Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Violence of Perfection

Yesterday morning in her dharma talk, City Center Abiding Abbess Christina Lehnherr noted that being busy and trying to fix things is a type of violence.  Ironically, in an earlier talk she had said that busyness is a form of laziness.   Either way, the point is the same – the greed of relentless improvement severs us from the fundamental generosity of accepting what is.  Impatience flares with our inability to achieve an endless set of perfections, particularly when other people don’t seem to be working on themselves as hard as we are.  

As if we could criticize someone into enlightenment.  
Buddhism reminds us that any type of reality is dependently co-arisen (a fancy term for messy).   There’s just too much going on for us to control it into perfection.  It’s not that we aren’t good enough, it’s that it just isn’t possible.  But we have to do something!  We can’t just sit here!
Well, yes we can.  For sixteen hours yesterday, 95 people sat in the City Center zendo in silence.   Apparently, they preferred that to any weekend home improvement project or entertainment.  They preferred to listen, witness, explore and accept whatever came up – including, perhaps, the inability or unwillingness to accept.  There in unhurried silence was the possibility to help each other negotiate our bumps and potholes rather than throwing more rocks in the road.  There was a curiosity and a willingness to ask, “Are they really doing it wrong, or are they just not doing it the way I would?”  -- a key question when our well-intended corrections cause not perfection and happiness, but anger and resentment. 
Most importantly, those 95 people decided that they could no longer go it alone.  They chose sangha over rugged individualism.   They chose to look in the mirror of other people to find their own true self.  They decided to trade in the need to be right for the opportunity to be kind and helpful.  They rejected Sartre’s “hell is other people” in favor of Rumi’s field of possibilities:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.


Sierra said...

Hi Valorie, :)

Thank you for reminding me of these concepts. the line that i appreciated most was: "...the greed of relentless improvement severs us from the fundamental generosity of accepting what is." i have my own answers of course, but i'd love to learn more details from someone else about what it means to accept what is and also how these improvement projects cut us off from this acceptance. thanks for the post, if you know any good books on this topic i'm all ears :)

Alison said...

This is a great antidote to all self improvement and attempts to improve others!

I love this quotation from Rumi - thank you for sharing it. The sense that it is possible to find that field and each other there is quite wonderful and inspiring.

Brian McCaffrey said...

This is great stuff, Valorie.
I read and re-read

Hope to meet you in the field soon.


Connie Cummings said...

Great Post Valorie! Interesting and to the point

Full Moon said...

Really Great Valorie! The Land of Perfection is very violent, and seems to be getting more so in the market place everyday ...and of course it begins in the mind. Thanks for bringing it out in the light.