05 May 2004 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 0 Comment.
I have been thinking a lot lately about acceptance, and how it actually changes things. For example: have you ever noticed how hard it is to change your mate, while a little more acceptance goes a long way towards transforming your relationship? Ultimately, I can change myself; that is about as far as it goes, although the ripple effect definitely filters further outwards. In a deeper sense, transforming myself transforms the world.Acceptance has its own transformative magic. It has helped me become far more patient, tolerant, empathic and open-minded. And lord knows, we could use a little more of that in this strife-torn world.
The PeaceMaster Shantideva said, long ago:
“Anger is the greatest evil.
Patient forbearance is the hardest practice.”
Patient forbearance is the third transcendental virtue and transformative power (“paramita”) of the Bodhisattva. Cultivating inner discipline and integrity raises our standard for living and brings purpose and meaning to our lives. Facing our difficulties with courage and fortitude can bring us spiritual satisfaction and riches beyond measure. This is a time in our history to become sacred warriors for peace, not warmongers or mere worriers. Anger and fear are the roots of violence, as we know.
The Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna said: “Contentment is the greatest form of wealth.” Contentment should never be confused with complacence and indifference. There are various types of wealth in this world, but let me assure you that cultivating equanimity, spiritual detachment and heartfelt acceptance brings an inexhaustible wealth of contentment. Incessant craving and greed knows no end, like drinking salt water in a misguided attempt to alleviate thirst. Cultivating contentment and gratitude helps us appreciate what is given rather than focusing on what may be missing or imagined.
Radical acceptance implies unconditional friendliness, the kind of openness and love that allows us to meet life as it is; which never throws anyone out of our hearts, even if we don’t like what they may think, say or do. Love is far greater than the ego-based dichotomy of likes and dislikes. Don’t you love your child or pet, even when they disturb you and you dislike what they are doing?
Of course we all want to be better people and make this a better world. I do believe that we can and must do so. Acceptance does not mean condoning the evils, injustices and inequalities in life. However, it can help us see more clearly what is, just as it is, and how and why things work the way they do, before we attempt to enter the fray. When we calmly observe and investigate the causes of things, and the fact that nothing happens by accident, we can see far more clearly, and the truth reveals itself, whether we like it or not. Cultivating patience and acceptance has provided more mental clarity and spaciousness for me to examine input before unthinkingly responding in the classic stimulus-reaction pattern of habitual conditioning common to most of us most of the time, and at the root of so many of our problems.
Now and then, practice taking a sacred pause: breathe once and relax, calmly enjoying a moment of mindfulness and reflection before reacting—this can dramatically increases the chances of making better choices and undertaking wiser actions. We simply have to remember to do so, again and again, until it becomes a new habit.
Letting go means letting be, not throwing things away. Letting go implies letting things come and go, and opening to the wisdom of simply allowing, which is called nonattachment. Sometimes we may not know what to do. That is a good time to do nothing. Too often compulsive overdoing creates further unnecessary complications. When at a complete loss, some put down their head, fold their hands, and rely on a higher power for clarity, guidance and direction. Myself, I bow down and, as it were, place my head in the lap of the Buddha, and await inspiration. This actually works.
Patience does not mean passivity; acceptance does not imply weakness, apathy, indifference or carelessness. We can cultivate patient forbearance and loosen our tight grip a bit by remembering the Buddhist mantra “This too shall pass.” For it will, whatever it is. Keeping in mind the long term view and the bigger picture can help a lot when we are struggling to untie the knots in our karma, just like taking a rest from struggling with a knotted shoelace or unsuccessfully trying to remember something often leads to a sudden breakthrough when the struggle ceases. Think to yourself, when something is bothering you or a disappointment arrives: how much will this matter to me next month, next year, ten years from now? Is it really a matter of life or death, as my emotional reaction seems to insist, or just ephemeral local weather conditions which will soon be replaced by other thoughts and feelings? Thus, Buddha said to remind yourself that everything is impermanent, fleeting, contingent, like a dream, like an illusion.
Pythagoras said: “When you are in charge, do good; when you are overruled, bear it.” This thought brings me inner strength.
“The master does her best and lets go, and whatever happens, happens.” (Lao Tsu, “Tao Te Ching”)
Here is one secret of spiritual mastery and inner peace, freedom and autonomy: It is not what happens to us, but what we make of it that makes all the difference. We can’t control the wind, but we can learn how to sail better. It’s not the hand you are dealt but how you play it, as the cliché goes.
Buddha said: “If you want to protect your feet, don’t try to cover the whole world with leather; cover your feet with shoes.” If we don’t accept ourselves, who will accept us?
I like to remind myself to recite in my head Reinhold Niebuhr’s wise prayer:
“May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Unconditional acceptance is not static but ecstatic, vibrant, dynamically engaged in and connected with reality. It helps us to meet life all along the length of her gorgeous body, not just shaking hands with life and wading in its shallows.
The spiritual hero strides fearlessly into life’s depths, facing its incessantly undulating waves, without holding back. Unconditional acceptance is the kind of love Jesus speaks of when he taught to love thy neighbor; that Buddha meant when he said that the enemy, adversary or competitor can be one’s greatest teacher, an adage oft-quoted by the Dalai Lama.
If we cannot love and accept ourselves, how can we love and accept others?
Carl Jung said: “The most terrifying thing in the world is to accept oneself totally.” What are we afraid of?