On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

February 12, 2019

The Time-Being

Dogen (1200-1253)

An ancient buddha said:

For the time being stand on top of the highest peak.
For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean.
For the time being a staff or a whisk.
For the time being a pillar or lantern.
For the time being the earth and sky.

“For the time being” here means time itself is being, and all being is time.

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 time’s 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.

The way the self arrays itself is the form of the entire world. See each thing in this entire world as a moment of time.

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 the understanding that the self is time.

Know that in this way there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses 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.

When you are at this place, there is just one grass, there is just one form; there is understanding of form and no-understanding of form; there is understanding of grass and no-understanding of grass. Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time-being is all the time there is. Grass-being, form-being are both time.

Each moment is all being, is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment.

Yet an ordinary person who does not understand buddha-dharma may hear the words the time being this way:

     This is like having crossed over rivers and climbed mountains. Even though the mountains and rivers still exist, I have already passed them now and reside in the jeweled palace (symbolizing enlightenment) …. Those mountains and rivers are as distant from me as heaven and earth.

It is not that simple. At the time the mountains were climbed and the rivers 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.

Does this time-being not swallow up the moment when you climbed the mountains and the moment when you resided in the jeweled palace? Does it not spit them out?

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.

The time-being has the quality 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.

Because flowing is a quality of time, moments of past and present do not overlap or line up side by side. Practice-enlightenment is time. Being splattered with mud and getting wet with water is also time.

Although the views of an ordinary person and the causes and conditions of those views are what the ordinary person sees, they are not necessarily the ordinary person’s truth. The truth merely manifests itself for the time being as an ordinary person. Because you think your time or your being is not truth, you believe that the sixteen-foot golden body (Buddha) is not you.

However, your attempts to escape from being the sixteen-foot golden body are nothing but bits and pieces of the time-being. Those who have not confirmed this should look into it deeply. The hours of Horse and Sheep (7th and 8th hour of the day), which are arrayed in the world now, are actualized by the ascendings and descendings of the time-being at each moment. The rat is time, the tiger is time, sentient beings are time, buddhas are time.

Just actualize all time as all being; there is nothing extra. Vigorously abiding in each moment is the time-being. Do not mistakenly confuse it as non-being. Do not forcefully assert it as being.

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?

Question: Home leavers are free from various involvements and do not have hindrances in zazen in pursuit of the way. How can the laity, who are variously occupied, practice single-mindedly and accord with buddha-dharma which is unconstructed?

Answer: Buddha ancestors, out of their kindness, have opened wide the gate of compassion in order to let all sentient beings enter realization. Who among humans and heavenly beings cannot enter?

If you investigate olden times the examples are many. To begin with, emperors Daizong and Shunzong had many obligations on the throne; nevertheless, they practiced zazen in pursuit of the way and penetrated the great way of buddha ancestors. Ministers Li and Fang both closely served their emperors, but they practiced zazen, pursued the way, and entered realization in the great way of buddha ancestors.

This just depends on whether you have the willingness or not. It does not matter whether you are a lay person or home-leaver. Those who can discern excellence invariably come to this practice. Those who regard worldly affairs as a hindrance to buddha-dharma only think there is no buddha-dharma in the secular world, and do not understand that there is no secular world in buddha-dharma.

Recently, there was a high official of Great Song, Minister Feng, who was advanced in the ancestor’s way. He once wrote a poem concerning himself:  

I enjoy zazen between my official duties,
and seldom sleep lying on a bed
Although I appear to be a minister,
I’m known as a Buddhist elder throughout the country.

Although he was busy with official duties, he attained the way because he had a deep intention towards the buddha way. Considering someone like him, you should reflect on yourself and illuminate the present with the past.

When Shakyamuni Buddha was alive, even those who committed serious crimes or had mistaken views attained the way. In the assemblies of ancestors, hunters and woodcutters attained realization. If it is so for them, it is so for others.

Dogen, written on the first day of winter 1240

Excerpted from Moon in a Dewdrop – Writings of Zen Master Dogen edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi


For many of us, Dogen’s writings remain almost an impenetrable barrier. True, he is addressing monks in various stages of training. However, we who are aspiring to the Way are really not that much different from practitioners of any time and place. Pure intent is pure intent no matter what age it arises in.

Rather than reacting or pulling back from sentences that seem abstruse in Dogen, just start with a few that are easier to befriend…

Just actualize all time as all being; there is nothing extra. Vigorously abiding in each moment is the time-being.

That seems essential enough, but then again, not that easy to realize from moment to moment. Abiding in each moment also is meditation in action. Not caught up in the past, not meandering off in the future, just here in this moment.

For the time being stand on top of the highest peak…

“For the time being” here means time itself is being, and all being is time.

Now, it’s all we have,

Elana, scribe for Daily Zen

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