What's Wrong with Being and Time: A Buddhist Critique

By David Loy

When Samuel Johnson was asked, 'I wonder what pleasure men can take in making beasts of themselves?,' he answered: 'He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.' (Murray's Johnsonia)

Today we have caught up with Dr. Johnson's insight: existentialist works such as Heidegger's Being and Time highlight the anguish of the human condition, and psychoanalysis traces neurosis (including the low-grade neurosis called normality) back to anxiety. But why is it painful just to be a human being? Here I think the Buddhist concept of anatma can help us carry the analysis a step further, and in the process provide a new perspective on Being and Time.

    For Heidegger, as for existential psychology, our primary repression is death. Yet Heidegger fails to recognize 'the return of the repressed' in symbolic form and overlooks how future-oriented temporality can become what Brown calls 'a schema for the expiation of guilt'. The result is that Heidegger's authenticity is not authentic enough. Both his alternatives, the authentic as well as the inauthentic way of experiencing time, are preoccupied with the future because they are our two usual ways of reacting to the inevitable possibility of death. In order to see how time might be experienced without the shadow of death, Heidegger's approach will be contrasted with the Buddhist deconstruction of time, which denies the commonsense duality between self and time.

    Anatma, the denial of self, is essential to Buddhism. The early Pali sutras deconstruct the self synchronically into five skandha 'aggregates' and diachronically into pratitya-samutpada, 'dependent co-arising.' In both cases our delusive sense-of-self is due to the interaction of impersonal physical and mental phenomena. There is no 'pure' consciousness, only various sense-consciousnesses arising and passing away according to conditions. Later, Mahayana developed the doctrine of dependent co-arising in order to emphasize that nothing has self-existence; everything (including the self) is sunya, lacking any essence of its own.

    Today, in our deconstructing postmodern world, such a denial of ego-self is no longer so shocking. This paper will suggest a way to understand anatma that utilizes the psychoanalytic concept of repression. If we add what psychoanalysis has discovered about repression to what Buddhism teaches about the delusive sense-of-self, the cross-fertilization that occurs has many ramifications, among them a critique of Being and Time. So I begin with a brief account of existential psychoanalysis, which understands our primary repression to be death-fear. [1] This modification of Freudianism will itself be modified by anatma, to show that death-denial, too, symbolically re-presents something else even more basic and terrifying: the quite valid suspicion that 'I' don't really exist. The second part of the paper uses this Buddhist perspective to critique Being and Time, and the third part adumbrates an alternative Buddhist deconstruction of time.


The (sense of) self as (sense of) lack

    Freud emphasized that repression is the cornerstone of psychoanalysis. Repression occurs when something makes me uncomfortable and I choose to ignore or 'forget' it. This enables me to concentrate on something else, but -- this is the great discovery -- what has been repressed tends to return to consciousness, by adopting a disguise. This disguise is a symptom which is therefore symbolic (re-presenting the repressed thing in distorted form). Freud traced the hysterias and phobias of his middle-class Viennese patients back to denied sexual wishes, to conclude that sexual repression is our primal repression -- although, as happens to many of us, his attention gradually shifted from sex to death as he aged.

    William James once observed that 'mankind's common instinct for reality ... has always held the world to be essentially a theater for heroism' (Becker 1973: 1). Each of us yearns to feel of special value, 'first in the universe,' and heroism is how we justify that need, because it can qualify us for a special destiny. But why do we need a special destiny? Because the alternative is literally too much to contemplate. The irony of mankind's ability to symbolize is that it reveals our fate more clearly: man is the animal that knows it is going to die.

    According to Becker, 'everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate', because to see the world as it really is 'devastating and terrifying,' 'it makes routine, automatic, secure, self-confident activity impossible... It places a trembling animal at the mercy of the entire cosmos and the problem of the meaning of it' (Becker 1973: 27, 60) Thus the bite in Pascal's aphorism: 'Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.' (1958: 110, no. 414) For Becker, normality is our collective, protective madness, in which we repress the truth of the human condition, and those who have difficulty playing this game we call mentally-ill. The early experience of the child is his attempt 'to deny the anxiety of his emergence, his fear of losing his support, of standing alone, helpless and afraid.'

This despair he avoids by building defenses; and these defenses allow him to feel ... that he controls his life and his death, that he really does live and act as a willful and free individual, that he has a unique and self-fashioned identity, that he is somebody... (Becker 1973: 54, 55)

    This perspective transforms Freud's Oedipal complex into what Brown (1959: 118) calls an Oedipal project: the never-ending attempt to become father of oneself. The child wants to conquer death by becoming his/her own origin, the creator and sustainer of his/her own life. In Buddhist terms, this is the attempt of the developing sense-of-self to become svabhava 'self-existing', the quest to deny one's groundlessness by becoming one's own ground. Then the Oedipal project derives from our intuition that self-consciousness is not something obviously self-existing but a mental construct; like the surface of the sea, dependent on unknown depths that it cannot grasp because it is a manifestation of them. The problem arises when this conditioned consciousness wants to become autonomous. The paradox is that my essential groundlessness means I can do this only by trying to objectify myself in some fashion in the world. I try to make myself real by becoming something. The ego-self is this continuing attempt to objectify myself in order to grasp myself, something consciousness can no more do than a hand can grasp itself.

    The consequence of this perpetual failure is that the sense-of-self always has, as its inescapable shadow, a sense-of-lack, which it always tries to escape. Here 'the return of the repressed' shows us how to link this basic yet hopeless project with the symbolic ways we try to overcome our sense of lack by making ourselves real in the world. We experience this deep sense of lack as the feeling that 'there is something wrong with me,' but that feeling manifests in different forms and we react to it in different ways. The tragedy of these reactions is that (for example) no amount of fame can ever be enough if it's not really fame we want. When we don't understand what is actually motivating us, we end up compulsive, driven. Being and Time is perceptive about the ways we become 'dispersed' in the present, but is not sensitive to this opposite tendency; for Buddhism, mental health can be found only in an experience which transforms the sense-of-lack that 'shadows' the sense-of-self, by transforming the sense-of-self.

    Yet Heidegger does emphasize something also essential to Buddhism and now accepted by psychoanalysis: anxiety is fundamental to the self, not something we have but something we are. The anguish and despair that the neurotic complains of are not the result of symptoms but their cause; those symptoms shield him/her from the tragedies at the heart of the human situation: death, guilt, meaninglessness. 'The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.' (Becker 1973: 181-2, 66) Then the guilt that haunts us is not the cause of our unhappiness but its effect. 'The ultimate problem is not guilt but the incapacity to live. The illusion of guilt is necessary for an animal that cannot enjoy life, in order to organize a life of nonenjoyment.' (Brown 1959: 270) If the autonomy of self-consciousness is a delusion which can never quite shake off its shadow-feeling that 'something is wrong with me,' we will need to rationalize that sense of inadequacy somehow. But when fear of death rebounds as fear of life, they become two sides of the same coin. Then genuine life cannot be opposed to death but must embrace both life and death. The great irony is that as long as we crave immortality we are dead.

    Anxiety about death is our reaction to becoming aware of ourselves and our inevitable fate. But is the dilemma of life-confronting-death an objective fact, or something constructed and projected, more like an unconscious, deeply repressed game that each of us is playing with himself? Not a game that I play, but a game that plays me, if my sense-of-self is constituted by this game. When being self-conscious is to be conscious of oneself as being alive, then death-terror isn't something the ego has but what it is.

    If, however, the ego is mentally constituted by such a dualistic way of thinking, it should be able to die without physical death. Such is the claim of Buddhism: the sense-of-self can disappear but that reveals something else which cannot die because it was never born. Anatma is the 'middle way' between the refuted extremes of eternalism (the self survives death) and annihilationism (the self is destroyed at death). Buddhism resolves the problem of life-and-death by deconstructing it. The evaporation of a dualistic way of experiencing life-and-death reveals what is prior to both. There are many names for this prior, but one of the most common is 'the unborn.' In the Pali Canon the two most famous descriptions of nirvana both refer to 'the unborn' (Udana VIII.1,3, in Thomas 1935: 110 - 111). That 'all things are perfectly resolved in the Unborn' was the great realization of the seventeenth-century Japanese Zen master Bankei (Waddell, 1984: 47). Many other examples could be cited.

    For Buddhism, the dualism between life and death exemplifies a more general problem, dualistic thinking. We differentiate between success and failure, etc., because we want one and not the other, but their interdependence means grasping one also maintains the other: thus our fear of failure equals our hope for success. In the same fashion, there is no life without death and -- what we are more likely to overlook -- no death without life. So the problem is not death but life-and-death. If we can realize that there is no ego-self which is alive now, the problem of life-and-death is solved. When there is no one who has life, there is no reason to fear death. If the ego-self is an ongoing project whereby consciousness tries to grab hold of itself by objectifying itself, unmediated experience 'of' the Unborn is the final shipwreck of that project. The ego-self forecloses on its greatest anxiety by letting-go and dying right now.

    Needless to say, this cannot save the body from aging and rotting; then how does it solve our problem? Because the Buddhist approach implies that death is not our deepest fear and immortality not our deepest hope, for they too are symptoms representing something else. Even death-terror represses something, since that terror is preferable to facing one's lack of being now: death-fear allows us to project the problem into the future. In that way we avoid facing what we are (or are not) right now. This implies that our ultimate hunger is ontological: it will be satisfied by nothing less than becoming real, which in the nondualist terms of Mahayana Buddhism can occur only by real-izing that I am one with -- nothing other than -- the whole universe; and that is possible if the sense-of-self is not what I really am.

    Why do we need to keep projecting ourselves indefinitely into the future, unless something is felt to be lacking now? The obvious answer is that we are afraid of losing something then we have now; but many have argued that if life is not something we have but something we are, there's nothing to fear because we shall not be around to notice (what) we're missing. As Epicurus (1951: 122) stoically asserted, 'the most horrible of all evils, death, is nothing to us, for when we exist, death is not present; but when death is present, then we are not.' The basic problem is that our grasping at the future rejects the present; we reach for what could be because we feel something lacking in what is. Brown (1959: 277) summarizes the matter brilliantly: time is 'a schema for the expiation of guilt', which in my Buddhist terms becomes: time originates from our sense of lack and our attempts to fill in that lack.

    The Buddhist perspective suggests that if nothing is lacking now, then immortality loses its compulsion as the way to resolve lack, and whether we survive physical death is no longer the main point. Our most troublesome repression is not life-repressing-death but sense-of-self repressing its suspected nothingness. The solution is to 'forget' oneself and let-go, to become nothing. Meditation is learning how to 'die' by becoming absorbed into one's meditation. It is an exercise in de-reflection: consciousness unlearns trying to grasp itself. Enlightenment occurs when the usually-automatized reflexivity of consciousness ceases, which is experienced as a letting-go and falling into the void. 'Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma' (Huang-po, in Blofeld 1958: 41). When my consciousness stops trying to catch its own tail, I become nothing, and discover that I am everything -- or, more precisely, that I can be anything.


A Schema for the Expiation of Guilt

The distraction of human life to the war against death ... results in death's dominion over life. The war against death takes the form of a preoccupation with the past and with the future, and the present tense, the tense of life, is lost. (Brown 1959: 284)

    It can hardly be coincidental that Being and Time inverts the relations just considered among death, self, guilt and time. Since Heidegger offers a mirror-image of the perspective presented above, it is not surprising he draws opposite conclusions. [2]

    Being and Time doesn't discuss the unconscious, yet references to 'forgetfulness of Being' make it clear that Heidegger too is concerned with something like repression. Again, the key repression is death: awareness of our finitude can open the door to authentic existence. For Heidegger, death is even more important as a means to disclose the nature of Being, whose horizon is temporality. This section will briefly retrace the double route (inauthentic and authentic) that Heidegger travels from death to the self constituted by care, itself grounded in time, to show why his authenticity is not authentic enough. Both his alternatives are preoccupied with the future because they are reactions to the inevitable possibility of death. To see how time might be experienced without the shadow of death, we must turn to other alternatives such as the Buddhist deconstruction of time.

    Skeptical of metaphysical approaches that seek some Being outside time, Heidegger begins with a phenomenology of the way we experience things in everyday life. But does beginning with everydayness avoid metaphysics, or is there a metaphysics already embedded in our 'commonsense' understanding? For Buddhism, there is a metaphysics implicit in everydayness and it is dangerously deluded, because it causes us to suffer. The danger with Heidegger's approach is that it may conclude by reinstating and formalizing those metaphysically-conditioned intuitions, and will therefore reflect not Being but just another historically-determined understanding of Being.

    Heidegger's analysis of everydayness determines that our being is care (Sorge). We are always ahead of ourselves, planning and projecting future possibilities. Then how can we ever be whole? Only if we can exist in a way that unifies our past, present and future. Such a 'self-gathering' occurs in the resolute anticipation of my own death. Since my death is the one event I can never 'gather', the meaning of death is found not in its actuality but in its possibility: not in being-at-an-end but in being-towards-the-end. The usual inauthentic or 'fallen' view perverts death into a public event that 'one' encounters. More authentic openness to death reveals it as my uttermost possibility, which individuates me: knowing that my death cannot be evaded, that even the longest life is brief, can pull me together out of my dispersal in idle talk and chance possibilities. This resolute anticipation of my death frees me to be myself. For this to happen death must be grasped, cultivated and endured 'as possibility'. Such 'being-towards-death is essentially anxiety,' because anxiety is the state of mind that keeps the constant threat of death before us, in contrast with the tranquillization of the usual inauthentic attitude, which 'does not permit us the courage for anxiety in the face of death' (Heidegger 1927/1962: 298-311). Heidegger does not consider whether such anxious awareness might be a stage leading to something else: that I might actually 'die before I die,' to use the Sufi phrase.

    The key terms so far are resoluteness and authenticity (Eigentlichkeit, literally 'ownedness' or 'self-possessedness' [3]). What is important is to possess oneself: to bind one's inclinations into a unity, so one isn't at the mercy of chance possibilities and casual distractions. This need to 'pull oneself together' out of the dispersion of everyday, inauthentic existence is the key metaphor in Being and Time. The voluntaristic simile persists into the analysis of temporality, where resoluteness pulls the present out of dispersal on objects of immediate concern and binds it firmly with the future and past. But this image needs to be complemented by another: the person so driven by his life-project that he never is where he is because he is always busy going somewhere else -- usually clawing up the ladder of success. (Heidegger is careful not to dilute his ontological analysis with ethical recommendations, so he leaves open the question of where to direct one's resoluteness.) Today, at least, such people are as familiar to us as the dispersed people Heidegger finds inauthentic, and as a solution to the problem of life this is just as one-sided.

    Here the theory of repression adds something that Being and Time misses: the 'return of the repressed' in symbolic form. Usually death repression manifests as a deep need for security and that 'psychopathology of the everyday' called normality, but it can also appear in the compulsiveness of the person who must become wealthy, famous, etc. The psychoanalyst Irvin Yalom proposes a dual paradigm of death-denial: fusion and individuation. Fusion is hiding in the crowd and expecting to be taken care of; individuation seeks the specialness of heroism that tries to qualify for a better fate by becoming better than others (Yalom 1980, 112ff). But how 'authentic' can such resoluteness be if it involves an attempt to escape death through an 'immortality project'? If it tries to fill up one's sense of lack with some symbolic reality such as money or fame? Section one argued that preoccupation with the future can be a reflex of death-terror, an unconscious and therefore compulsive attempt to transcend death and nothingness symbolically. That trap Heidegger fails to warn us against and may himself have fallen into. Becker and Yalom, among others, have argued convincingly that Freud never analyzed his own death-fear; therefore the psychoanalytic movement became his own immortality project, one reason he reacted so strongly against any perceived threat to his patriarchy (Becker 1973: 93-124, Yalom 1980: 59-76). Recent biographies of Heidegger provide evidence to support similar conclusions: for example, his predilection to belittle other philosophers, especially contemporaries; deep reluctance to admit he was ever wrong, philosophically or politically; and, the most revealing, his obvious desire to be 'a world-historical thinker' (Ott: 1988). One senses that Heidegger hoped to fill up his own sense of lack by becoming the philosopher who finally reveals the nature of Being to a grateful posterity. [4] If there is something inauthentic about both of Heidegger's alternatives, is there another possibility that is more authentic?

    If death is implicit in care, so is the self. Anticipatory resoluteness, activated by the call of conscience that reveals the 'lack' of my groundlessness, pulls me together out of dispersion in chance possibilities and illumines my being as care. This implies a self that cannot be understood as an ego-subject 'in' time: 'The ego cannot be conceived as temporal, i.e., as intra-temporal precisely because the self originally and in its innermost essence is time itself' (Heidegger 1951/1968: 200). (Later Dogen will be quoted making the same point but to a different end.) The abiding nature of the self is grounded in the self-unifying nature of temporality that 'generates itself.'

    So the issues discussed above finally boil down to the nature of time, which is revealed as the 'horizon' of the Being that Heidegger seeks; in Being and Time, 'to be' means to appear according to the temporal 'ecstasies' of past, present, and especially the future. Heidegger's treatment of temporality also distinguishes the authentic and inauthentic ways of experiencing time. With inauthentic life, scattered by the distractions of everyday affairs, we experience time as an interminable sequence of 'nows' that have been 'leveled off,' each shorn of its intrinsic relations with the others so that they simply line up in a uniform succession. One's attention is caught, now by this, then by that, because there is nothing to hold these nows together. In terms of such de-structured nows, Heidegger believes it is not possible to clarify the true nature of the present or of time generally. Authentic temporality, which 'temporalizes itself primarily in terms of the future,' is revealed only in resoluteness. 'Temporality gets experienced in a phenomenally primordial way in Dasein's authentic Being-a-whole, in the phenomenon of anticipatory resoluteness.' Such resoluteness pulls the present out of dispersal on objects of immediate concern and binds it firmly with the future and the past; this gives us the authentic present. Heidegger understands our usual 'now-moment' only in terms of the even more basic 'stretching-along' of future-oriented temporality. 'The "now" is not pregnant with the "not-yet-now", but the Present arises from the future in the primordial ecstatical unity of the temporalizing of temporality' (Heidegger 1927/1962: 476, 479).

    But what if there is a 'now' that is pregnant with the 'not-yet-now'? Which cannot be understood as a mere sequence of monotonous, levelled-off moments? The nunc stans of medieval philosophy (and the philosophia perennis generally) has traditionally been offered as such an alternative, but Heidegger brusquely dismisses this possibility in a footnote: eternity conceived as a nunc stans is derived from the ordinary (i.e., inauthentic) way of understanding time and as such does not need to be discussed in detail (Heidegger 1927/1962: 499, fn xiii). From the Buddhist perspective, however, this dismissal overlooks something about the now-as-now. Both of Heidegger's alternatives, authentic and inauthentic, are preoccupied with the future because in different ways they are reactions to the possibility of death; thus both are ways of running away from the now. Neither experiences the present for what it is in itself, but through the shadow that the inescapable future casts over it.

    'The "purposive man" is always trying to secure a spurious and delusive immortality for his acts by pushing his interest in them forward in time' (Keynes 1932: 370). If even our 'purposive' preoccupation with the future is a reflex of death-terror (and nothingness-terror), no wonder we are obsessed with keeping busy. But if that obsession is historically-determined, we should hesitate before generalizing it. According to John Mbiti, an African philosopher, traditional African consciousness lacks the Western concept of the future. Time is divided into those events which occurred in the past, those happening now or in the immediate future, and those that recur in the rhythms of natural phenomena. Anything that doesn't fit into these three categories is not apprehended as time. 'The most significant consequence of this is that, according to traditional concepts, time is a two-dimensional phenomenon, with a long past, a present, and virtually no future. The linear concept of time in Western thought, with an indefinite past, present, and infinite future, is practically foreign to African thinking.' (Mbiti 1969: 17) This is usually true of traditionalist cultures, which emphasize the patterns of the past. The modern West reverses this: we are driven by the future. These may be viewed as different ways of trying to cope with our sense-of-lack: by identifying with 'the old ways' (another version of Yalom's fusion), or by striving for something new which will fill it up (Yalom's individuation). More generally, each feeds on the other: individually and collectively, we dream of the Golden Age to come, which will restore the dimly-remembered Golden Age of the past (our childhood, Periclean Greece, the 1960's, etc.).

    'We do not rest satisfied with the present, for the present is generally painful to us' (Pascal 1958: 49, no. 172). This contradicts Heidegger's conception of 'vulgar' temporality, which for him is 'lost' in the present; but ten minutes' meditation (e.g., zazen) confirms it. If our root problem is not fear of death in the future but an always-gnawing sense of lack now, the reason becomes obvious: living (in) the present is uncomfortable because it discloses our nothingness, our groundlessness. Time is the canvas we erect before us, on which we paint the dreams that then fascinate us, because they offer us the hope of overcoming that sense of inadequacy.



When the Buddha was asked why his disciples, who lived such simple lives with only one meal a day, were so radiant, he replied: 'They do not repent of the past, nor do they brood over the future. They live in the present. Therefore they are radiant. By brooding over the future and repenting the past, fools dry up like green reeds cut down.' (Samyutta Nikaya I, 5)

    If our experience of time is conditioned by fear of death and denial of nothingness, genuine acceptance of them might reveal something hitherto unrealized about the nature of time and the things 'in' time. For Buddhism, the relationship between present and future will then be experienced less dualistically, as the series of leveled-off, falling-away 'now-moments' transforms into what the thirteenth-century Japanese Zen master Dogen calls uji, 'being-time':

    'Being-time' here means that time itself is being ... and all being is time. Each moment is all being, is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment.
    Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away. If time merely flies away, you would be separated from time. The reason you do not clearly understand being-time is that you think of time as only passing ... and do not understand that time never arrives... People only see time's coming and going, and do not thoroughly understand that being-time abides in each moment.
    Being-time has the quality of flowing... Because flowing is a quality of time, moments of past and present do not overlap or line up side by side. Do not think flowing is like wind and rain moving from east to west. The entire world is not unchangeable, is not immovable. It flows. Flowing is like spring. Spring with all its numerous aspects is called flowing. When spring flows there is nothing outside of spring... Thus, flowing is completed at just this moment of spring. ('Uji', in Tanahashi 1985: 76-80)

Like Being and Time, this passage criticizes our usual understanding of time as a sequence of falling-away now-moments, but without substituting a future-orientation to unify them: time never arrives or passes away, yet it does flow. This apparent inconsistency is the heart of the matter, but to resolve it we must first notice that time 'flies away' when we experience it dualistically, with the sense of a self that is separate from it and looking at it. Then time becomes objectified into something that I have (or don't have), quantified into a succession of fleeting 'now-moments' that cannot be retained but incessantly fall away. In contrast, the being-times that we usually objectify into objects cannot be said to occur in time, for they are time. As Nagarjuna would put it, that things (or 'thingings') are time means that there is no second, external time that they are within.

    For Plotinus 'time is generated by the mind's restlessness, its stretching out to the future, its projects, and its negation of "the present state".' (Arendt 1978: I,45) But since there is no future without a past, Buddhism also emphasizes the role of memory 'wrongly interpreted' in creating the illusory sense of a continuity in time which, along with intentions and hopes, reifies into the purposive sense-of-self. In contrast to Heidegger, however, this pulling-oneself-together is the problem not the solution. Such memories and expectations act as a mental superimposition obscuring the present, usually so much that we can hardly be said to experience it -- which is ironic, since no one has ever lived in the past or will ever live in the future. But our purposive activity tends to devalue the present moment into merely one of a falling-away series of causal relations, the means whereby we strive to actualize our ends.

    The consequence of this is a kind of karmic reversal. Having projected these temporal/causal sequences to objectify time, I then discover that objectified time is something I am 'in.' Instead of the past being experienced as a function of memories and the future as a function of expectations, the present is reduced to a single falling-away moment in a time-stream understood to exist objectively -- a container, as it were, like space, within which things exist and events occur. In this way a delusive bifurcation occurs between time and the things 'in' time, because time cannot be a container unless there is something to contain: objects. And in order for objects to be 'in' time, they must in themselves be non-temporal: i.e., self-existing. As a result of this objectification, we experience time and things as separate from each other, and each gains a spurious reality of its own.

    The first and most important object to be reified (because the condition of all the others) is me: the sense-of-self as something self-existing. So the objectification of time is also the subjectification of a self, which arises only to discover itself in the anxious situation of being an apparently nontemporal entity nonetheless subjected to time's ravages. This entity seems to have an autonomous reality, but the nature of its supposed existence is necessarily opaque to itself, because really it is nothing: as a mental construction, the sense-of-self has no fixed reality of its own. Thus it is not surprising that life becomes the futile project of trying to make ourselves real in one way or another.

    The important point is not whether the self is grounded in time (as in Being and Time) or vice-versa. Rather, the spurious reality of each is dependent on the spurious reality of the other, because the apparent self-existence of both arises only from their bifurcation. And that points to the Buddhist solution, which eliminates this dualism by realizing that I am not in time because I am time; and if I am time I cannot be trapped by time. To be time is to be free from time.

    Here we may turn a spatial analogy -- usually dangerous -- to our advantage. We normally think of objects such as cups to be 'in' space, which implies that in themselves such objects have a self-existence distinct from space. But of course a cup is irremediably spatial: without the spatial relations among its bottom, sides and handle, the cup could not be a cup. One way to express this is that the cup is not in space but is space, or is what space is doing in that place. The same is true for the temporality of the cup. The cup is not a nontemporal, self-existing object that just happens to be in time, for its being is also irremediably temporal.

    This deconstructs the duality we have thought-constructed between things and time. As soon as we try to express this nonduality, however, we find ourselves limited by the dualism inherent in language, which bifurcates the subject of a sentence from its temporal relations. To overcome this, Dogen conflates that duality by saying that objects are time (objects have no self-existence because they are necessarily temporal, in which case they are not objects as usually understood), and, conversely, that time is objects (that time manifests not in but as the ephemera we call objects). 'The time we call spring blossoms directly as an existence called flowers. The flowers, in turn, express the time called spring. This is not existence within time; existence itself is time' (in Reiho 1958: 68).

    But if there is only time then there is no time, for there can be no container without a contained. Without nouns, there are no referents for temporal predicates. When there are no things that have an existence apart from time, it makes no sense to speak of things as being young or old. 'So the young man does not grow old nor does the old man grow old' (Nagarjuna in Sprung 1979: 147). Dogen makes the same point using the image of firewood and ashes:

We should not take the view that what is latterly ashes was formerly firewood. What we should understand is that, according to the doctrine of Buddhism, firewood stays at the position of firewood... There are former and later stages, but these stages are clearly cut.

Firewood does not become ashes; there is the being-time of firewood, then the being-time of ashes. If there are no nontemporal objects, then the present does not gain its value or meaning by being related to past or future; each event or being-time is complete in itself. But how does this free us from time?

Similarly, when human beings die, they cannot return to life; but in Buddhist teaching we never say life changes into death... Likewise, death cannot change into life... Life and death have absolute existence, like the relationship of winter and spring. But do not think of winter changing into spring or spring into summer. (in Tanahashi 1985: 70-71)

Because life and death, like spring and summer, are not in time, they are timeless. I cannot be trapped by time if I am time. In that now prior to objective time, birth is no-birth because no self is ever born. If there is no one nontemporal who is born and dies, then there are only the events of birth and death. But if there are only those events, with no one 'in' them, then really there is no birth and death. Alternatively, we may say that there is birth-and-death in every moment, with the arising and passing-away of each thought and act.

    We seem to end up with only the present: not the present as usually understood, but one that incorporates past and future. Yet this becomes awkward if there is no longer a past or a future to distinguish the present from.

If someone says, only the present experience has reality, then the word 'present' must be redundant here, as the word 'I' is in other contexts. For it cannot mean present as opposed to past and future... Something else must be meant by the word, something that isn't in a space, but is itself a space. (Wittgenstein 1975: 85)

Something that isn't in time, but is itself time. That completes time's deconstruction: if there is no past or future, the present is refuted also, and we are (in) eternity. Without an objective past or future to contrast itself with, the no-longer fleeting now cannot be grasped or retained; I myself can never become aware of that now because I am indistinguishable from it. When the sense of lack at my core transforms into an openness no longer defensive, the 'I' changes from a wound that flees itself to become the now that can never be lost. Without the reflexivity of a fixed self to measure it, the moment expands to become everything and just as much nothing, for it disappears as the stage of that objectified theater that we construct and then find ourselves caught within.

we take the very young
child and force it around, so that it sees
objects -- not the Open, which is so
deep in animals' faces. Free from death.
We, only, can see death; the free animal
has its decline in back of it, forever,
and God in front, and when it moves, it moves
already in eternity, like a fountain.
... it feels its life as boundless,
unfathomable, and without regard
to its own condition: pure, like its outward gaze.
And where we see the future, it sees all time
and itself within all time, forever healed.
(Rilke, Duino Elegies) [5]



1. For the origins of the existential analytic movement, including a selection of influential papers, see May 1958. My account of existential psychology draws heavily on Brown 1959, Yalom 1980 and especially Becker 1973, 1975.

2. After his Kehre 'turning' in the early or mid-1930's, Heidegger's approach changed radically, but his later attitude towards time -- and how much that is consistent with his earlier attitude -- is not discussed in this paper. A 1962 lecture 'Time and Being' (published in On Time and Being, trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper and Row, 1972) addresses how this 'turning' affected Heidegger's understanding of time, but it is a poor example of his later thought. For a more positive evaluation of other late writings, see Loy 1988, chapter 4; for a more detailed analysis of nondual temporality, see chapter 6.

3. See Michael E. Zimmerman's excellent Eclipse of the Self: The Development of Heidegger's Concept of Authenticity (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1981), 71-73 and xxxiv.

4. The best biography so far is probably Hugo Ott's Martin Heidegger: Unterwegs zu seiner Biographie (Frankfurt: Campus, 1988). 'Marvelling at the extent of Heidegger's naivety, Ott shows that the relationship between his thought and his political actions was grounded in his own personality. Indisputably a great thinker, Heidegger also had delusions of grandeur. It was his unswerving conviction about his fated role as Germany's spiritual leader which led him to absolve himself of moral guilt for his actions in the 1930s and to make a scapegoat of others... Ott concludes that he was guilty of "monstrous hubris" not only in his political actions in the 1930s, but in his postwar belief that he alone knew what was required for the West to make a "new beginning".' (from Michael Zimmerman's review in the Times Literary Supplement, 5 May 1989, p. 481.) I quote this not to belittle Heidegger, but to show how his concepts of resoluteness and authenticity are coloured by his own attempt to embody them.

5. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Random House, 1982), 193, 195.



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For Heidegger, as existential psychology, our primary repression is death-fear. But since Being and Time misses 'the return of the repressed' in symbolic form, Heidegger overlooks how future-oriented temporality can become 'a schema for the expiation of guilt'. Heidegger's authentic and inauthentic ways of experiencing time are both reactions to the inevitable possibility of death. To see how time might be experienced without the shadow of death, Heidegger's approach is contrasted with the Buddhist deconstruction of time, which denies the commonsense duality between self and time.