Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
–Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
Perfection. We all want it. We strive for it in our practice, our training, our execution of applications and forms. The perfectly calm mind, the perfectly weighted archer’s stance in T’ai Chi, the perfectly timed transmission of fajing in push hands. But are we missing the larger point in this quest to be seamless and error-free? Are we failing to “grok” the true nature of perfection (to borrow Robert Heinlein’s fabulous word from Stranger in a Strange Land)?
Compare the Leonard Cohen verse above to the following poem (a tanka) written one thousand years earlier by Izumi Shikibu, one of Japan’s foremost women poets during Japan’s classical period, and translated here by Jane Hirshfield:Although the wind blows terribly here, the moonlight also leaks between the roof planks of this ruined house.
Perhaps these two selections are telling us that true perfection lies not in the flawless, hermetically sealed structure, but in the fractured one. For it is through the cracks that moonlight (a common Buddhist symbol of enlightenment) may enter. It is the cracks that hold the potential for personal growth and insight, for illumination. We learn nothing by being invincible at push hands. We learn everything by being knocked over. Our weaknesses, our so-called “imperfections” (as well as life’s hardships and heartaches), are in fact the grain of sand in the oyster that will become the pearl. Or that offers the possibility of a pearl.