Does Time fly by?

The dichotomy we have been working with in Dogen’s Uji is time and timelessness. Another way of naming this duality is linear, sequential time and ‘being-time’. “Being-time” drops the moment down and touches timelessness or eternity or no-birth-no-death as Thich Nhat Hanh would call it. Each moment in Buddhist understanding, is the entire world and all times. 

Each moment is the eternal spring. The source energy of life arises and produces each moment as an independent time. Even though, through the principle of cause and effect in the form world, we experience Time as developmental and in a sequence, strictly speaking, a moment arises and dies in 1/62 nd of a finger snap. The conditions of the last moment predetermine the arising of the next moment but essentially they do not connect. The moments are coming and going at “superspeed” as Katagiri Roshi used to say. Dogen says that moments are swallowed up and spitted out. The eternal spring gushes forth on each discrete, discontinuous moment.

Most of us only see time in its developmental, sequential way of being. We have no doubt about sequence. The sun rises and sets. We are born, have a childhood, an adulthood, get sick and die. A seed produces a sprout, produces a tree, produces a fruit.

“The going and coming of life is obvious, you do not come to doubt them. But even though you do not have doubts about them, that is not to say you know them.”

— Dogen, Uji” or “Being-time,” Wadell/Abe translation

We do not doubt what is obvious to our eye. For example, that my children are now grown and leaving the house. How their childhood flew by. But if we only experience life as flying by, we don’t really come to have intimacy with what is actually happening in the present moment. In order to have this “knowing” of the moment, we have to penetrate it and know it as an independent time and that I am experiencing the moment right now as “being-time.”

“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.”

— Dogen, “Uji” or “Being-time,” Tanahashi translation

When we are full of our schedules, our to-do lists and our busyness, as our life is flying by, we do not have the “time” to drop down and feel the moment as a fresh, mysterious being. Each moment is a being and it is deeply penetrated with our being. In fact, they are absolutely inseparable. This inability to feel the whole world in our moments is why our life feels so dissatisfying. Flying by is not the only function of time. We are running around but not experiencing. So Buddha called this, the constant dissatisfaction of life or the Second Noble Truth. If we can learn about being-time, we can enter into a place of satiation with the mystery of life. We can touch the eternal source, daily, in our ordinary tasks by being-time.

How do we live with, or practice with this pivot of time and timelessness? The two are distinct but they mutually, and simultaneously arise together. Dogen admonishes us to “Penetrate exhaustively each dharma position or independent time, each moment.” Tanahashi’s translation of the same sentence is “vigorously abiding in each moment.” Katagiri Roshi unpacks this by saying, “Practicing with full commitment to the moment leads you to that which you seek.” Our seeking gets resolved in our “being.”

Katagiri Roshi writes, “If you take care of this “right now” with wholeheartedness, you create good conditions for the next” right now.” Please take good care of this moment.”