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Dogen’s Time Being (Uji) 5

By: Norman Fischer, Zoketsu Norman Fischer | 09/16/2009
Location: Deer Run Zendo
In Topics: Dogen Studies

Norman’s fifth and last talk on Dogen’s “Uji” or “Time Being” from his classical work “Shobogenzo”. 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 The final minutes of this recording were unfortunately lost due to technical error.

Dogen’s Time Being (Uji) 5

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | September 16, 2009

Abridged and edited by Ryusen Barbara Byrum

I thought I would just go forward and see if we can make it to the end. I will read my version of the text and make some comments. So I won’t read the Tanahashi version, and you can just follow along.*

This is section number fifteen, where we left off last time:

“Yaoshan was sent by his teacher Shitou to study with Mazu. He asked, ‘I am familiar with the Buddha’s basic teachings, but what is the main point of Zen?’ And Mazu said, ‘For the time being have him raise his eyebrows and wink. For the time being don’t have him raise his eyebrows and wink. For the time being to have him raise his eyebrows and wink is right. For the time being to have him raise his eyebrows and wink is not right.’ Hearing this Yaoshan understood and said, ‘When I was studying with Shitou, I was like a mosquito trying to bite an iron bull.'”

So this is one of the times when something sounds like it’s coming out of left field. Raising the eyebrows and winking is a reference to a particular story in Zen -a very famous story. It’s the story of the first transmission and is the beginning of the Zen lineage. Once, when Buddha was on Vulture Peak, he held up a flower. When he held up a flower, nobody understood, but Mahakashyapa in the assembly understood and raised his eyebrows. When Mahakashyapa raised his eyebrows, Shakyamuni Buddha winked. This eyebrow raising and winking was the moment when they understood each other perfectly, without using words. So, what’s the main point of Zen? He refers to that story, which is the beginning of the Zen transmission.

So, what does that story amount to? It amounts to, first of all, this sense of true meeting, true intimacy and communication between two people. It refers to meeting in a deeper sense. Every time our senses really meet a sense object, it is this kind of meeting as well. And it refers to expressing the truth and passing on the truth. So it’s an active – interactive and active – expression. It’s often the case in Zen stories, in Zen phrases, that the story has to be understood on simultaneous levels. So it means all that, but it also means any activity. Winking and raising the eyebrows means anything that goes on. Wherever there’s life, there’s activity. In other words, in Zen, transmission is simply the ongoing activity of life in its most fundamental sense.

So, Mazu is saying, “What’s the point of Zen? It is the activity, the ongoing, living activity of expressing dharma, of intimately sharing dharma.” But then, he doesn’t want to set this up as some kind of doctrine or idea, so he asserts it, he denies it, he says it’s right, and then he says it’s not right.

So it sounds like, “Oh, God, there they go again, those Zen guys. They can’t leave well enough alone. They have a nice thing there, and then they have to go and muddy it all up with all these paradoxes and tricky ways of speaking. Why do they have to do that all the time? That is so predictable. Why do they do that? And doesn’t it make it sound like this doesn’t mean anything? It could mean anything. And it’s up for grabs, you know.”

But I think there’s a deeper point to it, as I look at it, and it is really the same point that Suzuki Roshi makes when he says, “Not always so.” In other words, isn’t this what we do? We get a really good idea, and then we set that up. We put out a shingle. A Zen shingle. And before you know it, we have customers, and then we have bills to pay, and taxes, and then we get in fights, and everything goes bad. So don’t put up a shingle. Don’t have a fixed truth. Don’t have a doctrine. That doesn’t mean there isn’t absolutely the right thing to do, the correct thing to do on every occasion. It’s just that it is different on every occasion.

So Dogen goes on: “Mazu’s expression is unique. Eyebrows and eyes are mountains and oceans, and mountains and oceans are eyebrows and eyes.” And again, you could understand this on two levels. On the one hand, it is symbolic. Mountains are like Mahakashyapa’s raised eyebrows. Mountains stand for the time of training, the student climbing the mountain of practice. And oceans are like Shakyamuni Buddha’s winking – the ocean of enlightenment, the ocean of awakening. But also, at the same time, mountains and oceans are just mountains and oceans – in other words, the actual mountains and oceans of this world – in all of their deep time, their primordial time. Every object of this world – every mountain and every ocean – is as it is, the whole of the truth. So everything in our lives, every moment is the whole of the truth, if only we could enter that moment.

To “have him raise the eyebrows” is to see the mountains. To “have him wink” is to understand the oceans. He is “right” because the whole world arises in him, and he comes alive through the activity of raising the eyebrows and winking, which he naturally does according to his conditions. He can also be “not right,” but this does not mean that he doesn’t raise his eyebrows and wink. There is no “not right,” just as there is no non-winking or non-raising. Something is always raising and winking, and we call it “right” or “not right.” In other words, raising and winking means life’s activity, which is always going on. So the whole world comes alive in our activity, and our activity is whatever it is, according to our conditions. We’re all different, and we all have different situations, inside of us and outside of us. But whatever it is that is given to us to be doing in this moment of our lives, the whole of the mountains and oceans of enlightenment are always there. So we are always “right” in the absolute sense, just because we are. We are always exerting our lives, and we can’t be not right, because we are. In other words, there’s a certain rightness in what is, when we really, profoundly appreciate what is.

Yet, also, in a relative sense, we do have right and wrong. We have right and not right. So Dogen is saying all of this. He is saying, “Yes, we honor the relative world of right and not right, but in the most profound sense, all of our activity – just being our activity, whatever it is for us – is the moment of transmission, is the moment of truth. It is the whole of Zen.”

Dogen goes on,

“Mountains are time and oceans are time. If not, there would not be mountains and oceans. Don’t think of mountains and oceans as one thing and time as something else. There is no other time but what is arising now. If there were, time would be cancelled out, and mountains and oceans would not exist. But time is never cancelled out, and mountains and oceans arise. And that’s why Buddha sees the morning star, awakens, and raises a flower. Seeing the flower, Mahakashyapa raises his eyebrows, and Buddha winks. This is time. This is every moment of time. This is the depth, the is-ness, the echo of time. All of time. All of the time. For the time-being.”

Number 16:

“Zen master Guixing of She is the heir of Shoushan, a descendant of Linji. One day he taught this: ‘For the time-being, awakening arrives, but not expression. For the time-being, expression arrives but not awakening. For the time-being, both awakening and expression arrive. For the time-being, neither awakening nor expression arrives.’ “

So it’s similar in a way – the four-part statement, which runs through all the possible negations and affirmations. It is typical in Zen, but it comes from the logic of Indian Buddhism. Here it is referring to one of the most important issues that is always raised in Zen practice: the relationship between the state or experience of truth or awakening, and the expression of it. The issue of expression is a huge thing in Zen. Zen is not really about meditation. Zen is really about action, about expressing your life. The relationship between the awakening and the expression of awakening is really important. So that is what he is talking about. Sometimes awakening arrives but not expression; sometimes expression but not awakening; sometimes both; and sometimes neither.

So I can explain these four positions in two different ways. You could think of them as stages of practice – one leading to the next. Or you could think of them as four ways of responding, as four possible ways of responding to situations, and – as I mentioned before – both interpretations are simultaneously true.

As stages of practice, the first stage is that we practice for awhile, and we begin to really feel our awakening. We really begin to feel the truth of the teachings, but we can’t express it. We don’t really know even how to think about it, let alone how to express it to someone else. It’s beginning to dawn on us, we’re beginning to feel it, but we don’t know what to make of it. In the second stage we now have gone further, and now we can express the truth, but as soon as we express it, we lose track of it, because we’re not really ready yet to express it, and we are caught by our expression. Maybe we don’t know that or maybe we do. Maybe every time we open our mouths, it sounds wrong. In the third stage we are finally ready to express ourselves. The truth is full within us, and we can express it. In the fourth stage we realize that that was too much. In other words, we realize that there is a subtle grasping going on there. We think that we are practicing Zen. We think we know something about it. We think we’re expressing it. So eventually we let go of all of that. We don’t think there is any awakening. We don’t think there is any special expression. We just think we are living our lives. Perceiving what we perceive. Responding according to the request.

So that is looking at the saying as four stages. Looking at it as four responses, it could be something like this. The first one: There is awakening but no expression. Just observe your life with love. Observe what happens with love. No need to respond. Just be with everything as love. Nothing is required. The second one: Forget about awakening. Forget about love and just respond like a human being. Just be ordinary and do what everybody does. Sometimes it’s too passive to observe with loving eyes and not respond. The building is on fire, so run outside. Grab somebody and take them out. Third: Respond with that loving-kindness. Respond with that awakening. The fourth: Respond in the sense by non-response.[DR4] Without any feeling of responding or not responding, without any feeling of awakening or non-awakening, just let go in everything you do. Go beyond everything that you do.

So now Dogen goes on to explain: “Both awakening and expression are the time-being. Both the arriving of the awakening and the expression, and the non-arriving ofawakening and expression are also the time-being. Before a moment arrives, its non-arriving is already here.”

I think the point here is to notice how right away we want to objectify time, as though it were some substance. Dogen is saying time is nothing – which is why it is everything. So it’s not a substance; it’s not a thing. It’s not like some kind of goo that is spread all over everything. Now there’s a plop of goo here, and there’s another plop of goo over there. It’s not like that. “Even when a moment of time is not here, it’s already here. All of time is arising now; even the non-arising is its arising.”

Then Dogen goes on: “Awakening is a donkey. Expression is a horse.” Using an old, commonplace Chinese saying. Donkey and horse, colloquially in ancient Chinese, meant ‘this and that.’ But in Zen the donkey was taken to mean an ass – somebody who is plodding along. And the horse is a stallion, which is galloping and leaping. So the donkey is like somebody who is struggling to study the Way, and a horse is like someone who has mastered the Way. “Awakening is a donkey and expression is a horse.” And here I am adding in my translation an explanation – “The hard work of practice in the trenches is awakening. The galloping tongue of a Zen master is expression. Being full of the teaching is expression – like the teacher. Never having been empty of the teaching is awakening – like with the student. Arriving [in the sense of arriving at awakening or arriving at understanding] does not mean that you have come from elsewhere. Not yet having arrived doesn’t mean that you are not already there.”

So if you have the experience, “Oh my God, this is enlightenment. Now I’ve got it,” this would be a sure sign that you have no idea what you are talking about, because you think that it arrived from elsewhere, and it wasn’t here before. The feeling is more like, “Oh! They were right. There is nothing to it. There never was. It’s always there this way.”

“Awakening, expression, being a student, being a teacher – then and now, yesterday and today, accomplishment and non-accomplishment – all are just pictures.” So, again, one of our themes tonight is an image or a concept of Zen simultaneously standing for several things. And all those things are important to keep in mind. So here I have used the language of teacher and student, but also it could be relative and absolute, or deep time and conventional time. These are all analogues of one another. “Student’ in Zen stands for the conventional – the effort. “Teacher” in Zen stands for the absolute – being fully realized. They are just positions. They’re just temporary pictures. Ultimately they are all the time-being, so they are all of ultimate value. It’s just shifting positions.

Number 17: “The time-being is like that. A moment is completely covered by its own time, but not by its before and after. Before and after are completely covered by before and after, but not by now.” So it’s as if he is saying that yesterday, today, and tomorrow are all right here. But it appears as if only today is here, because today covers today, and before and after cover before and after. It’s not that yesterday doesn’t now exist. It’s just that yesterday is covered by yesterday, and now is covered by now. Let me go on a little bit, and you will see how he does it. He uses “covered,” because the irony is – and the strangeness of our lives is – that things appear, and that’s why they are unknown to us. [I am afraid it is getting a little thorny here.] It’s as if the appearance of things blocks our knowing of them. It’s as if the absence of things is more real than the appearance of them. So appearance covers our lives. It’s like the old saying in Chinese, “A finger tip can’t touch itself.” It cannot experience itself. A moment of time, in appearing, covers itself. The covering is more than the conceptualization of it; it’s the actuality of its being there. It actually gets thornier, because the word sources from the word “hindrance.” It means blocking or obscuring your thought, with the implication that if you could remove that obscuring, you could have clarity.

Dogen often uses Buddhist terminology in a really sophisticated way, and the opposite way from how it is usually used. On the one hand, he is using the word “hindrance” and the word “cover” to indicate the actual existence of something. The existence of anything is its own hindrance. Because you exist, you can’t understand yourself. If you didn’t exist, there would be perfect understanding! So existence is, itself, its own hindrance; but without that hindrance, it doesn’t even appear.

“So before and after are completely covered by before and after, but not by now.” So they don’t appear as now. They only appear as before and after. “The time of awakening completely covers awakening. The time of expression completely covers expression.”

So the comment here is what I was saying before – that this is why we can never understand time, and we can never understand ourselves: Because in every moment that moment is completely covered. It’s overwhelmed by its own being. So when we’re awakened, we don’t know it. When we’re teaching, we have no idea that we’re teaching.

There is a sense of the beauty and intimacy in this. It’s always here in our lives. This is why practitioners could go into a cave and meditate for twenty-five years and not think that they were alone. This teaching tells you that every moment of being alive, of entering deep time, is completely embracing everything. Being embraced by everything. There is no way not to be sharing the joy of life, moment after moment, with everything.

* editor’s note: the quotation marks indicate Zoketsu’s translation of the Tanahashi version of the Dogen text.

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