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A Japanese master offers a Zen perspective on the nature of time and being, further exploring the concepts of impermanence, living in the present moment, and more
It’s easy to regard time as a commodity—we even speak of “saving” or “spending” it. We often regard it as an enemy, when we feel it slipping away before we’re ready for time to be up. The Zen view of time is radically different than that: time is not something separate from our life; rather, our life is time. Understand this, says Dainin Katagiri Roshi, and you can live fully and freely right where you are in each moment.
Katagiri bases his teaching on Being Time, a text by the most famous of all Zen masters, Eihei Dogen (1200–1253), to show that time is a creative, dynamic process that continuously produces the universe and everything in it—and that to understand this is to discover a gateway to freedom from the dissatisfactions of everyday life. He guides us in contemplating impermanence, the present moment, and the ungraspable nature of past and future. He discusses time as part of our inner being, made manifest through constant change in ourselves and our surroundings. And these ideas are by no means metaphysical abstractions: they can be directly perceived by any of us through meditation.
Move over, Martin Heidegger. The late Japanese Zen master Katagiri Roshi offers a Zen interpretation of being and time. As text editor Andrea Martin explains in her introduction, the core Buddhist teachings of impermanence and emptiness lend themselves to considerations of time and being. Zen may be anticoncept and nonabstract, but it is certainly pro-insight. So Katagiri explains his understanding of time, based squarely on his interpretation of the work of influential 13th-century Zen master Dogen, whose work has inspired a number of contemporary Zen teachers. But Katagiri is no academic, and the language he uses to express complex ideas is extremely simple ("this is called going into mud and water") and often enthusiastic ("Touch it and bounce!"). The editor has successfully transmitted the oral style that helps make the content accessible. Katagiri conveys a zest for Zen understanding that differs from the calm inscrutability of other Zen Buddhists; he also brings up terms like hope and beauty. Katagiri's statement "I think the purpose of spiritual life is to just go toward the future with great hope" may sound metaphysical, but it comes from a teacher who has spent time on the meditation cushion and applied insight to the day-to-day life that Zen embraces.