I practiced Zazen at the Soto Zen temple Chuo-ji in Sapporo, Japan. When I first started I had to get used to all the aches and pains of sitting in the half lotus position (for, what to me, were long periods of time), to my legs becoming numb, and that irritating itch that develops just when you feel you are beginning to settle down. I also had to learn to quit chasing my thoughts one right after another. You know like “It is a little cold in here….I wish I had brought my jacket….Darn, I left it in the car….did I remember to turn the lights off??……I have to remember to stop at the store on the way home…..I need to get some spaghetti for dinner…. I love spaghetti!….garlic bread to…gotta watch the butter though….my cholesterol is kinda high….don’t forget the doctor appointment tomorrow at 9:00am…….etc…..”
In a Soto Zen temple Zazen is usually practiced for 30 minutes followed by Kinhin (walking meditation) for ten minutes. Then sit again while the Roshi gives a Dharma talk for another thirty minutes. Then Kinhin again. Lastly all the participants chant the Fukan Zazenji (a writing by Zen Master Dogen). At the beginning and the end of each 30 minute period one of the monks would strike a large bell. After practicing for a while I began to notice something very interesting. There were times during Zazen much like what I mentioned above where I would be bothered by the aches and pains, itches, and mental gymnastics that would all keep me from focusing. When this happened the 30 minutes of sitting Zazen seemed like many hours and you felt like it would never be over. But on other occasions when I would settle down and focus something very strange would happen. It is very difficult to explain but it would seem as if time had stopped functioning normally. The bell to begin would ring to begin and while I was awake and aware that I was sitting suddenly the bell to signify the end of the session would ring. It was like the 30 minutes was condensed into just a few minutes.
“Time is an illusion.”
My Uncle repaired and restored antique clocks. He literally had a hundred clocks in his shop. I very fondly remember as a kid going to his clock shop and on the hour all of his clocks would start chiming! It was amazing to hear all those clocks going off at the same “time”. What exactly is this thing we call “time”? Where does it come from? Where does it go? If you look at a stop watch counting the seconds go by what exactly is it measuring? If there is one thing we most associate with time it is the ticking of the clock. What determines when those endless ticks……tick? Well if we think about it someone (doesn’t really matter how or who for this purpose of this discussion) determined that it takes the Earth 365 days to travel around the travel around the Sun and called it a Year. Then they determined that it took the Moon approximately 30 days to travel around the Earth and called it a Month. They also found that it took the Earth 24 hours to complete one rotation and called it a Day. They went on to proclaim that an Hour was equal to 60 minutes and that each minute was again divided into 60 seconds. And of course finally whenever someone got around to making a clock the decided to make it tick once for each second. Whew! That took a while! Of course all of you were well aware of what I just described. But I do have a reason for laying it out that way.
We all kind of take Time for granted. It is always there just ticking away second after second, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, and year after year. We have no doubt in our mind that time exists just like that. Well there are a couple of problems with that. First of all the seconds, minutes, and days that we all know so well are just names that someone determined or proclaimed to describe this thing called “time”. They could have been called something completely different (Thanks to our Monty Python friends). Secondly it is all relative. If I pick you up and put you on Mars suddenly a year is not a year, a month is not a month, a day is not a day, a hour is not an hour, a minute is not a minute and now all of our clocks seem to be ticking very slowly! 😉 Everything that we base those seconds on is no longer true. Mars has two moons. Which one are we going to base our month on? The third thing is seconds, minutes, hours are all just measurements. We have a habit of associating this form of measurement for the “thing” (time) itself. A foot, a meter, and a furlong are measurements of distance. They are not an absolute thing. Different measurements developed at different times in different places. By way of compassion to a clock we do not think of a ruler as being the “foot” itself, nor do we think that a foot or the ruler is “distance”. So why do we do this with clocks and time?
“Time has no independent existence apart from the
order of events by which we measure it.”
Speaking of distance when you travel it of course takes “Time” right? Our buddy Al (Einstein) figured out that for some crazy reason you cannot separate “Time” and “Space”, they are in fact Relative! But was he really the first one to realize this?
“The Past, the future, physical space and individuals are nothing but names, forms of thought, words of common usage, merely superficial realities”
“Be it clearly understood that space is nothing but a mode of particularization and that it has no real existence of its own. Space exists only in relation to our particularizing consciousness.”
The real revolution that came with Einstein’s theory was the abandonment of the idea that the space-time coordinate system has objective significance as a separate physical entity. Instead of this idea, relativity theory implies that the space and time coordinates are only the elements of a language that is used by an observer to describe his environment.
- Sachs, Space Time and elementary Interactions in Relativity. The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra
I have mentioned before that in order for our minds to process the huge amount of data that we take in constantly, and not get eaten by a large predator at the same time, we sort of accept things at face value without giving them in depth thought. This way we have brain power left to be aware of any dangers that may arise. So often we accept things as fact that….well….just aren’t facts.
“The illusion of events developing in time is due to our particular type of awareness which allows us to see in only narrow strips of the total space-time picture one at a time.”
The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Gary Zukav
“Hey wait a minute…whats going on here….So maybe we all aren’t really so sure what “Time” is. I guess it does deserve some real thought after all. Well, all that and we haven’t even gotten to Past, Present, and Future yet! We will look at these and much more in Part II.