The county roads in the vicinity of our new home town follow an interesting naming convention. Perhaps in time I’d have figured it out, but I was lucky enough to have been schooled on the matter by a local shortly after my arrival. County Road 325 East, for example, would be one that runs north and south and goes through a point that is approximately 3.25 miles east of the county seat. Exquisitely simple, right? And it makes navigation through the rolling farmland, woods, and riverine bottomlands surprisingly easy – even when you’re unfamiliar with the area. All you need do is get to an intersection of two roads in order to know precisely where you are relative to the municipal center of affairs.
Much more difficult, however, is knowing where we’re at in a spiritual sense. Where do we stand with respect to our readiness to meet our maker, the end of our days, or our next major life upheaval? How healthy are our relationships with our fellow humans, or the rest of the natural world for that matter? Where do we stand with respect to the values we hold in highest regard? Our spiritual tradition might provide us with important signposts or benchmarks that we might use in this regard. But getting an accurate reading can be a rather tricky endeavor. For instance, perhaps humility is something that we say that we value. Ah, but as soon as we begin declaring ourselves humble, it’s probably time for us to think again!
Yes, we’re perfect. Yes, we have work to do. There is no contradiction here.
Various spiritual traditions also honor important figures whose demeanor and comportment serve as models for our own behavior. These are usually quite lofty, though, so unless we’re harboring some rigid belief system that preempts reflection on such matters, it would seem that there’s always progress to be made. But how much? How do we know where we stand? Perhaps this is where faith comes in – faith in our path, our practice, our savior, our guide – because it’s simply not as easy as making our way to the nearest intersection.
On the other hand, when we sit quietly and allow our mind to become still – whether we call it meditation, wordless prayer, contemplation, or something else entirely – suddenly there’s no other place that we need be. The world is perfect. We’re perfect. Nothing needs to change. We simply observe all that exists, without identifying with any one thing, or declaring ourselves separate from them. We’ve found our seat.
It’s not that we don’t still have work to do. As long as we’re alive there will be work to do. But a glimpse of perfection imbues our work with newfound joyfulness. Yes, we’re perfect. Yes, we have work to do. There is no contradiction here. This is the realization of both our emptiness and our form. This is the realization of truth from both ultimate and conventional points of view. With the knowledge gleaned from having come to know our seat we can act with greater compassion for all beings.
Copyright 2018 by Mark Robert Frank
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