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Time is not fleeting: Thoughts of a Medieval Zen Buddhist

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Awareness of impermanence is an attitude that permeates much of traditional Japanese culture. It is often seen to be grounded in Buddhist doctrine, which emphasizes the transiency of everything that exists. However, there are statements by the medieval Zen Master Dôgen (1200-1253) – a professedly orthodox Buddhist and arguably one of the most important religious minds from this country – that contradict this feeling. Arguing against over-emphasis on time's passage, Dôgen asserted the stationary aspects of time. Some of his modern readers took such statements as expressions of mystical insight into a world of timeless truth. A close reading of the sources suggests instead that Dôgen wanted to argue against eternalist as well as nihilist views. He developed a complex view of time, which accounts for its stable sequential order. This theory served to substantiate his claim that the Buddhist ideal could only be realized by continued religious practice.

Affiliations: 1: Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, FB 09 – Japanologie, Senckenberganlage 31, D-60054 Frankfurt am Main, Germany


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