My soul reflects your life and rejoices in the happy thought that it looks on you alone. My soul looks out and up and on; and reflects to me the wondrous life of the All Good. In stillness I contemplate the eternal divine good. My soul reflects your life.
How are we going to heal ourselves and others? By first becoming convinced that love is a principle of nature. We have ample evidence scientifically, logically, and intuitively that there is no need for anyone in the world today to speak of love as mere sentimentality. We have to practice the Presence of God as love, as friendship, as peace, as joy, if we would know the fulness of the adventure of living.
It is a terrible burden to dislike people and to be critical. All it does is cover up a perpetual pain in our own heart. It is a whistling in the dark to keep up our own courage. How much easier it is to love people, to learn to forgive rather than hold grudges. We should not go to bed at night until we have cleared our mind of every animosity. Love is the greatest healing agent on Earth for our body as well as our affairs.
To be a friend is the greatest privilege I can experience. Therefore, I extend loving friendship to all I meet. I identify myself with the givingness of God’s own nature, knowing that I am in league with the highest force in life.
Why you should read this: This essay is about idealism and realism and tells you from the Upanishadic perspective why it is important to pursue your ideals without hating their opposites, and why you should treat the opposites and the dualities of life with sameness. You will understand the importance of sameness and why you should make peace with the imperfections of existence as you pursue your ideals and values with the spirit of a warrior and the wisdom of a seer.
What is perfection?
Perfection is defined as a state, quality or condition that is free from flaws, defects and errors, or a condition that does not require further improvements, additions, or embellishments. It denotes a “state of completeness, or flawlessness.” We may perceive such perfection in the configuration of a thing, its value, utility, function, output, or performance. We seek perfection in our lives, and in the things we seek or create, because we believe it improves the quality of our lives, happiness, achievement, and fulfillment.
We also entertain several assumptions about perfection. For example, we believe that God is a perfect Being who is endowed with numerous perfections. We also believe that certain objects, shapes and forms such a circle, or a square, are perfect in themselves. We also assume that certain numbers, conditions, products, behavior, conduct, thinking, techniques, and accomplishments are perfect. You might have also read about perfectionists who want to achieve perfection in all things they do or seek, or about the problem of perfectionism, which compels people to seek perfection in all aspects of their lives and behavior, setting high standards of performance and impossible goals, and subjecting themselves to constant critical self-evaluation and even self-condemnation.
The problem of perfectionism
Most people seek perfection in their lives as part of their self-improvement and goal setting. It is very normal and human to pursue ideals, and seek perfection, in those areas where you may believe you are imperfect or incomplete. Indeed for many people, the ideal of perfection is an enabling and empowering factor. It helps them set goals and grow. However, in some cases people go overboard in their pursuit of perfection as they act out of a compulsive feeling to deal with their low self-esteem or feel unduly disturbed by their weaknesses and imperfections.
Many factors influence your notions of perfection and excellence, and why they are important to your progress and wellbeing. You begin to seek perfection early in your childhood, as you learn from your parents and others that you are not as perfect or bright as another person or a role model, whom they present to you as their ideal. From books, teachers, parents, friends, society you learn to fit into society by seeking the ideals which they represent.
The comparison with others also makes you competitive and adaptive to the standards and expectations of your family and society and win their approval. As you learn to adapt yourself in such a world of comparisons and critical evaluations, you seek perfection in what seem to enhance your life or abilities or earn recognition and acceptance. In many cultures, parents expect their children to achieve what they have failed to achieve and want their children to embody the values that society cherishes and upholds. The pursuit of such ideals creates in you high expectations, which may eventually culminate in positive or negative outcomes.
Appreciating and accepting the opposites
The point of this discussion is not to discourage you from pursuing your ideals or seek perfection, but to suggest that you must seek them without detesting their opposites. Your pursuit of ideals should not be motivated by your aversion for their opposites. This is the message. You cannot become a good person by hating bad people. The same holds true for every virtue and ideal in your life. You cannot bring true peace into your life or build your character, unless you make peace with all kinds of imperfections, weaknesses, and inconsistencies that you perceive in you and around you and remain undisturbed by them.
If you do not do it, you will subject yourself to cruel self-evaluations, and excessively critical behavior which impairs not only your health and mental peace but also your self-image and relationship with others. Your love for the ideals and the perfections you seek should not arise from your hatred for their opposites. It is a self-defeating approach, because when you are caught between your attraction for your ideals, and your aversion for their opposites, you will experience emotional highs and lows and may end up feeling defeated and dissatisfied.
The importance of sameness
How can you make peace with the imperfections and the opposites of what you cherish? For example, if you like people who are self-righteous, truthful, honest, charitable, etc., how can you avoid negative feelings, such as anger, fear, or aversion, when you meet someone who does not possess them? In other words how can you avoid labeling yourself, or others, in particular ways that may define your behavior or limit your thinking?
From study, observation and understanding, we learn that the best way to pursue any ideal in life is by cultivating tolerance and equanimity. Some people want to achieve success as a form of revenge to respond to those who might have caused them pain and suffering and humiliate them through their success. It may give you temporary satisfaction, but it is not why anyone should be successful. It may be counterproductive. Your pursuit of any ideal must be grounded in a positive purpose.
Hinduism suggests that equanimity or sameness (samatvam) is the best solution to deal with the opposites of life. It enables you to treat the dualities of life with grace and remain peaceful in response to both. By all means, it is one of the most transformative qualities having the power to prepare you for any situation or eventuality. All spiritual people, and yogis, cultivate it as part of their self-purification. It gives them the strength and the stability to practice renunciation and cultivate virtues such as detachment, impartiality, non-judgmental awareness, keen observation, mental clarity, discernment, magnanimity, compassion, nonviolence, truthfulness, peace, and balance. When you make peace with the imperfections that exist in you and around you, you make peace with yourself and others, and remain undisturbed by what happens to you, in you, or around you.
The imperfections of existence
What is common to the diversity in creation or to you, the world, universe, and Nature? They are all imperfect and incomplete in several aspects. We learn the same from our scriptures. All our divinities posses some weakness or the other, which makes them personal and distinctly endearing to the humanity. Their imperfections also trigger events that play a vital role in the continuation and transformation of things and worlds. Their presence is probably part of the design to bridge the gap between humans and gods so that they can have better rapport and closer interaction and cooperation.
It is also true with all other realities that are present in creation. Existence itself is a reality between the polarities of perfection and imperfection, or order and chaos. Hence, you find the same polarity in everything that represents it. Each and everything that manifests in the universe is a work in progress, and facilitates change and improvement in combination with others. Even if you think you have found a perfect person or a relationship in your life, in due course you will perceive some flaw or weakness in them, which often leads to feelings of disappointment, distrust, and betrayal.
Take for example any invention. When the iPod was invented, people thought it was the ultimate gadget for listening to music. Nowadays not many people prefer buying it because you have better gadgets that combine more functions. The same is true with any invention or discovery. Things are perfect until you find better ones. Things become increasingly imperfect as our knowledge and vision grow. The best athletes of today may be considered mediocre after a hundred years. What the best of the scholars of past civilizations used to know about the world in their lifetimes we now know in a few hours or days.
Our notions of perfection and imperfection are therefore mostly relative. The same is true with ideals. Ideals are the impossible things which humanity pursues relentlessly. They may help you find direction and purpose in your life, but you cannot take them literally because most of the ideals that you seek in your life are practically unachievable. You may achieve them partially, or mostly, but seldom completely. As goals, idealism and perfection are but the illusions, which you seek as part of your conditioning to fulfill your desires.
You pursue them to complement yourself, or add value and purpose to your life. It may be part of your desire for finding God, liberation, success, happiness, peace, stability, beauty, or any of the myriad things which you desire to enhance and perfect your life and character. They are all meant to improve your life or your character. However, in pursuing them you do not have any means, except your own discretion and judgment, to know whether you have reached the end or the desired level of perfection.
Nature itself is an imperfect mechanism. She took billions of years to produce intelligent life forms upon earth. If it was a perfect mechanism, it would have produced them instantly and it would not have groped in the darkness for so long. So is the case with the universe. It is perfect in many aspects where order, symmetry, and regularity are clearly visible. However, it is also imperfect in many other aspects. For example, 99% of space is empty or do not possess any life forms. It contains numerous, unstable, and asymmetrical objects, which can be technically classified as great cosmic failures.
In our solar system itself, you will find that most of the planets and moons are practically useless for the purposes of biological life. It does not make sense that you require so many lifeless and inhospitable planets to create and preserve life upon earth. In a perfect world you would have seen each planet having some distinction and value for life in general, and the humanity in particular, whereas in realty they form part of a vast, lifeless, and useless, cosmic, waste yard.
Gratitude for the imperfections
The point is not that such imperfections have no place in creation. They are probably part of the design. Imagine if you have to live in a house that is fully stacked with everything all the way up to the roof with no room to move? What can you do with such a house? Can you live in it? Perfection and completeness in themselves are great hindrances to any growth or change you wish to see in the world. It is good that our existence is a work in progress, because it gives you enough leg room to move around, and use your knowledge and wisdom to manifest the little world in which you want to live.
If the world is completely and utterly perfect, there would have been no scope for any improvement, and no need for preservation and destruction, or for the death and renewal of things and beings. Let us, therefore, be grateful for the imperfections and inequalities that exist in the world. It gives us the hope and reason to rejoice in the innumerable possibilities that we can wrought in the furnace of life. Because the whole existence is imperfect, we can hope for change and improvement. If everything is perfect, life would be meaningless. No one will feel the need or experience any desire to do anything or improve anything.
The wisdom of the sages
It is why wise people do not despise imperfections. They use them as the starting points for their own progress and self-transformation. Since they perceive them as part of the universal design, they accept them without judgment as part of God’s Will, and live in harmony with their own imperfections as well as with those of the world around them. In short they do not condemn an atheist as an enemy of God or turn away from a heresy because it contradicts what they believe to be true. With sameness that arises from their renunciation of attachments and polarities, they make peace with all that which common people generally despise, while not abandoning their effort to seek the ideals and perfections they cherish.
In truth, imperfection and incompleteness are the reason we are here, and why the universe exists. God the perfect Being creates an imperfect world that can exist only by the presence, absence, or combination of polarities and dualities. Our reality becomes possible only when something is present, or absent, or partially present or absent, somewhere between the extreme opposites of existence and nonexistence, light and darkness, perfection and imperfection, life and death, freedom and bondage, and order and chaos. They form the basis of your knowledge and perceptions.
You may pursue whatever that perfects you and complements you in such an impermanent and phenomenal world, but you cannot achieve stability and equanimity unless you make peace with the dualities and remain equal to them. The same holds true with your own imperfection and weaknesses. You may build your life and character within the space of opportunities that manifest in your life, but without torturing yourself by the weight of morality or the oppression of authority.
You should also extend the same attitude to the people in your life and the world around you. When you have peace within and without by embracing the dualities of life without hatred or resistance, and without passions and notions, you will have the strength to embrace life with the vision of a seer and the resolve of a dutiful warrior. In the silence of your heart and in the din of your life, you will become the quiet one (muni) who is endowed with the intelligence of an undisturbed mind (sthitaprajna), and the vision of Brahman.
“Thinking and wisdom are two very different things. Thinking merely reacts to and follows our moods, and thoughts carry on with no end in sight. But if wisdom is operating, it will bring the mind to stillness. The mind stops and doesn’t go anywhere. There’s simply knowing and acknowledging what’s being experienced. When this emotion comes, the mind’s like this; when that mood comes, it’s like that. We sustain the `knowing’. Eventually it occurs to us, `Hey, all this thinking, this aimless mental chatter, this worrying and judging it’s all insubstantial nonsense. It’s all impermanent, unsatisfactory and not me or mine.’ Toss it into one of these three all-encompassing categories, and quell the uprising. You cut it off at its source. Later when we again sit meditation, it will come up again. Keep a close watch on it. Spy on it.
“It’s just like raising water buffaloes. You’ve got the farmer, some rice plants, and the water buffalo. Now the water buffalo wants to eat those rice plants. Rice plants are what water buffaloes like to eat, right? Your mind is a water buffalo. Defiled emotions are like the rice plants. The knowing is the farmer. Dhamma practice is just like this. No different. Compare it for yourself. When tending a water buffalo, what do you do? You release it, allowing it to wander freely, but you keep a close eye on it. If it strays too close to the rice plants, you yell out. When the buffalo hears, it backs away. Don’t be inattentive, oblivious to what the buffalo is doing. If you’ve got a stubborn water buffalo that won’t heed your warning, take a stick and give it a stout whack on the backside. Then it won’t dare go near the rice plants. Don’t get caught taking a siesta. If you lie down and doze off , those rice plants will be history. Dhamma practice is the same: you watch over your mind; the knowing tends the mind.
`Those people who keep a close watch over their minds will be liberated from Mara’s snare.’ And yet this knowing mind is also the mind, so who’s the one observing the mind? Such ideas can make you extremely confused. The mind is one thing, the knowing another; and yet the knowing originates in this very same mind. What does it mean to know the mind? What’s it like to encounter moods and emotions? What’s it like to be without any defiled emotions whatsoever? That which knows what these things are is what is meant by the `knowing’. The knowing observantly follows the mind, and it’s from this knowing that wisdom is born. The mind is that which thinks and gets entangled in emotions, one after another precisely like our water buffalo. Whatever directions it strays in, maintain a watchful eye. How could it get away? If it starts to drift over towards the rice plants, yell out. If it won’t listen, pick up a stick and stride over to it. `Whack!‘ This is how you frustrate craving.
“Training the mind is no different. When the mind experiences an emotion and instantly grabs it, it’s the job of the knowing to teach. Examine the mood to see if it’s good or bad. Explain to the mind how cause and effect functions. And when it again grabs onto something that it thinks is adorable, the knowing has to again teach the mind, again explain cause and effect, until the mind is able to cast that thing aside. This leads to peace of mind. After finding out that whatever it grabs and grasps is inherently undesirable, the mind simply stops. It can’t be bothered with those things anymore, because it’s come under a constant barrage of rebukes and reprimands. Thwart the craving of the mind with determination. Challenge it to its core, until the teachings penetrate to the heart. That’s how you train the mind.”
“The mystic uses their intuition a great deal, and endeavors to see into the future and to look beyond appearances. She or he reads others’ souls and hearts. A mystic does everything they can to rise up above suffering and despair; they go past the clouds and so glimpse the Sun; being both on their own and connected to the great All, they never forget that to accomplish great things we must be able to do small ones perfectly. The mystic knows that duty well carried out is an act of love and of service; and that for the service to have its full meaning, it must be selfless. It must be a gift of oneself to others, joyously agreed to, and not undergone as a great sacrifice. Love and giving should not be likened to suffering and renunciation, quite the reverse: were this the case, it would no longer be a question of love, but of masochistic behavior. True service only gives rise to good feelings, and expects nothing in return.”
From far to near my own shall come to me. Even now it is coming to me, and I receive it. My own is now manifesting itself to me, and I see and know its presence. My own knows and responds to me. The drawing power of that inner spirit within me is now attracting and drawing into my experience all that is good and perfect. There is nothing within me to hinder or to delay it. My own cannot be kept from me, neither can I keep my good away from me. I receive it now. I now receive my good.
Love is more than a sentiment. It is a need, a hunger, a thirst that is perfectly natural. Anyone who thinks he can live and be happy without it does not know what he is talking about – psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually. Love is the beginning and end, the impulse in nature that will not be denied.
Let us think back beyond the individual to the Source of all life. I believe that the whole universe is the givingness of the Creative Spirit – to the delight of Its own Being – into the creation that is Itself in that creation. Love is the principle of Life, for it is the nature of everything to give. Only the one who loves so much that there is no longer any room for hate will ever arrive at the place where, if there may be hate, he will never know it. We are afraid of greatness because we are so tied down to littleness. We clutch the littleness anxiously and jealously, but so precariously, to our hearts. It is essential to see beyond the littleness to something bigger. None of us is as perfect in expression as we ought to be. So the challenge to each of us is to be great enough to rise in love, in charity, through understanding and compassion. Love is the lodestone of life.
I respond lovingly to all persons. Recognizing that the spiritual life is the real life, I surround myself with love, the key to joyous living.