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you’re not an improvement project

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improvementHogen Bays, senior teacher at Great Vow Zen Monastery, reminds us to stay close to who we are and not to chase after some idealized persona. At least that’s how I understand his admonition (in the title above). In the recent past several people have been critical of my ‘imperfections’ by saying things like “and you call yourself a Buddhist?” Even my educated co-workers have, from time to time, implied that I should know more or act differently because “you are into Zen.” In fact, my ongoing effort to practice ‘not-knowing’ and ‘not-deceiving’ has caused raised eyebrows when, instead of wise insights, I’ve expressed bafflement.

Makes me wonder whether and how I’m contributing to these perceptions and reactions? Is there something in my demeanour that projects a holier-than-thouness? Or are people’s reactions the price one pays for practicing to live authentically, warts and all? “The desire to improve and be a better person has, it would seem, a double edge to it,” writes psychotherapist and meditation teacher Rob Preece

preeceYes, why not try to clean up our lives and be a more kind, caring, and considerate person? Why not aspire to be more ethically wholesome, more tolerant, to stop harming others? But the desire to live up to some ideal has a number of hazardous consequence. What is unacceptable will become suppressed into what Jung called a Shadow. When we learn to hide and eventually deny our failings, it can lead to an unconscious spiritual grandiosity.

Cultivated goodness and piety can eventually cause an individual to see him- or herself as special and spiritually gifted. If this way of being gains outer acclaim and approbation, the grandiose self deception can grow, making it increasingly hard to acknowledge failings. Once again, cratch the surface and we find a lack of compassion, a failure to accept who we are, with our positive qualities and our failings.

source: Preece, R. (2006). The wisdom of imperfection: the challenge of individuation in buddhist life. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, p.60.

2 responses »

  1. when people say this to you, do you ever try to have an open conversation with them to understand why they’re saying it?


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