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Thread: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

  1. #1
    Stephanie
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    Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    When we are being perfectionists, we are acting with total faith in the self, total faith that with enough effort and training, we can make the self into exactly what we think it should be. We think we can make it function exactly how it 'should' function.

    Of course, the Buddha's discovery was that this self that we have so much faith in does not exist. There is no "absolute essence of me" that can be made perfect. The self arises in the field of perception in the same way a mirage does. Certain conditions cause our brain to perceive something that is not actually there. All we are, all the self is, is an expression of conditions.

    When we think, "I should have been better than that," or "I should have been more of a Buddha," when thinking about how we got angry when that person cut us off, we are in the thrall of a narcissistic delusion, that we are so special we should not react the same way an ordinary person does to a situation.

    The Buddha's discovery was not a hopeless one. What the Buddha discovered gave him the freedom not to be a slave to conditions, gave him the freedom to imagine and make different responses, the same as Jesus (William Blake described Jesus as an avatar of Imagination): if someone harms us, we can forgive and wish them well instead of lash out and harm them in return.

    But this ability to act differently doesn't come out of guilt or self-punishment. It doesn't come out of worship of the self. It comes out of dropping worship of the self. The same act (dropping the self) that allows us to accept and forgive ourselves for being angry causes the anger to fade more quickly, because who or what are we defending? It's not that we force ourselves to "be better than that" and not flip someone off and tell them to fuck their mother, it's that when the desire to do so arises, it feels absurd, and we don't do it because we don't want to. And when we do want to, we admit it to ourselves, and accept the consequences if we choose to do it.

    Waking up is not about making myself into a saint. It is about seeing what is actually going on. When I see what is actually going on, the desire to do a lot of stupid shit falls away. Not all the time, because some days I am too addled by the heat, too exhausted, too psychologically wounded to see clearly or act from a place of equipoise. And I can see and accept that, because I no longer believe in the Gilded Self, the transcendent entity that is Me and that is Better than Others. Like all other beings, I find myself caught at a nexus of various conditions. These do not have to dictate my response, but they will inform it, because I cannot remove my self from those conditions. Take those conditions away, and that self goes away too. Because my self is not some solid, unchanging entity that is independent of circumstances. It is instead, the expression of circumstances.

    How is it then that we can ever act creatively, rather than simply react instinctively? It is because there is a part of us that can override instinct--what Blake called our Imagination. But this part of ourselves is not the self, it is not a self at all. It is not a transcendent 'True Self.' It is just the Tao, just the way things are when stripped of the illusion of a self. Our ability to look at, respond to, and act in a set of circumstances not from the perspective of a self, but from a perspective of the situation as a whole. When we see how all the different players and parts of a situation act as a whole, we are free to act based on how we think we can make the best result overall, rather than how we think we can make the best result for Me. This frees us to see how giving up the best spot for ourselves might make someone else happier than holding on to the best spot would have made us. It frees us to see how a peaceful or harmonious result could play out overall if we don't defend and attack from the perspective of self. And sometimes, it frees us to see that taking care of ourselves is what needs to be done, because just as we are not unnecessarily defending the self, nor are we unnecessarily attacking it either.

    We are not "spirits in a material world." We are not Selves that can become ever more Perfect. We are mammals, mortals, in a violent and constantly changing world. Our saving grace is not a transcendent soul, but imagination. We can imagine, and act, and make a different world. But we can't escape it or rise above it, we can't become breathatarians or catch a ride to Alpha Centauri. As Buddhists, we have freedom from the wretched delusion of sainthood, which has led so many people of noble sentiments to do such atrocious things, thinking themselves appointed by God to do them. No, we are free to be our perfectly imperfect selves, knowing that the self is no more a thing of substance than a rainbow.

  2. #2

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Right on! I struggle with this point of practice a lot, A LOT... I'm constantly going from one extreme to another, trying, trying trying... I shouldn't be thinking, I shouldn't be angry... but that just makes me a "fake" reflection of who I am. Gotta just let it be. I'm not saying be passive, but take real action based on the circumstances instead of fettering myself with all these ideals.

    This reminds me of what Taigu spoke about in the fourth Oxherding Picture where we lead the Ox, I'm trying to guide my practice instead of just letting it be.

    Excellent post Stephanie, I need re-read this for a while!

    Thank you

    Cyril

  3. #3
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Thanks cyril

    Gassho

  4. #4

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Seeing things as conditioned arising frees the self but it doesn't do away with it. There is something and I CALL IT MYSELF. Maybe we are just playing games with words. Maybe I understand one but not two. Maybe it doesn't really matter as long as you can just do it and cut off all your thinking about it.
    /Rich

  5. #5

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    Waking up is not about making myself into a saint. It is about seeing what is actually going on. When I see what is actually going on, the desire to do a lot of stupid shit falls away.
    Had you said nothing more than these three sentences,
    still you would've spoken volumes. There are is so much
    good teaching here at Treeleaf. Sometimes I just have
    to pause and give thanks for being a very small, very
    unripe leaf on such a vibrant branch as the one that
    Jundo and Taigu tend to daily. Stephanie, you sound
    so ripe that you are ready to fall. Deep bows. Thanks.

    gassho gassho gassho
    Greg

  6. #6
    Stephanie
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Rich - my experience/understanding is that the self is a perceptual trick, like a visual illusion (such as the "rotating snakes" illusion). But like visual illusions, even after you see the elements that contribute to the illusion and that the image is an illusion, you continue to see the illusion (the "snakes" continue to appear as if they are rotating), because that is always how your brain will interpret that information.

    Greg - thanks so much for the positive feedback. I'm glad the post resonated with you. I think I've got a lot of ripening to do yet, but who knows :wink: I learn a lot from you too.

  7. #7

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Wow!
    The only thing I can really say is thank you for the post.
    I've read so much literature that seems to try to convince the reader that their inherent self does not exist, and here, you just explained it so plainly and succinctly, that it seems obvious.
    I'm going to be thinking about this for a while.

    Gassho,
    Jim

  8. #8
    disastermouse
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    This no-self thing is tricky business. As a concept, it seems alternately to appeal and repel. On seeing it, non-conceptually, it's not a problem at all.

    That is, it's sort of a bogey-man.

    Chet

  9. #9

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    You say it so well and so clearly Stephanie ..... such a beautiful healing voice in our sangha.
    Bless you.
    Gassho, Nadi

  10. #10

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Hi everyone!
    Thank you for this VERY inspiring post! As often Stephanie was the one behind the keyboard... Are you a writer or something?

    Well Thank you again!
    I'd better get back to sitting,

    gassho,
    Luis-Jinyu

  11. #11

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Quote Originally Posted by Jronin
    Wow!
    The only thing I can really say is thank you for the post.
    I've read so much literature that seems to try to convince the reader that their inherent self does not exist, and here, you just explained it so plainly and succinctly, that it seems obvious.
    I'm going to be thinking about this for a while.

    Gassho,
    Jim
    I thank Stephanie for this gorgeous and rich post.

    If it is helpful on the subject of "inherent self does not exist", today's sit-a-long happens to be about the traditional Buddhist model for how the sense of 'self/other' develops in the mind of the newborn child (with myself ham acting it all out ... as the baby!) :roll:

    http://www.shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?p ... more-17336

    Gassho, J

  12. #12
    Senior Member KellyRok's Avatar
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Hello all,

    Stephanie - I'm always amazed at the depth and sincerity of your words. Such a beautiful and spot-on analysis. You have such a gift and I'm glad you share it with us. Even after many years of practice, I doubt I'll ever manage to convey my thoughts as easily as you convey yours.

    This was my favorite part:
    We are not "spirits in a material world." We are not Selves that can become ever more Perfect. We are mammals, mortals, in a violent and constantly changing world. Our saving grace is not a transcendent soul, but imagination. We can imagine, and act, and make a different world.
    Truly wonderful!

    Gassho,

    Kelly-Jinmei

  13. #13

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    ok so I just created a separate topic on self/no self because I'm utterly confused about it, and this thread totally inspired it.

    But the imagining piece... who is doing the imagining if there is no self?

  14. #14
    Senior Member Kent's Avatar
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Stephanie, a clear and lovely post. Thank you. Gassho Kent

  15. #15

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Hi.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    No, we are free to be our perfectly imperfect selves, knowing that the self is no more a thing of substance than a rainbow.
    This self is bowing deeply.
    Gashho.

    Mtfbwy
    FUgen

  16. #16
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    No perfectionism, I agree. But we can still aim to improve our "selves," right?

    I vow to attain the enlightened way, a way unatainable.

  17. #17

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    No perfectionism, I agree. But we can still aim to improve our "selves," right?

    I vow to attain the enlightened way, a way unatainable.
    Absolutely, we should strive to become better... this is the question I keep getting caught in. My mind is expecting it's like this or like this.. When I'm beginning to see that there are multiple perspectives.

    To quote Jundo from a different topic on "Self/No-Self" and I'm actually quoting this time, so I don't misstate it (but what's interesting is that my mis-stating reveals where I'm hung up).. in any case,

    "This entire life-self-world is just perfectly what it are when we drop our human judgments... yet, from another view, it is filled with many imperfections that we can and best get to work fixing!" - Jundo

    First, I get hung up on 1 or the other, but those things are simultaneously true.
    Second, I get hung up on "Things are Perfectly complete as they are", but that's completely different from what Jundo is saying here "Things are perfectly and completely just what they are".

    I'm just glad I'm seeing my hangups (and very thankful for the patience here in explaining this) because now I I need to sit this.

    Gassho

    Cyril

  18. #18

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    No perfectionism, I agree. But we can still aim to improve our "selves," right?

    I vow to attain the enlightened way, a way unatainable.
    Hmmm - this is not how I would state it (from my vast 6 months of Zen experience). I would say that an outsider looking at your actions might perceive that you are improving yourself through Zen (maybe you are calmer, more patient, more compassionate). But from your perspective, you are merely sitting zazen, learning to live in the moment, becoming aware of what you are doing.

    I tend to think that "aiming to improve" blocks the very improvement you desire. Just be.

    Craig

    PS I like writing posts like this so I can look back in a few years and have a good chuckle at myself.

  19. #19

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Quote Originally Posted by CraigfromAz
    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    No perfectionism, I agree. But we can still aim to improve our "selves," right?

    I vow to attain the enlightened way, a way unatainable.
    Hmmm - this is not how I would state it (from my vast 6 months of Zen experience). I would say that an outsider looking at your actions might perceive that you are improving yourself through Zen (maybe you are calmer, more patient, more compassionate). But from your perspective, you are merely sitting zazen, learning to live in the moment, becoming aware of what you are doing.

    I tend to think that "aiming to improve" blocks the very improvement you desire. Just be.

    Craig

    PS I like writing posts like this so I can look back in a few years and have a good chuckle at myself.
    I would say that we can aim to improve ... have the goal and strive diligently to be better people, lose weight, master a new skill, drop a bad habit, make a relationship work, save all sentient beings ... and we can wish things were some other way from how they are going ...

    ... so long as we do so with a light touch ... without excess attachment to the goal and outcome ...

    ... and so long as we simultaneously drop to the marrow all aims, goals, wishes and striving ... knowing that there is nothing to improve, nothing which can be improved. All things are the way they go ... just the dance ...

  20. #20

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    I do have goals and plans, some as mundane as taking out the garbage. I keep a little notebook - kind of a to do list to get the goals and plans completed. But my primary job is just being present for all this where as Jundo said there is nothing to improve.
    /Rich

  21. #21
    Stephanie
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Thanks for the positive feedback all, I am touched and glad you enjoyed the post / found it helpful.

    Gassho.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    No perfectionism, I agree. But we can still aim to improve our "selves," right?

    I vow to attain the enlightened way, a way unatainable.
    Trying to improve 'yourself' is being caught in a delusion IMO.

    To say, "I want to improve my body by losing some weight," sure. To say, "I want to improve my mental skills by improving my reaction time," sure. You want to change conditions so that your subjective experience will be different. You want to experience a thinner, fitter body, you want to experience the rush of being skilled at an activity. These desires don't necessarily have to be (but can be) pinned on an image of a perfected self one is straining for out of a notion of wanting to be "a better person."

    To say something like "I want to improve myself by becoming a better person," one is still paying homage to "Me" as some solid entity that can be chiseled out of stone and maintained. I don't think compassion comes from effort to "be a better Me"... I think it comes from letting go of "Me." In my experience, compassion derived from efforts at self-improvement is prone to burnout, because there's a hidden motive in there somewhere, of wanting to feel good about oneself, or get good feedback from others, etc. Nothing wrong or evil with these things... but liberation does not lie therein.

    Anything you try to make yourself into cannot be held onto. You will get caught up in situations you don't want to be in, that will cause you to act in ways you dislike (unless you're a saint, which I'm not so convinced truly exist), or at the very least cause you to feel helpless. It's easy to be good when your life is easy and nothing is challenging you or what you believe in. But when stress and misfortune prevent you from functioning the way you want to, and when what you experience causes the edifice of the idealistic things you believe in to crumble, whatever self you built out of your grandiose visions for yourself and idealistic beliefs will fall apart too.

    This isn't because you just weren't good or strong enough. It's because the foundation of the project you were working on was nothing but a cloud--ephemeral, ungraspable, incapable of being built upon. You wanted your self to be some amazing wonderful thing, but the problem was that the self is fundamentally unstable. A self is an edifice built of ideas and images. Usually our sense of who we are is very different from how others see us, because the subjective self is a fantasy. A sheep has a very different sense of what 'sheepness' is like than the person who looks at the sheep and thinks of what it is to be a sheep. And we've all known plenty of people who went around under quixotic delusions with no awareness that others did not see them in the heroic terms that they saw themselves.

    I do believe there can be great, and good, people. I think that we can put continuous effort into something that can benefit others, and it will pay off. But I think that these efforts are something entirely different from waking up. I don't think they contradict one another, but they're not the same thing. My understanding--which, of course, may be flawed--is that the Buddha saw the futility of living a life invested in self. That no matter how big your kingdom, how wide your fame or renown, you too one day will age, get sick, and die. And today's respected king is tomorrow's hated tyrant. We spend our lives building up "Me" but it is this very self-concept that chains us, and never pays off.

    It is one thing to strive to do good actions, another thing to strive to "improve myself." Yet another not to strive at all, but just to do good. I find that the moments when I naturally "do good" come out of a capacity for empathy. I might be furious with someone, but, even if just for a moment, I imagine the view from their position, it can completely take the wind out of my fury. It's very simple. It's not grandiose at all. You know that the person next to you would enjoy your ice cream cone more than you, so you give it to them. And some days, you know you are going to enjoy the ice cream cone more, so you keep it. If those possibilities don't feel equally "kind" or "right" or "Buddhist" to you, I think some kind of distortion may be present. Because I think if we are attached to an ideal of self-sacrifice, we are still caught up in delusion. Sometimes I am the one most in need of kindness. Can I take it as easily as I can give it? Or am I caught up in a belief system that I must always sacrifice myself? That is just delusion... like many things that crop up around a sense of self.

  22. #22
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Stephanie wrote: I don't think compassion comes from effort to "be a better Me"... I think it comes from letting go of "Me."
    I completely agree, but wouldn't it therefore be true that the more I let go of "me" the better I become? Improvement in this case is ok, good even, maybe even desired (yikes!), but with all the comments about this that Jundo has stated above.

    I actually came to post this idea below, but Stephanie's post "needed" that comment above. Really, I agree with her. I'm just poking her ideas a bit is all. Anyway, I hope the following analogy helps, and I apologize right now if it doesn't.

    According to what I am going to call measurement theory, you can never bridge the gap between two points by going half way, because there is always going to be a gap that that can be split in half. So, one end of the ruler is 12 inches from the other end, and by going half way the ends are now only 6 inches apart, and by going half way the ends are now only 3 inches apart, and by going half way the ends are now only 1.5 inches apart, and so on into micro fractions of inches. But by this totally impractical way of looking at things as concrete as the distance between ends of a ruler, one can never travel from one end to another.

    I think the relationship between us and perfection is like that ruler; the gap between the two ends will never be spanned. There will always be a distance between our imaginary ideal and the reality we live in. But that doesn't mean meeting perfection half way is not a good idea. Right?

    Let me try one more time. Honestly and authentically living the precepts will lead a person to a better life, right? Not a perfect life, just a better one, and that life process is called improvement, or as I put it above, meeting perfection half way. Just because you will never be perfect does not mean you should give up on perfection. Such a duality seems to me like the two ends of my proverbial ruler. The middle way, it seems to me, is to meet perfection half way.

  23. #23
    Stephanie
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    You don't become better, Alan. A "better you" is like a "more beautiful unicorn"--sort of cool to think about, but it doesn't exist.

    Saying that you don't exist is not the same as saying that "this is all a dream" and there's some realer you somewhere else.

    We have a subjective experience. We don't really know what that subjective experience is, or how accurately it reflects what we come in contact with. Our experience of vision is a brain construct, for example. Do the things we look at really look like that, or do they only look like that to humans? And is human vision the most accurate representation of how the world looks?

    All the more uncertain is this "I" that we think about so much. And all the concepts we hang onto this master concept. We don't really know what goodness is, or what I is, but we know that "I want to be good."

    None of this shit matters. It really, really doesn't.

  24. #24

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    We're probably all saying the same thing, but it is virtually impossible to describe these issues in words. But that doesn't stop us from trying :roll:

    Let me try one more time. Honestly and authentically living the precepts will lead a person to a better life, right? Not a perfect life, just a better one, and that life process is called improvement, or as I put it above, meeting perfection half way. Just because you will never be perfect does not mean you should give up on perfection. Such a duality seems to me like the two ends of my proverbial ruler. The middle way, it seems to me, is to meet perfection half way.
    I'm not personally convinced that forcing yourself to follow a set of precepts makes sense. I think the the precepts should follow from your practice, not lead it. Sit, study, practice awareness and the precepts come naturally, no? And if they don't naturally follow from your practice, either the precepts or the practice must be wrong. IMO, of course.

    Craig

  25. #25
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    You're right, Craig. I think we are saying the same thing, but from two different perspectives. I tend to take a developmental approach to these things. I believe getting better exists, that it happens over time. The very concept of better is relative, and I think Stephanie is coming from a more absolutist point of view. Can I be better that I am right now? No, because now is now, absolutely just now. Can I be better in a few years than I am today? Yes (in the relative sense of then and now) and no (in the absolute sense of there is only now).

    It's also part of the self/no self issue. I'm taking the self side, that I exist and can be better. I think Stephanie is taking the no self side, and with no "I" there is nothing or no one to get better.

    Forcing yourself to follow the precepts would not be doing them honestly and authentically. But, as you say, letting them arise naturally from practice would be, and is, the way to go.

    I'm really not trying to disagree with Stephanie, just taking another side. Perhaps I needlessly muddied her waters, so I'll stop poking now.

  26. #26

    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    All the more uncertain is this "I" that we think about so much. And all the concepts we hang onto this master concept. We don't really know what goodness is, or what I is, but we know that "I want to be good."

    None of this shit matters. It really, really doesn't.
    Yea that's right. There comes a point in time when you just have to do something and all the thinking and concepts of "I" just get in the way. I hardly ever score a goal if I'm thinking about how I'm going to do it, I just do it without thinking. Even though you have all this conceptual image of who you are, it all boils down to some kind of consciousness of right now and what you are doing. That's why i keep coming back to don't know because most of my thinking is a delusional dream. And that's OK because I'm not trapped or controlled as much by it.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    It's also part of the self/no self issue. I'm taking the self side, that I exist and can be better. I think Stephanie is taking the no self side, and with no "I" there is nothing or no one to get better.

    Forcing yourself to follow the precepts would not be doing them honestly and authentically. But, as you say, letting them arise naturally from practice would be, and is, the way to go.

    I'm really not trying to disagree with Stephanie, just taking another side. Perhaps I needlessly muddied her waters, so I'll stop poking now.
    Yea, I agree. It gets confusing because self/no self exist at the same time. I am planning to go for a walk/jog to improve my cardiovascular conditioning. When walking/jogging I'm just walking/jogging with nothing getting better. Like Jundo says 'something like that'

    /Rich

  27. #27
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Hi Stephanie,


    You say...

    All the more uncertain is this "I" that we think about so much. And all the concepts we hang onto this master concept. We don't really know what goodness is, or what I is, but we know that "I want to be good."

    None of this shit matters. It really, really doesn't.
    We may not know what is...this "i want to be good" would be shit, in your own words...

    The third transmission is a precious teaching for guys like you or me.

    Your abrupt wording, could be different.

    humbleness.




    gassho


    T

  28. #28
    Stephanie
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    Hi Stephanie,


    You say...

    All the more uncertain is this "I" that we think about so much. And all the concepts we hang onto this master concept. We don't really know what goodness is, or what I is, but we know that "I want to be good."

    None of this shit matters. It really, really doesn't.
    We may not know what is...this "i want to be good" would be shit, in your own words...

    The third transmission is a precious teaching for guys like you or me.

    Your abrupt wording, could be different.

    humbleness.




    gassho


    T
    Taigu,

    In humble honesty, I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to tell me?

    Are you objecting to my language? Or one of the arguments I am making (and which one)?

    Please clarify.

    Gassho,

    Stephanie

  29. #29
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Dear Stephanie,

    Just the language...What you write is spot on. And like many other guys here, I wish you give that book a chance.

    take care


    gassho


    Taigu

  30. #30
    Stephanie
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    Ah, thanks Taigu.

    Sometimes I find there's nothing more effective than a 'four letter word,' but I try not to indulge too often as I know they offend some.

    You yourself are quite fond of the term "pissing" though, right? You seem to find the word very poetic :wink:

  31. #31
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Perfectionism: Faith in the Self, Faith in an Illusion

    :wink:

    Taigu

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    By will in forum TREELEAF COMMUNITY: Topics about Zazen, Zen, Buddhism & MORE ZAZEN!
    Replies: 13
    Last Post: 12-02-2007, 01:46 AM

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