om svabhava suddha sarva dharma svabhava suddho’ham
“All is pure (perfect) as it is. I am pure (perfect) as I am.”
Our Teachers caution us to pay close attention to the meaning, rather than just the words. What does “as it is” mean? Does it mean, as some would have it, that we can just perceive all as being perfect if we only change our perspective? Or does it actually mean that in its true nature (“as it really is”; svabhava means “own-nature”), all is intrinsically perfect? It is this second meaning that is intended.
The etymology of the term ‘perfection’ is thus: from L. perfectus “completed,” pp. of perficere “accomplish, finish, complete,” from per– “completely” + facere “to perform.”
Perfect does not mean good, or desirable, or even acceptable. It means ‘complete’, ‘lacking nothing.’ It is in this sense that the mantra establishes “All is perfect, just as it is.” Conventional reality is fullness of experience: the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the joyous and the terrible.
Buddhas and Mahasattva-Bodhisattvas possess the Two Non-dual Pristine Wisdoms simultaneously: seeing Ultimate Reality as it is, and seeing the variety of phenomenal manifestation (conventional reality) as others see it —but without being affected by disturbing emotions. Their spontaneous compassion manifests without suffering.
Perfect enlightenment is “retroactive.” Because time is a conceptual elaboration, it is not present in Non-dual Wisdom. Upon separation from the emotional and cognitive obscurations that veil our Buddha Nature, our Natural Perfection, all our suffering ceases. It is not only that (future) suffering will never arise again, but that all our suffering of yesterday and today has also ceased —and never was.
None of the above should be construed as condoning lack of compassion, as it is precisely through indiscriminate, all embracing compassion that we purify the cognitive and emotional obscurations that bind us to conventional reality. Knowing that we can help to bring to an end the suffering of others —past, present, and future— is the basis of Bodhichitta.
Relative reality is ultimately self-empty, not truly established, non-existent. The Kalkin Pundarika stated: Samsara and nirvana are not identical, but like a shadow and the sun. As long as we perceive the duality of self and other, it is samsara, it is shadow, it is suffering. Ultimate reality is ever blissful. It is nirvana, the cessation of suffering.
For the Bodhisattvas, both realized and in training, the Dharma is not escapism into personal liberation. It is not a path of self-deception. It is assuming the suffering of others and dedicating ourselves to their happiness. It is in that dedication that there is cessation of suffering, as the false self is consumed by the sun of love and compassion. In that dedication, there is true bliss, here and now.