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Love in Action: The Power of Acceptance

July 22, 2013

My dad recently read a book called “Far From the Tree: A Dozen Kinds of Love”, he’s over 80 and read a lot of books, but he told me its probably the most important book he has ever read. The dozen kinds of love refer to families whose children have been born with something which sets them aside from “normal”, for example your child is born deaf, blind, a dwarf, gay, transgender,  and 6 other characteristics, each of which form the basis for the 12 types of love considered.

Wheel of Life

The Wheel of Life Depicts the 12 Dependent Related Links around the outer Cirlcle.

Talking with dad about the book one thing that seems to come out strongly is how hard people struggle both with themselves and society to be “accepted”. Sometimes the violent reaction of people to these differences is truly terrifying and heartbreaking, death threats, beatings…. but also the love which has the power to heal, to transform entrenched attitudes and prejudices is uplifting. The love of parents who literally give the whole of their lives to look after a child born with physical or mental problems; or the love that supersedes blind hatred and ignorance to see the real beauty at the heart of each person.

Buddha taught that acceptance is part of the mind of patience which is one of the 6 Perfections which each living being should complete or perfect to fully realise their potential.

“Patience is a mind that is able to accept, fully and happily, whatever occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are.
– How to Solve our Human Problems by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Hearing a little about Dad’s book brought back to me how important acceptance is. I think acceptance has to be at the very heart of all inner change and development and also in the core of any healthy society. Stories of discrimination and prejudice bring home to us graphically how non-acceptance harms others. But consider also the harm it brings to the perpetrators.

A little while ago I wrote about the sad story of a friend of mine whose family has been torn apart because her brother came out as being gay. It has now been 5 years since the parents had contact with their son and two years since they spoke with their daughter. Consider also the impact on the parents. Their inability to accept that their children have not grown to be the people they had hoped for has left them isolated and bereft, but also unable to see the beautiful people their children have become.

Ironically it is acceptance which is at the root of every transformation. And it is not only to be practised towards others, but also towards ourself. When Buddha met a mother called Gotami grieving for her dead children, he helped her by showing that death is everywhere, not by pretending hers was an isolated tragedy.

Patience and wisdom are closely related and oppose ignorance. Ignorance includes the distorted minds of racism and homophobia but also wrong views about ourself too. Patience keeps the mind peaceful because it can accept or endure things as they are, thus giving us the mental space needed to see clearly. Wisdom is that clear seeing.

Love is one of the fruits of wisdom because it correctly see’s ourselves and others as precious and deserving of happiness, whatever gender, race, height or weight ad infinitum! In the story above, Gotami found peace because she learned to see things as they are, not as she wished them to be.

Learning to love

It is said that just one wise and loving person can transform an entire community. If we are ever going to become such a person we need to ask ourselves if there are things about ourselves that we also reject before we really understand what and why we are rejecting it? For example we know “anger is bad” so we may simply hide or suppress it. But if we do this then we will never come any closer to understanding the causes of our anger and also the true harm it inflicts.

If when we feel anger arise we can practice patience this will give us the space to develop wisdom understanding the situation, our feelings and the impact of our actions. In this way we will understand for ourself why Buddha advised us to speak gently to others, or even that things we don’t like about ourself may actually be precious and important qualities.

To be free from destructive views and feelings we must first recognise we have them without then turning against ourself or subsequently ignoring, repressing or distracting ourselves from their existence. I believe and have found that patience is one of the mental powers or tools necessary for learning to see ourselves clearly, to accept where we are and then finding the wisdom to move on.

Simple Example, An Unwelcome Neighbour on the Bus

Every day something triggers feelings in me that I would prefer not to have. To take a simple example, suppose someone sits next to me on the bus who is smelly and dirty or wild and crazy. My first re-action is typically one of repulsion or even fear. I can deal with that in several ways, either

  1. Get mad with myself and become depressed because I am so selfish, thus helping neither myself or my neighbour
  2. Pretend I feel really comfortable and loving, which would be a lie and therefore unsustainable
  3. Accept my feelings without judgement but recognising how they limit me and so seek to understand what is causing them to arise

Ideally I would like to get to a situation where I am fully accepting of the person sitting next to me, which means being able to accept the feelings that arise in me too without feeling I need to act on them immediately. Instead using patient acceptance of what initially appears as an unpleasant situation to give wisdom room to develop. Then I will be able to see that person clearly and if there is a chance to help them I will recognise it and be able to take it.

Where is the Smelly Passenger?
Normally when we have a strong feeling it seems like a very complete and compelling force in or of itself which overwhelms us and forces us to act. But Buddha taught that all actions and experiences arise in dependence on other causes and conditions, most of which are primarily internal.

When a seemingly unpleasant person sits next to me on the bus, I think they are causing me to feel a certain way but here’s what’s actually happening:

A part of my mind (Intention) goes to them causing me to place my awareness (Attention) on them, thus creating “Contact” between my mind and them. This Contact is found to be unpleasant which is then fully experienced by “Feeling” whilst at the same time I “Discriminate” all of the unpleasant aspects of that person. From this I have a wish to remove myself from the person.

Where actually is the person in all of that? Its interesting to discover that the “smelly” person next to me is the slightest part of a whole chain of other stuff. Also if you change just one thing slightly, be it the discrimination, the feeling etc – the whole person will change too.

Shantideva said “Because of feeling craving develops”

Craving can be based in either attachment or anger and it leads to action. In the unexamined moment feelings and actions seem inevitable and immovable as if once a feeling arises, we must act on it like victims on a wheel. But Buddha taught the chain of interdependence so that we could see the wheel for what it is, and so stop it.

Back on the Bus

We might feel that we alone can’t make a difference, and changing our own mind won’t help anyone else. But I saw an interview with the social campaigner and singer/songwriter Billy Bragg over the weekend where he was asked if he felt that protesting was a waste of time? After all a million people marched in London against the war in Iraq, but it still happened. And he said (I paraphrase as it was off the TV and I didn’t write it down verbatim)

“Cynicism is our worst enemy. If we believe our actions are meaningless and give up, there will never be any hope of change. After all if the Suffragettes had given up their protests, women would not now have the vote”.
From BBC Culture Show: Maxine Peake – Performance, Protest and Peterloo

I began the article by saying that we need to learn to accept both our self and others if we and society are going to improve. There are so many ways that we discriminate against others, be they gay, transgender and countless others. There are also countelss ways that we discriminate against ourself and our own feelings, not just with regard to gender but all aspects of our life. I hope that having got this far i’ve given you some feeling for the importance of acceptance and openness in helping our self and others.

I apologise if this blog post comes over as confusing and difficult to read, it may be that I have tried to cover too many things! But I hope that there will be something useful in here for someone 🙂 Thanks for your patience if you got this far!

UPDATED EDIT 23 July 2013:

I forgot to mention how healing it feels to be accepted just as you are. If you have ever been in the company of someone who accepts you and loves you exactly as you are, you will also know that its the perfect platform and best incentive to want to improve. It seems their confidence in you inspires us to bring out the best of ourselves. For this reason the attitude of true acceptance towards ourself and others is tremendously important.

*With respect to feelings, I like to remember how even my own feelings about something change continually from day to day.  Also that two people can feel entirely differently about the same person, one loves them whilst another might hate them – so which one is correctly identifying the ‘actual’ person?

Both these examples show that the nature of feeling is subjective and we can learn to relate to others as Buddha advised. He said that universally we can see all living beings as seeking happiness and freedom from suffering but are confused about how to accomplish this wish; due to this confusion they perform many mistaken actions.  In this way we can always have compassion for others, no matter who they are. Also, Buddha’s view is correct – there is not a single living being which does not wish to be happy and free from suffering; so if we learn to see others like this our experience of them will always be reliable.


Sources for this article include Understanding the Mind and The New Meditation Handbook by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

From → Fundamental

  1. Barry Thomas permalink

    Thoughtfully and Nicely written, as usual! D

  2. Co-incdentally some great writing about the how the mind cognizes in Kadampa Life’s latest article:

  3. Absolutely wonderful post! I love it! I look forward to reading more of your writing. Thank you!

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  1. Love in Action: The Power of Acceptance – Spiritual Akeru

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