I love this beautiful description of how to resolve this paradox we often struggle with, as we try to live an enlightened life. These wise words are written by a master among us, from the wonderful book called the ‘Infinite Life, Awakening to Bliss Within’, by Robert Thurman. Enjoy.
‘Everything in the world, including you, is perfect.’
How can we reconcile this reality which can be difficult and even horrible and at the same time perfect? How can we begin to truly understand the statement that “Everything in the world, including you, is perfect.”?
‘We are not the only ones who have struggled with nonduality. ‘The Teaching of Vimalakirti Sutra’, an Indian Buddhist scripture from thousands of years ago, tells the story of five hundred noble youths who journeyed… to visit the Buddha. “Lord,” they said to him, “we have already embarked on the quest for enlightenment. But we have a question… How can we make our world beautiful? How do we turn it into the perfect Buddha world?”
The Buddha welcomed the question. He gave the well-meaning group a discourse on the good qualities … wisdom, generosity, justice, tolerance, creativity and contemplation… how these qualities become the very substance of the bodhisattva… how the quest for buddhahood is a quest to create a new world of boundless happiness not just for oneself, but for oneself and all other beings. He ended by telling the youths, “Ultimately, the perfect and beauty of the Buddha world reflect the perfection and beauty of the bodhisattva’s mind!”
After listening to this discourse, the great, enlightened apostle, Shariputra felt doubt and confusion. He thought to himself, “If such are the qualities of a Buddha world, and they reflect the transcendent perfection of the bodhisattva’s mind, then what happened to the mind of this Buddha right here?! Far from being a perfect world of wisdom, generosity, and so on, his world looks like an absolute mess!”
Poor Shariputra! The Buddha read his thoughts and immediately challenged him, “Is it the fault of the sun and moon that the blind do not see them?”
“Oh no, Lord,” replied the embarrassed sage.
“Just so, Shariputra, it is not the fault of my Buddha world that you see it as imperfect,” the Buddha explained. “It is perfect for its purpose, which is to provide the optimal environment for the evolutionary development of all the beings in it. But you are too focused on imperfection to see it.”
To demonstrate his point, the Buddha planted his toe on the ground in a ceremonious manner. For a moment, Shariputra and all the others present in the audience saw a vision of the Buddha world, which this Earth truly is, in the experience of the enlightened.
It appeared to them as a perfect realm of enlightenment. Everything seemed jewellike and exquisite, and they saw each being as situated in the ideal evolutionary position for their particular stage of development.
The Buddha asked Shariputra how he liked it, and the monk replied with great awe that it was indeed beautiful … Then the Buddha lifted his toe and everyone’s vision returned to “normal.” They were again fully aware of the imperfections of the world they were living in.
This story evokes the very paradox we face now. Infinite numbers of fabulous heroic beings have already become perfect buddhas, and they are infused with every atom of our universe. They exist in every cell and molecule of our bodies. They provide an all-encompassing envelope or interpenetrating field of blissful energy, love, and support, to all of us as yet unenlightened beings. But still we have little faith in their vast presence. Still we are not fully enlightened ourselves. Still we do not feel satisfied. Still we only catch brief glimpses of the beautiful perfection that surrounds and fills us all the time.
It is essential for us that we feel the underlying positive energy of the universe to be real, whether we choose to perceive it as infinite clouds of buddhas, or the omnipresence of God, or gods in any form- Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, Shiva, Mother Earth, The Tao, – or simply a force for good. It makes us feel encouraged, hopeful, and inspires us to awaken to joy.
On the other hand, in order to develop insight and compassion, we must stay realistic within our relative, conventional experience of imperfection. If we ignore the reality of the world we live in, then we will have no motivation to improve it. We won’t strive to develop our positive virtues of wisdom, generosity, justice and patience. We won’t resolve to turn the imperfect world we see into a buddha world, to help all beings escape suffering by achieving enlightenment, no matter how infinitely long it takes, no matter how many lives we must devote to the effort.
One of my favourite movies, Groundhog Day, illustrates very well our position as human beings on this planet. The insight we gain from the infinite life perspective is that, we have infinite time in which to get things done, just as Bill Murray’s character realizes when he keeps waking up to the same day over and over again in the film.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we can sit back and relax in this lifetime, but rather that we must work to improve our world and ourselves until we finally get things right. Otherwise, we will keep repeating our frustrations and failures over the course of many lives, just like Bill Murray’s character keeps fouling up his relationships. The good news is that as we open our awareness further, betting on infinite life, infinite evolution, and infinite opportunity, we find more energy and creativity, enabling us finally to succeed where we had failed before again and again.
And so we absolutely must embrace at the same time, both, the known perfection of the buddha world, and the perceived imperfection of our habitual world. We must accept that both realities can and do exist simultaneously, that in fact they each rely upon the other.
Without an imperfect world, we would have no way of achieving enlightenment.
Without the buddha world, we would have no reason to believe that we could do so and so no motivation to try.
Once we accept the creative ambiguity of this ultimate nonduality, we can enter sensibly our next phase of personal development, which involves cultivating our vision of the buddhaverse and our confidence in our ability to help create it here on this earth… a magnificent enterprise…!’
Website for more information:
Bob Thurman | Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies https://bobthurman.com/ A recognized worldwide authority on religion and spirituality, Asian history, world philosophy, Buddhist science, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, and H.H. Dalai Lama.