This week Tesshin Roshi returned to Dogen’s Shobogenzo and we focused again on “Uji”
However, this week we have the pleasure of having Soshin (Stace) do the writeup…
Roshi tells us that when it comes to dharma talks, he always tries to judge who is in the room to do the talk itself. So, if he is talking to a bunch of people that know nothing about Zen or Buddhism, there are certain go-to stories that you always connect with–like the two monks who helped the geisha and after a number of miles the young one is mad and the older one says, oh well I put her down miles ago, why are you still carrying her, right?
When you tell it to anyone, everyone says, “Yeah, got it, got it, done.” You don’t have to understand dharma at all. Roshi says that for our group, because everyone’s been practicing for a while now, if we open pretty much any of the koans, after a little bit of explanation, we can pretty much leave the teisho (dharma talk) saying, “Yeah, I got it.”
He makes the point that whenever it comes to Dōgen however, and reading and working with this stuff, there is never quite a ‘bow’ at the end of the teisho. Rather, it just deeply resonates and marinates. It feels like it takes a lot of courage, and it is a full body-mind workout to go through this material. This is what we’re doing now.
Shōbōgenzō is one of the most important spiritual books ever written, Roshi tells us, so there are a number of translations of it. It’s quite brilliant and tough to understand at the surface. So, we’re going through one of the short ones called Uji, and last week we started it.
It is translated as ‘being’ and ‘time,’ ‘existence’ and ‘time.’ Roshi tells us the takeaway last week is when many of us think about time–our lives in relationship to time–we generally have the sense of, “Here’s me, this is my journey through life, I was this age and then I went through this age, and I kind of flowed with time like a raft on a river. Or as if I was swimming in a river. It’s me traveling through time. That’s my life.”
What Dōgen says is no, that’s not it at all. There is no raft. There is no you. There is only time. So you are time. And time doesn’t exist. Light stuff like that! So your core, your essence, is not this thing. It is time.
That is just the first two paragraphs, so we continue.
“The entire world is included in ourselves. This is the principle. We ourselves are time. Study the principle that everything in the world is time. Each instant covers the entire world. If we can comprehend this, it will be the beginning of practice and enlightenment. When we attain this level, we have clear understanding of the significance of each and every practice. One blade of grass, every single object, every living thing, is inseparable from time. Time includes every being and in all worlds.”
Roshi tells us when we think about it typically in our day-to-day, we often have a realistic view of I’m this and they’re that, I’m conservative and they are liberal, I am straight and they are gay, etc. If we were to make a list of the differences between you and that person, we could each come up with really long lists. Name any two people, and we can have a long list about what’s different between us and them.
Now if we change that and say, okay now we’re gonna talk about the difference between us and a turtle. The list would be very different. And the differences between us and human beings would become dramatically shorter, because the differences between us and a turtle are much bigger.
Now we’re making a new list. What’s the difference between you and a rock? Ok, that’s a whole different list. And as we create these differences between my life and existence and this other thing, the differences between human beings becomes indistinguishable. Basically disappears compared to this other thing!
Then we extend it, what’s the difference between you and Neptune? Bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. It becomes absurd at that point to even think about the differences between human beings, if we’re trying to think about the difference between us and a planet in the solar system!
It becomes almost impossible to figure out what we actually have in common at a certain point, between you and a planet. Time! That’s what everything is attached to. Time. Nothing escapes time. No matter where we point to in the entire universe, that is the one bond that is consistent. Everything is attached, everything is part of time. Therefore everything is time.
That is the essence of everything, Roshi tells us. You can’t come up with any other description of our being and essence that is consistent through the universe other than time. So that’s who we are.
To continue. “Ordinary people unlearned in Buddhism think that being time sometimes takes the form of a demon. Sometimes the form of Buddha. It is like the difference between living in a valley and then wading through a river and climbing a mountain to reach a palace. That is, the mountain and river are things of the past, left far behind and have no relation to living in the present. They are as separate as heaven is from earth.
So when we think about our lives and who we are, a huge part of that is “Well I was born in such a such a town, my parents were this kind of people, this is what they taught me, this is the person I hated, this is the person that I love, this person I fought with, this person I learned with, this is my experience over here,” and we have all of these things that have created what we think is us.
And then we can expand that frame and say “Well, then my parents’ parents lived a certain way, and that influenced them which influenced me, and then civilization has evolved over thousands of years to have a certain value proposition, and think about money and existence, and we can go back and kind of define ourselves in any number of filters through time in the past, and say that’s who we are. Who are you? This is who I am. What’s that based on? It’s based on all these other factors.
This is what Dōgen talked about last week, none of those things can you put in my hand. They don’t exist. A huge amount of effort has been spent to try to manage and understand time. Clocks, and telescopes, and all kinds of calendars. How to understand time that revolves around the Sun. Well it does not if you’re on Neptune! Or further outside. That’s not how they measure or experience time. Yet time still continues time. Time is what binds us. That’s not what time is.
Right so all of these things in which we define ourselves in our existence, what it means to be who we are are all tied to something in the past that’s simply does not exist. Period. We talk about these things all the time, we’re attached to them, we’re influenced by them, we’re triggered by them. Things that don’t exist.
What exists? Time. This moment, and then it’s gone. So in Buddhism when we talk about the ultimate liberation–enlightenment–we’re talking about the ultimate liberation when you come to realize that.
If it’s just a concept, let it go! Past–it does not exist!
Let’s liberate ourselves from this. And then we’re alive in the moment. We’re in the nature of all things connected to the one thing that connects the entire universe. And Shakyamuni said “It’s all one.” so you’re saying. That’s the one. It connects everything, and we are that. That is our nature.
Roshi shared that when he meditates on this he is thinking, well, is that really true? The karma, think about the karma, all this karma, we are the uprising of karma, we are the expression of karma, all these things happen karmically in the past that made us who we are and what we are now. So that existed.
And with videos and photographs of the past, it clearly exists, right? There are memorials all over the place, and artwork and literature, like Shakespeare existed, we know that. And he finds himself like going on and on disputing everything in his mind, debating it. Then he sort of stops and goes, I just spent an hour thinking about stuff that doesn’t exist!
It’s all my mind, Roshi exclaims! I just generated all this stuff in my mind?! It wasn’t life, it wasn’t this moment. It was just all of these constructs and thoughts that I had. It took me out of my actual life. So though I was living he says, I wasn’t alive.
Debating with myself for hours, and just wasting my time! And Dōgen just says it so clearly. Time. Now. That’s it! You’re liberated, you’re free! You’re enlightened, you’re part of the universe! How? Why don’t we just do it? That’s the power of practice of being on the cushion. Because at that moment we are here in this moment without any of those constructs, and we’re alive.
And we obviously take our practice into our life. The practice–just sitting on the cushion–is the thing that liberates us from all of that. It’s so incredible. And Roshi says that’s why Dōgen says when you start to understand that, that’s when practice begins.
So the reading continues, “Mountains and rivers are things that have passed, left far behind and have no relation to living in the present. They are separate as heaven and earth. This is not true, however. When you cross the river or climb the mountain, you are time. We cannot be separated from time. This means that because in reality there is no coming or going in time, when we cross the river or climb the mountain we exist in the eternal present of time. This time includes all past and present to that time. Crossing the river, climbing the mountain, living in the palace exist together interrelated in being time. Demons and Buddhas are yesterday’s time. A tall Buddha image is today.” Roshi tells us we’ve talked about that a tall Buddha image means you.
“Yesterday’s time is experienced in our present existence. It appears to be passing, but the past is always contained in the present. Like this the pine tree is time, the bamboo is also time.” You have two different kinds of trees Roshi says, but they’re not. It’s all the same. It’s all time.
It’s so incredible through Dōgens teaching, Roshi said–what a gift all of us! He does not want to slam through all of it, he does want to let it marinate a bit, so he stopped there. He said that’s plenty for us to be with this week as we study. It’s all time! I’m just time! And it’s great.