People who know me know how imperfect I am. Buddhists, on the whole, have an odd relationship with imperfection. I remember in an interview Barbara Walter’s asked the Dalai Lama if he was enlightened. Here is the exchange:
Barbara Walters: Are you enlightened, your Holiness?
Dalai Lama: No. I do not know what would happen tonight. I do not know. And my memory – what details? . . . what happened yesterday? – I’ve already forget.
Barbara Walters: If you were enlightened you would remember everything?
Dalai Lama: Oh yes.
Barbara Walters: You haven’t reached that stage yet?
Dalai Lama: No.
If you were enlightened then you would remember everything? Now I’m going to give the Dalai Lama the benefit of the doubt here. He was asked on national (worldwide?) television if he was enlightened. How can you possibly answer such a question and still appear to be both humble and wise? His was a good answer: In effect he said, “If you think that being enlightened means being perfect and all-knowing – then I am not enlightened. I don’t know, maybe the Dalai Lama really believes that the Buddha was omniscient. Maybe he doesn’t. But that’s not the point.
The point is that many Buddhists do equate enlightenment with this kind of perfection. (They equate enlightenment with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual perfection.)
And this is very unfortunate.
Enlightenment has nothing whatsoever to do with being perfect, period.
It seems to me that the closest an enlightened person might ever come to being perfect is in the acceptance of his or her own imperfections. (Although I suspect even his or her acceptance would be imperfect.)
Suppose (pre-enlightenment) you have a poor memory (are always forgetting people’s names), can’t roll your “R’s”, have unattractive feet, can’t hit a golf ball straight, are losing your hair, wear contact lens, have allergies, and . . . well you can’t even count the number of imperfections you have for there are so many (plus you’ve never been that good at math anyway), and have a habit of writing run-on sentences, then post-enlightenment you will most likely still have all of those imperfections. Maybe you wouldn’t even consider those imperfections.
This is kind of a nice thought. I mean if you’re a little insecure about your shortcomings now – the thought that even enlightenment wouldn’t fix them is, I think, a little comforting. I mean what more do you want?
In fact, I suspect that the closer you are to enlightenment the more imperfections you would notice in yourself.
What about character imperfections? Surely an enlightened person would have no character flaws. Can you imagine an enlightened individual who is either arrogant or humourless? The Buddha couldn’t possibly have been conceited or stubborn.
Maybe, maybe not – what do you think?
Certain imperfections you just can’t change. Some you can. Certain flaws slowly change through their very acceptance. Sometimes you just can’t remember why you ever considered a particular “imperfection” a flaw in the first place. Perhaps for some individuals enlightenment is easy and all the real work is done after enlightenment. In the sutras, Buddha occasionally comes across a little conceited. Might it have been the case that he was just plain arrogant and had to work on this character flaw for years following his enlightenment? Maybe he never quite licked it.
I really like the following excerpt from the song ‘Anthem’ by Leonard Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
This is beautiful. How could the light get in if you had no cracks? And I might add that those cracks (imperfections) are also needed for the light to get out. The more imperfections you notice in yourself the better! More imperfections = more light.
Oh, how wonderful! Noticing and accepting your many flaws – perhaps this is the ultimate spiritual practice.
Radiant spiritual light is shining through the multitude of our embraced (even partially embraced) imperfections!
Wow! Doesn’t the mere thought of this make you want to go stand naked in front of a full length mirror under bright lights in order to search for and embrace your own imperfections? (Uhh . . . maybe it’s just me, never mind.)