A question was asked, framed this way:

In “Genjōkōan,”⁠¹ Dōgen says: “Buddhists do not speak of life becoming death. They speak of being ‘unborn’. Since it is a confirmed Buddhist teaching that death does not become life, Buddhists speak of being ‘undying’. Life is a stage of time, and death is a stage of time. It is like winter and spring. Buddhists do not suppose that winter passes into spring or speak of spring passing into summer.”⁠² Dōgen says here that spring is not after winter, but there is still ‘before’ and ‘after’, which is included in spring, and spring is independent of them, etc. If not the beginning of spring, what is before spring? Not winter. And if, likewise, the end of life is discontinuous with the present life, does that mean life does not end when I only exist in the present?

Dōgen is said to have said:

…time, just as it is, is being, and being is all time.⁠³

But what does “is” mean in that statement? And how does it help form the answer being searched for by the questioner?

The questioner has interpreted what Dogen said, in the text quoted in the question above, as meaning:

Dōgen says here that Spring is not after Winter, but there is still ‘before’ and ‘after’, which is included in Spring, and Spring is independent of them. etc.

But what Dōgen said was that “Buddhists do not speak of life becoming death. They speak of being ‘unborn’… death does not become life, (so they) speak of being ‘undying’. Life is a stage of time, and death is a stage of time.” Each ‘stage’ of time, meaning each arising and disappearing — each being-time — is complete in itself without a fade-in and fade-out, a passing from one to another stage. This means that being “complete” is accomplished without passing through intermediate stages of partial completion. Everything that arises does so whole and immediate. Everything that disappears, is no longer there — disappearing is whole and immediate — so what could be said about it’s ‘passing’?

So let’s first deal with what ‘before’ and ‘after’ can possibly mean, and leave the metaphor about winter and spring aside for a moment.

In the “Uji,” Dōgen asserts:

The time has to be in me. Inasmuch as I am there, it cannot be that time passes away.⁠⁴

We are so used to being told what to think, we have forgotten what it means to be and to know. I like to ask of others, “Today, we know that the heart pumps blood, but before humans invented the water pump, what was the heart for?”

Of course, if we give it some time, and don’t just shut the question out of our thoughts, we all know what the heart is for — and it’s not to be a pump. Why? Because before we were told what it was, we all could experience it ourselves — and we still can. It’s just that when we are confronted today with a question, we can’t think of much beyond the scientific facts we’ve been inculcated with, like “it pumps blood,” because our personal experience is always held to be of secondary importance to what we’ve been told to know, and therefore what to think. As Dōgen pointed out:

You fail to experience the passage of being-time and hear the utterance of its truth, because you learn only that time is something that goes past.⁠⁵

So, if I ask you now “what is time?” looking for your experience of time, rather than the scientific definition of time, what might it be? So I ask you, what is time?

Go ahead, take your time. But bear in mind:

The time has to be in me. Inasmuch as I am there, it cannot be that time passes away.⁠⁶

This should just hammer it home for you. While you are here in this life, time is not separate from you — it’s your time — it’s not clock time, it’s not a stream of time flowing past you, its not a static road that you travel over, because it is nothing other than you — your being here Now. So time and being are the same — the “is” between them is merely saying these two concepts mean exactly the same thing, as the sentence: “That is James” means, when you are pointing your finger at me.

So the takeaway is: there is no ‘Time’ outside of each manifested thing or being — and each is complete within ‘itself’; each is a form of time, not a form of matter. There is only your time and my time, the time of all other manifested things, and the time of the world (and the universe and all that ‘it’ contains).

You don’t have to be real, the way we normally think that Time is real, but you’re not nothing either. ‘You’ are being-time: a manifested form of time called “human,” that we experience as our being here — our life.

But did you notice that if that is what time is, then there is nothing for us to move through, and nothing that moves past us? We ‘flow´ through our ‘selves’ — our time, but not through time ‘itself’ because there is no such thing. Thats why Dogen says: “Life is a stage of time, and death is a stage of time.”

We flow through our being-time, the way a play flows through its script — in its own time. But our being is always complete now — it can’t come to be, or cease to be in the way scientists would frame it as a passage of events over ‘Time’. Which is to say, at each moment of your life, you are complete in that moment. You are not in the process of becoming, nor in the process of disappearing. You are unborn and undying.

So Now, you are probably lost in space, not knowing what to think. So don’t think. Pay attention to what is right now in each moment. As Dōgen points out:

As the time right now is all there ever is, each being-time is without exception entire time. Entire being, the entire world, exists in the time of each and every now. Just reflect: right now, is there an entire being or an entire world missing from your present time, or nor?⁠⁷

And yet, in each moment as it is Now, there is a ‘before’ and there is an ‘after’.

What is a “moment”? Don’t fall back into thinking about clock-time!

I prefer to use the word “vignette” because when I clearly attend to what is now, I notice that there is always a history hanging about — those ‘causes’ and ‘conditions’, seasoned with a bit of serendipity, that ‘brought me’ metaphorically speaking, to now.

But its just history, a story about how I got here, and that’s it — just a story, because it isn’t happening Now. In fact — the fact of what I am experiencing — it isn’t still happening, and there isn’t any ‘Time’ in which it can be hiding out! This moment is all there is. But this moment — this Now — is not ‘mine’ alone.

But there is more! My time is still unfolding — because I’m still here. So there is an expectation present in this moment, as well, of still more ‘to come’ — it’s another story, perhaps a dream, or just a job I ‘have’ to get done. Or maybe its a refusal to accept what is, and the story of a victim is in it’s place in my dream.

And then I notice that the causes and conditions are not mine alone, but entail and are indicative of other vignettes, other being-times, intricately woven into this moment now, because mine is not the only vignette playing out. As Dōgen says:

The essential point is: every entire being in the entire world is each time an [independent] time, even while it makes a continuous series. Inasmuch as they are being-time, they are my being-time.⁠⁸

This now — this moment — contains all the vignettes of every ‘thing’ and every ‘body’ all at once together in this intricately woven Now. And what ‘was’ are just stories, and what ‘will be’ are just dreams (or nightmares), because there isn’t any time for ‘what is past’, and there isn’t any time for ‘what will be’, there is just Now, whole and complete. Nothing real ‘in and of itself’, but much more than the back story, and much more than the dream of what is to become, that is what appears to be, Now.

And this is why Dōgen says:

Life is a stage of time, and death is a stage of time. It is like winter and spring. Buddhists do not suppose that winter passes into spring or speak of spring passing into summer.⁠⁹

When I am ‘in’ (immediately experiencing) winter, I call it “winter,” not “spring,” and not “the beginning of Spring.” This doesn’t mean that there are not causes and conditions now that will mature as the being-time of spring, but when it is spring, I call it “spring,” and not “the end of Winter,” because that is just a story I tell myself about what was the case, once upon a time.

There is no moment of transition for events to happen in. There is only this present (vignette) Now, and nothing else (remembering that This is a woven whole of every being-time of all being-times, all at once Now).

So, “winter,” in our habitual and shared way of seeing things in this sahā world, ‘comes before’ spring, but never will you be in winter while you are — in the same vignette — in spring, nor will you ever be in a vignette when there is a transition from one to another, for that moment can be neither. But there will always be a story about such an unlikely thing, lurking in the background of Now. Because that is what we tell ourselves — stories.

So none of this stops anyone from weaving stories of “cause and effects,” “natural laws” to be followed by things, and those saving explanatory graces of “random chance” and “very long periods of time.” And such stories work, to a certain point, allowing us to note tendencies and habits, in ourselves, and every thing/one else — allowing us to predict the weather, or how long a computer memory chip might take to respond to a query about its contents.

That is, until we pay attention to what is truly present now and we cannot find what was, and what might be, fully present too.

The question that arises naturally at this point is: “so what connects these vignettes of being-time?” Or, as the questioner put it:

… if, likewise, the end of life is discontinuous with the present life, does that mean life does not end when I only exist in the present?

To this point, I have been speaking about, and quoting Dōgen; but now I must widen my response. He says:

Being-time has the virtue of seriatim passage. It passes from today to tomorrow, passes from today to yesterday, passes from yesterday to today, passes from today to today, passes from tomorrow to tomorrow, this because passing seriatim is a virtue of time. Past time and present time do not overlap or pile up in a row…⁠¹⁰

“Seriatim” means taking one subject after another in regular order, point by point. And Dōgen seems to be reintroducing sequential timeframes as he acknowledges that there is a reason why ‘time’ seems to unfold, to pass, with events unfolding in their proper sequence, although he lists all possible sequences, and not just the ‘proper’ one, in his example in the quote above. But I’ve already explained how one vignette is related to other vignettes in the ‘unfolding’ of our lives. To summarize:

What was ‘before’ is not discontinuous with this present vignette which is Now.

What can be known Now — if attention is paid — is the story of the causes and conditions that led to this present scene, and which bleed through all that is Now.

But what was ‘before’ is not Now, and thus can’t be reached. Only the traces of what was, and the possibility of what could come to be, are here Now with what is now the case.

(A flicker of Buddha Omniscience would be knowing the totality of conditions, and their responsive embrace, that led here, to this current vignette.)

And what can be ‘after’ can never be incoherent with the story of what once was the case during the vignette that was ‘before’. And yet, what is the case Now was not determined, because there is a spontaneous creativity about what does come to be — within the constraints of the causes and conditions that were extant and that allowed This to be.

What can be known Now — if attention is payed — are the tendencies latent in what is now the case, that will come about — if they may.

But what will be ‘after’ does not exist Now — is not present in the current vignette — and therefore has not yet come to fulfillment, so nothing is assured.

(A flicker of Buddha Omniscience is knowing the totality of conditions, and their intricate dance, that may lead you — because there is something about Buddha Nature that is creatively responsive — from Now, to Now, but not this current vignette.)

There can only be discontinuity in a zoetropic passage of instances of time. But since there is only Now — and that is not some time — everything flows through everything, for being-time is all that is Now. Being-time, then, is showing up and being aware of what is present — and that is one act, not two, like a dancer flowing through their dance. And being-time is Dōgen’s name for this dance. But don’t overlook that it is that which we call ‘awareness’ as well.

Thus, there is no present moment with barely a presence — as we usually think of “moments” — within nothing but bare walls with no ventilation. There is only This — the scene that is Now present.

And for those that need a conceptual model: the universe reconfigures itself, collapsed into a singular state, Now, Now, Now…. and how that “stacks up” is driven by the intrinsic functioning of reality — that aspect of which is called “Great Responsiveness.

You will never find a response — a present vignette that is Now — without the presence of the conditions necessary for that response. But this is not a mechanical process: an artist can only paint with the brushes and pigments she has; but from these, and other conditions, an infinite stream of art can arise! It is the same with great responsiveness. Except there is no painter, only fully realized paintings, and that is why it is called “great” responsiveness in Buddhism.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།


¹ All references to Dōgen and his writing are taken from “The Heart of Dōgen’s Shöbōgenzō,” translated, with extensive footnotes, by Norman Waddell and Masao Abe, SUNY Press, 2002

² Ibid, “Genjōkōan,” page 42

³ Ibid. “Uji” (Being-Time), page 48

⁴ Ibid. “Uji” page 50

⁵ Ibid, “Uji,” page 51

⁶ Ibid. “Uji” page 50

⁷ Ibid. “Uji” page 50

⁸ Ibid, “Uji,” page 51

⁹ Ibid, “Genjōkōan,” page 42

¹⁰ Ibid. “Uji,” pages 51–52

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