The Self is Time

I am teaching a class on the Buddhist sense of Time. It feels like working with Time could be a complete avenue to awakening. We know that one of our primary admonishments is to “live in the now” but what does that mean exactly?

Keats has coined a term called “negative capability”. I often use this term even though it has a lot of different meanings in different fields of study. The way I use the term is that we can cultivate the capability of living in uncertainty, in the mystery without having to grasp on to a certain “right” fact or static truth. In Buddhism, it is the ability to hold the two sides of life, the absolute and the relative, time and timelessness, as a dynamic foci without needing to hold on to either side.

We have two types of time: flowing time and stopped or eternal time. We have Time and timelessness. Freedom and the burdens of our human stories. Can we begin to practice with time and no-time as simultaneous occurrences, mutually influencing each other, without getting stuck on one side or the other.

Each moment is the totality of the universe. All the ten directions and all the ten times are expressed in the creation of a moment. The microcosm and the macrocosm express itself together. The inside of a so-called “Being” and the outside of the so-called “environment” are interconnected, have a mutual identity, they co-exist in oneness and interfusion, and they mutually penetrate each other. This teaching and expansive idea creates the term Being-Time in Dogen’s language. The “now” lives at the intersection of time and space or being. That crossroads is the truth happening place. That crossroad includes all time; past, present, and future, and all directions.

Not only that, but the “now” can’t be found, at least by consciousness. Perhaps, it can be felt or experienced, but not through our discriminative thinking. Certainly, we can’t put into words what “It” is. 

This time, this being, is completely impermanent. Katagiri Roshi calls it the pivot of nothingness. It is both very dynamic; the opposites creating each other or polarizing around each other, and very silent with no activity. The creation and destruction of the moment is so fast that it is beyond what we can know. The Abhidharma calls this moment a tanji; everything is born and annihilated in 1/62nd of a finger snap. In quantum physics, a moment is 10 to the negative 43 power of a second. There are 6,400,099,090 setsunas or moments in one 24 hour period and in each of these moments our five skandhas appear and disappear repeatedly.

How can this understanding of impermanence and this gateway to timelessness, help us in our life and practice? There seems to be an ever repeating mantra in our culture which is “I don’t have enough time” or “I’m too busy”. This samsaric stance of the “burden of time” can be opened up by our practice and understanding of each moments depth and breadth. How can you take care of time without going crazy? We can intervene on the stress of linear, flowing time by understanding timelessness and simultaneity. Ironically, our very busy life is the invitation for us to stop and be timeless. We can find quiet and tranquility even though we know silence isn’t a permanent state. We understand that we can not hold on to it. To stay with no-time is to die. So naturally, timelessness invites us back into activity refreshed. As Katagiri Roshi says:

“Real time is nothing but dynamic function. So time itself possesses the great power to emancipate you from the limitations of your idea of time as busyness.”