Struggling with Perfection

Since things are perfect just as they are,
far beyond good and bad, adopting and rejecting,
one might as well burst out laughing.
— Longchenpa (1308-1364)

I am not a perfectionist. If you are, this column may make your head spin. Sorry.

One month ago — after 69 years, 7 months and 14 days of life — I found my spiritual home. That’s the Dzogchen tradition of Buddhism, as taught by Lama Surya Das. The word Dzogchen means “Great Perfection,” and I’ve explained what it means to me here and here, among other places. For now, let’s just say that we’re all perfect and fit perfectly into a perfect world. We have the free will to change things, but at any moment we and everything else are perfect as we are.


Today, I’m focusing in on the baggage around the idea of perfection. In the quote above, Longchempa, who is known as the greatest Dzogchen master, must have recognized perfection’s baggage, because he found it funny to accept the world as perfect just as it is. Some of my friends, however, have not seen the humor in it. I’ve been discussing Buddhism, preaching about it in Unitarian Universalist churches, and leading Buddhist meditation groups for about 20 years, and I have never before experienced as much blowback as I have about the word, or the idea, of perfection, now that I have started using it.

The blowback has come from my day-to-day friends, my blogging buddies, and the folks who attend my weekly meditation group. I did not invent Dzogchen, and my research has not found any disputes about its translation. That’s the way it is, folks.

As someone who spent the first 10 years of his professional career as a newspaper copy editor, I did not at first like using the word. “Perfect” is one of those absolutes. You can’t be a little perfect, or a lot perfect. You’re either perfect or you’re not. But the more I was questioned about it, and the more I thought it through, the more I saw it as the right word (the perfect word) for what the Dzogchen teachers are expressing. It has impact.

Part of its negative associations, I’m sure, lie in our childhood memories. Parents and teachers used the P word to tell us what we weren’t and what we knew we’d never be. When I hear the word, my mind, even at my advanced age, returns to the rigid desks in my elementary school, with the teacher walking up and down the aisle to make sure that our hands were folded on our desks in front of us, we were sitting upright, and our books were put away.

But maybe that’s the beauty of the word, too. It’s not just that I’m OK and you’re OK. I’m perfect and you’re perfect. The Dzogchen masters are telling us that we are, indeed, what we knew we’d never be. We are perfect. We need to recognize it, though. And once we recognize it, once we recognize that the causes and effects that brought us to this moment in time could be no different from what they are, then we can become even better.

If your head is not spinning now, then perhaps you are Enlightened. If your head is spinning, take two aspirins and call me in the morning.

— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)

Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine

9 Comments Add yours

  1. kaptonok says:

    Its a what will be will be and for that reason a sure and certain text.
    But its disturbing to those of us uneasy about the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      My own mysticism tells me that as long as we see ourselves as right and those who don’t want the world to change as wrong, we will not get the change we want to see. Once we accept the present as perfect, we are better able to change the world.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. kaptonok says:

        The vast majority who want no change are riding high on the waves crest. Those in the trough want it to change for their benefit.
        The world of animals is a battle for supremacy. The world of humans is blurred by the conscience of humans who judge themselves.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. lionreb says:

        Even if you see yourself as wrong, everything is perfect. whether you want things to change or not; change is happening. And it is perfect.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. melhpine says:

        Well said. Good addition.


  2. amiezor says:

    So in a sense, using the word ‘perfect’ is like using the term ‘in existence.’
    If you are in existence, you are perfect.

    Thank you for this post, I really like the quote you started off with. I think I’m going to have to print it and frame it. In using the word ‘perfection,’ I often feel that you have to laugh, because nothing is ever perfect – only perfect in the moment. In that sense, I think perfection is everflowing and transient. If you aim for perfection, then you should actually aim to be ‘in the flow.’

    Liked by 2 people

    1. melhpine says:

      I also see it as a way of not blaming the past and not blaming others. We’re all perfect manifestations of who we need to be right now, but we do have free will over the next moment and the one after that — moment by moment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. amiezor says:

        Yes, indeed!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Peace Paul says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the term “perfection.” An alternative translation of Dzogchen is “Great Completion.” Of course, “completion” as a translation has its own issues. Language is fraught with many traps and pitfalls. As Lao Tzu famously observed, “The Tao which can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.”

    Namo Amida Bu!

    Liked by 2 people

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