We are “already complete.”


“One by one, each thing is complete

One by one, each thing has it.

It and dust interpenetrate, it is already apparent in all things.

So without cultivation you are already complete.”


I read this quote once at a zen retreat as I was instructed to by Zen master Dae Kwang and it opened a door in my mind. Without cultivation, I, everyone, is complete. We are always judging ourselves to be short of the mark in some way. As a therapist, people come to me because there’s at least one place in their life that they need to work on to improve themselves, their lives. It is our thinking that leads us to feel this way. We set up ideas of who we should be or how the world should be and then we don’t measure up—we are incomplete. If you go back to the root of the word translated as “sin,” it means to miss the mark, which, of course, assumes there is a mark to miss. And we, as humans, are always missing our mark.  When humans developed the thinking mind, that threw us out of the garden of completeness. Each moment is complete just the way it is, but then we start thinking about it.

This is the starting point of Buddhism.  Gautama looked up at Venus, the morning star, and said,” No problem,” or something like that.

Years later at another retreat I had a deeper experience of that completeness. We were doing a meditative walk in the snow and the line of zen students was snaking up the hill. I looked around at us walking on the snow covered hill, and in the moment it all seemed perfect, complete. And ultimately that is how each moment is,  but our mind is not in the place to receive that. We practice meditation, bioenergetics, yoga, Qi gong, go to therapy and many other things so we can learn to rest in that more and more,  however “without cultivation we are already complete.”

An end of summer moment

Tiny pearls of dew on the grass.  A slight chill in the air–end of summer.  I seem to have settled into a place of peace. Overgrown leaves of grass crisscross each other–– a tangle of  green with tips of dew, glinting in the sunlight.  Small drops of moisture floating down through the air. At times one can settles into these quiet  places. A slight rustle of the trees.

Just being present in the moment,  the senses come alive and open up to more of what’s around.  One pull at the thread of sight leads you into a sound of a bird and soon one is in a tapestry of the senses, and you are a figure in the weaving, interwoven.

This happened once during a vipassana retreat, settling into a place of peace and deep awareness, seemingly without effort.  I asked the monk U Silananda  about it and he called it “Grace.”  Maybe because otherwise he couldn’t explain this state happening to someone like me, with so much thinking going on.  He said these experiences come and go.  They aren’t a permanent state.  What else would you expect a Buddhist monk to say? But for a moment there it was, just like today.

We want permanence, but it is best to take it as it comes,  and today I am very content to let things come. Another rustle in the top of the trees. The increasing warmth of my body as the sun rises in the sky. 

There is a scene in the novel Taipan where the “taipan” a very pragmatic and not very religious man was sitting in a Jesuit Garden. He’d just been through an emotional ordeal which had been resolved with the help of the Jesuits.  And he was just sitting there appreciating the garden in the moment, appreciating the beauty of the world and the life around him.  The abbot enters and pauses, watching the man. Eventually he approaches the man and says to him, “You were very close to God right then.”  The taipan disputes it. But there he is settled in the moment feeling connected with the life around him, even if he doesn’t want to recognize it as being close to God.

Of course, then we have to get up and face the rest of the world with its challenges.  And our challenge is carrying this space out into the world.  There is the story of a Zen master shouting at his student, “God does not exist…” the man turns around to leave and the Zen master says quietly ,” but he is always with you.” It’s good to remember—its always there even when we’re not aware.