Avoiding Perfectionism, Not Defending Our Weaknesses
by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
We must ask ourselves, “What is my weakness?” If it is attachment, then admit, “Yes it’s attachment,” without defending that. If it’s aggression, then yes, it’s aggression, and not defending one’s aggression. If it’s jealousy, then yes it’s jealousy, again not defending one’s jealousy. If it’s stupidity, yes it’s stupidity without coming to the defense of one’s stupidity. If it’s self-centeredness, then not defending it.
When you come to the defence of these traits, at that very moment you lose. At that moment you lose your stance as a practitioner. Rather than defending them in your mind, pursue the truth that lies beyond them. Embracing this as your ultimate goal is what will lead toward enlightenment and consequently the benefit of all beings.
In the midst of your own self-centeredness, or your own passion, aggression, ignorance, jealousy or pride — as long as you don’t deny the truth and don’t defend these weaknesses, you will be able do something about it over time. But if you can’t even be honest with yourself, how could you ever expect to become free of these weaknesses?
In being honest with oneself we don’t have to feel shy, or embarrassed, or so exposed, as we might with another person who we may not trust with that information about ourselves. What primarily hinders us from being honest with ourself, and feeling shame, guilt, or embarrassment, is due to having too much self-importance. With too much self-importance, a needing-to-be perfect attitude, I am already thinking that I was born enlightened, without defects. Then, finding I am not really like that creates an identity crisis in one’s mind, with all those conflicting emotions. But, when we can recognize that for sentient beings to become enlightened is a “work in progress” there is no longer any reason to feel embarrassed or shy or ashamed to discover these universal obscurations or neuroses inside one’s mind. Despite the appearance of such universal obscurations and neuroses, they are not permanent either, so there is no reason to lose hope, or think that nothing can be done.
Feeling disappointed or hopeless also comes from too high an expectation of oneself. Rather than a willingness to go step by step, we want to be there immediately, without even having any clarity.
In a way this is a kind of illness, a type of addiction in itself. It’s called “feel good” illness, which afflicts a lot of Hollywood celebrities. I think it’s one reason that a lot of them have tremendous struggles with substance abuse, and difficulty freeing themselves from this addiction to feeling good all the time. One “feel-good” is never enough, you want ever more and more feel-good episodes. Something may make you feel good for awhile, and then after some time, whatever makes you feel good no longer works. His Holiness Dalai Lama was talking about this once. You see something in a shop and you think,”Oh this is really going to make me feel good.” So you get it, but almost as soon as you have it, it doesn’t make you feel good! You are not quite sure what is wrong, so you search for another feel-good, but you bring that home and that doesn’t make you feel good either. So this continues, and eventually your searching becomes an addiction in itself. It may even become more and more extreme, as well as stranger and stranger, until the things you try are actually self-destructive.
The initial problem is really no different from where we start. And as one gains more privilege, or greater resources, one has more opportunity to indulge. When someone has self-control, and uses a discriminative mind, they can actually say “Okay, although this seems like it will make me feel good, it’s really not good for me, because this is cocaine!” But if one is in the habit of not discriminating at all, and has the privilege to indulge, then at that point the ability to discriminate will be weak, because that ability has not been cultivated or practiced. In that case, it may be a straight shot into addictions and self-destruction as a natural outcome for such a person.
So my point is this. Though of course all of us want to feel good, this kind of addiction is something different. Wanting to feel good all the time through some outer material way, or wanting to learn how to work with one’s mind so as to set the conditions in the right manner for sustaining oneself in the peace or happiness that comes more from inside — this is a choice. Choosing to work with one’s mind comes about through one’s own wisdom, clarity, and faith. Not only is there no danger in that, there’s also tremendous benefit.
In the end if you are suffering with your own mind, and with your own self-importance right there and then, what is so good about that? There is nothing good about that. But if you have the clarity and the wisdom of the Dharma as truth and clarity in your own mind, along with wisdom and faith through your own experience, then all your karma will be changed. Liberation is at the doorstep, without having to go and search far at all. That’s what we need the most, and particularly when our own mind is full of trouble and difficulties. Actually that’s the only thing you can really count on.
Here’s another point, too. Many people think that those who have Alzheimer’s, or are in a vegetative state, have “lost their mind.” Yes, temporarily they have lost their mind in one sense, but they have not really lost their mind, because as the temporal conditions change, they gain back their mind fully in the bardo (Tib., the transitional period between death and the next life). In the bardo, there are no conditions for this temporal state of mind to continue — Alzheimer’s or the vegetative state — because there is no physical body to depend upon. So in this way, some karma is ripened in going through that kind of experience. In this world we may “lose our minds” or our memory capacity based on our deteriorating physical condition, but ultimately the mind’s potential always will continue with its usual capacity.
What does change are only the forms of the mind’s manifestations, not the ultimate potential of mind. In that way, whatever the capacity there is to manifest in samsara, is also present in the mind to manifest in the nirvana, unless one really removes the causes and the conditions at a much deeper level. Those potentials don’t fade away through outer conditions, yet when certain inner conditions are removed at a deep level, then there will not be a samsaric mind to return, because there are no longer the causes and conditions for it to return. But the mind possesses both these aspects as a tendrel (Tib., ripening potential; dependent arising), which is there from the beginning of the mindstream. This potential allows a sentient being to evolve and become an enlightened being. So that never changes. Just as a seed has the potential to grow into a mango tree, that potential remains in the seed, how ever long it takes — and whether or not the conditions are met to grow into a tree, the potential still must be there.
So we must understand what the good mind is and what the good heart is, and not treat the good mind and good heart as something that is always based on the feelings. I wonder sometimes when people say, “Oh, Ghandiji is such a good man with a good heart; or Mother Teresa is a good woman and has a good heart; or His Holiness Dalai Lama is a very good man and has such a good heart.” Does that mean to say they are always in some place of calm, kind, and compassionate feelings? Or is there more to them than that — do they never experience any other contrary feelings in their mind, or not know how to discriminate and override such feelings? Can’t they set the conditions for their minds to feel the way that they want, in order to be fully engaged? These are the questions that I have. I doubt that they have this one stream of constant emotion, never interrupted, never changing, without the arising of any contrary feelings in their minds. I don’t believe that because it sounds almost inhuman to me.
What I can actually say of them as being great minds or having great hearts, is that they possess that clarity and wisdom, and the conviction that accompanies it. The feelings are just supplementary to that. And this is what I think we want for ourselves too.