December 1, 2003 Founder's Letter

by Norman Fischer | December 01, 2003 at 7:53 PM

Muir Beach, CA. December 1, 2003

Dear friends,

This Fall in the Dharma seminar we have been studying the Mindfulness Sutra and Dogen's fascicle "The Time Being." Together they paint a picture of our practice.

In the Mindfulness Sutra the Buddha tells us the astonishing news that simply by being honestly and clearly present with our experience, and trusting to that, we will set ourselves on a course toward peace and happiness. How do we go about this? No surprise to us, the process begins with finding a good spot, and sitting down to practice mindful breathing. We breathe every breath with awareness and appreciation, knowing the breath as long when it is long and short when it is short, breathing with the whole body sitting, and gradually expanding our awareness until it includes others and the whole world. Sitting this way, we know we are not separate from all that arises. We know that everything co-creates us, and we co-create everything moment by moment in a continuous flow. When we get up from our seat we try to be fully present with all our bodily actions, with speaking and listening, with handling objects, with all our acts of perception. Based on this mindfulness of the body, our inner life unfolds. We are mindful of the nearly unconscious gut reactions we have to things, mindful of our moods, our thoughts and feelings. We begin to see the pattern of our minds, what causes us misery, what causes us happiness. Naturally we will choose to cultivate the latter and gently let go of the former. We don't need heavy handed discipline. All we need is to be honestly aware of our experience and the way will unfold within our lives quite organically.

Dogen's text doesn't say much about the "how" of mindfulness. Instead, his dizzying eloquence demonstrates for us its "why" and "what." Why does mere presence liberate us? It is because our life is naturally deep. "To be," Dogen tells us, is "to be time," all of time, and to be time is to be everywhere and always connected. Our ordinary unexamined view of time is linear. We see time as a path we walk down. Yesterday is behind us, tomorrow ahead of us. The past is gone, the future has not yet arrived. But Dogen shows us that this isn't actually the case. The past is right here and now; so is the future. This is wonderful news! It means that our past and our future are in constant motion, in evolution, changing as our engagement in the present moment changes. To embrace our life fully in the present with kindness and honesty is to redeem all of the past and to open up the whole future- not only our own past and future, but the past and future of all. This gives us a tremendous sense of the dimension of our practice, and it gives us faith that we can change our lives and the whole world by living completely.

As we discussed Dogen's vision of time in the Dharma seminar we saw how practical it is. Many of us feel too busy, rushing around under time pressure, stressed out. When we looked at this in detail however we found that it wasn't actually time that pressured us - it was desire, expectation, fear, identity. Actually there is always enough time, exactly enough time. There is all the time in the world. As we age we imagine life is shortening, time is running out. But time is never running out. There is always all the time we need. Even the last moment of life is enough. All inclusive and connected, every moment fills us completely, fully satisfying.

To realize these truths and hold them in our hearts not as theories but as ways of living and understanding every day we need to practice and we need to support each other in that practice. Knowing this, I am as usual grateful to all of you for your continued support of Everyday Zen. Together I really believe we are "changing and being changed by the world."

Yours, Zoketsu Norman Fischer


Norman Fischer