Zen in daily life

Zen teacher Dogen and the Soto approach to Zen

Uji (about Time)

Written by zen master Dogen Zenji translated by Prof. Masunaga Reiho

Translated in Soto Approach to Zen by Prof. Masunaga Reiho, Chapter 5, Layman Buddhist Society Press, 1958.


In this essay Dogen presents his unique idea on Time. Although Dogen has touched on this subject elsewhere, he gives it the most detailed treatment in Uji. Dogen wrote Uji in the early winter of 1240 when he was 41 years old. At that time he was staying at Koshoji in the suburbs of Kyoto.

Text (Uji)

The Zen master (Yueh-shan) says: Standing on the peak of a high mountain is uji. Diving to the bottom of the deep ocean is uji. The one with three heads and eight arms is uji. He who stands one jo and six or eight shaku is uji. The staff and hossu are uji. The pillar and lamp are uji. You and your neighbor are uji. The great earth and vast sky are uji. This uji means that time is existence and that all existence is time.

The golden body of one jo six shaku is time. Because it is time, there are the ornaments and lights of time. So we must study the 12 hours confronting us. It is time that draws out the body with three heads and eight arms. Because it is time, it interpenetrates with the present 12 hours. Though we have not yet measured the span of 12 hours, we call it 12 hours. Because time's transit leaves traces, man does not doubt it. Though he does not doubt, he does not understand. Because the ordinary man does not think from the deep ground, he of course doubts all things that he does not fully understand. For this reason, his future doubts never harmonize with his present doubts. And even doubt is nothing but a part of time.

There is no world without this doubting self, for this self is the world itself. We must look on everything in this world as time. Each thing stands in unimpeded relation just as each moment stands unimpeded. Therefore, (from the standpoint of time) the desire for enlightenment arises spontaneously; (from the standpoint of mind) time arises with the same mind. This applies also to training and enlightenment. Thus we see by entering within: the self is time itself.

Such being the truth, we must learn that there are many appearances and grasses throughout the earth and that each grass and each appearance are not apart from the entire earth. Holding this view is the point of departure for training. When we reach this sphere of our journey's end, there is one grass and one appearance. We sometimes meet the appearance and sometimes not; some times we meet the glass and sometimes not. (In this way training and enlightenment vary.) Because it is only time of this sort, uji is all time, and each grass and each appearance are time. In each moment there are all existences and all worlds. Try to think - Are any existences or worlds separated from time?

For ordinary people who do not know Buddhism, the following thought occurs when they hear the word "uji". At one time the Buddha was active with three heads and eight arms and at another time he was one jo and six or eight shaku. As he crossed rivers and mountains; the mountain and river - we have passed there and dwelt in this stately palace; they are individuated mountain-river and I and heaven and earth.

But time is not merely this. When climbing such mountains and crossing such rivers, I am present, and if I am, time is. Since I am here now, time cannot be separated from me. If time does not have the form of coming and going, the moment of climbing the mountain is the eternal now. If time takes the form of coming and going, I have the eternal now - this also is uji. Doesn't the time of climbing the mountain and crossing the river swallow the time of dwelling in the stately palace? Doesn't the time of dwelling in the stately palace throw up the time climbing the mountain and crossing the river? Three heads and eight arms are yesterday's one jo and six or eight shaku is today's time. But what we call yesterday and today are actually one time, just as when we go suddenly into the mountains and see myriad peaks at one glance. Time itself does now flow. Even (yesterday's) three heads and eight arms pass by as our uji: it looks like it is over there, but it is now. Even (today's) one jo and six or eight shaku passes by as our uji; it looks like it is over there, but it is now. So the pine tree is time; the bamboo is time. Do not think that time merely flies by. Do not learn that flying by is the only function of time. For if you recognize time as flying by, there is an interval (between going and coming). The truth of uji is not truly grasped because time is understood as only passing.

Ultimately all existences are linked and become time. Because, it is uji, it is my personal time. Uji has the trait of continuity. It goes from today to tomorrow, from today to yesterday, from yesterday to today, from today to today, and from tomorrow to tomorrow. Because continuity is a characteristic of time, time past and time present do not pile up. Because there is no lining up and congestion, Seigen (Ch'ing-yuan) is time; Obaku (Huang-po) is time; Kosei (Ma-tsu) is time; Sekito (Shih-t'ou) is time. Because the self and others are already time, training and enlightenment are time. Similarly entering mud and water (entering society) is time. He is said that the present views of ordinary people and the causal relation of their views are what ordinary people see. But this is really not the law of ordinary people. The Law merely puts ordinary people into temporary causal relations. Because we learn that this time and this existence are not the law, we think that the one-jo-six-shaku golden body is not ourselves. We try to escape the fact that we are the one-jo-six-shaku golden body. Even in this case we are a part of uji: those who are not yet enlightened are a part of uji.

The horse (12 o'clock) and sheep (one o'clock), lined up in order in the present world, are indicated by the fixation of time rising and falling. The mouse (6 o'clock) is time; the tiger (8 o'clock) is time. All beings are time; Buddhas are time. Then gods in the heavens enlighten the world with their three heads and eight arms; Buddhas enlighten the world with their one-jo and six-shaku golden body. To transcend the active and passive is called penetrating the world. Becoming the true Buddha is manifested in search, in training, in enlightenment, in Nirvana. This is existence-and time. There is only the thorough studying of all time as all existence; there is nothing else. Because delusions are delusions, half-studied uji is the study of half-uji. Even a mistakenly seen body is existence (and time). And if you leave it at mistake, embracing the before and after of expressions of mistake, you dwell in uji. Working freely in your own situation - this is uji. Do not hesitate, thinking it is nothing - nor go out of your way to consider it all. Most people think that time is only transitory. They do not understand that it dwells in its own situation. Their idea can be called time, but it is mistaken. Seeing time as transitory, they cannot penetrate to the fact the uji dwells its own situation. How can such people find liberation! Even though recognizing that time dwells in its own situation, who can express such freedom? Even if you can express this attainment over a long period, you still are groping for your natural face. If you think of uji in the common way, even wisdom and enlightenment become only appearances in time coming and going.

Uji arises, free from desire. It materializes now here, now there. Even the king of heaven and his retainers are not separated from uji manifested. Other beings on land and in water also arise from uji. All things in darkness and light arise from uji. These manifestations become the time process. Not a single thing arises apart from uji. You must not think that continuity passes from east to west like a storm. All worlds are not immovable; nor are they stationary - this is continuity. It is like spring; in spring there are events, and these are called continuity. You must realize that there is nothing outside of continuity; for example, the continuity of spring always continues spring. You must understand in detail that although continuity is not spring, it is fulfilled at the time of this spring because it is the continuity of spring. Ordinary people think that continuity is beyond and that it passes east through many worlds and ones. This view shows lack of training.

Zen master Yakusan Kodo (Yueh-shan Hung-tae), on the advice of Zen master Wu-chi (Sekito-Shih-t'ou), visited Zen master Chiang-hsi Ta-chi (Ma-tsu Tao-i). He said: I have studied nearly all the 12 teachings of the three vehicles. What is the meaning of the patriarch's coming from the West? Chiang-hsi Ta-chi answered: Some times I make the Buddha raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes. Sometimes I do not make him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes. Sometimes it is good to make him do these things. Sometimes it is not good to make him do these things. What do you think of this? When he heard this, Yueh-shan was enlightened, and he said to Ta chi: When I was at the Zen monastery of Shih t'ou, it was like a mosquito trying to bite an iron bull. What Ta-chi is trying to say is not the same as what the others are trying to say. Raising the eyebrows is the mountain and ocean. Because the mountain and ocean are raising the eyebrows - to do this act - you should truly see the form of the mountain. If you would grasp the meaning of the blinking, you should truly see the ocean. This and that are accustomed to each other; the active is introduced to the passive- and is one. Not-good is not always no-good. These are all uji. The mountain is time; the ocean is time. If they were not, there would be no mountain and no ocean. You cannot say that there is no time in the absolute present of the mountain and ocean. If time decays, the mountain and ocean will decay. If time does not decay, the mountain and ocean do not decay. Through this principle (the self-identity of time and things) eyes appear the plucked flower appears - this is time. If it is not, all this is not.

Zen master Kuei-hsing was a follower of the Rinzai school and a disciple of Shou-shan Hsing nien. To the assembled trainees he said: Sometimes the will reaches there but words do not. Sometimes words reach there but the will does not. Sometimes both the will and words reach there. Sometimes neither the will nor words reach there. Both the will and words are uji; reaching and not reaching are both uji. Although when reaching there, it is incomplete, when not reaching there, it is already here. (Reaching there and time are different.) The will is the donkey, words the horse. The horse means words, the donkey will. Reaching is not coming; not reaching is not, not coming. Uji is like that. Reaching is hindered by reaching and not hindered by not reaching. Not reaching is hindered by not reaching and not hindered by reaching. As for will, through will, we penetrate will; as for words, through words, we penetrate words. As for hindrance, through hindrance, we penetrate hindrance; hindrance hinders hindrance - this is time. Hindrance is used by other things, but there is no hindrance that hinders other things. I meet people; people meet people; I meet myself; and departure meets departure. This would not be if they did not share time. Will is the time of the Koan in daily life; words are the time of the supreme key (to truth); reaching is the time of wholeness (total appearance); not reaching is the time of contact with this and of separation from this. You must understand this and experience it.

Although Zen masters up to now have said all this, I must repeat it. I must say: Will and words that half reach are uji; will and words that half do not reach are uji. This is the way we should study. Making him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes is half uji; making him raise his eye brows and blink his eyes is full uji; not making him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes is half uji; not making him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes is full uji. To study this and experience it and not to study this and experience it are both the time of uji.