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Dogen’s Time Being (Uji) 4

By: Norman Fischer, Zoketsu Norman Fischer | 09/09/2009
Location: Deer Run Zendo
In Topics: Dogen Studies

Norman’s fourth talk on Dogen’s “Uji” or “Time Being” from his classical work “Shobogenzo”. Norman shares this talk with Jay Simoneaux, the shuso for this practice period. Norman uses three translations in discussing this important work on Time: 1) “Moon in a Dewdrop” by Kazuaki Tanahashi 2)”Shobogenzo Zen Essay’s by Dogen” by Thomas Cleary 3)Shasta Abbey Shobogenzo translation on line

Dogen's Time Being (Uji) 4

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer and Jay Simoneaux| September 9, 2009
Location: Deer Run Zendo


Abridged and edited by Ryusen Barbara Byrum


Last week I was saying that there is a paradox inherent in this text that we're studying. On the one hand, Dogen is communicating to us something about our lives that is important, a religious truth that he passionately wants us to get. He wants us to understand that our life as it is, even with all of its imperfections, is always immense, always whole, always profound. He knows that we don't understand this about our lives, so he really wants to tell us this. On the other hand, the paradox is that he doesn't want to make this into a concept, a doctrine, or a belief, because he knows that as soon as we make it into a concept, doctrine, or belief, it will be just another form of bondage. It won't be that which he is trying to tell us. So, in effect, he is desperately and passionately trying to communicate something to us which, at the same time, he wants to cancel out and erase – even as he is telling us.

Last time I was discussing the idea that we're not going to make [Dogen's teaching on time-being] into a doctrine, or hold onto a concept about our lives, and that we have to be willing to let go at every point. This is something that we have to deal with all the time. So, unfortunately, we've got fixed ideas – like the idea of "me." There's a big difference between "me" as a concept that I am clinging to, and "me" as an ongoing flow of experience. This ongoing flow of experience is more like what Dogen is speaking about.

I had asked us all to look this week at our fixed ideas, our concepts, and to see if we could identify them. To see what it felt like to let them go, to see what it felt like to hold onto our ideas – even our ideas about who we think we are and what we think we're doing. Could we not be so fixed and rigid about those ideas? What would that feel like? What does it feel like when we notice our self-concept or ideas about our lives? We do hold them rigidly, so what does that feel like?

And now let's hear from Jay.

[Jay Simoneaux speaks:]

Sixty years go by, and you wake up one day, and you're sitting behind a lectern, wondering what to say about Dogen. Norman asked me to start with reading a couple of the sections from Time-Being. So this is section 12:

You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives. Although understanding itself is time, understanding does not depend on its own arrival. People only see time's coming and going, and do not thoroughly understand that the time-being abides in each moment. This being so, when can they penetrate the barrier? Even if people recognized the time-being in each moment, who could give expression to this recognition? Even if they could give expression to this recognition for a long time, who could stop looking for the realization of the original face?According to the ordinary people's view of the time-being, even enlightenment and nirvana as the time-being would merely be aspects of coming and going.

So I wrote my own version of this paragraph: "The future remains a concept. The idea of ourselves projected forward, never to arrive. Realization and truth abide whether or not we understand. Our usual sense of time, something arriving from the future and receding into the past, clouds and covers entry into the present moment of awareness. When can we get past our conceptual world view? Who is it that can express realization? Who is it that can really put aside seeking advantage? From our ordinary viewpoint, realization and nirvana would merely become ornaments decorating our personal histories. This is called swimming with our boots on."

Section 13:

The time-being is entirely actualized without being caught up in the nets and cages. Deva kings and heavenly beings appearing right and left are the time-being of your complete effort right now. The time-being of all beings throughout the world in water and on land is just the actualization of your complete effort right now. All beings of all kinds in the visible and invisible realms are the time-being actualized by your complete effort, flowing due to your complete effort. Closely examine this flowing. Without your complete effort right now, nothing would be actualized, nothing would flow.

Dogen says that our whole-hearted, sincere practice actualizes the time-being, that it brings it into effect and sets it in motion. Somehow our best effort, graceful or not, brings forth the entire universe, and this universe remains free from ideas and concepts. Dogen says that we must look closely at this point.

When I learned that I was going to be shuso, I went for a practice interview with Norman. I confessed my deep unease and fear of speaking publicly in sesshin. Norman, in his usual way, was attentive and understanding. He said, "Yes, these talks can be nervous making. Even more so, talks during sesshin. You become sesshin nervous." Gulp! Then the very next day, Norman announced at a gathering, "In addition to the talks at sesshin, Jay will give two seminar talks on Dogen." Gulp, gulp!

So these talks have weighed on me over the last several weeks. And my homework consisted of thinking about, "Who is it that gets so nervous, speaking to his friends? And who is it that gets so upset about what he is going to say or not say or say wrong?" Sometimes that offered relief, but not often. [Laughter.] Mostly I have existed in what I would call "a warm panic."

What do I have to say about Dogen? I have two basic responses to his writings. The first response is that I get a glimpse of the dharma. This is like catching something out of the corner of my eye – a glimmer in the shadows. And when I turn to face it fully, it's gone. It's not graspable, but still a sense of inspiration lingers. The second response to his writing feels something like facing an impenetrable thicket of entangling vines – no way in and no way out.

This morning I was at work at a construction project, working with some really friendly, nice, good carpenters, and I said, "I'm out of my mind with nervousness. I've got to give this talk."

And they said, "Talk? Well, what are you going to talk about?"

I said, "Well there's this 13th century mystic named Dogen, and I have to say something about Dogen."

And they said, "What did Dogen say?"

Now you have to understand that we're in a job site. It's loud. People are running around. There is dust in the air. There's hammering and sawing. It's crazy, and so they asked me about Dogen.

I said, "Actually we're talking about time. How I'm always placing myself in the future, and that makes the future seem real, and it makes my imaginative picture of myself seem real." I thought that was pretty good. [Laughter.]

Then Michael, my good friend Michael – a terrific carpenter, a great guy – said, "Well, that's silly. If we don't plan for the future, nothing will happen."

I thought he had a good point. [Laughter.]

So sometimes Dogen's poetry for me is a breath of fresh air. At other times, more frequently, I am lost; I am adrift. Maybe this was Dogen's intention: Reveal the dharma and then dismantle any and all concepts we want to construct around his teaching. So my experience of studying Dogen is up and down. Some phrases really inspire me, and some knock me out. For example, the end of section eleven, which we read last week:

Vigorously abiding in each moment is the time-being. Do not mistakenly confuse it as non-being. Do not forcefully assert it as being.

To me that is so beautiful. It just knocks me out. It calls out, "Let's try some zazen." It is really compelling. I think I heard that in several peoples' comments tonight – about holding ourselves not so strongly. Not holding views so strongly.

One of the things I want to talk about is moments. The term "moments" is used quite a bit by Dogen and by Katagiri Roshi and by the Buddha.

Vigorously abiding in each moment is the time-being.

So what is a moment? Are moments the building blocks of time, where a bundle of moments makes a second? And sixty seconds makes a minute – minutes, hours, and so on, for a lifetime? Is a lifetime moments stacked one on top of the other? Or are the moments "vigorously abiding" something else entirely? I have been looking for moments this last week. Webster's defines moments as "indefinite, short period of time." So while moment as a word is concrete and seems like it refers to something real, something measurable, it really refers to something absolutely vague and unbounded. I can't locate a moment. Where is it? What is it? Before, I thought I knew; and now, not so much.

Another aspect of Uji that I want to mention is the description of the real present in contrast to our usual understanding of time. This is from Katagiri's book Each Moment is the Universe:

In being-time, Dogen Zenji constantly encourages us to see time from a different angle by being present at the source of time. The source of time is the place where you can see your human life from a broad view. We usually think of time as streaming from the past through the present to the future. But at its source, time is not like that. There is no stream of time from the past to the present to the future.

This is the part I really like:

The past is already gone, so it does not exist. The future has not yet come, so it also does not exist. So the past and future are nothing. No time. Then, is the present all that exists? No. Even though there is a present, strictly speaking, the present is nothing, because in a moment it is gone. So the present is also nothing. Zero. No time, no present, no form of the present. But the nothingness is very important.

The real present is not exactly what you believe the present to be. In everyday life we constantly create some idea of what the human world is, because we are always thinking about how things were in the past or how things will be in the future. When you are thinking about the past and future, the contents of the present are just imaginary pictures of the past and future – pictures fabricated by your consciousness, so it is not the real present. The real present is the full aliveness that exists before your conceptual thinking creates an imaginary world through human consciousness.

I really enjoy this, because I can make some sense of it, and for a moment I am not covered in doubt.

Barbara Byrum emailed me this really great question. "What do you think the relevance of Uji is for our everyday practice?" And that's my question. So what do you think? What is the relevance of Uji to our everyday practice? Does it have relevance to your practice?

[Norman continues:]

I attended those talks that Katagiri Roshi gave at Green Gulch in the late eighties. So when you were reading, just now, it was like I was there again, in that moment. Sometimes I have that experience – whether it is memory or experience, it is very strong. And I could feel my body sitting there. I remember the spot in the room where I was sitting when he was giving that talk. And maybe he was saying those things that you were just quoting. So, just now, it was a very immediate experience of that – more than a memory. It actually seemed like that moment was very real. Tonight. So it's strange, don't you think? We're always living in that kind of situation. You were saying those words, so that evokes that experience in me, but where was that time? It was there anyway. You didn't make it appear by quoting that. It was already there, and so my whole past was already there in every moment. I guess I have a weird everyday life, because, for me, that kind of experience is thoroughly typical. There is a strange quality of time that's there in everyday life. There's a depth to everyday experience, because it's everyday experience for the time-being. The time-being always has this in it. Maybe I'm just weird.

[Jay speaks:] I think so. [Laughter.]

[Norman speaks:] It's a kind of déjíá vu. I wrote about it in Sailing Home. To me, déjíá vu is not some strange, quirky thing. It's a powerful experience – time.

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