The Two Truths are Dōgen’s Being-Time
Dōgen Zenji, Japan’s greatest Zen master, spoke of the emerging dimension of relative time and its phenomenal contents—the spacetime dimension of Relative Truth (samvriti satya)—as “a being-time moment flashing into existence” from vast spacious expanse of non-logocentric boundlessness (shunyata), clear light of our basal primordial ground state. This base is merely nondual ultimate reality-being-itself—the all-embracing dimension of Ultimate Truth (paramartha satya). We cognitively ambulate in the unity of these Two Truth dimensions.
Dōgen’s Ugi, or Being-Time is the nondual presence of this unity of being and time. To be is to be impermanent (anitya), yet to have a past and a future. To be is to be present now to this present unity of Buddhist Madhyamaka Two Truths, with its “three times”—past, present, future. Subject/object duality is dropped. Through such awakening we see, not some greater reality ground beyond time, but the great perfection of all arising within it, here and now.
For Dōgen’s subtle panpsychic Zen mind—and for Padmasambhava—this eternally present now exists for us only relative to a past and a future. Being-Time/Ugi is a simultaneous array of all three. Thus, we live in a single vanishing instant now. Yet, this precious moment now derives its meaning from the inter-subjective context of a personal, and even collective
past and future. This momentous moment now is so significant because all of our past and future are interdependently, causally enfolded within it, while simultaneously unfolding in the timeless continuum of this ever present now. Yes, we live in the moment, but not only in the moment. To live only in the moment now, without awareness of past and future—karma—is to “make our life meaningless”. Not to live in this moment now, is “to lose reality itself”. Relatively, time/change is objectively real; ultimately, time is subjective and illusory (Boaz 2015 a).
Philosophers of physics and cosmology, if not always physicists and cosmologists, are now discovering a post-eternalist (physics’ block universe) Buddhist presentism (only now is real) in Dōgen’s syncretic view of the unity of objective form/time and subjective emptiness. Self-reflexive “open presence” of that unbounded whole, reality itself, is the very nature of mind.
Dōgen’s great insight is this: prior to the superimposition (vikshepa) of dualistic conceptual cognition—the separate self—ordinary direct perception bestows our inherent (sahaja), immediate, “primordially pure” clear light mind nature, ultimate ground substrate of relative-conventional experience. In Dzogchen “bare attention” of basal “naked awareness”, this “space between two thoughts”—an instant prior to subject/object split with its conceptual imputation/reification—abides trans-rational noetic reality itself. This pristine clear light awareness opens into primordial wisdom ground (gzhi rigpa)—”open presence” of that. Buddha told, all that arises is “perfect as it is”, “primordially pure” from the very beginning. Thus our original contemplative injunction: train your mind to be fully present to that.
Immediate perception, an instant prior to conception, is pure unadorned immaculate perception. And we all do this with every breath (prana)! Wonder of wonders, we are all “primordially awakened” (bodhi, vidya) to this always “already accomplished” innate and perfect clear light mind; our selfless Buddha mind. The rub? We must recognize, then awaken (bodhi) to this perfectly subjective Ultimate Truth. How do we do this? We consult the experts, the masters, and follow their wisdom injunctions, of course. HH The Dalai Lama (2009) told it, “The clear light mind which lies dormant in human beings is the great hope of humankind”.
For Dōgen, there is always, through all of our cognitive states—perceptual, conceptual, emotional, and trans-conceptual contemplative—an ontic prior unity of past, present, future, already being here now. Once again, we must learn to be present to the in-dwelling, nondual noetic presence of that, by whatever name. Contemplative mindfulness practice is a beginning.
Dōgen asked his Chinese master Ju ching, “If there is no self, who is it, this ever present Buddha mind that I am?” Said the master, “To understand, drop body and mind”. When Dōgen had dropped body and mind, the master spoke, “Body and mind have dropped. Now drop dropping”. Dōgen understood, and prostrated. Said the master, “Now that’s dropping dropped.” Who is it? All is Buddha mind; ever free of any essential, permanent self-nature.
We cannot become Buddha mind. We are already Buddha mind! Seeking happiness is a kind of unhappiness. Happiness is not the goal. Compassionate bodhicitta is not the goal. Thus we make this very Path our goal. Buddha told, “Don’t believe what I teach; just come and see”.