time being time being

by tendo zenji


Being       有時         Being



“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.” – Albert Einstein


“For the time being here means time itself is being, and all being is time” (Eihei Dōgen, p. 105)

It is a cold, blustery spring day, early enough in the season that it is indistinguishable from late winter. We are walking through a field of twisted dull brown grasses bent by wind and winter. The edge of the field is a bluff that drops off, steeply and yet not trackless, down to a grey beach narrowed by the high tide. We is you and I, but also your best friend from high school, my favorite teacher, the bent grasses, the deep earth and far below the crashing waves. We are high on life and the future, the potential reality you can feel yourself inexorably moving toward. At least you think you are moving, here on this field of wind and grass it isn’t so certain.

“What we mean when we inquire into time is simply one thing: the question of how something takes place.” (Joan Stambaugh, p. 4)


“Even though you do not measure the hours of the day as long or short, far or near, you still call it twelve hours. Because the signs of times coming and going are obvious, people do not doubt it. Although they do not doubt it, they do not understand it. Or, when sentient beings doubt what they do not understand, their doubt is not firmly fixed. Because of that, their past doubts do not necessarily coincide with the present doubt. Yet, doubt itself is nothing but time.” (Eihei Dōgen, p. 105)

Sitting down; settling in. Vision blurring a little. Take a breath. Let it out. Another. How many is that now? Back to one. If I tilt my head very slowly and look sideways I can see my comrades watch. Wait, did the second hand just move backwards? Surely it’s time for lunch now. What am I doing, why am I thinking this? I’m just wasting my time here. Lunch must be late. What was I thinking about? I’m definitely not any good at this. Why am I even here? Why is anyone here? It is so much darker now, clearly we have been sitting here all afternoon. What happened to lunch? Where is everyone?

“It is interesting to note that Dōgen emphasizes that today passes not as it may appear down yonder or over there, but right here and now, thus stressing the fact that most people do not even experience “today” as right here and now but as somewhere else, just like past and future. (Joan Stambaugh, p. 39)


“Things do not hinder one another, just as moments do not hinder one another. The way-seeking mind arises in this moment. A way-seeking moment arises in this mind. It is the same with practice and with attaining the way. Thus, the self setting itself out in array sees itself. This is understanding that the self is time.” (Eihei Dōgen, p. 105)

The path wends back and forth, back and forth, steep at the switchbacks but also pretty stiff in-between. You watch the path ahead because it is not fully fixed and can surprise you at any moment. There is the sound of the sea far below and the wind, runs through your mind. Carefully step between rocks and roots now. There is the long faint keening of a seagull. This is what you do: climb, or is it descend, this narrow path. The seagulls cry is all that there is, the rocks roundness, the twist of the root, the mud. You look at a blade of grass and it is a sandy tan color, twisted around itself, you see strands of fiber like little hooks, it’s plaintive cry, it is a mirror. Right now you stand on the waters edge looking up at the bluff while below you the beach a narrow strip bounded by the tide.

“Setting the self out in array allows each being and each thing to become manifest in the entire world as times occurrence at every moment. Since everything is impermanent, there is no substance whatsoever in any sense of that word. Thus no thing or being obstructs any other being, and every moment is a total manifestation of the entire world. To see phenomena in this way is to see them in their suchness.” (Joan Stambaugh, p. 32)


“Know that in this way there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses [all things] throughout the entire earth, and yet each grass and each form itself is the entire earth. The study of this is the beginning of practice.”

“Each moment is all being, is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment.” (Eihei Dōgen, p. 105)

The mid-day sun finds the insurgency routed, footmen scattering toward the woods still clutching the broken hafts of their halberds as the men on horseback slash at their fleeing forms. At the edge of the wood a man in a bloodstained tunic frantically jumps over roots and bracken hearing the pounding of hoofs behind him. Too close. He turns, arms spread wide as the rider leans down and swinging his arm down clasps the hand of the homeless man who had slipped crossing the street and helps him to his feet. Briefcase in his other hand he smiles as he releases him to stand on his own and reaching in his pocket fishes out all his change. “For your troubles” he says. Steady now the man reaches out his hand and drops the hollow point bullets into the hand of the man standing across from him. “Don’t tell me what you want these for he says”. A cold grin, “I don’t have to anyway; you’ll read about it in the funny pages”. Leaving an envelope on the counter he makes his exit. As he makes his way towards the campus looking at his shoes he bumps into a woman sending them both sprawling. Getting to her feet after completing the vault she looks up to see the judges scores: 9, 9.2, 8.5, 7.5 – damn, 8.8, 9.3, 9.7. Not too bad. Not bad at all, really. Turning away from the judges she waves at the audience, waving over the crowd assembled in torchlight, waving both arms over his head as if in warning. The strident booming voice is echoed ten thousand fold as he cries out his condemnation of this group, that type and these failed policies. Rapturous, a woman in the audience gazes at the cellist as the last note of Bach’s cello suite No. 1 fades away and there is that precious, nearly deafening moment of stillness before the ovation.

“Understanding our practice as just this moment, does not exempt us from the responsibilities of ethical behavior. Totally grounding oneself in time/being emphasizes our ethical responsibility because our moment to moment practice/realization is based in the fundamental truth of our interconnection with all being.” (Shinshu Roberts, p.77)


“At the time the mountains were climbed and the rivers were crossed, you were present. Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.

As time is not marked by coming and going, the moment you climbed the mountains is the time being right now. If time keeps coming and going, you are the time being right now. This is the meaning of the time being.” (Eihei Dōgen, p. 106)

I have been on this road before, where is it? The light through those trees and that curve up ahead remind me of summer on Orcas Island. The island is dappled in bright sunlight streaming out of a piercing summer-blue sky. The light flashes through the trees like a zoetrope, suddenly dazzling in its brilliance over endless views of dark blue-green waters. These waters, how many times have I stood before them? Standing on West Beach I raise my arms up toward the sky embracing the totality of it all. It is right there, in the darkness around midnight, the faint pale greens of the aurora borealis stretches along the horizon all around the bowl of the heavens. Tendrils of faint blues and reds arc across the sky. I’m driving out to West Beach in my parents van head out the window gazing in awe at this unexpected display. In Alaska, bundled up against the cold I lay upon the frozen tundra as the overwhelming presence of the aurora looms overhead. I recall the snows of Hokkaido.

 “All of the particular dharma moments (moments of being/time) of each being/time is the accumulation of all of that is; all that you are. The Whole of this universe makes up your complete life” (Shinshu Roberts, p. 79)


“Do not think that time merely flies away. Do not see flying away as the only function of time. If time merely flies away, you would be separated from time. The reason you do not clearly understand the time being is that you think of time only as passing.

In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being.” (Eihei Dōgen, p. 106)

A filtered, flickering half light, shadowy shapes imply form but there is no certainty. There is a gentle rising and falling, rhythmic, slowing, almost fading away. Blurry. Blurrier. Sounds fall away into a soft, persistent, nearly inaudible hiss. A glow suffuses everything, washing out of the blurry shadows. It gradually becomes all encompassing and there is just the light. Everything else falls away. There is no forward or backward movement. There is nothing visible, there is just the vibration. Up and down. Static yet alive. Life. Lives. This. No flowing, no waiting, no flash. No questions. Just the vibrating instant.

“It is a non-dual teaching about being/time which is quite simply the relationship that we have with all being. And we have this multifaceted, multi-dimensional, interpenetrating interaction happening right now, at this moment.” Reality is all times (Shinshu Roberts, p. 79)


“The time being has a characteristic of flowing. So-called today flows into tomorrow, today flows into yesterday, yesterday flows into today. And today flows into today, tomorrow flows into tomorrow. “ (Eihei Dōgen, p. 106)

I am sitting on a rock gazing at the cascading water, tumbling down the rocks. I can see each individual drop of water fall slowly, slowly like a handful of diamonds tossed into a still pond. I can see a continuous white sheet rippling as if it was held at each end by an enthusiastic toddler. I stand up and walking backwards make my way down the trail, leaning forwards as it gets steep. I stop and sit every so often. Halfway down I stop at a curve in the trail and look out toward the mountain peaks. Clouds rush away from me. Walking backwards I continue on down. An apple core is tossed to my hand from the woods and bringing it to my mouth I regurgitate it bite by bite. When I have started with it I replace it in my backpack. My empty canteen slowly refills. At the trailhead I walk backwards to where my bicycle is locked and descend down the foothills to the river crossing where I back into the campground and back up the road to the trail where I walk my bicycle back to camp. I unload my bag, take off my shoes back into my tent and sit down. The ending bells ring and I’m deep in concentration, sitting.

“But even if time does maintain the form of going and coming, I am still the right-now of being-time, and this does not go and come. […] Experientially, it makes no difference whether time does or does not go and come and long as we do not separate ourselves from time, dichotomizing between a permanent ego and time flying away.” (Joan Stambaugh, p. 36)


“To fully actualize the entire world with the entire world is called thorough practice. “ (Eihei Dōgen, p. 107)

Get up, every day, sit. Coffee. Make breakfast, make lunch, pack up everything for the day. Shave, brush the teeth. Wash up. Eat breakfast. Ride. Walk. Sit. Do the things that require doing. Eat lunch. Put out fires. Run errands. Pick up the trash on the sidewalk. Walk, ride, sit. Prepare the evening meal. Turn on lights, open the mail. Someone is coming, open the door. Breathe. Put things away. Drink water. Lend a helping hand. Pick up sticks. Wait. Things go by. Pull weeds. Scrub the floor this time. Stand on one leg. Get the groceries. Sit. Take out the recycling. Let things go.

“Utmost exertion or practice does not coincide with “activity” as most of us conceive it, as willing or “doing”; nor is it passive. The Taoist wu-wei — nondoing or, better, noninterference — is not passive either. […] Exertion leads to receptivity. “ (Joan Stambaugh, p. 61)


“Do not think flowing is like wind and rain moving from east to west. The entire world is not unchangeable, not immovable. It flows.”(Eihei Dōgen, p. 108)

“Nothing lasts”, he mused, “so why then does that affect us so much? You’d think after experiencing the constant series of birth and deaths we’d understand, or at least just be used to it. “Perhaps it is our culture, which places such an emphasis on youth, beauty, vitality and marginalizes and hides away the elderly, the sick and the dying. If you never see the sausage being made does it have any reality beyond the perfectly formed, plastic wrapped whole artificially produced ‘object we find in neat rows under fluorescent light on refrigerated shelves? It isn’t just aging and death though, is it? I try to hold on to my vacation time, spending more time in preparation and recollection then I do actually on the trip. With it all so thought through, planned out and dreamed about can I really experience it unmediated when I’m actually there? Even more so I hold so tight to each weekend, squeezing the last moment out of each day, coming away from them more tired then I went in. My lunch hour even, frantically trying use each minute in distraction from the work I’m so desperately trying to avoid. I try so hard to grasp onto to each moment, to make it last, to preserve it forever. But nothing lasts, not even this moment and you can’t hold on to it.” This train of thought wound down, he now just breathes.

“As we actually ground ourselves in experience, our reality, this reality, this life, right at this moment, there is nothing else but this moment, and that is the eternal now. Each moment is this moment, eternally renewing itself as this moment. Eternal does not mean unchanging; it just means that it is eternally this impermanent moment and this impermanent moment going on endlessly.” (Shinshu Roberts, p. 79)


“You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives.

 Do not think flowing is like wind and rain moving from east to west. The entire world is not unchangeable, not immovable. It flows.” (Eihei Dōgen, p. 108)

I am swimming upstream; the pressure of the water flowing down is unceasing but not unbearable. I am certain that there is something, a still pool, a vermillion pool perhaps, just up ahead in which I can hold fast and finally be able make some sense of what it is I’m engaged in. It’s been just ahead for some time now, so I’m definitely about to arrive now. The only way to get there is to keep moving, pushing ever onwards against this relentless flow. The flow of course is continuous, bringing branches, leaves, fish, rocks, small mammals, large mammals, clothes, houses, people, cities and myriad other things. I catch on to these things at times and possess them for a while, but I can’t hold on them for long and eventually they all go rushing down the stream. You see I have to keep moving after all or I’ll never get where I’m going.

“The “stubborn fool” perceives only coming and going; it is impossible for him to clearly perceive the dwelling place of being-time. But even someone who discerns that dwelling place cannot express how it is maintained or sustained, how one dwells there.” (Joan Stambaugh, p. 55 )


“Mountains are time. Oceans are time. If they were not time, there would be no mountains or oceans. Do not think that mountains and oceans here and now are not time. If time is annihilated, mountains and oceans are annihilated. As time is not annihilated, mountains and oceans are not annihilated.

This being so, the morning star appears, the Tathagata appears, the eye appears, and holding up a flower appears. Each is time. If it were not time, it could not be thus.” (Eihei Dōgen, p. 109)

Gazing down upon the earth the rocks heave and shake. They thrust upward in a continuous series of stops and jerks heaving out of the depths of the ocean until they form the land. Rising higher and ever higher, flowing like water the vast shelves of rock ascend into mountains, gigantic and solid. The rock streams down the sides of the mountains as they erode way, become sharp points. Fossils embedded in the silt of the former oceans are reveal, pour down the mountainside, into rivers and down into valleys below. Just as quickly the mountains themselves have eroded into dust, the expansive landscape below has shrunken as the waves eat into its edges, tearing away chunk after chunk. Eventually it all returns to the sea. The sea roils as if immense tablets of bicarbonate have been tossed into it. Gigantic waves run around the planet, the sun takes up more and more of the sky the sky. The oceans evaporate and form globe-encircling clouds which return the water into the ocean, but the oceans recede rapidly. In a few eye blinks the oceans dry up like rubbing alcohol spilled on a countertop. There is just the scorched rock as the uncontrollable fires of the sun reach out and lash it. The planet is overwhelmed, all of the planets are overwhelmed, the rocky planets consumed, the gas giants blowing away. Andromeda moving through our galaxy pulls the orbits of the sun into unrecognizable patterns. Quickly it passes through and all stars keep moving further and further apart winking out now and again until they have all boiled away and there is no heat, no energy, no thing.

“This right now includes everything and lacks nothing. This is the gateway to unobstructed practice.” (Shinshu Roberts, p. 83)


“Mind is the moment of actualizing the fundamental point; words are the moment of going beyond, unlocking the barrier. Arriving is the moment of casting off the body; not-arriving is the moment of being one with just this, while being free from just this. In this way you must endeavor to actualize the time being.” (Eihei Dōgen, p. 110)

Thin fingers stretch into darkening grey skies,
  wintering birds perch still as shadows.
Poking through thin mists, faint outlines of
  reeds stir in a faint breeze.
Grey rocks, reach out of bright hillsides,
  moss flowing down like the beards of sages.
Raindrops falling on still water;
  the depths remain unstirred.
A heron stands cloaked in the dusk
  soundlessly frozen as if of stone.
Far above the dark disc of the moon,
  reflects the earths light.
Outside a drafty mountain hut
  raindrops in the puddle activate
  the reflection of the moon
  underneath a barren tree.
In the distance a single bell sounds.

“We use the past as a source of learning, not as a way to reify your position. We use the future as a finger pointing at the moon, not as a fixed notion of success or failure. Each moment is a fresh moment that we can enact to the best of our ability. Each monument is another birth of continuous practice,” (Shinshu Roberts, p. 95)


Being-Time (Uji)
by Eihei Dogen, Zenji
Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo
edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi
Shambhala, 2013
ISBN-10: 1590309359

Astride the highest mountain: Dōgen’s Being/Time, a practitioners guide by Shinshu Roberts
Receiving the Marrow: Teachings on Dogen by Soto Zen Women Priests
edited by Eido Francis Carney
Temple Ground Press,  2012
ISBN-10: 0985565101

Impermanence is Buddha-Nature: Dogen’s Understanding of Temporality
Joan Stambaugh
University of Hawaii Press, 1990
ISBN: 0824812573