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On Accepting What Is

Charles Day*

This talk was prompted by an email exchange with a friend from the West
Coast who is not a meditator but knows of my interest in meditation and
Buddhism. The email ended with the statement: "I am juggling so many
things these days that they overlap - give me some Buddhist inspiration so
I 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 it
will always be that way. Buddha said that suffering, dissatisfaction,
frustration, upset, stress or whatever you want to call any negative
experience 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 action
or change. It means accepting the way it is without reacting negatively. It
means letting go of any negative reactions that may arise so that one's
energy is not wasted in emotional reactivity to what can't be changed, since
it's already happened, or worrying about a future that has not yet arrived. It
means using that energy more effectively and efficiently in making any
changes 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, through
meditation and mindful living. We need to continuously acknowledge and
be mindful of the fact that suffering is caused, not by situations,
circumstances, or others, but by our negative reactions to them and by
learning to let go of these reactions as quickly as possible when they arise.

Krishnamurti, an Indian Hindu guru and philosopher whom I had the

privilege of hearing twice, once in Ojai, CA, in the 70's and again in
Bombay (now Mumbai), India, when I worked there in the late 80's, said it
much more simply.

When asked what his secret was to living peacefully, he said: "I don't mind
what happens." And so I repeat: What is, is. Accepting – I didn’t say
approving – accepting the way it is, is a quintessential way of expressing
our already enlightened nature.

There are a couple of Zen stories that bear on this issue. A Buddhist monk
lived next door to a family with a teenage girl who gets pregnant. The family
told the monk about the incident and he said, "Is that so". When the girl
finally 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 the
father of her baby.” The monk again said, "Is that so". When the baby was
born, the parents took the infant boy to the monk and told him he had to
raise the infant boy. Again the monk said, "Is that so". Though the monk’s
reputation in the village was ruined, he compassionately nurtured and
raised the boy for four years.

Then the daughter confessed that the monk was not the son's father, but
that 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 apologized
profusely to the monk. Again, the monk said, "Is that so". The parents took
their daughter’s son back with them, and the monk’s reputation was

There are several points to this story. One is that we never really know
how things are going to turn out. A negative point is that a lying about a
person can destroy the person’s reputation. A positive outcome was that a
Buddhist monk raised the boy during his first four significant,
developmental years.

But the major point is that each and every time the Zen monk was
approached, he accepted what happened without judgement, without
attachment, and without any expectation or desire that it should have been
other 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 graciously
accepted the consequences of whatever transpired and each time
responded simply by saying, “Is that so.” He compassionately raised and
nurtured 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.
There is another Zen story about a farmer whose only horse got out of the
barn 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 had
bonded, and the farmer now had two horses. That was the good news, an
event 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 be
killed. But because he had a broken leg, they did not take him. That was
the good news.

Again, the point of this story is that the future cannot be predicted and often
results in a changed judgment or point of view about an event. And it
emphasizes 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 beneficial
consequences, 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 can
avoid, even if we wanted to, reacting with suffering to some circumstances.
Our individual predisposing genetics and our learning, conditioning, and
past experiences are very real causes and conditions that determine our
reactions to events. I’m only saying that the circumstances or situations
themselves are neutral.

An individual’s perceptual overlay, mental disposition, or attitude will also

influence one’s suffering. A stock market crash for one person may lead to
suicide and for another to the challenge of pursuing another fortune. A
failing grade leads one student to drop out of college and another to try
even harder. A sunrise may be beautiful for a student on one occasion but
on another after studying all night for a test, he may view it anxiously as
signifying the approaching exam. And an Oak tree under which a couple
gets engaged will have one meaning while they are happily married but
quite likely a different one after they’re divorced.

Again, the point here is that recognizing that suffering is caused by our
reactions to circumstances and not the circumstances themselves will
substantially help in minimizing the intensity and duration of our suffering
and aid us in making any needed and possible beneficial changes in the
circumstances themselves. The Serenity Prayer used in alcohol and other
addiction programs, whether recited as a petitionary prayer to God or
simply as an affirmation of one’s thoughts and intentions, expresses this
very well:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage
to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I’ll end by repeating Krishnamurti’s wonderfully simple statement for how to

live life peacefully: “It doesn’t matter what happens.”

May you all be well, happy, peaceful, and harmonious.


*Contact Charlie Day at (515) 255-8398,, or to discuss meditation, Buddhism, sitting groups,
retreats, or meditation experiences. 7-08