Time goes from Present to Past and Present to Future
This is one of my favorite excerpts from Zen Mind: The Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki:
Dogen Zen-ji said, “Time goes from present to past.” This is absurd, but in our practice sometimes it is true. Instead of time progressing from past to present, it goes backwards from present to past. Yoshitsune was a famous warrior who lived in midieval Japan. Because of the situation of the country at the time, he was sent to the northern provinces, where he was killed. Before he left he bade farewell to his wife, and soon after she wrote in a poem, “Just as you unreel the thread from a spool, I want the past to become present.” When she said this, actually she made past time present. In her mind the past became alive and was the present. So as Dogen said, “Time goes from present to past.” This is not true in our logical mind, but it is in the actual experience of making past time present. There we have poetry, and there we have human life.
When we experience this kind of truth it means we have found the true meaning of time. Time constantly goes from past to present and from present to future. This is true, but it is also true that time goes from future to present and from present to past. A Zen master once said, “To go Eastward one mile is to go Westward one mile.” This is vital freedom. We should acquire this kind of perfect freedom.
But perfect freedom is not found without some rules. People, especially young people, think that freedom is to do just what they want, that in Zen there is no need for rules. But it is absolutely necessary for us to have some rules. But this does not mean always to be under control. As long as you have rules, you have a chance for freedom. To try to obtain freedom without being aware of the rules means nothing. It is to acquire this perfect freedom that we practice zazen.