The Present Moment, Right Now
Why the Present Moment Is Important
"The single most important thing is the heart and mind of the present moment." These are the words of the famous Zen master Dokyo Etan (1642-1721), commonly called Shoju Rojin (Old Man of Shoju) from his hermitage named Shoju-an (Hermitage of Right Perception) in Iiyama, Shinano Province (present-day Nagano Prefecture), where he dedicated himself to Zen training.
Etan proposed the idea of "living for this one day," teaching people "No matter how difficult a time you are having, if you think that it is only for this one day, you will be able to bear it. Pleasure is the same. If you think that it will last only for one day, there is no reason to wallow in it." What he is teaching here is that it is most important that one live this single day, today, with diligence, and that one such day after another follows. In other words, we must dedicate our whole being into each and every day. In order to achieve this, we should live by giving the greatest importance to the present moment of today. In effect, Etan teaches that allowing ourselves to be neglectful of the present by thinking about what may lie ahead will waste tomorrow, to say nothing of a lifetime.
We usually find it somewhat difficult, however, to give such importance to the present moment of today. Of course we understand the idea mentally, but in fact, while we say such things as "I will continue with morning and evening sutra recitation" or "I will stop smoking," we end up putting things off until tomorrow and neglecting the present moment of today.
The Japanese theoretical physicist Haruo Saji has written about the present moment as follows:
"The fact that we feel a sense of freedom in how we might use the present moment, that is, this very moment in time, is proof that we are alive. "The time we can make use of is not the past, it is not the future, it is only right now, this present moment."
All of us live our lives only once, and we are the only ones who can live our own lives. Furthermore, the time we can use freely is only the present moment. In this impermanent world, in which we never know what may happen next, we might even say that to be neglectful of the present moment is to waste life itself.
Putting the Present Moment into Practice
Let us think about how we can give importance to the present moment.
In Hagakure (Hidden by the Leaves), a collection of commentaries about the warrior code of the samurai compiled in the early eighteenth century, we find the phrase, "Ato miyo sowaka" (Look over your shoulder, sowaka). "Sowaka (Skt., svaha)" is the incantation chanted at the end of Shingon, or mantras of Esoteric Buddhist sects, and to tell yourself to "look over your shoulder" is to thoroughly review your course of action and ask yourself whether you are forgetting something and whether you are doing what you should. When making an important decision, if you realize that you are starting to think up excuses for not acting quickly, then you should try chanting this Shingon incantation.
Another method is to announce your decision in front of many people. I also was taught this, and I have tested its effectiveness.
There are surely other methods. From a long time ago we have had the old saying, "The time is right when you are thinking of taking action," which tells us the importance of not losing time and taking care of things in "the present moment, right now." That is because, when we decide to do something or make up our mind to take action, the way of doing so that conforms to the truth is to readily follow the causal conditions to act by immediately putting our decision into practice. Put another way, we can lead our lives in step with the truth by bearing in mind to make the most of the present moment, right now.
The cells making up our bodies function together in harmony according to a universal truth, keeping us alive. However, our hearts and minds often lead us to egotistical feelings that want to have their own way and to avoid anything that is painful or troublesome. When that happens, things do not go smoothly and instead cause suffering, but when we move with the natural flow of universal truth, our hearts and minds and our actions are in harmony, and our bodies and our hearts and minds can feel at ease.
Shoju Rojin, whom I mentioned at the beginning, said that living each day to the fullest by taking action on what is in front of us brings us to "spiritual fitness and the secret of good health." Whether it is quitting smoking or thinking about leading a healthier lifestyle, what matters most is developing the attitude to attach the greatest importance to "the present moment, right now."