Sunday, February 12, 2012

In Pursuit Of Perfection

“Perfection is not attainable.  But if we chase perfection we can get excellence.”  (Vince Lombardi, legendary NFL coach.)

Perfection, like most things in life, can be a double-edged sword.  Our pursuit of perfection can help to stimulate our energies and focus our concentration so as to move beyond mediocrity, beyond just getting by, and help us to extract the full measure of possibility available within a task.  Yet when we put an expectation on us of achieving perfection we can be demoralized when that perfection is not achieved, and be blinded to the good we have nevertheless done.  Where do we set that bar of perfection, and where do we position ourselves towards that bar?

For the ancient Greeks, perfection was an idealized state, rising above one’s inherent flaws, separate from the reality of how things actually are.  Hence human, animal and inanimate things were portrayed in an unnatural way – how things were imagined should be.  This perspective permeates the thinking of Western humankind in its judgment of “quality.”

On the other hand, for the Buddhist perfection is a state of absolute reality.  Things are inherently perfect just as they are, as they were created, with no need to add to them or make them something else that they are not.  We need only to understand what things truly are versus their distortions that we see.  For the Greek, symmetry – rarely found in nature – is all important in design; for the Buddhist, symmetry is a jarring unnaturalness in conflict with nature.  The Greek loves angles; the Buddhist loves meandering curves.

For many, God (by whatever name) is the only perfection.  In God all things are correct; from God all things are intentional, without shortcomings.  Yet the danger in believing that God is “perfect” is that we attribute a static-ness to God, that in being perfect God is fixed and unchanging.  Someone once wisecracked that “an expert is someone who thinks there is nothing else to be learned.”  We risk that same trap when we equate perfection with “nothing else to learn,” that perfection is absolute, that God is perfection and unchanging.  Change does not imply that the old was wrong; change simply brings us the next phase and understanding of what can and is intended to be.

I personally believe that God is not perfection in a “fixed” sense of being.  The one constant in the whole of the Universe is that nothing is static; everything is always changing, evolving.  If the Universe is God’s ultimate creation and intention, why would God be separate from this fundamental truth, this basic physical / metaphysical law?  So I believe that God also learns, changes, and grows in wisdom just like the rest of us.  It is just that God starts from a much broader and more knowledgeable starting point of wisdom.  Which is why I am undisturbed by the seeming conflict in the God of Genesis, of the Gospels, and of Revelations.  The distinctions simply reflect God’s own growth over time, of God’s extreme excellence from a pursuit of perfection even now not yet achieved.

Perfection is not a destination or endpoint.  It is not a standard of measure or judgment.  It is an important moving vehicle on which we travel on our human journey, through which we fulfill our possibilities and perhaps inspire the journeys of others.  All is perfect at its creation; all is perfect when it remains true to itself; all is perfect when it moves to the next level, as is intended.

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