Some Moments
A Translation of Dōgen Zenji’s Uji

The old Buddha said:
Some moments--standing at the heights of the highest mountain peak;
Some moments--moving through the depths of the deepest ocean trench.
Some moments--the bad angel;
Some moments--the good angel.
Some moments--a staff and a miter;
Some moments--a wall or a window.
Some moments--me and the guy next door.
Some moments--the great earth and vacant sky.

The phrase "Some moments" here reminds us that someness is both intrinsic to each moment and lies entirely within it. There is the moment of the good angel, glowing with its momentary radiant splendor. Let us ponder this with the twenty-four hours of time we are given each day. Then there is the moment of the bad angel, at one with those very twenty-four hours of time--which we refer to as hours in spite of the fact that we cannot really judge how long or short they actually are. Their passage leaves traces too clear to doubt. But mere lack of doubt does not imply understanding. People do not invariably have doubts about every single thing they fail to understand, and the doubts they do have are not the right ones anyway given what led to them. But in any case their doubts will soon just be another moment in time.

We fill our universe with a mosaic of projections, each and every particle of which can be thought of as an individual moment. And just as individual moments do not bump into each other, neither do the particles filling that universe. That is why in a single moment many minds can arise; in a single mind many moments can arise. And this is a characteristic of our practice and our finding the way.

It is the self that sees this mosaic of projections. Thus follows the principle that moments are formed from self. This principle should drive us to explore on our cushions how the earth is filled with countless forms and features; each of those individual features and individual is formed within the fullness of the earth. It is this type of dynamic that launches us on our practice. The point at which you reach this stage in your life is itself one of those features or forms, whether or not you engage that form, whether or not you engage that feature. The moment is exactly and uniquely as it is, which is why each moment of someness reaches a state of fullness; features of someness and forms of someness both are moments, with the fullness of someness and the fullness of the world suffusing every single individual one of those moments. Stop and think for yourself how someness could reach its fullness, or the world its fullness, were it not for this moment.

But the reaction of normal people who haven't studied Buddhism and hear the phrase "some moments" is to think "Well, there were some moments that I was talking to the bad angel and then there were some moments that that I was talking to the good angel"--as if these moments were hills or streams in some natural landscape they had passed through. They say to themselves: "The landscape may still be back there but I've come through it and now dwell in the vermilion tower of the jade palace; I'm here, the scenery is back there, the heavens are up there, and the earth is down here."

But this is just one way of looking at the situation. If there was an "I" at the moment of climbing some hill or crossing some stream, then that "I" must surely have incorporated that moment. The moment could not have just taken off leaving their "I" sitting there. With no past or future aspect, the moment of climbing the hill was the absolute, eternal-now in some moment. Even if the moment did retain a past and future aspect, the "I" would have embodied the absolute, eternal now in some moment, the very moment of someness. These moments spent crossing hill and dale neither lap up nor spew forth the moments to come in the vermilion tower.

Yesterday there was a moment where we were talking to the bad angel; today there is a moment where we are talking to the good angel. But do not think of past and present as things that whiz by and disappear somewhere, but rather as a vista of untold thousands of peaks that you can see from directly within the mountains. The bad angel was its own experience within some moment; it may seem far away but was actually the absolute, eternal now. The good angel is its own experience within some moment; it may seem to be elsewhere but is actually the absolute, eternal now.

So a pine tree is a moment, a bamboo tree is a moment. Don't think of moments as something that only fly off into the past, and don't imagine that flying off into the past is the only thing moments are good for. If moments kept flying off into the past, what would come in between them? This belief that moments disappear off into the past is what has kept people from understanding the truth about moments and their someness. The crux of the matter is that the all-encompassing somenesses filling every corner of the universe align themselves to form each and every individual moment. Each is a moment of someness--which makes it a moment of me-someness.

The interesting thing about something moments is how they stepflow. They stepflow from today, as we call it, to tomorrow; they stepflow from today to yesterday; they stepflow from yesterday to today. They stepflow from today to today; they stepflow from tomorrow to tomorrow. Because of how moments stepflow, past and present neither fall on top of each other nor overlap; Seigen is a moment, Obaku is a moment, and Baso and Sekitō are moments. The concepts of me and you presuppose moments, which is why practice and enlightenment are a panoply of moments. Plunging into the muck and diving into the water: these are moments as well. This is the part that is missing from the average person's version of reality, no matter how hard that average person looks at things from his average person perspective with its web of connections and dependencies. That reality has the effect before long of ensnaring our average person in that very web of connections and dependencies. Failing to see the someness, the momentariness within reality, he is unable to perceive the buddha within himself. His attempts to shake off the absence of his internal buddha are themselves scattered fragments of momentary someness, scattered glimpses on the part of one who has not yet validated the truth.

What paints the horse and sheep onto our world today? The ascending and descending and rising and falling that brings things to be the way they are supposed to be. There are mice moments and tiger moments. There are moments of men and moments of gods. Moments illuminate the world in its fullness, whether in the form of the bad angel or the good one. We can take fullness to the extreme by doing the full world on the full world with the full world. Or doing the gilded angel on the gilded angel, bringing forth the truth-seeking mind, practice, enlightenment, and nirvana, which are all somenesses, are moments. The way moments pervade someness is invariably extreme in this way. But even a semi-extreme way of bringing moments of someness to their fullness can be an extreme way of bringing moments of semi-someness to their fullness. Moments you seem to be stumbling through are somenesses as well. If you look more closely , you will see that those moments of stumbling are part of a continuum of moments of someness as they should be. The powerful punch of the present: that is a moment of someness. Neither go out of your way to see it as noneness, nor force yourself to see it as someness.

At least focusing strictly on moments as streaming past in one direction will prevent you from intellectualizing them as something out there waiting to arrive. There may be moments for such intellectualization but they are sterile, unconnected to anything else. Looking at moments either way--as coming or as going--will prevent you from seeing deeply into this moment of someness as it is meant to be. And in that case how will you possibly find your moment of liberation? However, you may be able to accept moments as they are and still not know how to hold on to who you intrinsically are. Or you may have long since learned who you are, but still be incessantly casting about for the face right in front of you. If it were up to the human version of moments, enlightenment and nirvana would be mere moments with a bit of coming and going to them.

Momentary somenesses admit of no impediments in revealing themselves. Heavenly monarchs and multitudes now materializing to the left, now parading on the right, are, even as you read this, such moments of someness, brimming with our energy. On land and sea, moments of mass someness unfurl themselves now overflowing in strength. Light or dark, man or beast, we form these someness moments into the present with every drop of our power, we step them through the flow with every fiber of our being. Were it otherwise, not a single object or phenomenon would unveil itself or stepflow whatsoever.

Do not think of stepflowing as being like wind and rain moving from east to west. The world is bursting with change, with ebbing and flowing, with stepflowing. Take spring as an example of stepflowing. There are a multitude of springscapes, each a stepflow. You will find that stepflowing requires no external assistance. For instance, spring, in stepflowing, simply stepflows across itself. Stepflowing is not something spring has, but rather something it is. Stepflowing comes to fruition in each spring moment of the now. Roll this back and forth in your mind until you've understood it in detail. Any thought when you hear the word "stepflowing" that the world is outside of your head and that things that can stepflow might continue slogging past world after world for eon after eon merely indicates a lack of focus on this point in your studies.

Yakusan visited the Zen master Baso to ask him a question, as it happens at the suggestion of Sekitō. "I've come close to understanding the basics of Buddhist doctrine. But what was the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the West?" To this query, Baso replied, "Some moments having him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes; some moments do not. Some moments having him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes is the thing; some moments it is not." Hearing this, Yakusan had a great realization, and said to Baso, "When I was studying with Sekitō I felt like a mosquito climbing on an iron ox."

Baso has a unique way of looking at things. Think of the eyebrows as mountains and the eyes as oceans, for mountains can be eyebrows just as surely as oceans can be eyes. Think of "having him raise" mountains; think of "having him blink" oceans. "Being the thing" becomes familiar to ""him"; "having" leads "him" along. Having him do something does not imply not having him do it; not having him do something does not imply it not being the thing. Either is a moment of someness. Mountains are moments, and oceans are moments. Neither mountains nor oceans could exist were there not moments within them, and moments could not fail to exist within the immediate now of mountains and oceans. If moments could shatter, mountains and oceans could shatter as well. Since moments cannot shatter, then neither can mountains and oceans. In the light of this truth we see the morning star rising over the enlightened Buddha in the iris of whose eye is reflected the flower raised in his hand. If these were not moments, it could not be so.

Zen master Kisei of Sekken was the successor of Shuzan in the lineage of Rinzai. There was a time when he pronounced to the assembly: Some moments, the non-verbal works and the verbal does not; some moments, the verbal works and the non-verbal does not. Some moments, both the verbal and the non-verbal work; some moments, neither the verbal nor the non-verbal does.

The non-verbal and the verbal are both moments; both them working and them not working are both moments. If the moment of them working is yet to arrive, that [simply] means that the moment of them not working is here. The non-verbal is like a donkey, the verbal like a horse. We ride on the horse of words and the donkey of thought. Just because we have arrived on them does not mean they worked; just because we have not arrived on them does not mean they have not worked. Moments of someness are like this. If things work too well you lose sight of how well they work. If things work poorly you lose sight of how poorly they work. The way to understand the non-verbal is to stop engaging in it so much. The way to understand the verbal is to stop engaging in it so much. The way to understand losing sight of something is to stop losing sight of it. When losing sight loses sight of the loss of sight, that is a moment. Objects outside us may lose sight of us, but nothing has ever completely lost sight of them. Me meeting someone is someone meeting someone. Me meeting myself is what emerges meeting what emerges. These things could not be as they are without the benefit of moments. When you think, there is the moment of the mystery of reality; when you speak, there is the moment of the opening of the gate of transcendence. When [the verbal and the non-verbal] work, there is the moment we cast off the shell; when they don't, there is the moment one stays and one leaves. You should affirm this. You should momentize someness.

That both of these revered teachers would say such things should alert us that there is something more here to learn. They should have added: the non-verbal and the verbal half working is [still] a moment of someness; the non-verbal and the verbal half not working is [also] a moment of someness.

Consider these things deeply.

Having him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes is half a moment of someness; having him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes is an jumbled moment of someness; not having him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes is a jumbled moment of jumbled someness.

Some moments, studying these things coming and going, studying them arriving and leaving; those are the moments in question.

Written this first day of winter, the first year of Ninji at Koushou Hourin-ji.

April 10, 2004. © 2004 Bob Myers
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