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A Technique of Living
Leonard A. Bullen
The fifth month
THE PRINCIPLE OF ACCEPTANCE
WHAT we know as the conscious level of the human mind is only a very small part of the mind in its entirety. General usage of the concept of two levels of the mind, distinguished as the conscious and the subconscious, suggests that the mind has two separate and well-defined compartments; but this concept is by no means an accurate one. It would be far better to compare the mind as a whole to a blackboard in a very dark room, with many words and phrases chalked over the whole surface. Because of the darkness of the room you can’t see any of the words or phrases. However, if you shine the beam of an electric torch on to the centre of the blackboard, you’ll be able to read the word that the centre of the beam illuminates, and you will be able also to see the words around the outside of the torch beam where the light is less bright.
The centre of the torch beam where the light is brightest can be compared with full consciousness, the chalked word that the beam fully illuminates being like the focus of consciousness. The words within the less bright area on the outside of the lighted area are like the ideas in the fringe of consciousness, while those on the test of the blackboard represent the multitudinous ideas in the subconscious mind.
As you move the torch beam on to different areas of the blackboard different words and phrases come momentarily into the centre of the beam, with others, less brightly lit,towards the outer edges of the beam. The rest of the blackboard remains in darkness.
In just the same way, the focus of consciousness moves and brings into full consciousness one idea after another, with generally a few associated ideas in the fringe of consciousness. At all times, the rest of the ideas remain in the subconscious mind.
If the blackboard were to be completely clear of obstructions you could shine the torch on to any and every word or phrase and bring it into the focus of the beam. But let’s imagine, for the purpose of illustration, that some parts of the blackboard are concealed. A tall filing cabinet stands in front of one corner with a poster pinned over another corner, while on odd parts of the board numerous pieces of sticking plaster obscure various words and phrases. You can’t illuminate the hidden words with the torch beans unless you can remove the filing cabinet and the poster as well as the pieces of sticking plaster.
In a similar way, the mind of the average person has many regions which are inaccessible to the torch beam of full consciousness. These are the regions which, over the years, have been blocked off by pain and fear, by horror, guilt, and inferiority feelings. To clear these away and make the concealed ideas accessible to consciousness is generally a much greater task than can be accomplished by the average person during his lifetime.
However, even though you can not discover and remove all the fear, guilt, and inferiority feelings that both in childhood and in later years have blocked off some regions of your mind, you can at least endeavour to accept yourself as you are, with your inheritance of primitive urges and your acquired hatreds, fears, and greeds.
This acceptance demands continuous mindfulness, for this is the key to self-improvement. Mindfulness in Buddhism has many forms, and that form which has a special value in this connection is called mindfulness of the mind. That is a matter of training yourself to be aware of your own emotional state at all times and to recognise it for what it is. If at a particular time the emotional state is one of annoyance and resentment, or of envy, ill will, or some other retardant mental factor, then the honest recognition of this factor, freed as far as possible from feelings of guilt and attempts at repression, is in effect the acceptance of yourself as your are.
It is necessary also to develop an awareness of your own progressant mental qualities, such as those of generosity, goodwill, and the discernment of the illusory nature of your own ego, without any element of personal pride or smugness.
Thus the simple recognition of both the retardant and the progressant mental factors, as and when they arise in your daily contacts and activities, is seen to be the first application of the principle of acceptance.
The acceptance of yourself as you are must be balanced by the acceptance of other people as they are. As your self-knowledge increases so also your knowledge of other people increases. While people vary tremendously in their levels of self-development as well as in their reactions to circumstances, their most basic instinctive and emotional structures are very similar to your own.
They too, deep below the consciously accessible regions of their minds, have their own heritages of primitive urges, carried over from their pre-human and caveman ancestors. They too were subjected in childhood to varying degrees of parental mishandling and repressive control, and they too need some degree of deep understanding.
By way of this deep understanding of others, you learn to accept them as they are, so that, to the degree that you understand and accept them (but only to that degree) you will be likely to react to them without annoyance and resentment.
You may not be able to eliminate annoyance and resentment entirely from your dealings with others, of course, but you can use such occasions for the recognition and acceptance of both your own and others’ failings. With this acceptance must come greater harmony, both internally and externally.
So here are two spheres of life in which to practise the principle of acceptance – one’s own emotional and mental structure and the emotion-laden reactions of other people. There’s a third sphere in which to apply the same principle, and this is the world as a whole with its mixture of pleasure and pain.
If you were to become a prisoner you could adopt any of three attitudes towards your prison. Firstly, you could kick the walls, thump the bars, shout abuse at the guards, and reject it at every point with bitterness and resentment. The effect would be to make your imprisonment more severe and traumatic in every way, and to increase the very things you reject.
At the other extreme you could sit in passive resignation and brood in an inert manner, making no effort to find a means of escape. Your apathy would serve only to magnify your misery and resentment.
Both of these extreme attitudes would tend to paralyse your powers. However, there’s a third kind of attitude you could adopt: you could accept your prison as a problem to be solved, assessing it realistically and in great detail, searching for its flaws, and remaining always alert and ready to take the first real opportunity to escape. This attitude, ideally, should have no resentment in it, for resentment and its kindred mental states cause emotional biases, which in turn impair your judgement; and impaired judgement brings unrealistic action.
The acceptance of the world as it really is must embrace the acceptance of yourself, of all the other people in your environment, and of everything that in any way impinges on you. Positive acceptance doesn’t mean inert resignation. It means acceptance of things as they are as the starting point in the long trek towards freedom.
This mental attitude of acceptance makes it easier to deal with life and effectively to resist all the difficult things in the environment, as well as all the difficult things in the mind itself.
This non-resentful acceptance of things as they are is a matter of squarely meeting all things, a matter of learning to control anxiety, to conquer resentment, and to keep self-assertion in check.
With this attitude of non-resentment and positive acceptance you learn not to tense up more than necessary against adversity. This is not passive resignation; it is the positive acceptance of every problem as the raw material out of which you can build achievement. With all your problems miraculously taken away you would find yourself without any raw material and thus without any possibility of achievement.
This principle of non-resentful acceptance must seep through the whole of life; it cannot be made into a specific practice or a concisely-formulated exercise. The practical work for this period, then, is only the first step. It is meant to help you to acquire an insight into the degree to which you resent the problems and difficult things in your life, and from this insight the rest will follow.
A SELF-QUESTIONNAIRE ON NON-RESENTFUL ACCEPTANCE
In answering the following questionnaire, you could probably go through the whole series of questions and give an immediate answer to each question. In many cases an immediate answer will readily come to mind; but it will not necessarily be a true one, nor will it be of real value to you.
The aim of each question is not so much to arrive at an answer as to start a train of thought, and the aim of this in turn is to give you some degree of self-understanding.
Take one question at a time, then, and think about it at odd times during the day; the resulting train of thought will be of greater value than a clear-cut snap answer to the question.
As a result, it may be that other questions and other ideas, related in some way to the original question, will come into your mind. These, too, will help in the process of self-understanding.
To start these trains of thought, then, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do I resent my problems and the difficult things in my life?
2. Or do I accept these problems and difficult things as the raw material for achievement?
3. Do I resent being dominated or controlled by others?
4. Do I deeply envy the good fortunes of others?
5. Do I resent being ignored by others?
6. Do I accept these problems and difficult thing in an inert, defeated way?
7. If so, has this brought about a half-repressed bitterness and a smouldering resentment towards them?
8. Do I tend to resent any particular religious group?
9. Or any particular racial group?
10. Have I a defensive attitude towards life or people as a whole?
11. Or an aggressive attitude?
12. Or a suspicious attitude?
13. Do I harbour any grudges or desires for revenge?
14. Do I have any strong motivations which are based on resentment?
15. Do I react to criticism by hostility or resentment?
Assuming that you are employing the self-contract method of self-discipline, look back every few days to see if you have used the questionnaire consistently and in a sufficiently penetrating manner; and, if you feel you have not done so, deprive yourself of some small pleasure.
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last updated: 03-04-2005