Other People are Just Your Past and Your Future

You think they’re other people, but they’re actually your own past and your own future.

That thought flew by me this morning and I decided to catch it and hold it for a while. I figured it might prove to be useful.

It’s the best way I can express, in a single sentence, the rather weird and eccentric view I have of life, the universe, and everything. It’s a view that has developed over thirty-some years of Zen practice. So maybe, in some sense it could be called a “Buddhist view.” Although I should warn you that it’s not in any way canonical. I’ve never heard anyone else express it like that.

I’d like to say that I mean this literally. But that might not be the proper use of the word “literally.” Because if I said I meant it literally, you could probably poke all sorts of holes in it as a scientific theory.

Even so, it’s more than just a metaphor to me. Whenever I talk to other people, always, in the back of my mind, is the view that I am speaking into a mirror. But it’s a mirror that’s displaced somehow in time and space. I say “somehow” because I don’t understand the mechanism behind how this happens or why. However, I am absolutely certain this is the case. I know for a fact that you out there reading this are actually just me reading this from another perspective.

I know… It’s weird. But, to me, it’s the only way of understanding things that makes any real sense anymore.

In an essay called Mujo Seppo, which everyone else translates as something like The Insentient Preach the Dharma, but my teacher translated as The Non-Emotional Preaches the Dharma, Dogen says something really odd. He says, “There are thousands of eyes on the tips of the fingers. There are thousands of eyes of right Dharma. There are thousands of eyes in the ears. There are thousands of eyes on the tip of the tongue. There are thousands of eyes on the tip of the mind. There are thousands of eyes of the thoroughly realized mind. There are thousands of eyes of the thoroughly realized body.

“There are thousands of eyes on top of a stick. There are thousands of eyes in the moment before the body. There are thousands of eyes in the moment before the mind. There are thousands of eyes of death in death. There are thousands of eyes of liveliness in liveliness.

“There are thousands of eyes of the self. There are thousands of eyes of the external world. There are thousands of eyes in the concrete place of eyes. There are thousands of eyes of learning in practice. There are thousands of eyes aligned vertically, and there are thousands of eyes aligned horizontally. Thus, we study that the totality of eyes is the whole universe.”

Weird, right?

I have a chapter about this essay in my new book It Came from Beyond Zen. In that book, I threw a few words at the problem of deciphering that strange paragraph. Here I’ll try a different bunch of words.

I understand this strange paragraph of Dogen’s as saying pretty much what I said in the beginning of this piece; you think there are other people, but they’re just your past and your future.

We imagine that we are individuals, with our own lives, our own ideas, our own bus passes, our own births, and our own deaths. But to Dogen, we’re all just eyeballs. And even our eyeballs are made up of even more eyeballs.

In other words, it’s just the One Universe observing its own workings from countless points of view in order to gain a better understanding of who and what it actually is.

See, if you’re confused about God, that’s just a reflection of God’s own confusion about God. And if you think you know God, well, brother, you got a lot to learn!

You can understand this abstractly, as an intellectual proposition. And that’s OK. But if you work on yourself for a while, it starts to become an inescapable real fact. Sort of like the fact that your nose is on your face. It’s that undeniable.

And so here I am in the North of England. It’s chilly and a little drizzly. Still, I’m going to go out in an hour or so and walk around Liverpool. Maybe I’ll get a look at Penny Lane and find out it’s now just a tourist trap for suckers like me.

You’ll be there too.



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October 1-4, 2017 Retreat in Hebden Bridge, England

October 7, 2017 One-day event in Manchester, England

October 18, 2017 7:00pm The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, CA

October 25, 2017 7:30 pm Battle with Shozan Jack Haubner at Against the Stream, Los Angeles, CA

November 3-5, 2017 Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, Mt Baldy, CA

November 10-12, 2017 Non-Residential Retreat, Toronto, ON, Canada

November 14, 2017 Lecture, Dawson College, Montreal, QC, Canada


Every Monday at 7:30pm there’s zazen at Angel City Zen Center (NEW TIME, NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!

Every Saturday at 10:00 am there’s zazen at the Angel City Zen Center (NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!

These on-going events happen every week even if I am away from Los Angeles. Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info

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 is now available as an audiobook from Audible.com as are Hardcore Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up and There is No God and He is Always With You!

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