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