Practice of Acceptance

By Wayne Ren-Cheng

It is difficult to ignore or discount the image of the Buddhist who exhibits acceptance and patience in the midst of the most extreme situations, ones that would drive most human beings to distraction and anxiety. The ability to respond to experiences with equanimity that arises from the practices of acceptance and patience is a wholesome personal character trait. The importance of refining one’s ability to accept the realities of impermanence and causality is recognized to be as critical, in Mahayana training, to developing positive character traits as any other aspect of the Six Refinements. The traditional views of tolerance and it’s counterparts, endurance and patience need to be expanded to include acceptance as an element of personal character development in order to better deal with contemporary issues.

From the Khama Sutra (Anguttara Nikaya):

“And which is intolerant practice? There is the case where a certain individual doesn’t tolerate cold, heat, hunger, & thirst; the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles; ill-spoken, unwelcome words; & bodily feelings that, when they arise, are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, displeasing, & menacing to life. This is called intolerant practice.

“And which is tolerant practice? There is the case where a certain individual tolerates cold, heat, hunger, & thirst; the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles; ill-spoken, unwelcome words; & bodily feelings that, when they arise, are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, displeasing, & menacing to life. This is called tolerant practice.

There are questions that need to be asked: Do we tolerate everything and anything? Does patience and endurance have a limit? How do we decide when and if enough is enough? The practice of tolerance needs to be viewed through the same lens that is applied to generosity and moral/ethical concerns, a lens that acknowledges the unique situations we all encounter in life. A practitioner must develop an awareness of how they and the world around them really are by working to strip away the misperceptions found in each of us. Further one must learn to accept that change can happen with commitment and effort, and that change will happen that is the cause and effect of other human beings and of the causal universe. One is self-initiated . . . the other . . . not.

Yes, we must accept that there are wholesome and unwholesome phenomena. We must learn to differentiate between the wholesome and the unwholesome, and accept that we can grow the wholesome and weed out the unwholesome if we are willing to make the effort. Tolerance in any of its guises is not passive indifference, the idea that we are powerless or choose to set ourselves apart from situations. We must accept the responsibility to think and act in ways that have the potential to be the cause and effect of positive transformation. We must be passionate in our practice of acceptance so it becomes integral to achieving “enlightened moments”, in revealing the interconnectedness and interdependence of all phenomena. There is no compassionate or logical reason to accept or tolerate murder, sexism, rape, homophobia, racism or any type of violence or acts of cruelty. To mindfully deal with situations that might involve intolerable acts we must practice the six refinements and the Four Ennobling Truths for the sake of the important goal of human flourishing and the alleviation of discontent, unsatisfactoriness and anguish.

Practicing acceptance does not allow one to take a neutral position (neutral is not the Middle Way . . . neutral is avoidance), it requires us to recognize the what, when and how to accept. Note here that we must remain nonjudgemental of the WHO because we are intolerant of the action while showing compassion and acceptance to the individual. In cases of acts of cruelty this may be difficult but as Buddhists we must not act out of anger, revenge or retaliation. This view of acceptance requires a deeper level of mindfulness be applied to each situation than is suggested in traditional Buddhist thought.

Practiced along with acceptance, wisdom and morality can provide us the skills to determine when to be accepting and how. Like the refinement of generosity, patience, acceptance must be situational in its application. Wisdom guides us to viewing the issue in its unique context and to an understanding of what about the situation troubles us and where an encompassing and corrective solution may be found. It gives realization that while the situation may be troubling at that time the ideal of impermanence reminds us that it is transient. Our moral/ethical character will help us view the issue from a place of compassion even when that is extremely difficult. It also will guide us toward a solution that maintains the humanity and dignity of all involved.

One must be mindful that compassion for all others, no matter their crime, situation or attitude is non-negotiable in a Buddhist practice. For the majority of human beings the idea that a person who has committed crimes of terrorism should be treated with compassion is ridiculous. They are criminals who should be severely punished and ostracized from a civilized society. While punishment is called for, acceptance that they are also human beings whose lives mirror our own in many ways must lead us to having true compassion for them.

The energy required to maintain intolerance can leave us with little energy to apply to positive dispositions and actions. It can lead us to resent the situation we find ourselves involved in and lead further to a dimming of awareness and the ability to find solutions. Rather than approaching an issue with a large mind of compassion and tolerance we’d find ourselves acting from a small mind mired in the misperceptions and ignorance of our own ego. Instead we must accept how things really are and use that as the starting point for being a positive agent of change. We must be patient in our resolve and be content to be in the moment we find ourselves in so that we may view it through a clear lens. Contentment though does not mean our effort weakens; we remain mindful of what stands in the way of a positive result and hold to our conviction to engage in thoughts and actions that promote wholesome, live affirming results.

The Refinement of Acceptance is a meditative practice that leads to becoming aware of everything that assaults us, makes us uneasy, and brings discontent, unsatisfactoriness and anguish into our lives. Through meditation we uncover the dispositions, habits and preferences that negatively affect us and develop strategies to deal with them effectively. We learn to accept the reality of the causal Universe and how we can take action to make things better. The skills we develop through meditation become the actions we take we faced with difficult and complex situations in our moment-to-moment experience.

Like so much of Buddhist practice acceptance begins as an individual effort that evolves into a community one so that the virtue of acting with acceptance, patience and endurance becomes an encompassing and corrective virtue practiced by all. In a contemporary context where democracy has its role in decision making, the practice of acceptance goes beyond the concept of “leaving others to do as they will,” beyond being indifferent to the cause and effect generated by others. It is coming together to promote human flourishing through institutions meant to help everyone in need.

Next week we’ll look at the ideal of patience as it relates to the Refinement of Acceptance.

Upajjhatthana Sutta: Contemplating the Realities

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Walking the Noble Path requires one to not just accept certain realities but to contemplate how those realities affect their lives so that acceptance transforms into wisdom. This wisdom allows one to set aside the fear and anxiety that can arise with the realizations of aging, illness, death, change and responsibility. In the Upajjhatthana Sutra the Buddha offers insight into how one must come to understand these realities.

“There are five realities that you must contemplate whether you are a woman or a man, lay-Buddhist or ordained monk.

I am going to grow older, I cannot avoid that reality . . .

I am going to get ill at some time, I cannot avoid that reality . . .

I am going to die, I cannot avoid that reality . . .

I will constantly change and seem to separate from all that I care about, I cannot avoid that reality . . .

I am cause of my actions, actions born of me and causally conditioned by other phenomena, my actions are my examples and I must learn from those experiences. Whether my choices are good or bad, the karmic consequences will not be only mine, others will be affected . . .
These are the five realities that you must contemplate often, whether woman or a man, lay-Buddhist or ordained monk.
Now, why must you contemplate that . . . ‘I will grow older?’ Some people are so desirous of the ideal of youth that they make bad decisions, take negative paths meant to achieve eternal youth. But, when you contemplate the reality of growing older that ideal of youth will fall away . . .
Now, why must you contemplate that . . . ‘I am going to get ill at some time’? There are people that cling so fiercely to the ideal of health that they make bad decisions, take paths meant to shield themselves completely from illness. But, when you contemplate the reality of illness that ideal of permanent health will fall away . . .
Now, why must you contemplate that . . . ‘I am going to die’? There are people who so fear death that they make bad decisions, take paths meant to deny and postpone (even indefinitely) death. But, when you contemplate the reality of death that fear of morality falls away . . .
Now, why must you contemplate that . . . that ‘I am constantly undergoing change, and will lose some things that I feel desire and passion for’? There are people who so fear change and loss that they make bad decisions, take paths meant to cling fiercely to permanence. But, when you contemplate the reality of impermanence that fear of change and loss falls away . . .

Now, why must you contemplate that . . . ‘I am cause of my actions, actions born of me and causally conditioned by other phenomena, my actions are my examples and I must learn from those experiences.’ There are people who, out of ignorance and fear deny responsibility for their actions, take paths meant to avoid the consequences of their actions. But, when you contemplate the reality that what you do matters beyond the consequences you experience that denial and avoidance falls away . . .
A disciple on the Noble Path realizes fully: ‘I do not grow old alone, everyone grows old . . I am not alone in illness, everyone, at some time is ill . . . I am not alone in death, everyone dies . . . I am not alone in change, everyone changes . . . I am cause of my actions, actions born of me and causally conditioned by other phenomena, my actions are my examples and I must learn from those experiences. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, will matter.’ When these things are contemplated the appropriate path arises. The disciple will stick with that path, develop it, cultivate it. As they stick with that path, develop it and cultivate it, the fears fall away and the delusions fade in clear light of an awakened moment.”
NOTE: Know that I’ve taken the liberty to put this important sutra into contemporary language and have used the buzz-words of the Pragmatic Buddhist tradition. Venerable David and myself have often discussed if any of sutras re-worded (or creatively re-described) in such a way could offer the same intent as the those translated directly from the Pali, and holding to the symbology and textual references of that time 2600 years ago. Using the sutra as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu – (“Upajjhatthana Sutta: Subjects for Contemplation” (AN 5.57), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 30 November 2013 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.057.than.htmlI’ve attempted to do just that, present the sutra in a contemporary way and be true to the intent of the Buddha.

 

The Buddha taught the realities of the Four Ennobling Truths. Suffering is a reality of human existence. There is a root cause of suffering. There is a path out of that suffering. That path is Eightfold. At the top of the Eightfold Path is developing an appropriate view. In the Upajjhatthana Sutra he offers what views need to change so that the Noble Path can be better realized. Everyone ages, gets sick, and dies . . . and along the way they undergo changes . . . changes which lead to aging, illness and death . . . among other changes such as personality, job, car, favorite books . . . you get the picture. Traditional translations say that those are four of the five things that should be contemplated. I changed should to must because should doesn’t reveal the commitment is necessary for these views to have the appropriate impact on how a practitioner engages the ideal. How much homework would you have done if your high school teacher had said, “You should do this homework”? .
To find contentment and calm in the hectic world of today the realities the Buddha taught that we must contemplate relate now as they did in his time and culture. Accepting that aging, death, illness and change . . . like taxes . . . are inevitably parts of human existence leaves you with more energy to deal with the situations you can affect. That isn’t to say you should ignore those realities, just don’t be stressed out by them. Engaging in activities certain to ease the transitions as you become older like exercising regularly will help to ward off some illnesses that could lead to an early death, and engaging in life-long learning so you experience the changes of the past and experience the changes of the moment make you more open to transformations that are inevitable. Aging, death, illness and change will happen. It isn’t useful to stress over them.
Number five in the Buddha’s Contemplation Countdown is the kicker. It is the “must view” that gets missed by so many people. The Buddha is offering the ideal, he didn’t once offer to hold anyone’s hand on the way to that ideal. He offered the reality and the ideal view . . . all of the effort, mindfulness and concentration — the Noble Path to bodymind discipline – was an individual responsibility with effects that encompass the whole of human existence. We are responsible for the “must do”. Whatever we do, whatever choices we make are our own. Yes . . . I can hear the voices . . . but causal conditioning means other factors, known and unknown affect my decision . . . that is true . . . still, the final decision, the action taken is the responsibility of the practicing Buddhist . . . there is no deity or God that we can point to and say, “He made me do it” . . . “It was part of the plan”. Time taken to blame. Time taken to defend. It is time subtracted from how long it’ll take to affect positive transformation.
I am cause of my actions, actions born of me and causally conditioned by other phenomena, my actions are my examples and I must learn from those experiences. Whether my choices are good or bad, the karmic consequences will not be only mine, others will be affected . . . You are the cause of your actions, actions that arise as a result of your intent, intent that is affected by what goes on in the world around you. With this firmly in mind it is your responsibility to maintain an appropriate view of that world so that delusion and personal preference are allowed to fall away in favor of reality. The reality of any situation coupled with a commitment to the ideals of Buddhist practice and philosophy is most likely to lead to wholesome consequences.
A Buddhist is not a puppet. There is no one pulling strings making us choose wholesome or unwholesome thoughts and actions. The causal Universe presents us with options. The Noble Path offers a way to liberation from the suffering each of us encounters in this life. It is up to each of us to re-view those options and take the appropriate action. What we do matters and we are responsible for what we do.

Engaged Buddhism: A Practice

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Right now there is the beginning of an arising of protests, civil disobedience, and energetic social discourse due to repeated violence happening to children. In the recent past these same activities arose due to the Black Lives Matter movement over violence happening to young black men at the hands of police officers. The question many Western Buddhists ask is how much should I get involved in these social movements. Is it appropriate?

First let me say that this is why asking questions and opening up dialogue is so important in Buddhist practice, or any kind of social activity. This is one of the keys to being an effective social self and an agent of societal transformation even on a small scale. You might disregard something, or develop an opinion of something without enough knowledge to accurately do so if you fail to engage in communication. A good friend of mine always says, “We make the best decisions with the most information.” You may not always be able to get all the information, that just isn’t probable . . . but you can gather as much information as possible before making a decision. Then, you must remain open to changing that decision when new information is obtained.

In the Shambhala Sun magazine, July 2003, John Malkin interviewed Thich Naht Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master who is credited with coining the term and concept of Engaged Buddhism.

John Malkin: Will you describe the origins of Engaged Buddhism and how you became involved in compassion-based social change?

Thich Nhat Hanh: Engaged Buddhism is just Buddhism. When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time. Meditation is about the awareness of what is going on-not only in your body and in your feelings, but all around you.

When I was a novice in Vietnam, we young monks witnessed the suffering caused by the war. So we were very eager to practice Buddhism in such a way that we could bring it into society. That was not easy because the tradition does not directly offer Engaged Buddhism. So we had to do it by ourselves. That was the birth of Engaged Buddhism.

In Engaged Buddhism, Peace Begins with You, John Malkin, Shambhala Sun, July 2003

The Engaged Buddhist movement had it’s genesis during a time when the Vietnam war was bringing about a lot of suffering and unsatisfactoriness in people around the world. And, war being a reaction to a political decision, Engaged Buddhism got the ‘political activist’ label. Master Hanh realized that the war and its effects were causing not only physical suffering in Southeast Asia, but was also causing psychoemotional suffering there and in other parts of the world. He came to realize the world encompassing effect of the war when he came to the U.S. in the mid-sixties and experienced the fervor, the energy, and the impatience of the anti-war movement. Today the Engaged Buddhist movement and Master Hahn’s Order of Interbeing are promoting peace and compassion around the world through societal engagement.

I encounter people who express that being involved with politics is unseemly or even plain wrong for a Buddhist. It is like they don’t believe that Buddhists are citizens of whatever country they live in. Politics is a human endeavor that has the power to create and/or alleviate human suffering and unsatisfactoriness. Buddhists are human, the goal of Buddhist practice is the alleviation of suffering, so politics and/or social engagement are viable and logical pursuits for some.

One only has to study history to realize the connections between Buddhism and politics. When the Buddha offered teachings to King Pasenada, when King Ashoka altered the direction of his leadership as a result of his encounter with the dharma, when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet, up to the current time Buddhists, mendicants and adherents, have played a role in politics. Politics is a component of human interaction, interdependence and interconnectedness across the globe . . . but it is not the only avenue for positive social change.

In the above interview Master Hanh alluded to the broader implications and responsibilities inherent in the practice of Engaged Buddhism, “Buddhism has to do with your daily life, with your suffering and with the suffering of the people around you. You have to learn how to help a wounded child while still practicing mindful breathing. You should not allow yourself to get lost in action. Action should be meditation at the same time.” While Master Hanh isn’t involved in Engaged Dharma, the intent of our study and practice has parallels to Engaged Buddhism and expands that ideal beyond the realm of the political.

The moral/ethical and social concepts of Engaged Buddhism arise from in ideals of:

Pluralism – recognizing that there is more than one path to achieving the goals the Buddha set forth in the Four Ennobling Truths.

As pluralists it is important to accept the commitments of others while maintaining the commitments to our own platform and traditions. We practice acceptance and talk openly and honestly with people that have differing world views but whose goal is one directed toward positive personal development and human flourishing.

Pragmatism – the core teachings and concepts of Buddhist philosophy have relevance and value in the West the manner of applying them may need to differ. In looking for ways to effectively deal with suffering it isn’t the where a practice originates, or sometimes whether it is Buddhist or not, what is important is IS IT USEFUL AND PRODUCTIVE in promoting positive change.

As pragmatists we engage daily in the pursuit of knowledge and practices that will lead to positive personal development of a social self; a social self that fully realizes that what they do matters in the causal Universe.

And, Practice – that Buddhism is an action philosophy not a bunch of theories to be endlessly debated resonates as one of the foundations of practicing Engaged Dharma.

Practice, practice, practice. Reading about Buddhism and studying the Dharma will teach you about Buddhism. Reading about, or watching a DVD will teach you about meditation. Listening to a teacher will teach about practice. Only taking action practicing the Dharma, practicing meditation, practicing the Eightfold Path, practicing compassion, practicing generosity, and practicing acceptance will result in your “being” a Buddhist.

For a Buddhist that practice may lead them to joining in a protest that they view as having an impact on suffering, discontent and unsatisfactoriness. It may lead them to seeking public office in order to work within the system to do the same. Commit . . . take your belief in the ideals of Buddhism and apply them in whatever endeavor you pursue. This a teaching and direction taken directly from the lessons of the Buddha. Only through our own experience can we develop an appropriate worldview committed to compassion and promotion of human flourishing. This is what engaging the dharma is all about. It is much more than political activism; it is social activism.

Like a big ‘ole Enso, the Zen Circle, we’re back to politics. In Engaged Buddhism politics is just one of the myriad of ways you can engage your community using the knowledge and practice of Buddhism. Buddhist traditions begin with a regular meditation practice to develop awareness/mindfulness of your own dispositions and habits. Then we begin developing compassion and altruism through the practice of generosity leading to the other five refinements – Situational Ethics, Acceptance, Vigor, Meditation and Wisdom. All of these skills have great value in the social and political arenas where societal transformation take shape.

The practice of generosity takes many forms and is a step in developing compassion and to acting selflessly. Whenever you offer your skills and time to help a person, or volunteer in an organization you are practicing generosity of spirit. Selflessly helping a neighbor carry in groceries or mowing the yard of an elderly neighbor is practicing generosity of spirit. Donating money to a worthy cause or offering dana to a teacher or temple is practicing generosity of spirit. Generosity is one example of engaging the dharma, no doubt you can think of many more that arise from the practice of Buddhist philosophy. Finding a way to engage your community by doing something you enjoy, are good at, and that can have a positive causal effect is one way to develop a positive, compassionate character.

So, in Engaged Buddhism it isn’t the Buddhist tradition one practices, it is what one DOES with the teachings of that tradition. Engaged Buddhism is seeing a need and taking action based on your character and skills.