Spring and Dogen's Being-Time
(Mark Frank)

[Being-time] is the actualization of being. Heavenly beings like gods and celestials are being-time. All the things in the water and on land are being-time. The world of life and death and everything in them is being-time; it continually exists, actualizing itself in your present experience. Everything exists in the present within yourself. 
Continuous existence is not like the rain blown by the wind east and west. Continuous existence is the entire world acting through itself. Consider this illustration: When it is spring in one area, it is spring everywhere in the surrounding area. Spring covers the entire area. Spring is only spring; it does not presuppose winter or summer. It is the actualization of the wind and sunshine of spring. Continuous existence is like this. But continuous existence is not spring; rather, the continuous existence of spring is spring (Nishiyama, 1975, p. 70).
Cherry blossom viewing in a Yokohama, Japan park

We are presently experiencing a cold snap here in my hometown, after being teased with a spate of warmer weather – an occurrence that certainly has many yearning for the arrival of spring. But that which we call ‘spring’ neither arrives nor departs. To think of the coming and going of spring, and time, is to think of time in the ordinary way—as something that passes. But if spring is something that passes, it must go somewhere. If time is something that passes, and we are time, then we must go somewhere—and yet we remain.

“Continuous existence is the entire world acting through itself.” What we call ‘spring’ is the entire world acting through itself. The entire world is neither arriving nor departing. The entire world is the sun and earth actualizing being-time, engaging in a spinning dance of nearness and farness. The entire world is the earth actualizing its being-time, now showing this face to the sun and now another. The entire world is life in all of its forms actualizing being-time in the present moment as all of life has actualized being-time in the present moment for eons and eons. The actualization of being-time includes warmth and rain and rising sap, buds and blossoms and birds building nests. The actualization of being-time includes the emotion and wonder of human beings gathering to enjoy that which we call ‘spring.’ But continuous existence cannot be contained or constrained by the word and concept of ‘spring’. Only “the continuous existence of spring is spring.”

Elsewhere in Uji, Dogen invokes a variation on the now well-known koan related to a monk asking his teacher, Joshu, the reason for Bodhidharma having come from the west. Bodhidharma, by the way, was the monk of Indian birth who is considered the first patriarch of Chinese Zen, or Ch’an. In the more well-known version, Joshu responds: “Cypress tree in the garden.” In Dogen’s telling of the story, however, we have a conversation between two Zen Masters, Yakusan and Daijaku, the latter with an apparently deeper realization than the former.
[Yakusan] asks, “I have more or less clarified the import of the three vehicles and the twelve divisions of the teaching. But just what is the ancestral master’s intention in coming from the west?” 
Thus questioned, Zen Master Daijaku says, “Sometimes I make him [Daijaku refers to himself] lift an eyebrow or wink an eye, and sometimes I do not make him lift an eyebrow or wink an eye; sometimes to make him lift an eyebrow or wink an eye is right, and sometimes to make him lift an eyebrow or wink an eye is not right.” 
Hearing this, Yakusan realizes a great realization and says to Daijaku, “In Sekito’s order I have been like a mosquito that climbed onto an iron ox.” (Nishijima, 2009, pp. 147-148).
Given the context, I think we can safely conclude that Dogen considers Daijaku’s response to have conveyed his understanding of being-time – as does, for that matter, “cypress tree in the garden.” Just as the being-time of the cypress tree reflects the deepest truth of the entirety of the universe, and just as the being-time of the sun and earth and all that lives in or on it or rains down upon it encompasses that which we call ‘spring,’ so the being-time of Bodhidharma and all those who intently practiced the Dharma with him in China encompassed that which we might call a Zen ‘spring’ on the Asian continent. But if that is what Daijaku intended to convey, why didn’t he just say it? What’s with all of this raising of eyebrows and winking – or not? My understanding is that Daijaku is conveying his understanding of Bodhidharma’s being-time by relating the truth of his own being-time, and by doing so, relating the truth of being-time in general. If he’d replied by saying “cypress tree in the garden” (someone else’s answer), Yakusan would not have understood Daijaku’s response as the deepest expression of his own understanding which, itself, is always changing, always evolving, never absolute – being-time. And so it is that Daijaku sometimes “make[s] him lift an eyebrow or wink an eye.” Daijaku is conveying the reality that being-time is the moment-to-moment “actualization of being.” He is conveying the reality that “continuous existence is the entire world acting through itself.”

But that is not quite all there is to Daijaku’s understanding of being-time. By his own admission, that answer is sometimes correct and sometimes incorrect. Being-time encompasses enlightenment as well as delusion. Perhaps Bodhidharma himself, if we could ask him why it was that he came from the west, would respond very much as did Daijaku: “Sometimes I head east, and sometimes I head west;  sometimes to head east is right, and sometimes to head east is not right.” Such is being-time.

Sometimes spring arrives ‘right on time’ and sometimes spring is ‘late.’ Sometimes spring comes ‘early’ and with it the awakening of myriad beings which then freeze or whither or starve. This, too, is being-time. To say that spring has made a mistake or that all of those myriad beings have been mistaken is to not understand being-time. Arriving early is being-time. Arriving late is being-time. Heading east with the intention of heading east is being-time. Heading east with no intention whatsoever is being-time as well.

Cherry Blossoms and Temple Cat

Read the entire post on Mark's blog, http://crossingnebraska.blogspot.com/2013/01/dogens-being-time-part-2.html

Cherry blossoms in Mitsuzawa-park at Yokohama, Japan by Kounosu via:

Temple cat amongst cherry blossoms by Tanakawho via:

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