Being-Time, Instantaneousness, and Eternal Buddhas

In Shobogenzo, Hotsu-bodaishin, Dogen outlines the meaning and significance of the continuous, ongoing practice-realization that Bodhisattvas (Buddhist practitioners) take up with the Four Great Vows. In a marvelously creative illustration of the Bodhisattva intention “to deliver others before we ourselves attain deliverance”, Dogen discusses the nature of a “ksana” (an unimaginably short measure of time) to reveal the inevitably endless, profoundly ambiguous, and sublime majesty of such a task. 

In the passing of one day and one night there are six billion, four hundred million, ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty ksana, [in each of which] all five aggregates arise and vanish, but common people never sense or know it. Because they do not sense or know it, they do not establish the bodhi- mind. Those who do not know the Buddha-Dharma and do not believe the Buddha-Dharma do not believe the principle of instantaneous arising and vanishing. One who clarifies the Tathagata’s right Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana inevitably believes this principle of instantaneous arising and vanishing. Meeting now the Tathagata’s teaching, we feel as if we clearly understand, but we are merely aware of periods of a tatksana or longer, and we only believe the principle to be true. Our failure to clarify and failure to know all the dharmas that the World-honored One taught is like our failure to know the length of a ksana: students must never carelessly become proud. We are not only ignorant of the extremely small; we are also ignorant of the extremely large. And yet, even ordinary beings, when we rely on the power of the Tathagata’s truth, see the three-thousandfold-world. In sum, as we pass from living existence into middle existence, and from middle existence into the next living existence, all things move in a continuous process, ksana by ksana. Thus, regardless of our own intentions, and led by past behavior, the cycle of life and death continues without stopping for a single ksana. With the body-mind that is swept like this through life and death, we should establish at once the bodhi-mind which is the will to deliver others before we ourselves attain deliverance.

Shobogenzo, Hotsu-bodaishin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

While Dogen certainly intends to convey the need for practitioners to understand that “being ever-deluded” is simply an inescapable condition human life (as he reveals throughout his works), pondering this, I cannot help feeling a definite sense of humility and gratitude.

Unmon once said, “Everyone has a light, when you try to see it, it is dark, dark. What is everyone’s light?”

Answering for his assembly, Unmon said, “The pantry, the gate.” He added, “A good thing is not as good as nothing.”

Then there is that marvelous koan about the water-buffalo going through the window. “His head, horns, and body pass through; why can’t his tail pass through?”


A monk asked Unmon, “What is ‘particle-particle samadhi’?

Unmon said, “Rice in the bowl, water in the bucket.”

Dogen said:

Life in the present exists in this pivot-state, and this pivot-state exists in life in the present.

Shobogenzo, Zenki, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

I bow in gratitude to the Eternal Buddhas–where else could they be but in the present ksana?

Peace, Ted

2 thoughts on “Being-Time, Instantaneousness, and Eternal Buddhas”

  1. Hi Pete,

    Thanks for this. All I can say is Yes, Yes!

    From a student/practitioner perspective, the advances in quantumn physics and cosmology (much of which was already implied in the Upanishads and deeply explored throughout the history of Buddhism’s development) is very inspiring. From a more objective perspective, I sense a great “upaya” or “expedient means” potential in the developing “scientific language” (of experiential proof, verifiable data, etc.). Whether discussing the implications of Einstein, or Bell, of Fienstein or Bohm, I have frequently found “mutual” ground for the communication of Zen/Buddhist teachings and experiences that would otherwise have reached and impasse.

    As for the whole Emptiness/Form, Time/Existence question, I am personally very intrigued by the implications of recent cosmological/physics theories surrounding the “Higgs Field” attempt to solve the question concerning observences suggesting that all the “particles” of our universe had 0 (zero) mass moments after the Big Bang.

    In the words from a summary at CERN:

    “As the Universe cooled and the temperature fell below a critical value, an invisible force field called the ‘Higgs field’ was formed together with the associated ‘Higgs boson’. The field prevails throughout the cosmos: any particles that interact with it are given a mass via the Higgs boson. The more they interact, the heavier they become, whereas particles that never interact are left with no mass at all.”

    One reason for my own excitement is the completion of “Large Hadron Collider” at CERN (after over 20 years of construction). One of the first things that should be able to be discovered is whether or not the “Higgs Field” is a ‘real’ characteristic of the universe or not (by discovering the presence, or lack thereof, of the Higgs “Bosun”). Again, to summarize (and simplify), here are some words from CERN:

    “This idea provided a satisfactory solution and fitted well with established theories and phenomena. The problem is that no one has ever observed the Higgs boson in an experiment to confirm the theory. Finding this particle would give an insight into why particles have certain mass, and help to develop subsequent physics. The technical problem is that we do not know the mass of the Higgs boson itself, which makes it more difficult to identify. Physicists have to look for it by systematically searching a range of mass within which it is predicted to exist. The yet unexplored range is accessible using the Large Hadron Collider, which will determine the existence of the Higgs boson. If it turns out that we cannot find it, this will leave the field wide open for physicists to develop a completely new theory to explain the origin of particle mass.”

    Here is a link to CERN:

    All in all, some pretty intriguing (even insightful) stuff.

    Thanks again.


  2. Hello Ted

    This abbidhamma based speculation on the nature of an instant is starting to resonate with present day physicists and cosmologists, although they miss some of what they acually discover!

    In a recent lecture here, famous Afro-American physicist Dr. S. James Gates had me constantly yelling (internally) “yes! yes! go there!” only to have him pass on by the salient points.

    It seems that when one resolves “reality” to a very small focus, mathematics dissolves! Emptiness! Of course, mathematics being dualistic in foundation. Watching folks like Dr Gates, full of awareness and love, exploring this stuff with an open mind is wonderful and gives hope that insight will arise with time.

    Here’s the link, if you have a spare hour or so.



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