It’s Time

The New Year marks a passage or change in time, according to a calendar. A year is fixed, being the amount of time it takes for our planet to completes a revolution round the sun, yet some people believe that time itself is infinite. On that subject, Stephen Hawkings says, “All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning . . . We are not yet certain whether the universe will have an end.”

We talk about changes in time, the movement of time, how fast or slow time seems to go, but actually time does not change, nor move, and is neither fast nor slow. It is only through observing and experiencing change that time is apprehended, and yet, without time, there could be no change.

The concepts of past, present and future provide us with a more general way of dividing time. David Kalupahana, in his translation of Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, says that according to Nagarjuna “Time, as experienced, cannot be analysed into three water-tight compartments as past, present and future.”*

Chapter Nineteen, “Examination of Time,” consists of a mere six verses, in which Nagarjuna maintains because everything is related to other things, time is only a dependent set of relations, not an independent entity. Yep, time is empty.

If time exists depending upon an entity,
how can there be time without an entity?  
No existent entity is found to exist.  
So how can time exist?

That’s one philosophical view of time. Now, time in literature, poetry and song is another matter.

For instance, I once read a science fiction short story by Samuel R. Delany with the very cool title Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones. As I recall, it has nothing to do with the subject of time, (I probably should reread the story to make sure I’m right about that, but I haven’t the time).

In Hazy Shade of Winter, Paul Simon lamented, “Time, time, see what’s become of me.” Nowadays, he sings, “Hair, hair, I can’t see what’s become of you.” Time may be empty but it’s also weird. As some men get older, they lose the hair on their head and start growing hair in their ears. I tell you, there is no end to the indignities of aging.

The Rolling Stones had time of their side. Dr. Frank N. Furter did the Time Warp. Jim Croce had Time in a Bottle. Chicago wanted to know Does Anybody Know What Time It Is? Cindi Lauper wrote, “If you’re lost you can look and you will find me, time after time.”

And finally, a San Francisco band of the 60s, the Sons of Champlin, believed “It’s time to be who you are”:

It’s time for New Year’s Eve, so whatever you do tonight, have a good time.

* David J. Kalupahana, Nagarjuna Philosophy of the Middle Way, State University of New York, 1986, 277-78


Harmonizing Time and Change

I haven’t shared a story from Chuang Tzu in some time, so I thought I would share one today. For those unfamiliar with the name, Chuang Tzu, (369—298 BCE) was a Taoist philosopher. Also known as Zhuang Zhou or Zhuangzi, he worked as a minor official for a small town in China. His writings are collected in a book called Chuang Tzu, one of the classics of Chinese literature. Some of the stories are about Chuang Tzu himself, and some are other people, both historical and fictional. This tale comes from the 6th chapter, “The Great and Honorable Teacher”, and concerns an old man named Yu.

One day Yu became ill. His good friend Ssu happened by to see how he was doing. “It is simply amazing.” Yu replied.

“What is?”

“Well, look how crooked I have become. I’m a deformed old man, a hunchback.”

It was true. Yu’s internal organs were pushed up into his chest, his chin was bent over his belly, and his shoulder was higher than his head. Not only that, but when he breathed, his inhalations and exhalations were in gasps.

He hobbled over to the well and saw his reflection and said, “Yes, the years have certainly changed me.”

What amazed Ssu was how calm his friend seemed. He asked, “Aren’t you upset by this?”

IMG_4877c2Yu answered, “Not at all. What is there to be upset about? Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up to find my left arm has changed into a rooster and I’ll crow at the dawn, or, perhaps my right arm will become a crossbow and I’ll go out and hunt for my supper. Maybe my butt will turn into cartwheels and I’ll be able to take myself for a ride. I might become a horse tomorrow and then I’ll never need another steed.”

Ssu just shook his head. Yu laughed and said, “When we are doing what there is to do, there is time enough for it.  When you resist the natural way of things, you lose what is most important to you.  I was born when it was time to be born, and I will die when it is time for me to die. That’s the way things are, how they have always been. I am content with whatever life brings my way and therefore untouched to either sorrow or joy. That’s why I’m not upset.”

I can relate to this story because age is changing me, and I am not too happy about it. Yu had something his friend didn’t have, and something I need more of: inner peace. What’s more, Yu was in harmony with time and in rhythm with change.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, time is changing you. It’s easy to lose yourself in the changes. Just as it is easy to get caught up in the various problems we encounter in daily life. I’ve learned it’s best to harmonize time, and to work with problems, rather than work against them.

Read more of the Chuang Tzu stories I’ve shared here.


Time Is

Yesterday, June 12th, was the one month anniversary of my transplant. My recovery is progressing well, and in fact my doctors, nurses and coordinators all tell me that my progress is nothing short of spectacular, something I am not ashamed to admit that I love to hear.

And yet, it is not quite as fast as I would like.  I wish I were back to normal already, or better than normal, as I was told would be the case. I’m tired of being tired, sick of being cold (I feel cold all the time), and everything else that has come with this recovery. Even though they say what I am experiencing is typical and to be expected . . . I’m impatient for the healing process to be over and done with.

I know it’s the wrong attitude. I should just let go and let time heal.

Recently I read where a Buddhist teacher or blogger said time does not heal. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who it was, nor did I bother to read the article and discover the context in which that statement was offered. Now, some reason it’s stuck in my mind, and taking the statement as it is, literally, I couldn’t disagree more.

It is important to pay careful attention to the timeless reality of now, but it is equally as important to understand the passage of time, the cycles of time. As always, the first and best Buddhist solution is to find the chu-do, the middle way.

To deny time or simply remain in the mindfulness of now is as bad as living in the past, or living only for the future. Time brings change, and since the Buddha taught everything is transient, we should have faith that change can be our friend, our ally, if we choose to let go and flow with it.

We should also try to understand the cycles of time and just where certain situations stand and where they intersect with other situations, forces, and qualities, in the complex pattern of life.

In my situation, allowing time to heal forces me to work on my practice of patience, which I’ve noted more than once is not my particular forte in life. Being patient with healing, being patient with my medical team, with myself . . . for me, it’s a struggle, but I am armed in this fight with confidence, for as Shantideva wrote, “Even while I remain in this world of suffering, through the practice of patience, I shall have beauty and good health and long life, and even the extensive joy of a universal king!”

Allowing time to heal our wounds is about having confidence about acceptance, something we probably don’t think about too often, so I’ll say it again . . . have confidence about, with, and in acceptance.  It is good to accept things, to trust in the virtue of letting go, being patient . . . after all, it’s really just that old wu-wei, the natural way of things . . . it’s understanding that time does heal . . . that all things change with time and acceptance is not rushing change or being unduly concerned about time . . . you see, for some people . . . for those who love . . . who really love . . . time is . . .


Self-reliance is the key

Time Magazine’s article for their choice as the 2011 Person of the Year begins:

A year after a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself ablaze, dissent has spread across the Middle East, reaching Europe and the U.S., reshaping global politics and redefining people power.”

This year Time’s Person of the Year is The Protester, which is an interesting choice. The Protester beat out Adm. William McRaven (Commander of the bin Laden raid), Ai Weiwei (an Chinese artist who as a political activist might be covered under Protester), Kate Middleton (she got married, which to the people at Time must be a really awesome achievement), and Congressman Paul Ryan (whom Time calls “The Prophet”; I have some names for Ryan myself, but some other time). Frankly, these last two runner-ups are a bit bizarre.

But as far as The Protester goes, I say more people power to them all. Time’s choice reflects a wave of global revolution. But curiously, the cover story by Kurt Anderson does not once mention either Tibet, where this year ten Buddhist monks set themselves ablaze, or Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi was finally released after spending nearly half her adult life in silent protest while under house arrest. So much for the global part of the revolution . . .

Gene Sharp

Now someone I think would have been far more fitting for inclusion into the runner-up field is Gene Sharp, the subject of a documentary showing on Current TV right now entitled, How To Start A Revolution. Sharp, whose nonviolent tactics for toppling despots have been employed by protesters in Egypt and Eastern Europe, is Professor Emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. His Wikipedia entry goes into some detail about his “influence on struggles worldwide.” Sharp is also the author of a number of works, including From Dictatorship to Democracy A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, which is available as a pdf from The Albert Einstein Institution.

Sharp’s argument for nonviolent resistance is both rational and convincing. He writes,

Understandably, reacting to the brutalities, torture, disappearances, and killings, people often have concluded that only violence can end a dictatorship. Angry victims have sometimes organized to fight the brutal dictators with whatever violent and military capacity they could muster, despite the odds being against them. These people have often fought bravely, at great cost in suffering and lives. Their accomplishments have sometimes been remarkable, but they rarely have won freedom. Violent rebellions can trigger brutal repression that frequently leaves the populace more helpless than before.

Whatever the merits of the violent option, however, one point is clear. By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority. The dictators are equipped to apply violence overwhelmingly. However long or briefly these democrats can continue, eventually the harsh military realities usually become inescapable. The dictators almost always have superiority in military hardware, ammunition, transportation, and the size of military forces. Despite bravery, the democrats are (almost always) no match.”

What’s the alternative? Sharp says,

The conclusion is a hard one. When one wants to bring down a dictatorship most effectively and with the least cost then one has four immediate tasks:

• One must strengthen the oppressed population themselves in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills;

• One must strengthen the independent social groups and institutions of the oppressed people;

• One must create a powerful internal resistance force; and

• One must develop a wise grand strategic plan for liberation and implement it skillfully.

A liberation struggle is a time for self-reliance and internal strengthening of the struggle group.”

Although it might be a stretch, this reminds me of a story told in the Maha Parinibbana Sutta. King Ajatshatru of Magadha sends a messager to the Buddha seeking his advice on a plan to attack the Vajjians, whose territory was north of Magadha. The message from Ajatshatru states, “I will destroy these Vajjians, I will bring them to utter ruin!” I’m not quite sure what Ajatshatru’s beef was with the Vajjians, but the Buddha’s reply is that “so long as the Vajjians continue to observe their traditions properely, and meet regularly in their republican assembly, seeking agreement in all matters, and so on, their prosperity is assured.”

After this, the Buddha turns to his followers and repeats this advice word for word. Basically, he is telling the Sangha the same thing Sharp says above, that as long as the Sangha remains self-reliant and internally strong, it will continue to prosper.

I think this applies to individuals as well. If a corporation can be a person, then I suppose a person can be a group, since after all, we are a heap of aggregates, a collection of groups of cells.

Self-reliance is one of the key messages of Buddhism. It is what really separates Buddha-dharma from any other spiritual philosophy. Buddhism is a philosophy about jiriki, “self-power.” When it crosses the line into tariki or “other-power”, then it really no longer Buddhism, but something else based on Buddha-dharma. There are those who would disagree with this and suggest that it’s a dualistic view, but I think they are just rationalizing their own tendency to want to seek something outside of their lives for “the answer” or “salvation.”

Sharp notes that,

Liberation from dictatorships ultimately depends on the people’s ability to liberate themselves. The cases of successful political defiance — or nonviolent struggle for political ends — cited above indicate that the means do exist for populations to free themselves, but that option has remained undeveloped.”

In the same way, in the universal struggle against the dictatorship of suffering, the individual’s power to liberate his or her self remains undeveloped, and this is what Buddhism seeks to rectify.

Furthermore, Sharp writes,

Many people now suffering under a brutal dictatorship, or who have gone into exile to escape its immediate grasp, do not believe that the oppressed can liberate themselves. They expect that their people can only be saved by the actions of others. These people place their confidence in external forces. They believe that only international help can be strong enough to bring down the dictators.”

Of course, when we talk about self-reliance the “self” we speak of is not the same “self” that we are also trying to overthrow, the self of “no-self.” However, people get confused about this, and in general, confidence in one’s self-power can be a hard thing to cultivate. At the same time, we also talk about bodhisattvas saving people, and this too can be confusing, because in the end we are the only ones who can save ourselves.

This point may be, quoting the Lotus Sutra, “the most difficult to believe and the most difficult to understand.” A Japanese priest commenting on the sutra, once wrote, “We common mortals can see neither our own eyebrows, which are so close, nor heaven in the distance. Likewise, we do not see that the Buddha exists in our own hearts.”

The Buddha in our own hearts is a metaphor for the positive potential that exists within each human being – the potential for happiness, wisdom, liberation. We also call it Buddha-nature. It is the inner-power that is difficult to believe in and difficult to harness, especially when we are so busy looking for something outside of ourselves to come and save us.

You yourself must make the effort. Buddhas only point the way.”

– The Dhammapada




Waiting for someone or something else to save you is a childish, selfish way to live. We are not here to suffer, we are here to enjoy. If you do suffer, you have to face yourself, look within and examine what it is in you that’s suffering. External conditions have their roles to play, but only in setting the stage. In most cases, there is no one or nothing that can make you suffer. Suffering can only happen inside you, and that is the only place where liberation for suffering can be found.



In Five Houses of Zen, Yung-Ming says,

I urge you not to throw away time, for it’s swift as an arrow, fast as a stream. Distraction is entirely due to lack of concentration; stupidity and blindness are caused by lack of true knowledge.

Time, a concept, an abstract taken from the fabric of reality. It may be finite or infinite, we don’t know, but it is not separate from the whole, and yet it is distinct.

Don’t dwell on past memories or fixate on future events. The present moment is timeless. It has no yesterday or tomorrow.

But do not disregard the past, for you must learn from it. Nor should you ignore the future, because only fools do not plan and prepare.

Buddhism teaches that time exists only in the mind and it is empty. Taught to free you from the bondage of time. So that you don’t seize it, cling to it.

I grow older, becoming more aware of how precious is time, and I sense, as I could not when I was younger, how fleeting. A part of me wants to seize and cling to time with all my might.

Looking back, with an eye toward learning from the past, I see how often I have thrown time away, how much of it has been wasted. Looking forward, preparing for limited amount of time I have left in this present life, I make a determination to use time more wisely, become more efficient with time.  Don’t resent it. Don’t resist it. Enjoy it.

To obtain real freedom, one has to flow with time free from its bondage. A paradox, because as soon as you realize that you are free, you are clinging to the memory of a moment that no longer exists.

Time is yours to use, so use it skilfully. The time to stop wasting time is now. Use the present moment to live, knowing that time is life. If you miss that moment, the time is up, for the moment is gone forever. Time may be infinite but you are not. How many more present moments must disappear into the sweeping tide?

The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.

Time is a wealth of change,
but the clock in its parody makes it mere change and no wealth.

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time
like dew on the tip of a leaf.

– Tagore