UJI or the Breath of Existence – Shobogenzo Chapter 11.
U means existence, Ji means time.
“Generally the term uji refers to a moment where someone finds themselves in possession of something that is circulating between people, money for example. In the phrase “ I ‘ll pay when I (will) have money,” “when” is the chinese character ji and “will have” is u. Sometimes uji denotes a limited lapse of time, being part of a moment which is continuing without interruption. This meaning of uji is often used in Buddhist writings and zen texts. It means not only a moment as a point in time, but sometimes also a short period of time during which something continues whilst keeping the same state.”
Reverend Seijun Ishii, University of Komazawa.
Uji is a high point of the Shobogenzo, which touches directly on the essential points of time and existence. The approach is very pragmatic, yet at the same time very disconcerting, as it tricks our intuitive perceptions. But finally, Master Dogen brings action to the fore as the key to the revelation of existence – time.
I will translate a paragraph here that explains the essence of Uji and the point of view of the enlightened one on the subject.
Uji – paragraph 7.
“ We should not merely understand that time flows.
We should not learn that the flowing of time is its sole aspect. If we let time flow and get away from us, we are then completely separated from time. Those who fail to experience and hear the truth of existence – time merely understand that ‘time passes.’
Seize the essential : all things are at the same time linked, one to another, in a flow, yet at the same time distinct ‘moments.’
And because all moments are the appearance of existence-time, these moments are our existence-time, our true life.”
Our experience of time is in the first place one of stories and events passing by. The cycle of days, months, seasons and years. Those of our nearest and dearest and others. Children are born and grow up. Adults get old and disappear.
Our experience show us the flow of time and to us this quality seems evident to all. This quality is , in effect, an authentic aspect of time recognised by the awakened. But the difference between us and the awakened one , is that we extrapolate.
We imagine time as contiunuing to flow out of our reach, outside our perceptions, forming and consolidating a future and a past. Our thinking mind constructs these ‘extensions’ of time and uses our memories to give them credibility. To the point where we believe that past and future actually exist. That is the major source of our suffering.
Time for the awakened one unfolds beneath his feet like a treadmill at the gym. Time only exists to the extent that he experiences it , not beyond. For that reason, he is never expecting anything and fear has no hold over him.
This is how Dogen explains that time can only be revealed by means of the living expression of reality. We cannot conceive of time without conceiving movement. And existence, conversely, can only appear through time. How can we actually experience something which only appears in the moment?
Time and existence each reveal themselves in this way to form Uji , existence – time.
This revelation can only happen in the present moment, in the contact between time on the one hand, and what appears on the other.
In this way each being carries with him his own time in which his existence shines forth. And we cannot actually escape Uji. Where would our life be if it was outside what is appearing right now?
Uji is the present moment of each sentient being, the point of the incandescence of life.
To realise existence-time is to realise that time is composed of a succession of “moments.” For time and existence are intimately connected and as all existence is born and dies, time also is born and dies to form “moments.”
What is the duration of a moment? A moment lasts for a lifetime, a season, a moon, a day, a breath. It lasts for the time that flows between birth and the death of an expression of life.
We don’t see these moments of life because our illusory “extensions” of time absorb our consciousness in what has been dead for a long time, what is composed of our memories.
To practise Uji is to be conscious of what makes an existence into a moment, that is to say to be conscious of our birth and death.
The great practice of Uji is Hishiryo, the art of zazen, which consists of lifting oneself to heights where all thoughts and experiences can be seen as they arise, live and disappear.
We can practise Uji by being aware of the beginning and end of these vital moments , which are close to us, like our breath. It is enough to bring our attention to the space that arises between exhalation and inhalation.
In our present life, on concentrating on the space between two actions – for example between two mouthfuls, two sentences, two thoughts, we cause the “moment” to be born and die. Doing this we give it life and we shine out with all our existence – time.
A Small Poem about Uji
The pebble falls in rippled water
Water is a mirror
The sun rises on the sleeping earth
The stars are pointing
Close the door when we get home,
Greet the arrival, greet also the departure,
Close the door when we go out,
And so leave no trace
In the space
Sebastian Mokusen Volz, 23 Avril 2018, Tokyo