“Acceptance” is a word we see a lot in Buddhist writing and we might wonder how, if we accept reality, we can point out its problems and work to take care of them. I’d like to explore this with you as I sit here with my screen and the afternoon trees and sun, and you sit there with your screen. And perhaps some trees and sun, too. Or a four-legged companion or two.
As I began this article I looked up “accept” in thefreedictionary.com to see what we mean when we say it. It’s an elephant of a word with definitions of many shapes and textures. One’s idea of it depends on the part one touches. Let’s consider those parts that are important to us.
First, “accept” means to answer affirmatively or to receive. We can say, “Yes. I accept this.” as we receive something or sign a contract. It also means to regard something as true. I accept that the wind is a bit cool today.
In another spirit, “accept” means to accommodate or reconcile ourselves to something. We accept our lot in life and live within it, hoping it won’t be too painful. “Accept” can also mean to regard what’s in front of us as proper, usual, or right. If we accept in this way, we regard reality as the way things should be and reconcile ourselves to living with it as best we can. So, it’s reasonable to worry that accepting reality may mean giving up hope of making it different.
However, these two sets of definitions are not necessarily connected. We can say “Yes” to our circumstances without blindly assuming their rightness and resigning ourselves to them. We can say “Yes – what can I do with this?” We may accept a couple of potatoes from a friend’s garden. We don’t simply let them sit on the counter forever, reconciling ourselves to their brown, lumpy presence. We boil them and make them into a fine potato salad. This is how we accept the reality of our lives.
To do something with those potatoes is to respect and honor them and the friend who gave them. Perhaps to do something with the reality of our lives is to honor and respect it, too. To wring our hands and be longsuffering is not useful to us or reality.
Maybe a path out of the quandary of the various meanings of acceptance is to choose another word. One without the gloomy helplessness of “accept.” If we scroll down far enough in thefreedictionary.com we find synonyms for our awkward word. The first two are “recognize” and “acknowledge.” These speak to what we mean. “Accept” in our practice means to clearly see what’s in front of us. We recognize or acknowledge it.
I like “acknowledge.” It’s friendly and vigorous. It says “Ah, there you are.” We pay complete attention to reality. We acknowledge a gift of a potato, we acknowledge our arthritis aches, we acknowledge another’s presence. We fully see them with no prior thoughts and views. There’s connection here. Reality presents itself and we recognize it – this – right here. Then we begin to create the future reality, to make a little potato salad with it.
I wish you delicious potato salad on this summer day!!
We received this letter of encouragement from the leader of our denomination, Rev. Taiho Fukuyama, and we'd like to share it with you.
A prayer for life-threatening times
By Fukuyama Taiho,
The abbot of Daihozan Eiheiji
In the 21st century our world seemed through globalization to have achieved so much in progress and development. Now, in a short period of time, a virus has spread over the entire earth, revealing a fragility we had not imagined.
Struck by the force of this hitherto unknown infectious disease, called the novel coronavirus, many people all over the world - despite the efforts of medical personnel risking themselves on the front lines - have become ill and have lost their precious lives. Furthermore, many are living daily in invisible fear of the spread of viral infections. In such “life-threatening times”, it is probably not only old priests like myself who ponder the fragility of human beings.
However, looking back on history, we see that life-threatening times are not only a modern affair. There have always been conflicts, violence and natural disasters. As for illnesses as well, we have repeatedly faced plagues of infectious diseases, and each time human beings have concentrated their wisdom and power to overcome them.
Zen Master Dōgen, the founder of Eiheiji, taught that, “The realm of birth and death is the life of Buddha.” This teaching means, “This life, received in this world of inconceivable interdependent affinities, must be lived to the fullest - as the life of Buddha.”
If our progressive and prosperous modern society, with its emphasis of quantity, convenience, and speed, is concerned about overcoming this crisis, we must look at our lives in the light of coexistence and interdependence and transform our lives into the life of Buddha. In order to do this, we must return to the fundamental matter of how to live our lives.
Humankind has always found light in the darkness. Now, precisely because we are in a difficult situation, we are able to abandon our self-centered thinking and desires, put our hearts together as one, join hands and, using the Buddha Dharma as a light, cross through the darkness the spread of this disease has caused.
At Eiheiji, at the Kōsodaishi-hōon-hōe (“Dharma Assembly Ceremonies, Expressing Gratitude to the Eminent Ancestor Zen Master Dōgen”) from April 23 to 29, we dedicated our wisdom in order to transform these great difficulties into small difficulties and to pray that the world return to peace. We hope with all our hearts that in all countries this pandemic will pass, that people will recover from their illnesses, and the spirits of those who have lost their precious lives will be at peace.
May we join our hearts and walk forward together as people who enjoy their lives as the “life of the Buddha”.
August 16th: Virtual All Day Sitting
5:00 a.m. - 4:40 p.m.
All-day sittings are informal times of sitting together ― a chance to do a mini-retreat for a morning or spend an entire day sitting, walking, and chanting. Participants can come and go as their schedules allow. We will have the link on all day and you can come and sit with us anytime. Lunch will be on our own, but participants can sign up for talk with Zuiko at the break after lunch if they want.
Email the Center to register and get the Zoom link. Donations are welcome; there is no fee.
A typical all-day sitting schedule is available here
August 19th: Intro to Zazen on Zoom
7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
The Zen Center offers a one-evening introduction to Zen Buddhism and zazen the third week of every month. This includes a talk about Zen, zazen instruction, a short period of zazen and an opportunity for questions. Email us for the link, and we'll send it along.
We’re live-streaming our Sunday activities over Zoom. If you’d like to join us, please send in a request. You can participate either with a video or an audio-only link.
9:00 – 9:40 am – Zazen
9:45 – 10:15 – Dharma talk
10:15 – Check-in and discussion (bring your tea)
Sit with us Sunday
If you aren’t able to connect by Zoom, you can still connect. Please sit with us at the regular time anyway. If you’d like, you can receive a summary of the dharma talk later in the day. You can get on the list by clicking here. Dharma talks will be posted on the web site during the following week, usually on Tuesday.
Zuiko is sitting our regular weekday schedule. Please sit with her wherever you are. Zazen is definitely good for connecting with reality in a sane way.
9:00 – 9:40 am
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday
12:15 – 12:55 pm
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
6:30 – 7:10 pm
Other ways of connecting
Monday night dharma
Our Monday night dharma discussion group is continuing through Zoom. We’re presently discussing Shohaku Okumura’s Living by Vow. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us.
Tell about your experience
Post something on the blog page on the website. This is a place where people can exchange their adventures in practicing in a pandemic and support each other’s practice. If you’d like to be part of that, send us a request and we’ll send the link. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Work in the dirt
Things are growing rapidly out in the yard and there’s always weeding and pruning to do. If you’d like a little fresh air, soil, and sunshine practice, email us and arrange a time to come over. Zuiko will show you where the tools are and what to do. There are projects for all abilities. Kids are welcome.
Other Sitting & Sangha Opportunities
Bloomington-Normal, Illinois group isn't meeting at the moment but you can connect with them at email@example.com.
Des Moines - Daishin McCabe and Jisho Siebert lead half-day sittings and other events online for the moment. For more information contact Daishin.