My son Carl has become my favorite hockey goalie. He plays roller hockey with a team called the Warriors in a league at Shooters Indoor Sportsplex in Midlothian, Virginia. Last night, the Warriors won the league championship in Game Three of a series vs. the Dirty Ducks. The Warriors’ team captain declared Carl the most valuable player, not only on the team but in the league. He blocked 32 shots on goal in last night’s game. The final score was 5-3.
Over dinner after the game with Carl and his teammates, we talked about hockey, especially about the danger to players of becoming wrapped up and distracted when things don’t go their way. I thought that must be especially difficult for a goalie, who spends the entire game protecting 24 square feet of space from a three-inch-wide wide rubber disk traveling at up to 100 miles per hour.
I asked Carl how he stays so focused, even after a puck gets past him. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” he replied, “but every time the other team scores, I turn around, face the net and say the Serenity Prayer.” If you don’t know it, the Serenity Prayer asks our Higher Power to
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
That wisdom from my 21-year-old son got me thinking about my chosen spiritual path in the Dzogchen tradition of Buddhism. Dzogchen means “Great Perfection” and teaches that we are all perfect Buddhas already, or maybe more accurately we are once we realize it. In other words, the perfection of the Buddha is within us and ready to awaken as soon as we give up our struggle with life and allow ourselves, and our Buddha within, to wake up.
I am not an authorized teacher in any Buddhist tradition except my own eclectic version, so I’m giving you my own interpretation of Dzogchen Buddhism as I have learned it from my teacher, Lama Surya Das. If you want to be sure you’re getting it straight, read his books, watch his videos, and join me at his summer retreat July 16-22 in New York State.
One question that gets raised whenever I talk about the Great Perfection is, “If we’re perfect already, what happens to self-improvement and to working for a better world?” Like a lot in Buddhism, my answer lies in two levels:
- At the ultimate level, the world without our illusions, we have a perfect core inside, like a crystal or a mirror, that is unblemished.
- At the relative level, the everyday word, we walk around with our mirrors smeared and blemished by our illusions. We all do. And I’d suggest that we’re still perfect as we are. We are perfect in our imperfection.
What I mean by that second bullet is that the genes we inherited, the environments we grew up in and inhabit now, brought us to our current state. It may not be everything we want, and the world may not be everything we want it to be, but we have to accept it before we can change it.
So, yes, indeed, we are perfect without any self-improvement and without taking on ourselves the world’s challenges. But every moment of our lives involves a choice and a path. We can choose to grumble at our children or to embrace them. We can choose to spend our extra money for a solar panel or for a hot tub. We can choose to send our old shoes away for Syrian refugees or to put them in the trash. We don’t lose our perfection because we fail to be who we are not, but at every moment we have a choice about the next action or non-action. I submit that we’ll never make good choices if we’re at war with ourselves, if we see our own blemishes instead of our perfection.
And here’s where Carl and the Serenity Prayer come in. We all need to understand that we are still perfect if the puck gets past us. We will see another puck and have another chance. And if we can’t change enough to stop that next one, guess what! We are still perfect. Maybe if we can never stop a puck, we need another position or another game. But we are still perfect.
And when we all see our own perfection, we’ll see each other’s, too, and we will indeed have created a better world.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine