By John Author
Welcome, Sexy Reader, to the 50th article I’ve written for TTB!
That’s 50 articles of me incessantly rambling with no regard for the human attention span, logic, or common decency. Today, we’re going to talk about acceptance, coping with negativity, Buddhist psychology, enlightenment and transmutation.
So, what is acceptance to you? For me, it was the feeling or disposition that accompanied some agreeable idea, sensation, or situation. Wow, that sounded like something straight out of a psych textbook.
I can accept happiness, love and pleasure. I can accept nice weather, days off and sincere compliments. I can accept life, accomplishment and freedom. But what about the disagreeable ideas, sensations and situations? What about misery, hate, pain, blizzards, long hours, insults, death, failure and bondage? Accepting those feels like defeat, like giving up.
It’s risky accepting the negative side of the positive (I’m speaking English, just in nondual Prajnatongue). We risk losing our values, principles, aspirations, our sanity, and even ourselves. But it’s a risk that we have to take if we want to not only live, but also thrive.
Life can be hard. It gets even harder when we can’t accept its hardness.
After meditation/mindfulness instruction and some philosophical background, acceptance is the first teaching in Mahayana and the secular mindfulness movement. It’s impossible to cultivate The Path without accepting things as they are right now, smack dab in the middle of confusion and delusion. This is important in the secular movement because acceptance creates the peace and confidence essential for health and well-being. Health and well-being, in turn, make it easier to cultivate even more health and well-being. It’s sort of like how it’s easier to exercise when you’re already in shape.
It’s important in Mahayana Buddhism because the most sublime truth is that we’re all Buddhas; we’re all already enlightened within our ignorance. That’s the realization that most of us have during enlightenment experiences. Practice is a way to gradually convince ourselves of this fact. Some practitioners use the metaphor of wiping dust from a mirror, others by saying that there’s no mirror for dust to settle on. Both eventually lead to the same place; the second one is just Prajnatongue.
Those two images sum up the two most popular forms of Zen, Soto and Rinzai, with Soto being the “gradual enlightenment school” and Rinzai the “sudden enlightenment school.” Sudden or gradual, both accept that we take a thousand steps without going anywhere.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that we become passive victims or that we stop trying to better ourselves. It gives us the confidence, strength, and patience to keep moving forward because, all the while, we know that we’ve never left our destination.
When we practice with acceptance, we actualize negative behaviors and emotions into their positive potential. That’s what I meant in this controversial article when I said, “Use it.” When we sit with, observe, and accept a negative emotion, it changes into something else. Well, that isn’t quite right. Really, the dust comes off it and its naturally clear, reflective surface is revealed. When we accept our anger and are patient with it, it becomes a crisp mindfulness. When we accept desire and approach it with compassion, it becomes clear discernment. When we accept our pride and clinging and show it some equanimity, it becomes wisdom into the equality of things.
If we accept our restlessness, hyperactivity and jealousy then we can give it a dose of jhanic joy and it’ll be transformed into all-accomplishing activity. If we accept our own dullness and ignorance and give it some Prajna wisdom, it becomes enlightenment.
That’s the rundown of the Five Buddha Families: Vajra, Padma, Ratna, Karma, and Vairocana (that’s the order I just described them in). It’s essentially a Buddhist theory of personality. Everyone has some combination of all five Families, but some are more dominant than others.
I’m an angry man. I’m always one step away from raging against some perceived injustice or another, ready to fight for anyone whom I feel is being mistreated—including the environment. I’m also drawn to the intellect, to knowledge and clever dialogues. I’m an overflowing bucket of sensual desire, constantly craving the next pleasure, the next flirt, the next insight. I have a high density of Vajra and Padma traits almost all the way through.
All of these traits can cause an immense amount of suffering, especially as they interact with each other. Through high Vajra, I adore intellect at the expense of intuition; through high Padma, I desire more knowledge; through high Ratna, I strive to store and defend this knowledge; through low Karma, I don’t do anything with it; through low Vairocana, I let life pass me by.
These same interactions are involved in everything I do, and they create a path that gets easier and easier to default to as time goes on.
Through meditation and the Dharma, I’m aware of this. Then I have to accept it. Once I accept it, it becomes something workable. Then, day by day, the dust is cleared from the mirror. Or, maybe, I realize that there is no mirror at all.
Throughout this process, it’s vital to remember that we aren’t gaining anything that’s outside of ourselves, and we aren’t letting anything go that’s within us. An unquestioning belief in the absoluteness of gain and loss is what’s behind this whole tangled mess to begin with. So approaching practice in such a way is just makes our practice itself another expression of ignorance and delusion.
We aren’t letting go of anger and attaining compassion, equanimity, and clarity. We’re taking anger and, through mindful acceptance, letting it submit to impermanence and interdependence; we’re letting it transform itself into compassion, equanimity, and clarity.
It happens on its own, we just have to not interfere with it. We have to get out of our own way. And if we can’t accept any of this, well we can always accept that we can’t accept it.
Editor: Dana Gornall
John is a Caodong Ch'an student in the Empty Cloud Lineage of Hsu Yun. His Dharma name is Feng Dao which means "Wild Way" or "Windy Way." He originally wanted to become a social worker, focusing on preventative mental health care, but writing is his passion. “Above all else, I’m just a writer. Words come, I write them, I drink coffee.”
Oppression and marginalization are key issues for John. “I was forced out of mainstream society at a young age by my peers. So I will always stand up for the underdog and criticize bullying, coercion, and any institution that relies on those tactics.” Asked about what the most pressing issue of our time is, he replied, “The environment. We’ve bullied the earth so much that it could almost be called marginalized.”