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On Accepting What Is

On Accepting What Is

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Published by Charles Day

One way of stating the Buddha's Second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by wanting life to be other than the way is or by the inability to simply accept that "what is, is." This article elaborates on this. For more information, see www.desmoinesmeditation.com

One way of stating the Buddha's Second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by wanting life to be other than the way is or by the inability to simply accept that "what is, is." This article elaborates on this. For more information, see www.desmoinesmeditation.com

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Published by: Charles Day on Sep 24, 2008
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On Accepting What IsCharles Day*www.desmoinesmeditation.comThis talk was prompted by an email exchange with a friend from the WestCoast who is not a meditator but knows of my interest in meditation andBuddhism. The email ended with the statement: "I am juggling so manythings these days that they overlap - give me some Buddhist inspiration soI can get this all done without losing my mind!" My response follows.You asked for it, so here goes. ‘What is, is’. It's always been that way and itwill always be that way. Buddha said that suffering, dissatisfaction,frustration, upset, stress or whatever you want to call any negativeexperience is caused by "wanting it to be different than the way it is.”Accepting that what is, is, does not mean approving of what happens or being passive, indifferent, or insensitive to the reality of the need for actionor change. It means accepting the way it is without reacting negatively. Itmeans letting go of any negative reactions that may arise so that one'senergy is not wasted in emotional reactivity to what can't be changed, sinceit's already happened, or worrying about a future that has not yet arrived. Itmeans using that energy more effectively and efficiently in making anychanges that are possible and beneficial.For most of us, getting even close to experiencing this level of accepting that what is, is, (not approving) takes practice, throughmeditation and mindful living. We need to continuously acknowledge andbe mindful of the fact that suffering is caused, not by situations,circumstances, or others, but by our negative reactions to them and bylearning to let go of these reactions as quickly as possible when they arise.Krishnamurti, an Indian Hindu guru and philosopher whom I had theprivilege of hearing twice, once in Ojai, CA, in the 70's and again inBombay (now Mumbai), India, when I worked there in the late 80's, said itmuch more simply.
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When asked what his secret was to living peacefully, he said: "I don't mindwhat happens." And so I repeat: What is, is. Accepting – I didn’t sayapproving – accepting the way it is, is a quintessential way of expressingour already enlightened nature.There are a couple of Zen stories that bear on this issue. A Buddhist monklived next door to a family with a teenage girl who gets pregnant. The familytold the monk about the incident and he said, "Is that so". When the girlfinally gave way to her parents’ insistence on telling them who the father was, they went to the monk and said, "Our daughter tells us that you're thefather of her baby.” The monk again said, "Is that so". When the baby wasborn, the parents took the infant boy to the monk and told him he had toraise the infant boy. Again the monk said, "Is that so". Though the monk’sreputation in the village was ruined, he compassionately nurtured andraised the boy for four years.Then the daughter confessed that the monk was not the son's father, butthat the father was a boy in the village whom she now wanted to marry.The parents went next door to ask for the child’s return and apologizedprofusely to the monk. Again, the monk said, "Is that so". The parents tooktheir daughter’s son back with them, and the monk’s reputation wasrestored.There are several points to this story. One is that we never really knowhow things are going to turn out. A negative point is that a lying about aperson can destroy the person’s reputation. A positive outcome was that aBuddhist monk raised the boy during his first four significant,developmental years.But the major point is that each and every time the Zen monk wasapproached, he accepted what happened without judgement, withoutattachment, and without any expectation or desire that it should have beenother then the way it was. There was no way of refuting the lie without judging the girl negatively, without calling her a liar. The monk graciouslyaccepted the consequences of whatever transpired and each timeresponded simply by saying, “Is that so.” He compassionately raised andnurtured the boy and without attachment returned him to his mother at her request. The monk accepted with compassion and equanimity whatever happened next in his life and dealt appropriately with the consequences.
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There is another Zen story about a farmer whose only horse got out of thebarn and ran away. That was the bad news, the loss, and a negatively judged event.But a few days later the horse returned with a wild horse with which it hadbonded, and the farmer now had two horses. That was the good news, anevent judged positively.The farmer’s son was given the responsibility for training the wild horse,and in the process was thrown off and suffered a broken leg in the fall.That was the bad news, an event judged negatively.But a few days later, a King’s brigade came to the farm to recruit the boy for a planned battle against an invading nation in which he would probably bekilled. But because he had a broken leg, they did not take him. That wasthe good news.Again, the point of this story is that the future cannot be predicted and oftenresults in a changed judgment or point of view about an event. And itemphasizes that it is our judgements and reactions to events or circumstances, not the circumstances themselves that cause suffering, for if we could know in advance that there would ultimately be very beneficialconsequences, we would definitely suffer less, if at all.It is important to note that I am not saying that we do not, should not, or canavoid, even if we wanted to, reacting with suffering to some circumstances.Our individual predisposing genetics and our learning, conditioning, andpast experiences are very real causes and conditions that determine our reactions to events. I’m only saying that the circumstances or situationsthemselves are neutral.An individual’s perceptual overlay, mental disposition, or attitude will alsoinfluence one’s suffering. A stock market crash for one person may lead tosuicide and for another to the challenge of pursuing another fortune. Afailing grade leads one student to drop out of college and another to tryeven harder. A sunrise may be beautiful for a student on one occasion buton another after studying all night for a test, he may view it anxiously assignifying the approaching exam. And an Oak tree under which a couple
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