Misspent Time

Poem on “Squandering Our One Life”

Bored man at desk

徒らに Itazura ni
過す月日は Sugosu tsukihi wa Though we dawdle away
多けれど Okeredo many of nights and days,
道をもとむる Michi wo motomuru the time we seek the way
時ぞすくなき Toki zo sukunaki is so rare.

In the waka posted Oct. 9, Roshi introduced the three aspects of arousing Bodhi-mind:
1. Wisdom: Seeing impermanence and not spending time wastefully.
2. Compassion: Helping all living beings to arouse bodhi-mind.
3. Maintaining the Tradition: Esteeming and protecting daily activities according to the buddha-ancestors’ great Way.

Even though we have aroused Bodhi-mind by witnessing the sickness, aging, or dying of our loved ones, or by our own experience of facing the reality of impermanence, we often lose sight of it and engage in so many miscellaneous things attractive to us. Although we understand that we have no time to waste, we often want to escape from facing impermanence and seek something that gives us temporary excitement and joy even though we know such things will not give us the stable foundation of our lives. Or, we find ourselves with so many responsibilities and obligations in our family lives, related to our work, and as members of the larger society. We forget the Way and make ourselves too busy, or conversely we become too lazy to do anything.

We need to think how we can keep the stable foundation of our lives. In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, 3-14, Dogen instructs:

“It goes without saying that you must consider the inevitability of death. This principle goes without saying. Even if we don’t consider this [right now], we should be resolved not to waste time and refrain from doing meaningless things. We should spend our time carrying out what is worth doing. Among the things we should do, what is the most important one? We should understand that all deeds other than what the buddhas and ancestors have done are useless.”

What Dogen talks about here is the third aspect of bodhi-mind. This is his admonition to the monks practicing at his monastery. Monastic practice is designed to maintain the traditional way of life. Some of these traditions originated from Indian Buddhist monastic practice, others are from the customs in Chinese or Japanese Zen monasteries. Zazen, doing various services or ceremonies, community work called samu to support the community life, studying Dharma teachings, etc. Dogen encourages monks to maintain these traditional practices without being pulled by personal desires or bonds with the mundane world.

Most of American Zen practitioners are not living in monasteries. We need to consider how can we spend our day-to-day lives without wasting time. Although “not wasting time” sounds like always working hard pursuing efficiency more and more like a workaholic, to be most intimate with the Way means to be mindful and peaceful, here and now, with what we are doing.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community

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