Roshi: The Sea of Time

The Sea of Time

A talk by Roshi Enkyo O’Hara

Listen to the audio.

We’re sitting here on the 11th floor of this building on Broadway, which, as many of you know, was a Native American footpath that led all the way up to Albany back before the colonialists arrived. In a way we are all floating in a sea of time, in a constantly shifting stream of change. Each moment of time succeeds the one before. It’s as if we we’re all carried along on this vast impermanent flood of Dharma, of all the dharmas; a flood of life and death.

For me this image of a flowing stream of life teaches me how to meet my life moment-to-moment, how to experience my life as a life of value, and thus to serve. I think of it as a vast flowing river like our magnificent Hudson, and it brings to mind one of my favorite images from the early sutras. It takes place at a riverside and there’s a Bodhisattva who’s sitting in a ferryboat, piloting people back and forth across the river.

She courses in dharmas as empty, signless and wishless;
But she does not experience the Blessed Rest, nor does she course in a sign:
As a skilful ferrywoman goes from this [shore] to the other shore,
But does not stand at either end, nor does she stand in the great flood.

You could say that this Zendo is the ferryboat: we’re in it together and we’re making our way across the sea of life with its suffering and its temptations and its struggles. You could say this is the Sangha Boat and each of us is the Pilot. You could say that the boat is you yourself, and also that you are piloting it. You could say that the boat is Zen and we are making our way across a sea of change. You could say that the boat is a religion, and that’s how we save ourselves. You know I, of all people, have been so resistant to the word “religion” –“ to the idea of religion. And yet, I’ve found this boat and it is the holding that I experience in this boat that frees me.

I’m so thankful for being in the Zen boat going down these rivers. I’m being held by that, I’m being served by that, I’m being saved by that. We can call it a religion, or we can call it a way –“ but it heals, and it soothes, and it serves. Of course we move through time, but if we’re lucky we can find ourselves in a boat that will serve us, that reminds us of the fundamental boundlessness of all dharmas, of our very lives; how everything is contingent, everything is relational, nothing is fixed. In this boat we can see that we are fundamentally free, and we can free ourselves from that clinging, suffering that arises out of holding on to something that’s not here, that’s an idea. This is how we save ourselves from suffering.

Get in the boat with me.

“The Sea of Time” full transcript.

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