Acceptance: The Key to Transcendence

Written by Naren on February 08, 2009

A man walks into a hair salon to get his hair shampooed and braided. The hair dresser, at first, takes it as a joke because the man has only three hairs on his head. Without saying anything, the hairdresser proceeds with his job. But before he finishes combing, one of the hairs falls off.

The hair dresser, instantly, apologizes out of embarrassment only to be surprised again as the man replies, “Don’t be worried. Now I just have to part my hair in the middle! No big deal!”

The hair dresser realizes that he has to be careful as the man has only two hairs remaining. He cannot mess up this time. As he was drowned in such thoughts while carefully trying to braid the hairs, one falls out. OOPS! The hair dresser feels really bad and starts apologizing again, and offers a free service. But the man answers calmly.

“Oh! Well, don’t be worried. Now I just have to run around with my hair all ruffled up. No big deal! What to do? Such is the way.” This is the attitude of total authentic acceptance. The man is not even slightly bothered or upset that now he has only one hair left. Now, when you carry such attitude, you cannot remain miserable. Instead you are perfectly content and happy in whatsoever you have. The man had three hairs; now only one. So what? He has embraced the situation with acceptance without any complaint or grudge.

I guess it may be really difficult these days to find such a person. Another man in that situation might sue the hair dresser and reap lots of money. Anyway, this is simply an anecdote, a joke, and may not be a reality. But it makes sense if we look into it deeply.

Troubled Mind, Agitating Heart

There is so much joy and beauty in life, yet our lives seem like a burden, a huge load of pain and suffering, which keeps on dragging us down from cradle to grave... What is it that is keeping us from discovering the inner beauty of our lives? What is it that is preventing us from achieving total contentment? Every individual has the utmost potential to be profoundly happy, and enjoy this ultimate existential gift called life in full ecstasy and eternal bliss. Yet, we miss this divine opportunity to rejoice life in its fullest, like an emperor. Instead, we end up like a beggar, reducing life to a sad tale of misery and suffering. Our life becomes a desert, dry and lifeless, and simply wilts just like a flower at the end of the day. The only difference is that a flower achieved its full blossoming and radiance, and its fading is simply the way of nature. But, look at us, we neither bloomed nor shone fully, despite having the tremendous potential to achieve the ultimate flowering. Why?

These questions have severely troubled my mind while agitating my heart and finally leading me to write this article. I am hoping it will bring some light of understanding to all, including myself.

Life is a big mystery in itself. We cannot predict what is next. Any moment anything can happen. Today you may be riding on the wave of success, and tomorrow you may be swept by the current of failure. Your life may be an oasis of happiness and tomorrow, it may turn out to be barren as the desert.

The unpredictable nature of life makes it tremendously dangerous. But, in that danger lies the deep beauty of life. This is why it’s better to squeeze the juice out of life as much as we can. But, do we really do so? Do we really accept life moment-to-moment, as it is, without any conditions, fear, or worry? Most of us do not.

Why is it so difficult for us to accept life as it is, with joy and celebration? Why the word acceptance has become so inconceivable and hard to accept? Just the mentioning of the word, provokes some people – why? I would say that it is not because of the word itself, but because of us. Because, whenever we accept, we don’t accept with a joyous heart. Our acceptance is stemming from a reluctant heart. It’s coming out of compulsion.

It seems like we have been compelled to accept. Our acceptance is not a melodious song coming out of the innermost feeling of our rejoiceful heart. Even when we accept, we don’t quite accept totally. It’s simply a self-deceiving act because inside we haven’t fully agreed. The ego still tries to find a way to escape, and make things work out without acceptance. It is very hurtful for the ego to accept something especially if it disagrees with it.

Hence, acceptance has become a very heavy word, and it is just because of us, not that there is anything wrong with the word. Acceptance can be a beautiful and enlightening experience in your life, if it arises out of your authenticity. If you accept things with a welcoming heart, if you accept things with dance, song and music, then your acceptance becomes a celebration. It becomes an enjoyment, a total ecstasy. It can help you go beyond, out of your past. It can totally transcend you. But what to do, we accept only when we feel helpless, and under pressure. We don’t accept out of strength and understanding. And that’s why we suffer so much in life, and we don’t transcend.

If we go back and ponder over the anecdote in the introductory paragraph, it clearly reveals that the man is blessed with a great art –an art of purely authentic acceptance. The man could have complained, caused a big fight, or made a huge fuss, but he simply accepted the grave situation by saying, “What to do? Such is the way.” A person who carries this attitude remains happy in any situation. Nothing and nobody can shake foundation of his inner peace and contentment – because his foundation is built strongly from his simple approach, an approach of accepting things in their totality. His approach is commendable. Let’s dissect the situation here. The two hairs from his head have already fallen off, and the poor hair dresser cannot stick them back. However, the man hasn’t accepted the situation just because nothing can be done, but his acceptance is coming purely from a cheerful heart. His acceptance is not half-hearted. His acceptance is not out of helplessness, but out of sheer clarity and contentment, and that’s what makes the difference, and makes his attitude commendable.

Buddha's Term "Tathata"

Bhagwan Buddha has mentioned a simple word “tathata” and the whole Buddhist practice of meditation revolves around this term. It has been translated as thatness, thusness, or suchness in English language. This is the only problem with translation. The word loses it authentic substance and meaning during the course of translation. But, according to my understanding and background, the closest translation for the term “tathata” would be “suchness.” I like the term “suchness” and it makes more sense in this article, so let’s proceed with that one. Suchness simply means such is the way, such is the way of the nature of things, simply accept it.

Buddhism depends on this word in such magnitude that it becomes the way of their lives, and eventually the word disappears and simply “tathata” or “suchness” remains. Moreover, one adopts this practice of suchness to the extent that eventually one becomes the suchness.

Let’s say, you are not feeling good, or you have a terrible headache, or suffering from some kind of illness. Then you say to yourself, such is the way, such is the way of nature, and such is the nature of things and calmly accept the situation. Nothing can be done. The key is that you not only say these things to yourself, but also feel them deeply inside. Furthermore, the suchness not only remains as thoughts or philosophy, but it becomes a lifestyle. The whole way of living becomes suchness. One becomes so conscious and attuned with this term that he is not even worried about when to think about it. The term becomes embedded so deeply inside that you ultimately become suchness. Then you do not fight with the illness or any pain or discomfort. You just accept it. In fact, acceptance descends by itself. It need not be forced. This actually can be a very powerful healing force in itself. Because, while you are simply accepting the sickness, then your energy becomes one. If you are fighting, then your inner energy gets divided into halves, half is being used to fight the illness and the other half is wasted in the pain and constant complaining about the illness. But if you simply accept without any fight or conflict, then inner energy can act as one single healing force.

The attitude of acceptance with suchness functions not only on a physical level, but also on mental and spiritual levels as well, and ultimately leads you to transcendence and total contentment.

When Worry becomes the Central Core of Our Life

All through life we are constantly worrying, running here and there, in deep anguish, anxiety and stress. It seems like worry continues until the end of life. So, what is worry anyway? Worry is our inability to accept things the way they are. Worry exists when we enforce our own ideas, dogmas, and philosophies, and do not agree with the reality of the things. We don’t like things happening in their own way as we want them to follow our way. Just remember the saying, “My way or the highway.” But, in life that’s not possible. It’s either “life’s way or the highway” because life does not follow your footsteps. Remember: no matter how much you wish or want, life has its own natural course. It cannot agree with your philosophies and ideas. It does not follow your beliefs, faith and religion. Life remains aloof from these things and flows on its own. It does not follow your desires. One has to accept the way of nature one day.

Fear of Death

If you are born then you die as well. Life and death complement each other. But, we do all we can to secure ourselves from death, clearly knowing that one day our physical body has to die. Such is the way of nature. Such is the way of existence. Nothing can be done, and we cannot deny this existential truth. All we can do is simply accept. But how many of us accept? Very few. Those who accept this truth will transcend. For example, even like Buddha dies. He is Buddha but that does not mean things are different for him. He is no different than an ordinary individual, and existence has no special preference for him. The only difference is that he accepts his death with a welcoming and joyous heart and dies happily. There is no fear of death on his face, while we shiver just from the name of death. Enlightened Masters like Buddha, Lao Tzu, or Bodhidharma die so cheerfully that it seems as if no death exists. Acceptance thus leads to transcendence. Once you understand this simple truth, then you can also transcend like every Buddha, and even when you die, you die transcended.

Desire to be Young Forever

Let me give you another example. Who does not want to be young forever despite knowing the fact that one day we have to grow old. However, we are constantly worrying about getting old, longing and wishing to be young forever. These days, people are doing all they can to remain young. This is simply ridiculous. People have lost their authentic individuality in their plastic dreams of remaining young forever. You may change your outer layering but you cannot change the inside. And this is the worry. You may look young outside, but you clearly know that it’s not the real you. You have traded your individuality in, while trying to gain some plastic beauty outside. No matter how much you try the feeling of getting old and the fake consolation that you wear on the outside, will haunt your mind and torture you soul forever. All because you cannot accept that getting old is a natural phenomenon. Just like you get hungry or thirsty, one day you will grow old as well. But we don’t want to accept this truth. We just cannot accept it. And even when we accept, we accept with utmost difficulty and reluctance. With such attitude, misery is bound to follow in life.

The Disease called Love

Furthermore, people worry about pretty much everything, work, money, finance, love, relationships, sex and the list goes on and on. Let’s talk about love. Love is beautiful and in the meantime painful. But that’s what love is. It is beautiful because it gives you a glimpse of ecstasy and bliss, while it’s painful because there is fear that it may not last forever. It slips out of your grasp and you simply can’t do anything. Such is the way of nature. It’s hard to accept this truth when it comes to love, but those who understand will transcend. Because love can easily lead you to meditation. Because in love, you see that glimpse of truth, beauty, and eternal bliss which mediation can offer. Love awakens your inner thirst ultimately leading you to the path of seeking and inquiry, and which is meditation.

You love your wife and your wife loves you. You have been married for years. The relationship is strong, and unbreakable. Still, there a fear lurks around in the back of your mind that one day your partner may leave you for somebody else or some other reason. Or, the day might come when your partner may not love you. The love may simply disappear from his/her eyes. Now there is the worry. You wanted to live your life together, but she decides to leave you. You have sacrificed your whole life for him, and he has dumped you for some other woman. Now, what can you really do? You may force him or her to stay with you. You may plead, beg, cry, weep and wail. But one thing that needs to be understood is love cannot be forced. It happens on its own. You may force your partner to stay, but if there is no love than both of your lives will be a tale of deep misery and suffering.

Problem: You expect love to be forever. You wanted it to be permanent. But we all know that there is nothing permanent in this world. And certainly you will be worried. Everything mundane and belonging to the world falls into the law of impermanence. Now if love has deserted you or vanished, leaving you in a dark well of sadness, certainly you will be crushed and fallen. Nothing can be done. The attitude of suchness says, accept this situation. Such is the way. If you feel like crying your heart out, do so, but do not resist or suppress your feelings or emotions. This applies to both man and woman. Let your feelings well out. If you are worried, be worried. What can you do? But accept all these totally without fear or putting on a mask.

But the question that troubles my mind is that, “Do we really accept these events that constitute our life, totally?” I am not just talking about being crushed in love, but also in all other situations.

Life is moment-to-moment, and every moment there is something happening. The sunlight comes into your house and moves onto another. The breeze of happiness comes into your life and then moves onto another. Love also acts the same way. One moment it’s with you and another moment it’s gone. Life is in the flux, and nothing is permanent.

However, we don’t see these things because our eyes are blinded with worry, stress, and ego. On one hand, there is a constant worry and on the other hand there is a deep longing, desire, and expectation to achieve. An individual is torn in so many directions and there are so many divisions within him that his whole life becomes muddled with clouds of confusion. The energy is divided into so many directions that there is always tension. There is always conflict. The mind becomes chaotic like a crowd, thoughts running this direction, that direction, everywhere. Existence has given us the most precious gift through which we could attain profound happiness and ecstasy, but we seem to have taken things for granted simply by not lighting the lamp of intelligence. And how to light the lamp of intelligence – it is simple, through understanding. Yes, understanding is the master key that unlocks the Pandora’s Box of contentment.

The Lost Key

But, we keep on missing continually. We have the key but we keep on forgetting that we have it. We carry it with us all the time, but we assume it’s not with us. Have you ever locked your key inside the house and then had to call a locksmith? But when the lock was broken, you remember that the key was in your pocket. The key was in your pocket all the time and you kept on waiting for the locksmith worrying and panicking. You could have simply looked into your pocket. But, you didn’t. Because you are so worried, how can you? Similarly, this is what’s happening to our lives. The cloud of worry and discontentment have covered our eyes so much that we are unable to see things clearly. And we have completely missed the tremendous beauty and grace that life can offer.

Then what do we do? Exhausted, crushed, and defeated --- eventually we accept things, but grudgingly, half-heartedly. We accept only when we run out of options. Yes, in a state of complete helplessness we accept. I don’t call this authentic and pure acceptance. This is simply surrendering or giving up. And it makes a big difference. The difference is that the acceptance is not happening by itself or coming out of a welcoming heart, it is being forced on us. We had to force ourselves to accept the reality. There were no other doors for an exit. We gave a good fight, but we got defeated. We got crushed and crippled under the harsh wheel of reality. Again, we’ve missed the point. We accepted but not with the attitude of suchness. Our ego hasn’t disappeared, it is just wounded. It will bounce back. Only with total acceptance, will there be no ego. With partial and half-hearted acceptance, ego is always there. It may seem gone, but it is submerged, deep down, wounded. It has simply gone into hibernation. On the right climate and season, it will resurface and haunt you again.

Our misery, problems, and our sufferings will continually exist because we are unable to accept the way things are happening in its nature, but also because we wanted to enforce our idea and logic. And now, all the reasoning, explanation, and logic have failed, so what to do? Then we accept, but still deep down we have left a little aperture of hope open.

Not a Hollywood Ending

Acceptance is not an open ending like in a Hollywood movie where there is always some clue for the protagonist to escape; acceptance should be absolutely total and authentic. Outside we have accepted grudgingly but inside we still wish that things could have gone the other way. We wish that we could go back in the past and change things. We wish to undo many things and change the present situation of turmoil in our life. We are not accepting with the richness of an emperor’s heart, we are accepting like a beggar. Our heart is not open and smiling. Because we still have left the light of hope alive inside us. We have still left the wound inside of us to grow. With the flow of time, we may forget the pangs of break-ups, misfortunes, loss, failures, divorce etc... But, the wound is still there. Time has healed and covered the wound.

Let’s say a person has a tumor. If the surgeon leaves even a small piece then there is a chance of the tumor growing back again.

Likewise, out of sheer helplessness you accepted, and time cured, but not through your understanding. This is where you missed again. One thing we need to understand is that, only through total acceptance, which is by simply accepting things the way they are and not providing any resistance, transcendence is possible. This understanding is the ultimate key that will help you achieve the inner treasure of your life. No one and no situation can make you miserable. You will be happy and cheerful in any condition. Remember the guy with three hairs from the opening paragraph. Yes, your life will be total contentment then.

So, allow acceptance of its own accord and do not force or embrace it out of helplessness. Let me repeat again, do not accept half-heartedly or grudgingly. Welcome it with an open and cheerful heart. Simply try looking at things with clarity. Wipe off the dust of hope and desire that has covered your eyes, and look at things the way they are. Remember Buddha’s term “tathata”. Such is the way of nature. You cannot force unnatural on something that is natural.

For example, no matter how much you wish, you cannot change the direction of a cool breeze that blows into your garden, you cannot make flowers blossom, or have the moon shine only in your roof.

Life also has its own way, on natural path. Don’t try doing something unnatural. Flow with it, why create so much nuisances by creating resistance. Why create unnecessary troubles. Why you want to hurt your head, if it’s perfectly fine?” This is acceptance with an attitude of suchness.

Final Words

I am perfectly aware that I have dwelt on many topics in this article, but my main effort is on growth and understanding. Having said so let me give you another small story:

A villager was traveling on a train on his way to the city, and was carrying a big load of luggage on his head. Everybody was staring at him in awe. This was his first time on the train, and the villager was innocent and ignorant. In villages, people are used to carrying stuff on their head, and so was this villager. He simply didn’t see that the he could drop his load as it would make no difference to the train. But the villager was simply not aware out of his ignorance.

Similarly, we haven’t really dropped the load – a load full of misery, pain, dreams and desires, beautiful, or ugly past. We haven’t fully accepted things in suchness. We have been carrying the load of wounds, dreams and hopes all along. Because of this load, we have been ruining our present as well. Not only the present, but also the future. Because, the more load you acquire right now, your future will be heavier. That means more misery and more suffering. Okay, let’s leave the future far, but look at us, we barely live in the present. We are swinging in the duality of past and present. On one hand, the past haunts us and on the other hand, the future is pulling us. This is called traction. We are being pulled from both sides. Torn, we drag our lives in the present. Why wouldn’t we be miserable then? How can we be happy in such condition, when we have no idea what’s going on, when we are living a chaotic life, swinging back and forth like a pendulum? We can drop the load. It’s totally up to us. All we need is to imbibe the attitude of acceptance with suchness. It is not any kind of compulsion; it is simply looking at things with clarity, and full of awareness. It is simply clearing all the dust that we have accumulated on our path towards contentment. But again, our acceptance should be out of understanding and strength, and not out of helplessness, compulsion and reluctance. Our acceptance should rise from a welcoming and cheerful heart. Only then transcendence is possible. Buddha, Lao Tzu, Gurdjieff, Boddhidharma have all transcended, why cannot we?

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