A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki Nao and Zen

Every being that exists in the entire world is linked together as moments in time, and at the same time they exist as individual moments of time. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being.
- Dōgen Zenji, Uji

Ruth, who finds Nao's diary washed up on shore in Whaletown, Vancouver, is an author suffering writer's block, at the same time haunted by memories of her mother's recent passing.

Suspecting that the diary may be debris from the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, she becomes engrossed in Nao's story of being painfully bullied and contemplating suicide; of her great-grandmother "old Jiko" who was a 104 year old Zen Buddhist nun; of her great-uncle who was a Kamikaze pilot in WWII; and of her father suffering depression, himself having failed attempts at suicide. Their troubled lives seem to reach out through time to touch Ruth in a profound way.

Nao's desperate life was heartbreaking to read and I found myself wishing for her a quick resolution (not suicide, that is) to such unhappiness at such a young age. But, the person who warmed my heart was old Jiko, who by Nao's own description, sometimes spoke in riddles.

Jiko: "Surfer, wave, same thing."

"That's just stupid, " I said. " A surfer's a person. A wave is a wave. How can they be the same?"

Jiko looked out across the ocean to where the water met the sky. "A wave is born from deep conditions of the ocean," she said. " A person is born from deep conditions of the world. A person pokes up from the world and rolls along like a wave, until it is time to sink down again. Up, down. Person, wave."

I liked Jiko, she conjured up pleasant images of Master Yoda for me.

The stories of past and present lives are brilliantly wrapped in Zen philosophy with the expectation,obviously, of resolving their problems and achieving tranquility. The aspect of quantum mechanics as time being, which Ruth may have experienced in her dreamscape, as if she had moved through a temporal rift to somehow effect a change in history, was both a challenging and thought provoking concept.

This was a beautifully written, moving novel and for me, its final message was stated no better than old Jiko's last words:

生 - to live
"For now...for the time being."