Dōgen-Zenji, Japan’s greatest zen master, founder of the Soto School, called this unbidden, but not unwelcome relative-conventional arising of the forms of physical and mental reality “a being-time moment flashing into existence” from the spacious vast expanse of its non-logocentric emptiness (not nothingness) ground. This ground is both relative and ultimate (the “two truths”) reality-being-itself, the unbounded whole that is his nondual Uji, or “Being-Time.” Being-Time is here now, ever-present unity of the timeless three times—past, present, future. Thus there is no endpoint that is final or ultimate liberation/enlightenment. Being-Time reality is our being here now experience. Nothing more. Nothing transcendental. This is the realization. How shall we understand this?
Zen mind. For Dōgen, the present exists for us only in relation to a past and a future. Being-Time is a simultaneous vast array of all three. Thus we live in a single vanishing moment now. Yet, this precious moment now derives its exoteric and esoteric meaning from our intersubjective context of a past and a future. This moment now is profoundly significant because all of our past and future are interdependently, causally enfolded within it. Yes, we live in the unfolding moment, but not only in the moment. To live only in the moment now, without awareness of past and future, is to “make our life meaningless.” Not to live in this moment now is “to lose reality itself.” Echoes of Padmasambhava. What to do?
Dōgen’s radical, straight forward point is this: the crazy wisdom of psycho-spiritual happiness, awakening, enlightenment, liberation—full bodhi—is the continuity of primordial awareness wisdom that sees and then fully engages appearing reality just as it is now; just as the primordial purity of our uncontrived ordinary direct perception presents it, before we think about it; before we defile it with concept and belief. There is no need to transcend conventional reality. There is nothing out there or in here that is better, or more real, or more beautiful, or more blissful. (Dōgen’s collection of essays, Shōbōginzō is highly recommended reading).
This sublime meaning is bestowed upon us—is us—only by fully engaging this crazy world, as Buddha told, “just as it is.” Why? As Nagarjuna reminds us, these two worlds of samsara and nirvana are ultimately (although not relatively) identical. From the view of ultimate truth (paramartha satya) or emptiness (kū, shunyata) they are the same. From the Buddha’s Heart Sutra: “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form” (H.H. the Dalai Lama, The Essence of the Heart Sutra, 2005, is a profound and readable introduction to this Mahayana Madhyamaka Middle Way Buddhist view. Suzuki Roshi, direct spiritual descendent of Dōgen—Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind—is equally, simply profound.)
This then is the “correct” view. To assume or pretend that form and its emptiness base are inherently separate is the relative-conventional dualistic delusion (avidya) in which we “lose reality itself.” The cognitive immediacy of his Mahayana view of Dōgen is analogous to the nondual Vajrayana view of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. How then do we recognize, realize and actualize in compassionate lifeworld conduct this sameness (samata), the paradigmatic unity of these two worlds, these two reality dimensions that are form/matter and emptiness/spirit?
It is through the continuity of practice of the path that we gradually, then suddenly surrender (wu-wei) our conceptual estrangement from reality and awaken to the perfectly present intersubjective interdependent (pratitya samutpada), impermanent (anitya), and selfless (anatman) nature of reality itself, just as it appears, and is now, ontologically prior to our concepts and beliefs about it.
Beginner’s mind. Let us remember here that in such a zen, Dzogchen awakening, “nothing is gained”. We have not gained the realization of our buddha nature. Why? Because we already are this buddha nature. It’s not that all things have buddha nature. All things are buddha nature. So we maintain the awareness that our goal of this ultimate happiness is simply the practice of the path, everything that we do. As Buddha told, “What you are is what you have been; what you will be is what you do now”. As good an explication of karma/action as any.
How do we accomplish this realization? On Dōgen’s account, when we “just sit” (zazen) we can know (kensho/satori) this great trans-conceptual truth of being. Zen patriarch Hui Neng: “This truth lies beyond the mind”. Yet, “The nature of mind is Buddha from the beginning” (Dzogchen founder Garab Dorje).
The three pillars of zen? Great faith, great doubt, great discipline”. So we sit. Then we rise up, and express this truth of being-time through spontaneous compassionate activity toward other beings, who are after all, this very buddha nature. “Everything Buddha”. Then we sit. Heady wine indeed.
Such a realization (satori, moksha) is a gradual emotional, devotional, (bhakti) process of concept/belief deconstruction and surrender of self/ego-I/pride that then facilitates a spontaneous relaxing into our always “primordially present” trans-empirical spacious, basal emptiness ground (kū, Mu, Wu, (dharmakaya, dharmata, cittata, kadag, en soph, etc.). And as Dōgen points out, prior to these dualistic conceptual elaborations and superimpositions (vikshepa) upon this nondual pristine reality, we all do this, all the time, with every perception! Wonder of wonders, we are all “primordially awakened” (vidya/rigpa) to this always “already accomplished” innate and perfect clearlight mind. Our relative and ultimate human happiness require that we understand this radical teaching. “The clearlight mind which lies dormant in human beings, is the great hope of humankind” (H.H. the Dalai Lama). Yet, this numinous, luminous mind nature is adventitiously cloaked (vikshepa) by ignorance (avidya, marigpa, ajnana) of this truth, and our current dualistic, deep background sociocultural concepts and beliefs that result there from. The antidote?
The vector that is foundational mindfulness and insight practice reminds us—moment to moment—of this ever present miracle of being here. Then we become distracted by thinking. Then we surrender our concepts and beliefs, and remember again, “brief moments many times”. In due course, the non-essential, nondual (subject-object unity) continuity of this inherently (sahaja) present zen/dzogchen mindstream (the mindstream of the master) is realized to be inherently present, even in the difficult, beautiful banality of our everyday lifeworld. “To be or not to be?” Such a being-time is “the consummation devoutly to be wished.” Alas, Hamlet had not the tongues of this nondual wisdom of the East. But we do.
Seeing into our own nature. Hence, Dōgen’s profound “being-time” may be relatively, conventionally understood as the conceptually ineffable, but not contemplatively ineffable non-propositional, non-prescriptive luminosity that is our indwelling intrinsic presence (vidya/rigpa) of clearlight awareness. Such cognition is the primordial innate gnosis, sahajajnana, chos ying yeshe that is basal emptiness/dharmakaya source or ground of all of our experience of this interdependently arising spacetime reality. As if they could be separated in the first place.
This vast primordial unbounded whole (mahabindu)—nonlocal, nondual reality- being- itself—is the one truth (aletheia) pragmatically revealing to both conceptual and contemplative cognition, the ultimate kosmic continuum that is the interdependent arising of physical/mental form. Form—human consciousness—participates (plays/lila) in this adventitious adventure that is the relative truth (samvriti satya) of cosmic spacetime as it continuously arises and descends from its trans-rational ultimate truth (paramartha satya) kosmic emptiness base, by whatever name. On this Madhyamaka/Vajrayana view, our “supreme identity” is merely That! That is who we actually are. So, “make the goal the path”.
Here then, each relative spacetime particular human consciousness is at once an instantiation of our nondual, mythopoetic, universal or ultimate consciousness ground. There is no essential difference. The apparent difference between our conceptual and our contemplative cognition is that this subtle, spontaneous meditative contemplative cognition (yogi pratyaksa) recognizes this truth. Discursive conceptual/belief cognition sees merely the concept of this.
To the degree of one’s individual realization this “wisdom of emptiness” spontaneously expresses itself as the wisdom of kindness—compassionate conduct in our everyday lifeworld. The affective or emotional result is the relative happiness of Aristotle’s eudaemonia—human flourishing. Its ultimate result is liberating happiness itself (mahasuka, paramananda, beatitudo). “The difference between a Buddha and an ordinary person is that one recognizes it, the other does not” (Chan/zen Patriarch Hui Neng).
However, let us here remember Dōgen’s caveat regarding the subtle attraction of conceptual epistemic and gnoseological dialectics: “Cease to concern yourself with the dialectics of Being, and instead look into your own mind” (Fukan Zazenji).
Dōgen’s great insight is that prior to the imposition and intervention of conceptual cognition, ordinary direct perception is the luminous primordially pure cognition of our inherent (sahaja), blissful pristine original clearlight mind nature. And this presence (vidya/rigpa) is intrinsically always, already fully present in the perceptual apparatus of the human central and peripheral nervous systems. As H.H. the Dalai Lama told, “Just open the door”.
The gift. Thus is this gift of form—physical, mental, emotional—directly given to us (jinlab, grace) from its emptiness/dharmakaya ground, with no separation at all, absent and free of adventitious conceptual/belief imputation, designation and reification. Then we may choose, or not choose, to conceptually and symbolically unpack what is given directly to our human perception with Dōgen’s great trans-conceptual insight as told in the Buddha’s Heart Sutra: “form is not other than emptiness; emptiness is not other than form.” This prior inherent ontic, epistemic, and phenomenological unity of our human consciousness with nondual being-time primordial consciousness is Dōgen’s great ecumenical reality gift to us.