Time and Freedom

Aware of Right Now


This week Tesshin Roshi returned to Dogen’s Shobogenzo and the “UJI” fascicle.


Roshi reminded us that Dogen is claiming that after we strip away all of our delusions about our existence the only thing which remains is “being time.”  Specifically, Dogen is saying the flow of time – moment to moment – is all we really have.  Dogen also states that this fact does not change whether we have awakened to it or not.  It just is!  


Consider for a moment, we structure our days and life by periods of time.  We wake up and work out and then go to work and then go out with friends at night.  Everything is placed into a neat compartment.  However, this is not the ‘time’ Dogen is talking about.  He digs under this very superficial conception by asking the simple question – “What was your identity before you built this structure?”  For instance, are you the same person you were at the instant of your birth?  At birth, what structures did you have?  Cry, Nurse, and Sleep?  It was very different than what you have today!


Roshi then noted that every atom in your body has been exchanged since that moment of birth.   So, how can you claim that you are the same person as then?   What makes your “real” identity?  Many in the group suggested that memories comprise one’s identity.  Roshi disagreed.  What are memories but chemical levels or patterns of nerves in the brain.  Do you lose your identify if a memory fades?  Can you really claim to have a perfect record of every memory?  What happens if your psychology clouds your memory.  We all do this – we modify our memories all the time by the stories we tell ourselves.  Were you more popular in high school than you really were?    Were your career successes really as impressive as you “remembered” them?  Dogen keeps stripping away these illusions and asks what is really left – what is real?


According to Dogen, the only thing we really have is the moment-to-moment flow of time.  He clearly warns us that the structures we apply to time (memories and schedules) may be useful in day-to-day living, but in the ultimate sense, they limit us.  This is the high cost we unwittingly way to live in the relative world.  We build a prison of “structure” and forget the spontaneity of the moment.  Think about it – every day we proceed through life with stories, grudges, old hurts, and other “baggage.”  In one sense, we choose to carry this and we cling to it as our identity.  Dogen is suggesting that we can drop the bags and be light and free.  


All we really are is the flow of time and every moment is perfect.  Can one second really be “better” than another?  Spring is always the Spring and has nothing to do with the Winter which came before it.  This moment is what we have – it is right in front of us.  Our practice is all about calming the mind, dropping the baggage, and experiencing the fullness of this moment.


Roshi wrapped up by reminding us that we can really have this moment-to-moment experience of time.  It is commonly called “flow” and we experience it when we are deeply engaged in an activity.  Of course, we should have this experience on the cushion when we practice, but we may also experience this when giving our 100% attention to a task at work or participating in sports activities.  Roshi challenged us to be mindful of flow and work to gain this state as much as possible.