So this evening I started. The book includes footnotes (and as an editor of scholarly texts, I love footnotes—as long as they're relevant and useful), and the end of the first chapter goes, "Hey, I know! Let's count the moments together!" with a footnote: "9. For more thoughts on Zen moments, see Appendix A."
And so here for your enjoyment, and my archiving, is Appendix A, "Zen Moments":
The Zen nun Jiko Yasutani once told me in a dream that you can't understand what it means to be alive on this earth until you understand the time being, and in order to understand the time being, she said, you have to understand what a moment is.
In my dream, I asked her, What on earth is a moment?
A moment is a very small particle of time. It is so small that one day is made of 6,400,099,980 moments.
When I looked it up afterward, I discovered that this was the exact number cited by Zen Master Dōgen in his masterwork, the Shōbōgenzō (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye).
Numerals resist the eye, so let me spell it out in words: six billion, four hundred million, ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty. That's how many moments Zen Master Dōgen posited are in one day, and after she rattled off the number, old Jiko snapped her fingers. Her fingers are crazily bent and twisted with arthritis, so she wasn't very good at snapping, but somehow she got her point across.
Please try it, she said. Did you snap? Because if you did, that snap equals sixty-five moments.
The granularity of the Zen view of time becomes clear if you do the math, or if you just take Jiko's word for it. She leaned forward, adjusting her black-framed glasses on her nose and peering through the thick, murky lenses, and then she spoke once more.
If you start snapping your fingers now and continue snapping 98,463,077 times without stopping, the sun will rise and the sun will set, and the sky will grow dark and the night will deepen, and everyone will sleep while you are still snapping, until finally, sometime after daybreak, when you finish up your 98,463,077th snap, you will experience the truly intimate awareness of knowing exactly how you spent every single moment of a single day of your life.
She sat back on her heels and nodded. The thought experiment she proposed was certainly odd, but her point was simple. Everything in the universe is constantly changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.
That's what it means to be a time being, old Jiko told me, and then she snapped her crooked fingers again.
And just like that, you die.