In this talk we examine the search for perfection. We may seek perfection in; my body, a “home”, in relationships or a partner, a job, social or economic status, or in our children.
But why do we do this? It is due to our spiritual nature which is perfect. But when I try to do this in the material world I am seeking perfection in that which is imperfect. It is like our seeking permanence in that which is impermanent.
The answer to my desire for perfection lies in not trying to make the world, my body, or anything material perfect – but discovering my actual identity – my spiritual identity.
A verse from the Bhagavad-gita I quoted. “After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.” Bg 8.15
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So if you have seen any of the promo material put out for this talk, I’ve titled it But I Wanted It To Be Perfect. After last week’s talk I was actually feeling extremely sad for a number of days, thinking about some of the things that I had read. And I’ll read again a passage that I read, but this time I’ll ask that you not focus on how scandalous and abusive Big Tech is, but listen and consider about some of the tremendous personal suffering that was spoken about.
So what I’m going to read you is from—it’s from an American publication. I think it’s called This Week or The Week, and they were reporting on a major article. It was—that came out on the Wall Street Journal where they were given—reporter there was given internal documents from Facebook. This is discussions between their executives and management.
“The Wall Street Journal reports…that Facebook had known for years that Instagram was mass producing anxiety, depression and eating disorders amongst teenage girls who use it, and [they] did nothing about it. That’s because giving teens eating disorders is very profitable. As Casey Johnston writes, ‘These companies know that it’s addictive to make people think that somewhere in their app…’”
—I’m sorry I’ll read that again:
“These companies know that it’s addictive to make people think that somewhere in their app there’s a solution to feeling inferior and incomplete. The influencer who makes you feel not pretty enough, who also seems to have the key to becoming pretty enough, that’s Instagram candy.”
I mean this is actually—before we look at it from the personal perspective—it’s actually quite complex what’s going on, and the way in which people’s psychology, their minds, are processing; and how psychology is being used to create for the company something that they consider desirable.
But this idea that—people get this idea that if I just—I’m looking at this app, using this app, and looking at influencers and other people’s posts, and the effect that it’s having on me is to make me feel somehow inferior, incomplete, the idea of feeling not good enough. Heartbreakingly sad that en masse you can have a whole demographic being so adversely affected, feeling so out of it, feeling so troubled and imperfect, and there’s so many things wrong with me. So I’m using this app, and it’s producing this result, at the same time I have this idea that if I just keep looking at it, I’ll find the solution to how crappy I’m feeling. I mean that’s really astonishing, that on one hand I’m doing something that’s making me feel terribly bad, but at the same time I’m thinking if I just keep doing it, I’ll find the solution to how I feel.
This is the same thing a drug addict goes through. A drug addict, when they get past the rush that they want, often become overwhelmed with feeling so crappy, and I’m stuck in this place and I’m causing pain for others, and yet I think that, “Wow! If I just keep using somehow it will solve my problems.” So what they’re tapping into is the psychology that’s very much associated with addiction, and which plagues all of us, to different degrees and at different times in our life.
I mean, right now while we’re talking there are literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people around the planet, experiencing this to the point where I become so distressed and troubled that I engage in self-harm, people cutting themself because that somehow distracts them from the pain that they’re feeling inside, or people even going as far as contemplating suicide because of this enormous amount of pain and difficulty that they are feeling and experiencing.
And it’s not just teenage girls. Everybody has these insecurities, even the most overtly positive kind of person who tries to dominate conversations, and friendships, and things, is quite often doing these things. The so-called confident people are often, not all but many of them, are doing, or acting out in a certain way to cover up these internal insecurities that almost everyone suffers from in different ways and in different forms.
I think it’s really incredibly sad and utterly dehumanizing when we have this culture of demanding from women this form of physical excellence in the way the body is going to look, and the idea that I will be lovable, that I will be worthy, that I will find what I’m looking for, the relationships or whatever, if my body just looks a certain way; the idea that if I become sexually performative—and this is something very common with young people, where I feel I have to engage in sexual activity that I don’t want to, but I need to do it in order to be accepted, in order to be loved, in order to be, to feel worthy.
So we have a society where everybody’s crying out about equity, which is a term that I really don’t like very much. It’s a political idea. But the idea that everybody should be treated equally, that everybody is entitled to compassion and care, this noble idea becomes really sorely eroded when we push people into these boxes, and try to define them by the way they look, or the way they are prepared to dress, or the way they’re prepared or unprepared to behave with somebody else; and it’s causing so much damage.
Some of you may have heard me speak before about a woman in the US. Her name was Stephanie. And I speak at some length about her in that series I’ve got out called Finding Myself. In the very first of that three-part series of Finding Myself we speak about her with some—at some length. She was involved in a plane crash and got third degree burns over about 90 percent of her body. And her face was so utterly disfigured that when she finally had finished with all the surgeries and skin grafts and things, and she got to see her children, whom she loved so dearly, that they recoiled from her. And it was like they were looking at something that was quite monstrous, or scary, when they were expecting to see their mum. And for her it’s like, crying out, as it were from inside, “It’s still me. It’s still Mummy,” but the children are looking and going, “No, it’s not. Ooh, wow…”
And as a result of that experience that she had, she did one blog where she said that, “Mothers, the most important thing you can teach your daughters is that they are not their bodies.” I mean that’s an incredibly profound idea. That’s a deeply spiritual idea actually. And she had had that experience and come to the conclusion that if you utterly identify the body as being the self, you are setting yourself up for potentially some of the greatest suffering that you could experience, having her children kind of reject her. Like when her daughter, who was the eldest of the three children (I think she was about nine) had gone into the room first to see the mum, and when she came out she told her younger brother, who was then going to go in, “Don’t go in there.” I mean whoa! How painful is that situation for the mother to be rejected like that, to have your own children even almost afraid of you?
So this is not a philosophical idea. This is a practical reality, and a very important truth, that society is just racing down this road in a direction away from this truth, that people have been taught to be increasingly superficial and shallow, but the result is all of this pain and suffering. Do not think that by altering the body that you will find perfection. You will not. You cannot. And yet this has become so common.
I mean the growth of non-medical plastic surgery, I mean it’s a multi-billion-dollar business, the manufacturing and sale of silicon boobies, where you’re going to stuff plastic in your body to improve your body image and how you feel about, they say, “yourself.” You can be more confident, and you can be more desirable.
I mean, don’t you see that if that’s what you are after, if that’s what you’re attracting, you’re just attracting that which is superficial and shallow also. Youthfulness, and even beauty, is not permanent. Even if a person has the good karma to have a healthy and beautiful body it will not, it cannot last. And when you tie yourself to that image that’s really going to mess with your head and mess with your life.
I remember reading something that Elizabeth Taylor had said, and she was previously renowned as one of the most beautiful women in the world, but then as she aged, she didn’t want to be seen because she didn’t want that image to change. She didn’t want to lose something that she thought was of value, and now it’s slipping away.
This desire for perfection is not just applied to the body that we have. We have situations where people want to make a perfect home, an ideal home, something that’s right out of an interior magazine. I mean I’ve—know of situations where people worked so hard to create the beautiful home, and then they don’t want anybody to mess it up. [laughs] And so if their kids have some friends over there’s this massive amount of anxiety, because the kids are not allowed to touch the sparkling white walls, in case they leave dirty prints on there or—And it’s just like, I mean what the hell is that? You’ve got kids just being kids, and they’re not allowed to just hang out with their friends and relax because somebody’s created something that they thought was perfection.
And then just like with the body, you are in this battle against time. Time slowly eats everything. The beautiful house that you developed gradually also ages, and then there’s this—once you get past about 10 or 15 years then it’s constant maintenance just to try and keep it going.
You have people that look for perfection in a partner. And I find this so sad, and kind of amazing, because you’ve got people judging someone else and trying to ascertain whether they’re the perfect partner for me, without any thought about how perfect or imperfect I am. (Laughs) I’m going to judge their behaviour, and how they’re relating to me, and how they’re doing things, without any awareness of my own massive imperfections and the effect that I’m having on others. And in this demand for perfection with a partner, it’s like, don’t you see that you’re setting yourselves up for failure? There is this need to look more deeply at things.
Just like these young teenage girls that are feeling suicidal, worried about their own body image because of what Instagram is doing to them. You have people—I mean, the amount of suffering and pain that comes from broken marriages throughout the world! We are talking of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people experiencing tremendous suffering and heartbreak, disappointment. We have hundreds of millions of children being devastated, and, in some cases, irreparably harmed as a result of this breaking up of relationships.
And if you really examine a lot of what’s going on, there is this underlying desire for perfection, just want this to be your perfect partner; and then you discover that they are not the perfect partner; and then it’s just like everything begins to unwind.
Some people may think that that’s an over-simplification, but if you look at things actually in a fine grain and in detail, you will see that there is this underlying problem.
You’ve got people seeking perfection in their job, that if only they can get promoted, or get this particular position, that everything is going to be perfect. And then if they’ve got an ideal situation then over time trying to hold on to it.
I did a lot of traveling in the ‘70s when it was the big air travel boom, and the big and desirable job that was all over the place was to become an airline hostess. That was sort of like considered, Wow! That’s a wow! That’s a glamour job. And they think they’ll be traveling all over the world and dressing up all—and prettying themself up, and just have this wonderful, gorgeous life. And then about 15 years into that job, as your body begins to creep into middle age, and everybody starts changing body types, and then it used to be the norm that people would just be let go, fired, because they didn’t look slim and sexy anymore. And that was sort of like—that has changed over time. Unions have made it so you can’t just fire off employees because they’re starting to look older, and so the airlines had to struggle with repackaging themselves, because before youth and glamour and beauty was what they used to try and sell that. So I mean that’s just one example.
A news anchor who is aging and at the top of their—they’re at the top of, the peak of their career, and they know it’s just downhill from here, and soon they’re going to want to move me out and move in somebody younger. When a person gets promoted to a high position, then they see young people snapping at their heels, the hot shots coming aboard in the company wanting to gun for that position. So, even in this idea of seeking some perfection in an occupation, or in social, or economic status, or perfection with children, perfection with relationships, that all can come apart so easily.
Why are we seeking perfection? There is a deep spiritual reason for it, and it has to do with our eternal spiritual nature as being a perfect spiritual being. Within your heart of hearts, you, the actual spiritual being, you are perfect. There is no imperfection in our spiritual identity. And because of this, it very much drives this desire that we have for perfection. People don’t understand.
I mean to—the drive for beauty, the drive for permanence—I mean it’s just like, we’ve spoken about that before, where we all want permanence. We don’t want things to be impermanent. We want that security and stability of permanence, but we’re trying to look for it in a world that is by nature impermanent. And this is the same problem: we’re seeking perfection in that which is imperfect.
It’s so important to embrace the reality that the world is imperfect, that material relationships, our bodies, everything, is at the heart of things imperfect. And putting effort—I’m not saying that people shouldn’t try to make things a little bit nice in their life and—but you need to have a perspective. There shouldn’t be an unrealistic expectation. I mean this is what, this thing I read in the beginning, these young teen girls having this expectation of being perfect, of appearing perfect, it’s unrealistic. There is no perfection like that. That ideal is actually a spiritual ideal, but the reality of the world is something different.
And so it’s really important that in raising children, or if you’re an educator, or in any way have influence over children, that you help them to develop a healthy understanding of the nature of this world, the nature of relationships, the nature of things. And one of the characteristics of this world and everything connected with it is it’s filled with imperfection, and you cannot make it perfect. And rather than judging people just on external appearances, and deciding whether somebody is desirable or undesirable, it’s far more important to actually get to know that person within, to build relationships that value a deeper appreciation of people, of our deeper personal natures, and to feel connected and to feel compassion.
And part of that understanding that you need to share with young people, is this basic knowledge that the body is not you. The body is not you. This is a temporary garment that is going to be going through different phases of growth, maturity, maintaining that state for some time, and then declining, and ultimately will be destroyed. And we should use the time that we have in that body for some higher purpose than trying to artificially seek to make that body perfect and beautiful forever. Can’t happen! It’s not even a possibility.
So I will just read you a verse from the Bhagavad-gita. Lord Krishna says:
“After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.”
And what is that perfection? That perfection is the perfection of complete self-realization, where you go beyond just coming to understand that I am—mentally understand that I am a spiritual being. I mean that understanding is already powerful and is a form of self-realization, but through spiritual practice, through cultivation of spiritual understanding and spiritual practices, one can come to experience and discover this reality for themselves, in the most wonderful way. And in doing that one will experience perfection. They will experience the reality of their own spiritual identity, the—ultimately their connection with the Supreme Soul, the experience of awakening deep and wonderful condition of spiritual love. This is the perfection that we should seek. And it’s just like wow, so astonishing and sad that the world is utterly lost in chasing perfection in the material condition, and completely ignoring and being blind to the reality of the perfection of their actual spiritual identity.
So, we need to strive in our life for this, cultivating a regular practice of meditation, listening to spiritual discourses, reading spiritual texts. This can shed light on what is otherwise a deeply illusioned and ignorant world, where everybody’s chasing this phantasmagoria, this idea that I can find perfection in this world, and in this body which I am currently using.
So with that, of course, I will invite you to chant with us. And it is through this chanting, these spiritual sounds, that one will come to experience this awakening.
Thank you very much. I’ll sing the Gopala Govinda mantra.