Acceptance is Not Resignation

Via Erica Hamilton
on Feb 3, 2011
get elephant's newsletter

Buddhism does not encourage resignation or disengagement.

There is a perception among some social progressives that Buddhism encourages people to disengage from the world. According to people who hold this perception, Buddhists meditate to change their mental outlooks so that they can accept the world as it is. Then Buddhists have an excuse to not work for social change, for example.

Tara Brach, a Buddhist teacher and author, gave a dharma talk on “Genuine Acceptance*,” in which she clarified what acceptance really is, and in the process she shed light on some of the ways that Buddhist practices can help us to choose compassionate actions in the face of overwhelming suffering.

Brach defined acceptance as “recognizing the truth of this moment without resistance.”

She clarified that:

Acceptance is opening to the actual feelings you have about [a situation]–the hurt or the anger–and being willing to just feel that. And it is out of that presence that you can respond. Wise behavior arises out of an accepting presence…

Genuine acceptance in its purity is no different than love. The space that accepts is a loving space.

Instead of reacting unconsciously through conditioned patterns of behavior, acceptance gives us an alternative. We can pause in the midst of our reactivity and make the intention to soften our resistance to opening to our emotions.

Any attempt we make to control our internal experience—in response to suffering—is the opposite of acceptance.

Brach explained that when we say to ourselves, “This situation is okay as it is,” but we don’t really mean it, that is a form of resignation, which is not acceptance. Resignation is not at all in line with Buddhist teachings. Resignation is a way for our egos to push a difficult experience away. But it is our awareness, not our egos, that opens to suffering. Brach stated:

The ego self can’t accept. The ego self is designed to fight, [flee] or freeze. What accepts is awareness. The truth of what you are is what accepts. The most you can do is intend to accept. It is a willingness that aligns you with your awareness. The self can’t do it; the self is designed to react.

Practicing meditation helps us to develop a loving, accepting presence.

During meditation we start to experience our resistance to what is happening within us, and by staying with our moment-to-moment experience–including difficult feelings–we develop the capacity to pause and choose something other than our usual conditioned responses.

Buddhists do not close their eyes to suffering in the world.

The fourth of the 14 mindfulness trainings in the Zen Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh is:

Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop compassion and find ways out of suffering, we are determined not to avoid or close our eyes before suffering. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact, images, and sounds, to be with those who suffer, so we can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.

By keeping our eyes open in the face of suffering, we also choose to be present to everything that comes up in our minds and bodies when we see it, whether it be in ourselves or in the world. By making the intention to lean into the suffering in ourselves and in the world, we cultivate awareness and compassion.

Training in Buddhist meditation helps us to come back, again and again, to raw awareness, so that when we encounter suffering, we are ready to face it consciously instead of allowing our egos to choose a pattern of reactivity for us. With awareness as our guide, we can consciously choose among many paths of compassionate loving action.

Buddhists around the world are taking actions to reduce suffering which include working to protect the environment and to advance human rights. Buddhist organizations and groups that are actively working on such causes include:

Buddhist Global Relief
Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Clear View Project
Dana Wiki
Deer Park Monastery Go Solar! Project
Dharma Gaia Trust
Green Sangha
Prison Dharma Network
Zen Peacemakers

For more resources on engaged Buddhist organizations, see Rev. Danny Fisher’s website.

Every one of us can do something to protect and care for our planet. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

*Tara Brach gave the dharma talk, “Genuine Acceptance,” on August 26, 2009 at the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. The talk can be streamed or downloaded on the Dharma Seed website.


About Erica Hamilton

Erica Shane Hamilton is the founder of Mind-Body Wellness, a wellness practice in Uppsala, Sweden. She is also the director of the non-profit website, Patient Corps, which links patients with volunteer opportunities. Erica holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Saybrook University and she is an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing in the Zen Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Erica's Twitter name is EricaSHamilton and her blog is Determined to Heal.


12 Responses to “Acceptance is Not Resignation”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cyndi , eshaneh. eshaneh said: Acceptance is not resignation and Buddhism does not encourage disengagement from the world: #elej […]

  2. I am so exceptionally delighted that you wrote this post! This is a concept that far too many people don't recognize & is something that I have struggled with for years. As a practicing Buddhist, I am forever a work-in-progress & this post is yet another reminder for me to continue in the right direction 🙂

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    My only comment is the idea of organized "engaged" Buddhist organizations which are political or social change organizations. Buddhists can do whatever it is they please no different than anyone else. They can work for this or that cause. They for the most part need to make a living as well. They can raise a family and belong to the PTA. But this idea that Buddhists do not have to shrink away from the world is absolutely true…However…lets not confuse ordinary actions of charity and politics as being "Buddhist". If we label our charity or politics as Buddhist…are we still on the path of the victorious ones? Do we not go inward? Chagdud Rinpoche said in all earnesty, " To gain authentic realization through practicing vajrayana and the Great Perfection does more than any amount of charity could ever do to relieve the suffering of others". I believe, as a Buddhist, anything other than the aforementioned quote is a distraction. Yet, why not lend a hand to a charity or social political movement? But to characterize it as Buddhist is inaccurate and "ordinaryizing" a precious path.

  4. Padma Kadag says:

    I might also add that I understand that all of our experience is brought on to the path with us…nothing left out…so why is it necessary to differentiate a political movement or charity as being specifically buddhist and more important or more beneficial if we say that it is a" Buddhist organization"? No need to organize buddhists.

  5. […] Buddhism does not encourage resignation or disengagement. There is a perception among some social progressives that Buddhism encourages people to disengage […]

  6. Diane D'Angelo says:

    Tara Brach has been my primary teacher for a couple of years now. Thank you for posting this….

  7. Joe Sparks says:

    The basic nature of human beings is cooperative and supportive to each other. Only with the aquiring of distress patterns does greed , fear of others, and harmful competition appear.

  8. I agree, Padma, that the label of "Buddhist" is often unnecessary. And the quote by Chagdud Rinpoche makes an important point too.

    I don't need to identify as a Buddhist in order to work for a social or environmental cause. I think that "engaged Buddhists" have chosen to identify as Buddhists so that they can better find others who are interested in working together consciously on particular causes. And I think there is something "extraordinary" that happens in the process of allowing loving compassionate action arise from conscious states of mind, whether it is an individual or a group that chooses to engage in this process. That is what I consider to be engaged Buddhism. There are lots of different views on this, of course. And I respect yours.

  9. I used to attend some of her talks when I lived in DC. I am so grateful for her teachings!

  10. […] bit of writing at the elephant journal, by Erica Hamilton, on an area that offers tremendous confusion for practitioners: By keeping our […]

  11. […] to do. We may wish to understand another person’s point of view that made us angry to begin with, accepting it or, if need be, confronting it. We may realize, if, say, someone is sick, that we have to act […]

  12. Realist says:

    Hogwash. If you can't change something, you can't change it. Period. No Matter how much you would love to. So resignation, in this case, is still acceptance. The only difference is the facial expression that you have when you're faced with unchangeable circumstances.