A picture of the Dalai Lama.

Greatest Tip Ever: The Dalai Lama’s Theory Of Acceptance

Advice from an eighth-century Buddhist on how to accept the life you have.

I’ve fought against reality for as long as I can remember. You probably have too. Whenever you judge a situation or person, you reject reality. You say this person should not be how they are. Or, this situation should not be how it is.

This is bad or this is good.

But if it wasn’t supposed to be that way, it wouldn’t.

Your job doesn’t pay you too much or too little. It pays you what it pays you. The reality is whatever your paycheck shows. Whether you deem that a good or bad thing doesn’t matter. Those are just your judgments of a situation, but they don’t change the reality of it.

In The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu with Douglas Carlton Abrams, the Dalai Lama responds to a question asked of him by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He says:

“‘One of my practices comes from an ancient Indian teacher,’ … ‘He taught that when you experience some tragic situation, think about it. If there’s no way to overcome the tragedy, then there is no use worrying too much. So I practice that.’ The Dalai Lama was referring to the eighth-century Buddhist master Shantideva, who wrote, ‘If something can be done about the situation, what need is there for dejection? And if nothing can be done about it, what use is there for being dejected?’”

In other words, if something can be done, do something. If nothing can be done, accept it and move on.


The Farmer’s Son

Later on in the book, Douglas Carlton Abrams expands on that point. He recalls, “It reminded one of the famous Chinese story about the farmer whose horse runs away. His neighbors are quick to comment on his bad luck. The farmer responds that no one can know what is good and what is bad.

When the horse comes back with a wild stallion, the neighbors are quick to comment, this time talking about the farmer’s good luck.

Again, the farmer replies that no one can know what is good and what is bad.

When the farmer’s son breaks his leg trying to tame the wild stallion, the neighbors now are certain of the farmer’s bad luck. Again, the farmer says that no one knows. When war breaks out, all the able-bodied young men are conscripted into battle except the farmer’s son, who was spared because of his broken leg.”

Acceptance is powerful. It allows you to focus on the things that can actually be changed. It instills humility; no one can know if something is truly good or bad. But most importantly, acceptance helps you cultivate joy, love, and peace in your life.


How to Put Acceptance into Practice

In Loving What Is by Byron Katie, the author explains a system for better accepting yourself and others. To help you stop fighting reality and just love what is.

Her method is simple – she provides a basic worksheet to complete – but the realizations you gain from it are immense. Through her work, you begin to understand and put into practice what the Dalai Lama and so many others advocate: acceptance of everyone and everything. She helps you see that there is no good or bad, there is just the reality of a situation.

It’s an invaluable concept.

Imagine you walk past someone in the office. They just came from a meeting with the CEO. They mention that your branch isn’t performing as it should. You get back to your desk in a panic. Am I going to lose my job? Should I update my resume? What am I going to do? This is terrible. You are judging the situation. The reality though is that you are a person sitting at a desk. That’s all. No decision has to be made. There is nothing good or bad, right or wrong. You are spiraling over a hypothetical disaster that likely won’t ever happen.

Katie’s book teaches you how to work through this panic and learn to see what the truth is. If the Dalai Lama and Douglas Carlton Abrams shared the why behind acceptance, Byron Katie walks you through the how.


Where Acceptance Could Have Helped

On a trip once, I made a pointed comment to a friend about his frequent smoking. He got defensive and lashed out at me. I immediately apologized for upsetting him and tried to smooth things over. Even so, it was awkward for some time after.

I was judgmental and he didn’t like it. Rightfully so.

The truth of the matter isn’t that smoking is good or bad. My friend smokes. That is the truth. That is the reality. And in my judging him, I was fighting against reality. I was saying, this is how reality should be, you shouldn’t smoke. But if he shouldn’t smoke, then he wouldn’t. That’s his business. I needed to accept him as he was. And because I didn’t, there was tension between the two of us.

However, had I accepted him and the situation, as difficult as it may have been, our discomfort would have quickly subsided. In its place would have been understanding, love, and connection.


Final Thoughts

Acceptance is a hard skill to master. I still have a long way to go.

However, the long road seems worth it. Because in accepting others, you learn to accept yourself. You begin to understand what situations you do have control over and which you don’t. Further, you can finally see the right step to take, if any.

I am reminded of something Eckhart Tolle touches on in his book, The Power of Now: If your car is stuck in the mud, you don’t walk away from the car. You don’t simply accept that the car is stuck and forever will be. Rather, you accept that it is stuck in the moment and then choose the next step to get it unstuck.

I’ve fought against reality for as long as I can remember. I’m now working to embrace it. Will you?

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