Bob Schwartz

Tag: time

Dogen and Heschel on Time

Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253) and Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) would have understood each other, liked each other, despite the seven centuries that separate them. Brilliant, visionary and overwhelmingly articulate, they were heirs to two rich traditions, Zen Buddhism and Judaism, which they further refined into pure essence. Their inspired prose is poetry, the poetry of the thing itself.

Both wrote about time in ways that exceed our comprehension by a step or two, so we run to keep up: Dogen most astutely in his essay Uji: The Time Being; Heschel in his book The Sabbath.


When you are at this place, there is just one grass, there is just one form; there is understanding of form and beyond understanding of form; there is understanding of grass and beyond understanding of grass. Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time being is all the time there is. Grass being, form being, are both time.

Each moment is all being, each moment is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment….

Mountains are time. Oceans are time. If they were not time, there would be no mountains or oceans. Do not think that mountains and oceans here and now are not time. If time is annihilated, mountains and oceans are annihilated. As time is not annihilated, mountains and oceans are not annihilated.

Zen Master Dogen, Uji: The Time Being, translated by Dan Welch and Kazuaki Tanahashi, in The Essential Dogen.


Every one of us occupies a portion of space. He takes it up exclusively. The portion of space which my body occupies is taken up by myself in exclusion of anyone else. Yet, no one possesses time. There is no moment which I possess exclusively. This very moment belongs to all living men as it belongs to me. We share time, we own space. Through my ownership of space, I am a rival of all other beings; through my living in time, I am a contemporary of all other beings. We pass through time, we occupy space. We easily succumb to the illusion that the world of space is for our sake, for man’s sake. In regard to time, we are immune to such an illusion.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath.


 

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Eve

Eve

Here it is yesterday
There it is tomorrow next year
Here it is winter
There it will be summer yesterday
An imaginary line spins
Centrifugating billions
Into celebration contemplation
Sleep quiet or restless
The sun laughs
The stars abide

©

Poem, Joke, Etc.: Confused Birds

Confused Birds

These birds are confused
Not angry
Wondering where
The cold winds are.
Exulting in
Extended summer.
What’s time to a bird
Or me?

The line “What’s time to a bird” is borrowed from a favorite joke with a surprisingly philosophical punch line. It goes something like this:

A guy is driving along a country road. He sees a farmer under an oak tree, holding up a pig so the pig can eat acorns. The guy stops. “You know,” the guy says, “it would be a lot easier and take a lot less time if you just shook the tree and let the acorns fall to the ground.” “Maybe,” says the farmer, “but what’s time to a pig?”

More about birds:

In the sky a bird was heard to cry.
Misty morning whisperings and gentle stirring sounds
Belied a deathly silence that lay all around.
Hear the lark and harken to the barking of the dog fox gone to ground.
See the splashing of the kingfisher flashing to the water.
Grantchester Meadow, Pink Floyd

“Well, then, just what does it mean that everybody has the Buddha Mind?…in the course of listening to my talk, if a dog barks outside the temple, you recognize it as the voice of a dog; if a crow caws, you know it’s a crow…you didn’t come with any preconceived idea that if, while I was talking, there were sounds of dogs and birds, children or grown-ups somewhere outside, you were deliberately going to try to hear them. Yet here in the meeting you recognize the noises of dogs and crows outside and the sounds of people talking… the fact that you recognize these things you didn’t expect to see or hear shows you’re seeing and hearing with the Unborn Buddha Mind.”
From Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei

Days of Awesome: Day 1 (Rosh Hashanah)

 

I brought them out of the land of Egypt and I led them into the wilderness. I gave them My laws and taught them My rules, by the pursuit of which a man shall live. Moreover, I gave them My sabbaths to serve as a sign between Me and them, that they might know that it is I the Lord who sanctify them.
Ezekiel 20:10-12 (New Jewish Publication Society translation)

Note from The Jewish Study Bible:

The Sabbath is the foundational sign of the covenant (Exod. 20.8–11; 31.12–17). Scholars have suggested that the Sabbath became particularly significant in the exile, as holy time replaced the vacuum of holy space (the Temple); this might explain why the Sabbath plays such a significant role here. As in Exod. 31.13, 17 (from the Priestly tradition), it is viewed as a sign, namely a symbol acknowledging God as Creator.

Here we are confronted with the phenomenon at the heart of this holiday. At the heart of every holiday. At the heart of religion and reality itself. We are concerned with space. We are concerned with being. We are concerned with time too. But we may not be properly concerned, in a balanced way that accounts for time, space and being.

We can rule space, or at least pretend to. If you visit New York or other great cities, you see how people have shaped space to their liking and purposes. But where in New York or elsewhere have even the richest and most powerful ultimately shaped time? We can mark time, but do we understand? To help us understand, time is set aside. It may be by God, it may be by our society or community, it may be by and for those close to us.

The Sabbath each week, and the Days of Awe each year, are set aside to be different than the other days of the week or of the year. Different in fact than any other days of eternity. In part to remind us of present eternity.

For more, see The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel and The Time-Being by Zen Master Dogen, which can be found in Enlightenment Unfolds.

This is the first post in a very small project/experiment in random wisdom I call The Days of Awesome. In addition to the standard and traditional forms of worship and contemplation associated with the Jewish High Holy Days (also known as Days of Awe), each day of the holiday I will be studying a randomly selected chapter of the Tanakh (also known as the Jewish Bible or the Old Testament), which has 39 books containing a total of 929 chapters.

Among other things, this is inspired by the I Ching and by social theorist and philosopher Gregory Bateson, who is quoted as saying “I am going to build a church someday. It will have a holy of holies and a holy of holy of holies, and in that ultimate box will be a random number table.”

The Goofy Digital Clock

Dali - Persistence of Memory

I have a digital clock that stays in touch with a smart satellite to keep exact time. One way I know this is that last night, when the time switched from Standard Time to Daylight Savings Time, it automatically added an hour.

But here’s the thing. From the beginning, years ago, that digital clock has offered the slightly wrong time. It is slow by seven minutes. Not six or eight. Exactly seven minutes slow. I have pushed every button, slid every switch, plugged and unplugged. It is just plain wrong, in its own idiosyncratic way.

It is an excellent alarm clock otherwise, does a great job at that. Except that all wake up times have to be adjusted by seven minutes.

I could replace it easily and inexpensively. But I’m used to it. And I’ve actually grown fond of the clock’s tiny quirkiness.

There’s a life lesson here. Which you, as I have, can probably figure out.

Approximately Analog Time

Approximately Analog Time

The digital clock is too precise
Four numbers and two dots.
What does it tell me?
What if it’s wrong?
Better the circle
Studded with the dozen
Swept by two lines,
Leaving a little to the imagination,
Not subject to the rule
Of the atomic heartbeat.
Best is the unadorned circle,
Just two hands pointing
Roughly and unevenly
To an approximation.
Admitting that it knows a little
But not much.

Time

Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory

Driving down a country road, a man sees a farmer. The farmer is holding up a pig so that the pig can eat apples from a tree. The man stops and says to the farmer, “You know, that’s not very efficient. If you put the pig down, shook the tree and let the apples fall to the ground, it would save a lot of time.” The farmer says, “You may be right, but what’s time to a pig?”


The result of our thinginess is our blindness to all reality that fails to identify itself as a thing, as a matter of fact. This is obvious in our understanding of time, which, being thingless and insubstantial, appears to us as if it had no reality.

Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, except to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space. As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face. Time to us is sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives. Shrinking, therefore, from facing time, we escape for shelter to things of space. The intentions we are unable to carry out we deposit in space; possessions become the symbols of our repressions, jubilees of frustrations. But things of space are not fireproof; they only add fuel to the flames. Is the joy of possession an antidote to the terror of time which grows to be a dread of inevitable death? Things, when magnified, are forgeries of happiness, they are a threat to our very lives; we are more harassed than supported by the Frankensteins of spatial things.

It is impossible for man to shirk the problem of time. The more we think the more we realize: we cannot conquer time through space. We can only master time in time.

Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Sabbath


At the time the mountains were climbed and the rivers were crossed, you were present. Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.

As time is not marked by coming and going, the moment you climbed the mountains is the time being right now. If time keeps coming and going, you are the time being right now. This is the meaning of the time being.

Does this time being not swallow up the moment when you climbed the mountains and the moment when you resided in the jeweled palace and vermilion tower? Does it not spit them out?

Zen Master Dogen
The Time-Being
The Essential Dogen

Notes on Interstellar

Interstellar

1

Christopher Nolan’s movie Interstellar is more interesting than it is imperfect. See it if you like space movies, sci-fi movies, intellectually curious movies, spectacular movies, etc.

It is filled with wonders. It is like the car trunk stuffed with luggage for a vacation, so much colorful and significant luggage creatively crammed in that when you open it on arrival you say: Wow, I wonder how we ever got all that stuff in there?

No spoilers here, but a couple of things.

Look for all the tiny (and not so tiny) echoes of space and sci-fi movies past. Star Wars, Close Encounters, etc., but most of all 2001. Why not? Right now, “they” are probably having a good 5th dimensional laugh watching Stanley Kubrick’s proto-human apes tossing that bone.

Interstellar has the most subtly cool robots ever. TARS doesn’t sing like HAL, but he has moves like Jagger and is great with the snappy patter.

2

The movie is much about cosmology—the origin and nature of existence. Cosmology is the domain of all kinds of people, including religionists and philosophers. But in greater part, we have handed over many of those considerations, as in this movie, to theoretical physicists—Einstein, Hawking, etc. I am a big fan of cosmology.

It is not a spoiler to mention that plenty of people, including some in this movie, believe that the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked. Which raises this way-out-there question: What if the moon landing was real but all the cosmological theoretical physics is faked? Going back before Einstein, theoretical physics spends much of its time (as we understand it) looking for physical proof of those theories. What if all the theory is so utterly astounding and enlightening that when the evidence failed to support it, all the scientists engaged in the study conspired to make it seem as if those theories are supported?

Faking the moon landing mission has never been put entirely to rest because, in fact, only three people experienced it first-hand. Everyone else was second-hand or more distanced from the actuality. But the basic elements of it are well within our understanding: astronauts, rocket, spaceship, lunar lander, moon, television pictures. The cosmological speculation and supporting discoveries are so far beyond anything that most of us can fully—or slightly—grasp that we could easily be fooled into taking it for “reality.”

By the way, for those wondering about the earnestness of all that, be assured that I am just playing. Or am I?

3

We don’t have to be space pilots to experience cosmology, or be theoretical physicists or movie directors to think about it. Cosmology is ordinary. Interstellar and other movies and thousands of works of art and literature point to this. Everybody is a cosmologist, like it or not.

Cosmology is an excellent topic that does not necessarily require specialized knowledge. You may not know a worm hole from a black hole. But you already know a ton about time, space, being, and gravity. You just have to know how to know and that you know.

This is from an essay almost 800 years old. No more or less spectacular than Interstellar, it is no more or less a non-theoretical description:

Do not think that time merely flies away. Do not see flying away as the only function of time. If time merely flies away, you would be separated from time. The reason you do not clearly understand the time being is that you think of time only as passing.

In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being….

You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives. Although understanding itself is time, understanding does not depend on its own arrival.

People only see time’s coming and going, and do not thoroughly understand that the time being abides in each moment. Then, when can they penetrate the barrier? Even if people recognized the time being in each moment, who could give expression to this recognition? Even if they could give expression to this recognition for a long time, who could stop looking for the realization of the original face? According to an ordinary person’s view of the time being, even enlightenment and nirvana as the time being would be merely aspects of coming and going….

Mountains are time. Oceans are time. If they were not time, there would be no mountains or oceans. Do not think that mountains and oceans here and now are not time. If time is annihilated, mountains and oceans are annihilated. As time is not annihilated, mountains and oceans are not annihilated.

Dogen
The Time Being (1240)
Treasury of the True Dharma Eye

The Sabbath: To Have and To Do Without

Abraham Joshua Heschel

“To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshiping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature—is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man’s progress than the Sabbath?

“The solution of mankind’s most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence of it.

“In regard to external gifts, to outward possessions, there is only one proper attitude—to have them and to be able to do without them. On the Sabbath we live, as it were, independent of technical civilization: we abstain primarily from any activity that aims at remaking or reshaping the things of space. Man’s royal privilege to conquer nature is suspended on the seventh day.”

The Sabbath
Abraham Joshua Heschel

Republican Jewish Coalition and the Sabbath

Republican Jewish Coalition Spring Leadership 2014

It’s Saturday, the Sabbath in Jewish communities. Why is this Sabbath different than all other Sabbaths?

Because on this Sabbath Sheldon Adelson’s Republican Jewish Coalition is continuing its three-day Spring Leadership Meeting, including a galaxy of political and policy stars looking for support, prestige, power, and money, including:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Ohio Governor John Kasich
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Vice President Dick Cheney
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer
Ambassador John Bolton

It’s true that the majority of American Jews don’t fully honor the Sabbath as a time for rest, reflection, and study. It’s also true that some number of those do try in small ways to live in the spirit of the Sabbath. Where Sheldon Adelson and the RJC sit on this spectrum of Sabbath observance and honor is between them and their God and their party.

One of the things that most non-Jews and many Jews don’t recognize is the complex significance of the Sabbath. The year is filled with special days, some regarded as very serious, very important and, in the case of the High Holidays, literally awesome. The Sabbath, though, stands apart, characterized as a beloved or royalty, as a bride or queen.

The great, deep and inspiring Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote an incomparable work on the nature and meaning of this. The Sabbath presents a spiritual picture of what he calls sacred time. The book is considered by readers of all faiths and even no faith an uplifting view of how we are to live in the context of such a powerful reality.

It would be presumptuous to say whether the late Dr. Heschel, who among his many achievements marched with Martin Luther King in Selma almost fifty years ago, would attend the RJC Spring Leadership Meeting. In any case, most likely not the RJC on the Sabbath.

Although the RJC will be holding its political beauty pageant today, they still might have a moment to squeeze in some Heschel. This passage from the Epilogue of The Sabbath is out of context, and not so easy to appreciate on its own. It does have something to say about space, which can be owned and fought over, and time, sacred time, in which we are all joined and connected and sharing—no matter who you are, no matter how many casinos you own, no matter how big your PAC:

Time, then, is otherness, a mystery that hovers above all categories. It is as if time and the mind were a world apart. Yet, it is only within time that there is fellowship and togetherness of all beings.

Every one of us occupies a portion of space. He takes it up exclusively. The portion of space which my body occupies is taken up by myself in exclusion of anyone else. Yet, no one possesses time. There is no moment which I possess exclusively. This very moment belongs to all living men as it belongs to me. We share time, we own space. Through my ownership of space, I am a rival of all other beings; through my living in time, I am a contemporary of all other beings. We pass through time, we occupy space. We easily succumb to the illusion that the world of space is for our sake, for man’s sake. In regard to time, we are immune to such an illusion.