Each of us strives to live a perfect life, just as Shakyamuni Buddha once did. Unlike the Buddha, however, most of think of a perfect life as one that includes the things we like and excludes the things we don’t like. It’s like trying to walk with just one foot, breathe by inhaling only, or wishing that the moon did not have a dark side. But none of these things is possible as all things and times and beings are ceaselessly changing.
Twice a year, when the hours of darkness and daylight are equal (the vernal and autumnal equinoxes), we renew our investigation of the Six Perfections. It’s interesting that “perfection” is linked to the balance of light and dark. This may remind us of the equanimity that characterizes the Buddha’s awakening. When we reflect on perfect generosity, for example, we should not imagine that it is merely of matter of giving things away with abandon. Generosity is inherently the perfection of morality–the precepts that help us relinquish our deluded views of the self. When we see generosity this way, it is no longer about sacrificing what we own as much as it is a matter of seeing that we do not own it at all.
Likewise, the perfection of patience isn’t merely a forced passivity. Real patience is inherently the perfection of effort–the energy we put forth to cultivate wholesomeness. Seen in this way, perfect patience is not a matter of being a doormat, but of persistence in our spiritual purpose.
And the perfection of meditation is not merely a matter of mastering the arts of mental discipline. Meditation is inherently the perfection of wisdom–that vision of the true nature of reality which is empty. Seen in this way, meditation is no longer merely a means to an end, but a manifestation of our true nature.
You can reflect upon each of the perfections in this way, seeing each one as co-arising in relation to the others.
Our practice, therefore, is not to attempt a state of perfection in which we conceive of a whole, perfect moon as nothing other than the full moon. It is, rather, to be a half moon. A half moon is also a whole moon, but it’s wholeness does not deny one part of its reality in favor of another. Each part is conditioned by the other, just as, when we are walking, one foot is before and one foot is behind. Just as, when breathing, each inhalation is followed by an exhalation.
To realize the conditioned nature of life is to stand on the moon, straddling the line between light and dark, realizing that the actual line cannot be found. This is not a failure but is the fundamental recognition that one may perfect one’s life without changing anything at all. Indeed, nothing can be changed except one’s view. In perfecting life without changing anything, we are suddenly greatly relieved of our suffering. And that perfection extends endlessly throughout space and time. We are indeed very fortunate.