by Wayne Ren-Cheng
“Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.” This verse comes from the intentional practice of Sharing the Merit that is engaged at the close of sangha meetings. The period of one human being’s life isn’t that long, say an average of 75 years. That seems like a long time when you are twenty years old, not so long when you reach 50. With each moment that passes there are opportunities to accomplish goals, to do what needs to be done. To take advantage of time and opportunity requires steady movement forward toward the goal. It takes momentum.
Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) returned to Japan from China and began to shift the emphasis in the practice of Zen. He authored two works that had a profound effect on the practice of Zen during his time and have continued to have a lasting effect on contemporary practice. The Fukanzazengi described the way one should practice zazen, and in Shobogenzo he taught that bodymind unification was an inherent factor in the practice of zazen, that it was “enlightenment made manifest”. Dogen spoke of the “utter continuity between being and time”. Time is interconnected to (but not interdependent on) everything, animate and inanimate. Think of human aging, the effects of erosion on the earth, and global warming as examples of the interconnection between time and being. All phenomena are affected by the passage of time, but other phenomena don’t affect the phenomena of time (at least as far as we know right now). The Universe is a simultaneous experience from which time cannot be separated. All things in the Universe exist in each moment of time. With each moment of the Universe all things are interconnected in each moment.
Dogen developed a count of the “moments” in each day. Dogen came up with this concept himself, doing so to give others a way to realize their “way seeking mind”. Our way-seeking mind is buddha-mind. And we get better results when we practice with buddha-mind, or way-seeking mind because then we are steadily progressing. The way-seeking mind is one with momentum.
To be “in the moment” and “mindful of each moment” is a critical ideal in the practice of Zen. Dogen determined that in each day there are 6,400,099,180 moments.
Hour = 266,670,799 Minute = 4,444,510 Second = 7407
A finger snap = 60 Moment = 1/75th of a second
Dogen didn’t expect anyone to memorize these numbers but he thought that hearing them would help practitioners with the realization that, ‘time swiftly passes by”. You can find yourself disconnected when moments go by without you being aware. Things change (impermanence happens) in each-and-every-moment and you can easily miss them. On a positive note, when bad things happen they won’t happen for long. Good things will happen in a moment.
There are 6,400,099,180 (6 billion, 400 million, 99 thousand, 180) moments in each day and as Buddhist practitioners we’re supposed to “be” in each one. In order to take advantage of each moment our bodyminds need to be in constant motion, even when we’re sitting still developing a calm, serene mind . . . we still need to be mindful and aware each moment. That can be an intimidating realization.
Let’s jump ahead about 450 years and see if we can get a little help. Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) offers us this Universal constant “A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force.” Making a minor change brings this into a Buddhist perspective, “A bodymind in motion tends to stay in motion unless an outside force is allowed to act on it. Once in motion we’re more likely to stay in motion . . . momentum.
We can engage the ideal of momentum as a way for our practice to be in the moment. Whether it is meditation, study or moment-to-moment practice of Buddhist philosophy, combining meditative focus and generosity of skill and time the practitioner gives the task what is needed to complete it. Focusing intently on that task allows momentum to build and to be maintained until completion. All tasks, no matter the simplicity or complexity should be pursued in this manner.
The bodymind is tranquil, posture is downward, and focus is sharp . . . use that momentum in meditation.
Listening to the teacher, grasping concepts, aware of the lesson . . . use that momentum and ask questions, offer comments.
A normally stressful type of situation at work is met with a calm, corrective manner . . . use that momentum during the next situation.
Momentum is a factor in keeping a bodymind in motion but we must also be mindful of the end of Newton’s quote, “ . . . unless acted on by an outside force.” Newton was likely thinking of things like gravity and brick walls as the outside force. In Buddhist practice that outside force will be from within.
This isn’t to say that outside forces such as weather, the actions of other people or a myriad of other factors won’t be involved, just that we are responsible if we lose our momentum. For example you are in the midst of washing clothes and find that you’ve run out of detergent; sure you can’t wash clothes but what about another task that needs doing? At work you can’t continue on an assignment until the client returns your call . . . do you sit and wait, or do you work on accomplishing a different task. It’s all about momentum. Momentum should be applied in an encompassing manner, motion that can be transferred to where it is needed at that moment.
Multi-tasking is a practice of dualism when the bodymind feels it is capable of accomplishing two things at once. Two things may, in fact, be getting done, but neither is being done with the focus, energy and mindfulness necessary to excel at either task. Attempts at multi-tasking will result in a loss of momentum as the bodymind bounces back-and-forth. Focusing on one task, keeping momentum until the task is complete (or if a natural stopping point is reached) allows us to transfer that momentum on to a different task.
Taking a short meditative or stretching break in the midst of a strenuous or demanding task can be a way to maintain momentum. A soccer player who takes a moment to stretch a muscle while the ball is at the other end of the field adds to their momentum when the ball comes their way again.
Once in motion we’re more likely to stay in motion . . . momentum. The momentum we gain and maintain at the completion of one task can smoothly be transferred to the next task. Even a restful sleep is part of maintaining momentum as it renews the energy and dynamism that is transferred to the new day, to the refreshed not-self.
“Time swiftly passes by . . .” and momentum is needed to keep us in each moment.