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


The Ox-Blade Incident

Several years ago, Alice Walker, activist and author of the novel The Color Purple, made the following comment in an interview with Democracy Now:

Life is abundant, and life is beautiful. And it’s a good place that we’re all in, you know, on this earth, if we take care of it.”

I’m sure you agree that not only should we take care of our planet, but we should also take care of life itself.

All spiritual traditions teach that life is precious. In Buddhism, human life is called the “precious human rebirth” because the traditional teachings say it is a rare thing to be reborn a human being, and as the Dalai Lama tells us, “[One] has unique possibilities to free oneself from the cycle of rebirth.”

Not everyone is on board with rebirth. Whether you are on the bus or off is incidental to the matter of sustaining life. Chuang Tzu had some thoughts about it in a passage I’ve adapted from some translations:

Human life is limited, but wisdom is limitless. To use the limited to chase what has no limit is dangerous; and to suppose that one really knows can be fatal!

In doing good, avoid fame. In doing bad, avoid disgrace. Find the middle course and use it as your compass. This way you will guard yourself from harm, preserve your life, fulfill your duties to friends and family, and live a full life.

ox_2Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. With his every movement, he sliced in perfect rhythm, and this caused Wen-hui to say, “Your skill amazing.”

Cook Ting put the knife down and said, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began to cut up oxen, I saw before me whole animal. Now, after three years’ practice, I no longer see the ox at all. Now I am able to work with my mind and not with my eye. Insight and training have been replaced by instinct, which alone guides my movements. I follow the natural structure of the ox and slice in the big grooves. Then I move my blade through the large openings, and follow things as they are.

“A good cook will only change his knife once a year because he cuts, and an ordinary cook, once a month, because he hacks. I’ve had this knife for nineteen years and it is just as good as it was when it first came from the grindstone. Whenever I come to a place that is tough, I gauge the difficulties, steady my hand, and gently glide the blade. And when I am done, I wipe the knife off with a degree of satisfaction and put it carefully away.”

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to nurture life!”

Unlike some cooks I’ve met, Ting was not a perfectionist, and yet, by following the path of natural action and abiding in a state of detached equanimity, he found a level of perfection. Life is precious and beautiful and it is a process of constant change. So we say that the best way to nurture life is to flow with its natural rhythm, letting things be themselves, letting go.

You can find the Alice Walker interview, along with her poem, “Democratic Womanism” at Democracy Now.


Finding Peace

This is the time of year we often here the phrase, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Although this phrase from New Testament, part of “The Annunciation to the shepherds” where a group of angels tell some shepherds about the birth of Jesus, is not exactly a mandate for humans to establish peace on earth, nevertheless, that is the popular sentiment.

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche has this to say about peace:

We may shout, ‘Let there be peace!’ but this won’t really bring peace. Peace will appear in the world around us only when each individual learns to tame the disturbances arising within his or her own mind. Then, peace will come automatically.”

Actually, peace is already here. If you calm your mind, there is peace. If you illuminate your mind, peace shines brightly like the sun. Once we have found inner peace, it is crucial that we share it. Sharing peace with the world is the highest awakening, the supreme enlightenment – the path of the altruistic heroes we call bodhisattvas.

May you find peace today, this season, and every day, and let us all share peace throughout the coming year.

– – – – – – – – – –

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche quote from Union of Mahamudra and Dzoghen


Winter Weight

It’s Winter Solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted the furthest away from the Sun as it is all year. Today is the shortest day of the year and tonight the longest night.

Many of our Western traditions at this time of year come from the twelve-day winter solstice celebration observed in Scandinavia and Germany, called Yule. Some of these customs include the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, and the Yule log.

The Yule Log is interesting. The tradition of burning the Yule Log is a Nordic custom that dates back to medieval times. Originally, the Yule Log was an entire tree that folks cut down and brought into the home. Why anyone would want to burn a big tree in their house, I dunno. But it certainly seems more exciting than our modern Yule Log tradition, which consists of several hours worth of video footage of a fireplace with a burning log accompanied by holiday music.

The only Buddhist celebration for this time of year that I know about is “Sangamitta”, which commemorates the entry into the Buddhist sangha of the daughter of famous King Ashoka, Sangamitta, and her brother, Mahinda. This Theravadin tradition is held on the full moon day of December.

The bad news is that tomorrow is the first day of winter. On the positive side, before very long the sun will begin to rise earlier and the days will be longer, and best of all, it is only 83 days until Daylight Savings time.

I’m sure you already know all this stuff. But, I’ll bet you don’t know the net weight of winter. That’s a fun fact I learned years ago from the late poet Richard Brautigan:

The Net Wt. of Winter is 6.75 Ozs

crestThe net wt. of winter is 6.75 ozs.
and winter has a regular flavor
with Fluoristan to stop tooth decay.

A month ago I bought a huge tube
of Crest tooth paste and when I put it
in the bathroom, I looked at it
and said, “Winter.”

The poem is from Brautigan’s collection of poetry Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt. 


“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Nearly a month ago I reported how the Global Buddhist Climate Change Collective published a letter directed to world leaders participating in COP21, the recently concluded climate change conference in Paris. The letter, signed by Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and 13 other well-known Buddhist teachers, urged the leaders at COP21 to act on climate change.

From the reports I’ve seen, the general consensus seems to be that the conference was a success, even “historic.” There are others who are less enthusiastic; scientists are cautious and environmentalists skeptical.

A headline in The Guardian suggested the agreeement will herald “the end of the fossil fuel era.” But, also in The Guardian, Dr. James Hansen, who first testified before Congress about greenhouse gases in 1988, and is known as “the father of climate change awareness”, shared his doubts about what the conference accomplished, saying “There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

The agreement aims to hold the increase of the global average temperature to “well below” 2C and to pursue a goal of 1.5 C.  Some say that the world leaders went further than ever before by defining the allowable amount of future climate disruption.

Evidently, the conference was not only historic but also dramatic. Saturday afternoon, the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius presented the draft that was soon agreed to by the conferees.

Fabius’ remarks were being translated by a member of the UN’s translation staff. As he began to thank those who had worked to put the deal together, Fabius’ voice began to falter and even the translator became emotional. A report I read stated that the translator began to cry as Fabius concluded his speech with a quote from the late Nelson Mandela:

Let me conclude. One of you mentioned the other day a famous quote by Nelson Mandela, most suited to the occasion: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’

I would like to add a few more words, by the same hero: ‘None of us acting alone can achieve success.’

Success is within reach of all our hands working together.”

There is not much that needs to be added to that.  It is rather obvious that it will take the entire world working together to win over the global threat of dangerous climate change.  You can view the full speech, with English translation, on the UN website.