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August 24, 2021

Perfection is a Matter of Perception

Relationships are the most important contributors to our sense of well being and happiness, whether they be intimate, simple friendships, or purely social; we need people in our lives to be happy, but the question is why relationships often bring just the opposite. Is it the fact that we trust our judgement too much and are not equipped with the sensibilities to choose the people in our lives wisely. As far as intimate relationships go, a large portion of the world’s population subscribe to “arranged marriages” and in these populations parental control extends far beyond the marriage partner and into practically every aspect of a son or daughter’s life, whether it be school, job choice, or friendships, parents think they know best what is right for their children.

I am not arguing that arranged marriages are a good idea; I am not for them. But, I will say that during my thirteen years in India and Nepal I witnessed firsthand the easily demonstrable success of basically, “arranged everything.” I don’t agree with it not because it doesn’t work, but because I think the objectivity that causes it to work so well, can be adopted by individuals willing to do so and people openminded enough to do so, and who will objectively employ those insights to make choices for themselves that are often left to parents.[1]

People tend to base choices on personal likes and dislikes and overlook the obvious bias such a method entails. The ideal companion or friend is not one we choose but the one that circumstances bring our way, the one we often argue against, fighting endless wars inside. The shallowness of our own kneejerk choices which we often allow to govern our life, as far as people go, is often good looks, mighty muscles, or coke-bottle-like shape, youth, wealth, and so forth. Like a bird attracted to the brightest feathers, it is built into us to seek what first attracts us, and we are often involved before we ever examine what’s under the hood. As far as material things go, it is the same. A farmer I knew bought a $250,000 Lamborghini when what he really needed was a truck. Expensive leather jackets look cool, but won’t keep us warm. And you may be wearing rhinestone necklace while your half million dollar “real thing” is home safe in a vault.

But it does not take much acuity to uncover the kind of superficiality that undermines common sense; we just choose to go against the obvious. But there is a subtle kind of bias that is not so easily recognized that can confuse the best of us. It is our proclivity to find fault with something that comes to us perfectly organically and which we know would be good for us, but reject, preferring instead to maintain the status quo. Nothing is more predictable than doing what we have been doing for a long while. We prefer the familiar.

When something, person, or circumstance, comes our way and the familiar is threatened, we will search with a needle through the new offering to find fault with it even when that new offering is immensely better than the status quo. And whatever small fault we find however miniscule it may be, we will use it to do away with the whole offered. More amazing than that, if in our fault finding search we find something good, we will choose to ignore it rather than incline ourselves to think that there may be more to look into and follow the trail to see if such is the case, and if it is give the new offering a chance. But seldom is such the case for we are disinclined to undermine our long established views.

Life brings our way what we need and not recognizing what’s before our face most of us are no stranger to. So, we are like one riding a donkey, looking for one, and our cup is perpetually half empty. This world is said to be “Brahma’s dream,” yet we insist on imposing our own dream upon it. Could it not be that everything is perfect in our lives, and we only have to open our mind to see its perfection rather than insist on having it “our” way?

Completion always seems to be something elsewhere. The world is full of people looking for something, someone, or someplace, their dream person, their dream status, or their dream acre in god’s world; without considering perfection is ever before them for them to see if they can just set aside egocentric preferences. It is preferences for which we endlessly exhaust ourselves and our inability to humble ourselves enough to lower our gaze and see what is right beneath our feet. Instead, we shoot for the stars and come crashing down again and again and often breath our last in our quest to live our dream instead of accepting we are already part of a much bigger dream and try to figure out our place in it.

If their were such a thing as Brahma’s dream, I think there is and as a Buddhist I am not supposed to, but for the moment let’s pretend there is, would it not make sense that Brahma wishes everyone in his dream be happy, which of course could not mean that everyone is rich, has a gorgeous mate, and lives in a utopian society in Shangri-La, for though duality is not real, its appearance is a necessity to make the dream of our lord interesting. Supposing there is such a dream, then how ridiculous our preferences would seem! But, even if there is no such dream, how ridiculous preferences seem. Even the Rolling Stones were astute enough to see and sing: “You don’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you just might see, you get what you need.”

So, it is just a matter of perception, isn’t it? How we perceive ourselves isn’t about how others perceive us, though we often think it is, but rather how we perceive ourselves, and the world offered to us. For is our life not like any other gift, for just as a gift offered by a friend would not be spurned and our own preferences rudely asserted, is it not wiser to make good what we have rather than struggle to bring in what we don’t?

A traveler crossing the country by train will stop for a day here and there as he passes through, making the best of what is there knowing he is going elsewhere; and are we not like him passing through life and should we too not build any edifices upon it, and did not John Lennon allude to this in one of his songs saying of life, “Just passing though.” Everything is ever changing, impermanent, dreamlike, and yet we seek to assert our will upon and bridal the wild stallion of life and yet wonder why so many efforts end in frustration, disillusionment, and abandon. Who are we to impose our will on is and is not; for as Ramana Maharshi said: “Whatever is meant to be, will be, no matter how hard we wish it not be; and whatever is not to be, won’t be, no matter how hard we wish it to be.”

[1] Admittedly, arranged marriages are rapidly declining in Asia in the last two decades, but divorce rates are dramatically increasing.

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