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Monday, March 23, 2009

We all Make Mistakes.

We all make mistakes from time to time. Life is about learning to make our mistakes less often. To realize this goal, we have a policy in our monastery that monks are allowed to make mistakes. When the monks are not afraid to make mistakes, they don’t make so many.

–Ajahn Brahm, from Opening the Door of Your Heart (Lothian Books)

James: (I am not a teacher and the following are my thoughts and mine alone). I have often found that perfectionism is a common obstacle to many people. Striving for perfection is in my view another form of desire because we refuse to accept that we are already perfect as all has Buddha nature. Perfectionism asserts that mistakes are negative and signs of failure.

In reality we can not make progress without making mistakes. If we adjust our lives so that we won't make many mistakes then we greatly hinder our chances and opportunities to peel away the layers of karma to reveal the perfect jewel of enlightenment. Not to mention loosing out on a lot of the joys of life out of a fear of making mistakes. But guess what?--everyone makes mistakes and suffers pain.

Even Buddha suffered aches and pains after his enlightenment. He understand that, "Enlightened people do not cease to experience the pain of existence. They only stop creating illusions that amplify that pain and cause new suffering." However, If we compare ourselves say to advanced students or the great teachers then we will come up feeling inadequate and get discouraged to where it would be easy to give up the Dharma thinking we will never become who they are.

The key I think is to set modest goals and realize that the middle-path isn't a short-cut or express lane but rather a journey that will most likely take many, many, many lives to fulfill. There is no reason to be discouraged by this, however, because instead it takes the pressure off of feeling like we have to realize enlightenment in this life, which often brings frustration, low self-esteem and discouragement. Of course we should strive to do our best and live the Dharma as best we can but mistakes will happen and that is simply apart of the journey. Step by step, moment by moment, enlightenment unveils itself.

When we refuse to accept imperfection then we set ourselves up for disappointment and suffering. On the contrary when we accept that things don't have to be perfect to be good or beneficial then we can stop worrying so much and enjoy being perfect in our imperfections!! I think that is one of the reasons why the teaching on the present moment is so important because it is keeping goals realistic. Thus the teaching of "before enlightenment I chopped wood and carried water and after enlightenment I chopped wood and carried water."

Before enlightenment perhaps we chopped wood and carried water with a constant thought stream of self-judgments such as: "I should be chopping wood faster," or "Look at how much water is splashing over the side of the bucket, I must be worthless at this job." Little perhaps do we realize that like a famous story goes--the water splashing over the side of the bucket could be watering flowers down below, flowers that we did not notice because our focus was on trying to be perfect.

After enlightenment chopping wood and carrying water is perfection already expressed because the focus is no longer on doing the task perfectly but on simply doing and fully experiencing the task itself as it unfolds.

~Peace to all beings~

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16 comments:

Barry said...

As I look into my own pursuit of "perfection," I can see that underneath whatever goal I set is an attachment to "my" idea about how things should be. Just this insight, alone, should tell me that I'm in trouble . . . if only I could see it before I actually make trouble!

Thanks for this post, James!

Tom said...

Splendid post, James!

Yes. Surely perfectionism is too stuffed-shirt for any Budddhist to strive for. Being mindful [so that we minimalize mistakes a bit] and being open about what mistakes we do make is surely the right route.

From what I read, very advanced bodhisattvas had differents arranged minds than my ordinary one. This comes from practice, practice, practice -- and, maybe, a few good karmic leaps.

So, I continue to chop wood (hopefully without whacking off one of my arms) and carrying water (without falling down and breaking my crown with Jill following after).

Tom said...

Ooops.

"...very advanced bodhisattvas had differents arranged..." should read:

...very advanced bodhisattvas have differently arranged...

Shinzen Nelson said...

I had a boss many years ago who had a near death experience. When he came back he told me their were no mistakes...only discoveries.

This helped free me up from my own perfectionism a bit...and now I go and make lots of discoveries.

Angela said...

Thank you for this post. This is something I struggle with all the time. As I was growing up I was definitely told I could "do better" and "be better." Going through everything I am right now, I feel like a failure and that I have made so many mistakes. Sometimes I need to stop myself to say "there are no mistakes, and this is a learning experience."

Thank you.

Dhamma81 said...

I've been getting better about this sort of thing but still buy into the narratives sometimes. Nice post James.

Uku said...

I've always loved the old phrase "shit happens". I think that by practicing Buddha's Way, we can truly understand that we all make mistakes and we can learn from our mistakes. And by practicing Buddha's Way, we can balance ourselves more and more that we're not making mistakes so much. Still, shit happens. :)

Thank you for your post, James!

They call him James Ure said...

Barry:

Good point on our attachment to how we think things should be. I guess just being is the best goal of all.

Tom:

Thanks brother. Yeah I see the bodhisattvas as the example of who we truly are. Such a wonderful idea to think that our true nature is that of the bodhisattvas and Buddhas. Gives me hope and confidence that I'm on the right path.

So, I continue to chop wood (hopefully without whacking off one of my arms) and carrying water (without falling down and breaking my crown with Jill following after).

Ha!! Well said, well said.

Shinzen:

"No Mistakes, only discoveries." I like that way of thinking. It focuses on the positive side of "mistakes." Thanks for that insight--I've never heard it put that way before. Very enlightening.

Angela:

Yeah I was raised with that idea that I can always be better and it bred self-confidence issues.

Expecting to be mistake free in samsara is like expecting a kindergartner to take a college exam and not to make any mistakes.

Keep up the practice and thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate hearing from others who are going through similar challenges.

Dhamma81:

Yeah, I still buy into that narrative as well. Thank goodness for the sangha of fellow travelers to lean on and get support from. Thanks for the compliment. Be well.

Uku:

Ha!! I never thought about the "Shit happens" phrase being Buddhist. However, since you bring it up it does sound very Zen.

It reminds me of shakabuku--which as defined in the movie "Grosse Point Blank" is, "A swift spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever."

reymiland said...

Just as: "The only stupid question is the one not asked",

is:

"The only true mistake made is one not learned from".

Mistakes are life lessons revealed.

catechu said...

James:

I just came across this site, and I like the points you make in this post -- in particular, the point that acceptance of imperfection can reduce mistakes.

But, as I'm sure you know, sometimes it's hard to practice these teachings. I am a college student, and the presence of regular, external deadlines often prevents me from accepting imperfection on anything. For example, if I have four assignments, and I have to allocate my time to perform as well as possible across all four, then I may need to accept short-term imperfection in a few of them in the interest of long-term performance. Spending all my time on the one assignment in pursuit of perfection might actually cause me to fail miserably in the other three assignments.

But the difficulty I have with this is that sacrificing perfection on a given assignment reduces my mindfulness. That is, jumping from assignment to assignment, even though it's a tactical imperfection, reduces my ability to focus on the present moment. Instead, I begin thinking "it's time to move on," or "maybe this problem on this assignment isn't worth solving in the long run."

My phrasing of both the problem and my thoughts on it are likely naive, but the basic question is: What is perfection in the life of a college student?

mikethepikey said...

One would be foolish to seek perfectionism as it is an illusion of the ego, made from past conditioning and experience. If one let's oneself fall down this trapdoor suffering, one is destined for a life of feeling disparately in the dark for something that is no there.

It is only when one truly lets go and observes the river of consciousness making it's daily journey, only then can one recognize the emptiness of the pursuit of 'perfection' and it's illusory nature.

Mike


http://canyouwalkonthericepaper.blogspot.com/

ps: this is a great blog

mikethepikey said...

I have been listening to Ajarn Bhram's down loadable Dharma talks now for a year or so and I find his delivery quite accessible and engaging. He uses humour to good effect, as one would expect from a student of Ajarn Chah in Thailand.

Who's your favorite Dharma giver?

Mike

http://canyouwalkonthericepaper.blogspot.com/

catechu said...

mikethepikey:

"One would be foolish to seek perfectionism as it is an illusion of the ego, made from past conditioning and experience. If one let's oneself fall down this trapdoor suffering, one is destined for a life of feeling disparately in the dark for something that is no there."

Even if the ideal of perfection is illusory, if it causes me to work harder, is it not preferable to a relaxed existence? That is, would discarding the illusory ideal of perfection still allow one to retain the ability of working effectively?

The Humāinist said...

Catechu: "Even if the ideal of perfection is illusory, if it causes me to work harder, is it not preferable to a relaxed existence? That is, would discarding the illusory ideal of perfection still allow one to retain the ability of working effectively?"

I cannot answer for Mike, but my far-from-perfect opinion on this matter is that we must try to strike a rational balance between (illusory) perfection and (equally illusory?) shoddiness in whatever we do. As the old saying goes, we should aim for the moon, so that even if we miss, we will land among the stars. Thus, we can set up an idea of perfection of a given thing in our mind (a task, a job, a project, a homework assignment, etc.) and use that as a model to shoot for, knowing full well we can never actually reach it. But... In failing to reach perfection, we are almost sure to reach excellence.

mikethepikey said...

I suppose the idea is that we try our hardest to achieve what we perceive to be the best for our families, but don't get to hung up if the goals are not reached. Where does one draw the line though? How does one not attach to the craving for more, when desire is swirling round in our conditioned minds? I suppose this is the challenge we face and to overcome this manic craving we have to be disciplined and string.

Mike

Samuel said...

I feel as if I am only echoing the above comments but this post was helpful.

I have an attachment to perfectionism and the irony is that it only hinders me from achieving it.

Thanks for another insightful post.

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