‘The reason you do not clearly understand the time-being is that you think of time only as passing. In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments. Because all moments are the time-being, they are your time-being.‘ Dogen
Time can measured in seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, months, semesters, years and, more poetically, by the full moons, the seasons, what trees are in flower, what animals and birds are breeding or migrating, and our birthdays. But although measuring time is useful, what is being measured, really?
Digging into this question might heal us from the epidemic of sickness in our society that arises from time-pressure, exhausting our adrenals and kicking in anxiety and depression. When Tony and I were on pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hanh in India, I vividly recall him saying to our group, when some were desperate to go sari-shopping in the local market, ‘Why be in such a hurry? We’re all heading for the same destination!’
Heading for the same destination, indeed, but how will we travel – what will we see and hear? What will we be deaf and blind to? How will we embody the Buddha’s Way? Each of us makes our Bodhisattva Vows. Each of us has the intention to slow down, to practice compassion and loving kindness, to respond rather than to react.
Slowing down is a practice, especially in the time-poor universe most of us live in – hurry, hurry, hurry – so inured to the pressure of time that we’re unaware of the accelerator triggering adrenalin that surges through our bodies. We’re too intent on beating the clock, ticking off the to-do list, cutting it fine. What we forget is that under pressure of time, our responses become reactions, and that we may lash out in reaction – forgetting that actions – verbal or physical – which erupt from a place of greed, hatred or ignorance, add to the toxins in our society. We vow to abandon them, but let’s not forget what primes them – what conditions give rise to them.
Let’s notice the greed arising for experiences or things, knowing how an over-busy life engenders impatience and irritation, and vow to do less, to consume less; on the roads, let’s vow to be mindful of Thay’s words: ‘Why are you in such a hurry? We’re all heading for the same destination.’
Let’s vow to rest more, to pause, to breathe and to smile. To recognise when we’re overdosing on social media and watch less, listen less, read less. The media cycle will continue without us.
Let’s vow to recognise when we feel impatient – even when we’re doing zazen there may be moments when we think, ‘I could be doing – whatever – instead of sitting here wasting time on a cushion.’ Wasting time? Wasting time is impossible because you ARE time. All that we can waste is ourselves, our precious lives. Why would we do that? Each moment of our life is the only time we are actually alive. We have time because we are time.
Joanna Macy, the American Buddhist scholar and change-maker, and still teaching in her late 80’s, has created these five vows, or commitments, which may resonate with some of you as the New Year approaches. They are essentially no other than the Bodhisattva Vows and Precepts, created for participants in her ‘Active Hope’ workshops. Moving towards another New Year, I vow to myself and each of you:
To commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.
To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products and energy I consume.
To draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, the future beings, and my brothers and sisters of all species.
To support each other in our work for the world and to ask for help when I feel the need.
To pursue a daily practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart and supports me in observing these vows.
Our practice opens up the capacity to absorb whatever comes our way and hold it so that we don’t endanger others. That’s why we maintain our daily practice of zazen.
Dogen Zenji said, ‘Don’t think that time merely flies away. Don’t see flying away as being 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. In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments. Because all moments are the time-being, they are your time-being.’
These Encouraging Words were written by Gillian Coote, roshi and published in the SZC December 2018/ January 2019 Newsletter