Dogen Zen

Dogen Zen

Japanese Buddhist tradition gives Dogen (1200­-1253) credit for founding the Soto school following his return from China after having attained enlightenment under the tutelage of Jü-ching (1163-1268) and having previously stud­ied under Japanese Zen master Eisai (1141-1215). After being frustrated trying to spread Zen in Japan, Dogen settled in present-day Fukui Prefecture where he founded Eihei-ji. He spent the remainder of his life training monks and writing Shobogenzo (The Treasury of the Eye of True Dharma) and other works. It is especially in the Shobogenzo that he expounds his nondualistic philosophy and understanding of time.

To illustrate his notion of time, Dogen first dis­cusses the conventional view of time by using an example of a person who lives in a valley, travels over a river, and climbs a mountain to its summit. Once the traveler attains his goal, there is a human tendency to relegate the valley, river, and moun­tain to things of the past that have no relation to the present moment. This suggests that time is measured by the movement from the valley to the summit of the mountain by now-points that are connected in a linear series. And when a person thinks that time flies away, that person separates himself from time as directly experienced.

In contrast to this everyday comprehension of time, Dogen substitutes primordial time, which he calls being-time (uji). He defines being-time as nonsubstantial, which means that it is not objec­tive and forms a transpersonal basis for all activity without reference to an ego, subject, substance, or object. Being-time is also nonreductionistic, which suggests that it is a unity. Moreover, it is nonan- thropocentric and nondifferentiated, which means in the initial instance that temporality is not lim­ited to human experience because it encompasses both human and the natural, whereas the latter characteristic means that time is a unity of time and existence, truth and time, and is not indepen­dent of existence or beyond it.

Dogen identifies two perspectives, or basic indi­vidual responses to the presence of one’s situation, of being-time. Each of these perspectives is an authentic reflection of the temporal mode of expe­rience stimulated by a situation, and neither is more primary than the other. What Dogen calls nikon (right now) represents the now moment that is a completely spontaneous making present of being-time. This nikon extends simultaneously throughout past, present, and future. The second perspective is kyoryaku (totalistic passage), which refers to the nondirectional, continuing, and con­nected aspect of time that refers to an experiential continuity. This aspect of being-time engages all aspects and dimensions of the past, present, and future here and now and allows for their diversity, variety, and differentiation. Kyoryaku refers also to the continuously creative and regenerating dimension of being-time. Neither of these perspec­tives possesses priority over the other.

The difference between right-now and total passage is a matter of viewing either the surface (nikon) or the cross-section (kyoryaku) of a total temporal phenomenon. If one returns to the meta­phor of mountain climbing, the now-moment (nikon) designates the act of ascent, whereas total- istic passage (kyoryaku) suggests the entire context of human events and the universe. This means that each moment is complete because it includes the full range of multiple perspectives and situations.

Being-time possesses important consequences for Dogen because things and events within the universe are time. Thus Dogen claims that moun­tains, oceans, and grass are time. It also means that time is both temporal and spatial, which implies that they inseparably interpenetrate each other. Moreover, each absolute now moment constitutes a unique whole of actuality, which suggests that the now moment is realized contemporaneously with activity. It can also be asserted that time is activity and activity is time.

If being-time is applied to the (a nondual reality for Dogen), both future and past signify the present. This suggests that the Buddha- nature is not a potentiality to be actualized in the future, but it is rather an actuality in the present. According to Dogen, the being of Buddha-nature is time. This implies that every moment of illusion and every moment of enlightenment contain all of reality. Thus both enlightenment and illusion are Buddha-nature.

Dogen raises an interesting question: Can a person experience being-time? His answer is that we experience neither time nor being in them­selves but rather temporal existence. What Dogen means is that we overcome the perception of things in terms of the three moments of time— past, present, or future. This suggests that we experience a phenomenon just as it is. With such an experience, we encounter a stream of ever­changing phenomena, which means necessarily that prereflective consciousness involves change. This change is located neither in the self nor in the object; rather, it is an aspect of phenomena as they are prereflectively experienced. By accept­ing the experience of change as it is without projecting anything onto it, there is simply an unending experience of flux. But when we proj­ect our experience of change onto some external self, we falsely assume the experiencing self to be unchanging. For Dogen, things cannot be experi­enced independently of change or time, which means that all things and all beings are imperma­nent, and Buddha-nature is the experience of impermanence.

Dogen’s notion of time possesses important implications for his grasp of body and mind, which he also equates with time in a nondualistic way. According to Dogen’s nondual position, mind, body, being, world, and time form a unity. Not only are entities time, and not only is time in me, but activities are time. Thus jumping into water or a pool of mud is equally time.

The unity of time is evident most lucidly in his grasp of Buddha-nature, whose being is time itself. Within the Buddha-nature, both future and past signify the present. Dogen stresses the now moment because there is never a time that has not been or a time that is coming. Therefore, time is a continuous occurrence of “nows.” This makes the Buddha-nature a present actuality and not simply something potential to be actualized in the future. And if every moment of illusion and enlightenment contains all reality, Buddha-nature is both illusion and enlightenment. In summary, Dogen radically temporalizes being, opposes a quantitative view of time, views time as a lived reality, and contends that things and events of the universe are time.

Carl Olson

See also Becoming and Being; , Mahayana; Buddhism, Theravada; Buddhism, Zen; Now, Eternal; Phenomenology of Time


Further Readings

Dogen. (1975-1977, 1983, 1986). Shobogenzo (Vols. 1-4, K. Nishiyama & J. Stevens, Trans.). Tokyo: Nakayama Shobo.

Faure, B. (1991). The rhetoric of immediacy: A cultural critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Kim, H.-J. (1975). Dogen Kigen, mystical realist. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

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