle’s “Power of Now,” etched somewhere in our psyche if we’ve any Buddhist inclinations whatsoever.

But to limit what Dogen says in Uji to “[real existence] is only this exact moment,” seems to short-change this chapter. In fact, in looking for a quote that supports this basic idea, namely that “[real existence] is only this exact moment,” that stand-alone quote is hard to find. Here’s one that's close:

When we arrive in the field of the ineffable, there is just one [concrete] thing and one [concrete] phenomenon, here and now, [beyond] understanding of phenomena and non-understanding of phenomena, and [beyond] understanding of things and non understanding of things. Because [real existence] is only this exact moment, all moments of existence-time are the whole of time, and all existent things and all existent phenomena are time.

Note the underlined part. To me, the fundamental realization of this chapter is way more than Now is the only moment there is. I feel like Dogen’s trying to show us that the whole Universe and the whole of existence are manifested in the present moment. To emphasize this, Dogen follows up the previous quote with:

Let us pause to reflect whether or not any of the whole of existence or any of the whole universe has leaked away from the present moment of time.

Is this idealism? Maybe. But the realization that we can see the world this way doses my brain with a lot of serotonin. And that feels pretty real. Plus, I suspect that sitting helps us see the moment this way, fully appreciative of the moment just as it is, rather than from a flat, black & white perspective.

Borrowing a bit from Shunryu Suzuki:

Season's splendor held
                     In a single leaf falling,
Falling through falling.

Or more intellectually:

Face of Emptiness
                                All Existence-Time, our Now
Pivoting between.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dogen’s Shobogenzo: Ch 10 (III) Shoaku-makusa – Good Doing vs Doing Good

‘Universal Precept of the Seven Buddhas’:

The eternal buddha says,
Not to commit wrongs,
To practice the many kinds of right,
Naturally purifies the mind;
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

In this section of  Shoaku-makusa Dogen states that, like ‘wrong’, what is ‘right’ has no set shape, but varies depending on conditions and circumstances. In other words what is ‘right’ is going to be different in different dharmas, worlds, and times. 

The myriad kinds of right have no set shape but they converge on the place of doing right faster than iron to a magnet. It is utterly impossible for the earth, mountains and rivers, the world, a nation, or even the force of accumulated karma, to hinder [this] coming together of right. 

In fact, we could probably debate what ‘right’ is endlessly, either internally (in our heads) or externally (with others) because our views of any specific situation are going to be different – how can they not be, given different lives and selves? On this basis we can recognize that an intellectual understanding of what ‘right’ is likely to be flawed. And we can also recognize that while we’re debating, ‘right’ isn’t getting done.

Even though the many kinds of right are included in “rightness,” there has never been any kind of right that is realized beforehand and that then waits for someone to do it.

Doing right is “good doing,” but it is not something that can be fathomed intellectually.

Dogen’s phrase “Doing right is 'good doing'” resonates with me. What it means, for me, is that we end up doing the most good by sincerely practicing the Buddha-Dharma. As long as we are sincerely practicing, our intuitive responses to the situations that come up are most likely to result in doing ‘right.’ 'Good doing' instantaneously coalesces into 'right' at the moment of doing. In contrast, notions we have about doing ‘good’ are likely to be flawed -- notions about what ‘good’ is are limited. Not to mention that in trying to ‘do good” we’re often attempting to gain brownie points (or merit) for our ‘self’ or how we think others view us, even or especially if we think of ‘doing good’ in terms of self-sacrifice. And in trying to gain ‘brownie points’ we create separation between ourselves and others.

This “good doing” inevitably includes the realization of the many kinds of right. 

If we do not learn how buddhas should be, even if we seem to be fruitlessly enduring hardship, we are only ordinary beings accepting suffering; we are not practicing the Buddha’s truth.

By sincerely practicing the Buddha-Dharma “not committing wrongs” and “doing right by good doing” are naturally realized, and practicing in this way “naturally purifies the mind.”

Haiku for Shoaku-makusa:

'Not committing wrongs' — 
The Universal teaching
Of all the buddhas.

In each world and time 
Doing right is good doing, 
Though right changes shape.

Buddhas know no right — 
Converging right through practice 
Buddhas know no wrong.