November 1, 2013 § 4 Comments
As I sit by the fire Dogen’s words flicker to light my thoughts, “We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and has it’s own before and after (while) ash stays in the position of ash, with it’s own before and after.”
With this Dogen invites us to the here and now where, “Past and future are cut off.”
Philosophers, scientists and science fiction writers have produced volumes on the subject of time. H. G. Wells took the 19th Century reader into the far future in his work, “The Time Machine”. Einstein taught us time flows at different rates in different parts of the universe. Quantum physics tells us some particle reactions may flow backward in time. While the cosmologist tells us that there is no particular reason the future should not flow into the past, instead of the way it does now, past into future.
But what is the past? What is the future?
Recently, I came across the work of German mathematician Hermann Minkowski. In 1907 he took the idea of three-dimensional space and added to it a fourth. Three of the dimensions were assigned real number coordinates (think “x”, “y” and “z” for length, width and height). The fourth, however, he treated as an imaginary number that “rotates” between the other three real dimensions. Perhaps because this rotation could be either clockwise or counterclockwise, he realized this imaginary space could be reinterpreted as time.
It is important to note that treating one of a four-dimensional space as imaginary actually explains all of Einstein’s special relativity and all of quantum physics. So treating time as an imaginary space does have meaning in mathematics and physics.
Pondering this, it occurred to me that if the rotation of an imaginary dimension around a three-dimensional space is the past and future, then the three-dimensional space is, itself, the present moment. The world around you, in other words, is a spatial extension of that part of time we call “now”.
This is consistent with Einstein’s theory of relativity that no barrier between time and space exists. Space can be described as time. Time can be described as space. Looked at this way, there is no here and now, the here is the now.
We cannot describe “now” as containing a little bit of the past or a smidgen of the future. It is, as Dogen wrote, cut off from the past and future.
In our awareness of the immediate moment we are also cut off from the past and the future except, that is, through the memories and hopes for the future that arises in our imagination.
We cannot separate the awareness from the immediate moment that, in turn, is inseparable from the space about us. So it follows that space does not stand alone, isolated from awareness. As such, consciousness and space are not divisible! Such a conclusion is, as I understand it, an expression of the Buddha Way.
In the Buddha Way, even when we don’t realize it, awareness, objects, action, and space are working together as one reality. Subject, object and activity all arise together. The runner, to use Nagarjuna’s example, is inseparable from the running. The sitter, as Dogen says, and the sitting are one.