Monday, August 23, 2010

Existence-Time & the Emptiness of What?

Existence, Time, and the Reality of Things
Throughout, his career Dogen maintained and reinforced the significance of the unity of existence and time, most extensively elucidated in the acclaimed Shobogenzo fascicle, “Uji” (existence/time). “Uji” offers an extremely lucid explanation on the nature of existence and time revealing that all dharmas, being real, particular forms – are and must be real specific moments of time.

As moments of time, rather than moments in time, each and every particular dharma is shown to be an “instance” of eternity/infinity. To clarify this, consider some of Dogen’s comments from Shobogenzo, Kai in zanmai. In this fascicle, Dogen cites the Buddha as follows:

Only of real dharmas is this body composed.
The moment of appearance is just the appearance of dharmas;
The moment of disappearance is just the disappearance of dharmas.
At the moment when these dharmas appear we do not speak of the appearance of self.
At the moment when these dharmas disappear we do not speak of the disappearance of self.
An instant before, an instant after: instant does not depend on instant;
A dharma before, a dharma after: dharma does not oppose dharma.
Just this is called samadhi, state like the sea.
~Shobogenzo, Kai in zanmai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Immediately following these words of the Buddha quoted from the Avatamsaka sutra Dogen writes:

The concrete moment of this “sea-like samadhi” is just a concrete moment “only of real dharmas,” and it is expression of the truth of “sole reliance on real dharmas.” This moment is said to be “this composed body.” The integrated form that is “composed” of “real dharmas,” is “this body.” We do not see “this body” as “an integrated form”: real dharmas compose it. This composed body has been expressed as the truth as “this body.”
~Shobogenzo, Kai in zanmai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Here Dogen first underscores that actual, specific instances of time (concrete moments) are nothing more or less than actual, specific things (only of real dharmas). Dogen then walks us through the reasoning (dori) of this expression and highlights its implication; actual, specific instances of time are, in themselves, real things (forms, bodies). Once again we meet with Dogen’s insistence on the unity of form and nature. An actual, specific thing (like “this body”) is not made out of stuff, matter, elements, or anything else apart from its form. All real things are real forms; a form is not the “appearance” of something, or things, other than itself (a body is not an “integrated form”).

In previous posts we saw how Dogen utilized the Buddhist tenet of “emptiness is exactly form” to reveal that "the true nature of things is exactly the appearance of things.” We also noted Dogen’s assertion that the universe, and the self, are “fashioned” from “instances” (moments of time) of our experience. Here we meet with one of the important implications of this viewpoint: the nature/appearance of things is exactly time. As things (dharmas) are only real insofar as they are experienced, all real things are forms of time, and all real times are times of form. In Shobogenzo, Uji, Dogen unequivocally sets out his view of existence-time (uji); time is existence, existence is time. And, as usual, Dogen is not "generalizing," he means specific things and definite times, for example:

… Seigen is time, Ōbaku is time, and Kōzei and Sekitō are time…
…subject-and-object already is time...
...practice-and-experience is moments of time…
Shobogenzo, Uji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

It is important to understand that in Dogen’s view existence and time are not simply relative, they are unified: "existence-time." While the hyphenated “existence-time” is probably the best choice for English translation, it may imply a gap not present in the Japanese “uji.” Hee-Jin Kim observes that Dogen “transforms” the phrase “arutoki" (‘at a certain time,’ ‘sometimes,’ ‘once’) into "one of the most important notions in his Zen – uji (‘existence-time).”

This metamorphosis is executed by way of changing its two components the aru and the toki into u (“existence,” “being”) and ji (“time,” “occasion”), respectively, and recombining them as uji so that it unmistakably signals the nondual intimacy of existence and time.
~Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, pp. 69-70

This remarkably creative metamorphosis decisively establishes Dogen’s viewpoint on the nature and dynamics of existence-time from the enlightened perspective (i.e. The Buddha Way includes and transcends the many and the one).
In Mahayana Buddhism, emptiness (the one) reveals that "things" (dharmas) do not exist independently. Since the existence of a thing depends on things other than its “self” it is not an independent entity (self); it is empty of “self.” This universally applies to all things; all things (forms, beings, thoughts, etc.) are interdependent, therefore empty of an independent self. Thus each of the myriad things is empty (of a self), and all the myriad things together are emptiness.
What is “emptiness”? All the myriad things! Clearly, emptiness could not be a “thing” (dharma) that "informed" other things, nor could emptiness be a “thing” permeating all things; emptiness is no-thing. Obviously, without the myriad things emptiness would not only be non-existent, it would be utterly meaningless. As things are empty because they are dependent on things, emptiness is things because it is dependent on things.
If existence is time and time is existence, as Dogen proclaims, existence and time must be eternal and infinite. As discussed previously, in Dogen’s Zen “Buddha” (our true nature) is total existence; thus, in light of uji, Buddha is total existence-time. For total existence-time to really be “total,” it has to be inclusive of every bit of existence, absolutely all instances (moments) of existence (dharmas). If so, all instances of existence (dharmas) would have to be eternal. This is exactly Dogen’s view:

[Total existence] is beyond originally existing existence; for “it pervades the eternal past and pervades the eternal present.”
~Shobogenzo, Bussho, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Moreover, total existence-time would mean all time, absolutely every single moment of time. Thus, existent instances (dharmas) would have to be infinite. This too is exactly Dogen’s view:

Truly, great realization is limitless, and returning to delusion is limitless.
~Shobogenzo, Daigo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Thus for Dogen, this life and death is an essential aspect of the eternally dynamic universe; every dharma, no matter how trivial, and every moment, no matter how fleeting, is charged with infinite potential. Far from being ineffable, mysterious, unknowable, or incommunicable, eternity and infinity are palpably present and immediately available. The infinity and eternity of existence-time has nothing to do with an unending expanse of space or a never-ending duration of time. Time and existence, in Dogen’s Zen, has definite shapes and precise weights.

“Appearance” is inevitably a concrete “moment” having arrived; for “the moment” is “appearance.” Just what is this “appearance”? It may be “appearance” itself. It is “appearance” that is itself already a “moment,” and it never fails to disclose the naked skin, flesh, bones, and marrow. Because appearance is “appearance” that is “composed,” appearance as “this body” and appearance as “appearance of the self” is “only of real dharmas.”

“The moment of appearance” is “these real dharmas” here and now: it is not of the twelve hours.
~Shobogenzo, Kai in zanmai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

For Dogen, a world or self conceived of as a pure, tranquil sea of uniform emptiness, or unvarying essential nature is neither a real world nor a true self, but mere existence in the absence of time. Similarly, a world or self of a ceaseless, invariable flow of time in which all dharmas are illusory appearances on the surface of reality would amount to an abstract conception of an ever advancing absence of existence.
Shackled under presuppositions of dualism, the essentialist and naturalist can only envision either existence or time, not existence-time. To see existence and time dualistically is to see neither infinity nor eternity but only the mystery and obscurity of abstraction. Abstraction is always subtraction, that is, negation. When teachers or teachings suggest a reality that is always and only indefinable, indescribable, incommunicable, inconceivable, unimaginable, etc. – all negative terms, be aware this is not Zen.
Zen Buddhism realizes and transcends "neti, neti" (not this, not this) to realize "immo, immo" (this, this). Thus one of Dogen’s favorite phrases from the Zen literature is, “You are like this, I am also like this.” Interdependence does not eradicate independence, it verifies it.

We recognize as sea not only that which is not the sea; we recognize as the sea that which is the sea.
~Shobogenzo, Kai in zanmai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Yes, yes! It is important - even crucial - to recognize as dharmas (things, beings, teachings, events, thoughts, etc.) that which is not dharmas - but only if it is followed through by recognizing as dharmas that which is dharmas.

No comments: