Everything is Perfect, and it can always get better
The statement above comes from the great Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. At first it seem like your “typical” Zen statement that is meant only to shake up our clinging to logic without actually meaning anything itself. I think, however, that Suzuki Roshi meant it quite truthfully and specifically. Most people would both disagree about everything being perfect; and then would argue that if everything is perfect how can it get better? So what does he mean by such a statement?
We have to remember that the principle teaching of Zen – especially Soto – is that we must sit in the present moment; right here, right now. Perfection is being the best that can be. Do you see where I’m going? This moment is the best that it can possibly be because it cannot get any better IN THIS PRESENT MOMENT. Yet at the same time we can work in this moment to make future moments better. Simple, right?
We all like to think we’re pretty good at working toward making future moments better; but I don’t think any of us would say that we’re very good at accepting the perfection of the present moment. Yet as Buddhists this is exactly what we have to do. The Noble Truths could be rephrased as saying that we suffer because we don’t accept the present moment as it actually is and therefore our work to make future moments better will always be misguided. Do I have to like the present moment as it is? No; but I have to accept that it is the best it can possibly be. Any improvement will take place in future moments; but if I am to work toward those future moments being better I first have to accept the perfection – the completion – of the present moment as it is.
In the past I have compared accepting the present moment to setting our location in GPS Guidance. Without an accurate present location the GPS system will never get us to the destination we desire; but it will also never get us there without an accurate destination. We must be clear and concise in both our acceptance of the present and in our definition of HOW we want future moments to be better. “I want the future to be better” is not going to work; it’s not going to get us to the right destination if any at all. We’re more likely to get a “Destination not found” error.
Some will argue that we can bring an end to suffering by simply accepting reality as it is right here, right now; and, to an extent, they are right. If I leave the mundane world and dedicate myself to meditation – to listening to reality – and achieve the perfection of acceptance of the reality of the present moment I will in fact be free of suffering; for myself. The challenge and power of the Mahayana teachings is that this is not enough. If we truly accept Dependent Co-Arising then we see that this will never be enough. The very first utterance of the Buddha upon awakening was not about the nature of suffering but the nature of Dependent Co-Arising.
Our I is not separate and distinct from all other I’s; we are all interconnected and thus when others suffer I suffer as well. The only way to achieve Arhathood – the mythical goal of some Buddhist practice - is to deny this inherent fact of existence and Mahayana does not allow us to do that. Thus I cannot find the cessation of suffering for just myself alone, but in working for the liberation of all beings I begin to experience my own liberation as well.
Our location is set fixed in the perfection of this moment and our destination is set in the liberation of all beings. We will never in this life reach this destination; but by traveling the road guided by this as our GPS we will experience the inherent bliss of working toward the goal that both confirms our importance and give lie to it as well. It confirms our ego and destroys it at the same time; confirms our Self and subsumes it in the greater self of all interconnected creation.
Dependent Co-Arising says “This being, that is; from the arising of this, that arises.” From the perfection of this moment arises the perfection of all moments and all being together. Without accepting the perfection of this moment the perfection of all moments and being will never occur. This is the great teaching. When you sit in the perfect moment you will work toward the perfection of all; when you sit in an imperfect moment you will propagate imperfection.