RCR – Acting


It’s hot, even before 9, as the wind dies and the sun has yet to rise into the leaves. An eagle circles, calling forlornly and then beats its great wings and brushes the ridge as it passes to the other side. The sea glimmers distantly and the valley shelters in a soft haze.

Everything has its season.

Every thing is bound by time, yet we do not often notice how time is also dependent upon things.

Is this yet summer? But I know this is summer by the heat; autumn by the falling leaves; winter by snow; spring by new growth.

Applying the name of a month, fixing a date, these are artificial constructs we use to feel in control of a world that is what it does.

Time and being are not different, as Martin Heidegger attempted to show in his ground breaking masterwork, Sein und Zeit. Yet his attempt eventually floundered as he struggled to show how Dasein could pull itself up by its bootstraps. He spent his career after the publication of Being and Time, in 1927, trying to penetrate the depths of the meaning of being in time, until his death in 1976.

Heidegger’s journey through Nietzschean Nihilism, Holderlinian poetry and his surreptitious ransacking of East Asian thought, offers a fascinating and tantalising glimpse of what might be now called, being-time.

The 13th Century Japanese Zen master, Dogen, expresses the notion of being-time splendidly in the Uji fascicle of his masterwork, Shobogenzo. Here he makes it clear wood does not become ash by burning, but that there is the being-time (Uji) of wood and the being-time of ash.

It is worthwhile recalling the terse arguments of the 2nd Century Indian Buddhist, Nagarjuna, in his masterwork, Mulamadhyamakakarika, who counter-intuitively, logically showed the impossibility of becoming, including of wood becoming ash.

Now, I purposely characterise these thinkers books as ‘masterworks’ as hyperbole. For while it is possible to read back the history of the seemingly illogical thought, that being and time are not different, for nearly 2000 years, these ‘great words’ of ‘great men’ are apt to hide the meaning of this reality in our lives. It is not for no reason that Wumen (Jp.. Mumon) advises us to kill the Buddha and the Patriarchs, or whoever it is today we raise up to obscure our own light.

Is it really true that past causes future and we flow blindly along the arrow of time? Or do we construct the world from our desire-driven, being-saturated, goal-directed behaviour?

Heidegger ultimately failed because he never let go the trace of ego, which separates the world into time and being. While he was deeply impressed by Daoism, attempting an aborted translation of the Dao De Jing with Paul Hsaio, and (apocryphally?) claiming on reading a book by the Japanese prosletyser of Zen, DT Suzuki; “If I understand this man rightly, he is saying exactly what I have been trying to say all along”, he never heard the words of Dogen:

To study the Buddha Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things.
When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away.
No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

Time, causality and goal-directed behaviour are the same, they all require that past cause future. But this is the egotistical fiction by which we hope our actions today will allow us to possess the rewards of our ambitions in the future.

There is nothing to attain, only realise I am what I already seek. Because it is always now, this present moment is always the now in which I can realise this. Only by letting go all go-directed behaviours – only by letting go my actions on the world in order to achieve some future effect – can I realise reality.

As Nagarjuna writes;

With the cessation of ignorance
Action will not arise
The cessation of ignorance occurs
Through meditation and wisdom.

Through the cessation of this and that
This and that will not be manifest.
The entire mass of suffering
Indeed thereby completely ceases.

The morning breeze has risen with the sun and now it is cool here under the towering oaks. And I have written far more than I intended in words and far less than I intended in clarity. These clumsy, illgotten symbols that trip over themselves in trying to follow the arrow of my thought… But then that would be to simply reinstate the common sense of time and being in words!

How hard it is to escape from the ties we have created to bind ourselves. My heart goes out to all those resolute souls who even now commit themselves to some saving action by which to help the world. Irrespective of the force, power, energy of their actions, they will only bury the earth deeper in confusion.

How many have really understood the call to no-action by the old master, Fukuoka?


About Jamie Nicol

Living in the forested hills of Catalonia, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Zen teacher, recovering philosopher, small-scale natural farmer. Writing just what comes.
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2 Responses to RCR – Acting

  1. MikeH says:

    How many have really understood the call to no-action by the old master, Fukuoka?

    Very few, I suspect.

    The more time I spend growing food in the least invasive way that I can without being a forager, the more details of Nature I see. The more I see, the more overwhelmed I become by its complexity. The more overwhelmed I become, the more I surrender my desire to control. What am I trying to control? Where do I start? Where do I end? Can I end? I have no idea. What a relief it is not to feel the need to control. I’ve reached, I think, a point where I’m comfortable doing as little intervening, as little controlling as possible. It seems to me to be the path of least destruction.

    We grow our vegetables as intensively as we can meaning that our footprint is as small as we can make it. The soil is everything; we never leave the soil uncovered – it either has a cover crop growing or is covered in mulch. We disturb the soil as little as we can. Weeds in the vegetable garden are left alone unless they are too close to a something we are growing and are competing for sunlight and, to a lesser extent, water. We try to leave the soil in better condition at the end of the season than it was at the beginning of the season. I use the number and size of earthworms in the soil as an indicator that we might going in the right direction. It seems that as each season passes the number of worms increases.

    • Jamie Nicol says:

      Yes, so simple it escapes us!

      “We try to leave the soil in better condition at the end of the season than it was at the beginning of the season.”

      Life breeds life. Human beings are what the earth does. We have been fortunate, up to the last 100 years, to be on a planet that grows ever more complex with life.
      There is nothing that more fulfils the heart than leaving ever greater life as we pass through life.

      Thanks for this Mike and for your continued support for the project here. 😊

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