“Acceptance” is an important topic in Buddhism.  Like most other important topics in Buddhism, acceptance is a simple concept that turns out to be very hard to fully understand.

Acceptance is a state of mind that is open to all experiences and phenomena.  Yet, at the same time, acceptance is not necessarily the same as granting permission.  You can fully accept something, but at the same time, strongly aspire to change it.  A good example is social injustice.  One with an all-accepting mind can fully accept experiences or observations of injustice, but still want to fight it with all of one’s might.
This sounds like a paradox, of course.  How can you fully accept something that you aspire to change, and vice versa?
I recently developed an insight about acceptance.  I think acceptance is:
  • Not being afraid to look at myself in the mirror.
  • Not being afraid to suffer.
So, fundamentally, acceptance is fearlessness.  When one becomes decreasingly afraid of embodying ones own inner monsters and imperfections, or of experiencing suffering, one increases one’s own capacity to accept all phenomena.  And when one becomes fearless, one becomes all-accepting.
Understanding acceptance this way breaks the paradox between acceptance and aspiration for change.  In fact, we may even come to the conclusion that acceptance is a necessary condition for great change.  You can’t effect fundamental change if you don’t fully understand a phenomenon, you can’t fully understand a phenomenon if you’re unwilling to experience it fully, and you can’t do that if you’re not willing to fully accept it.
But where does fearlessness arise from?  I think that fearlessness arises from confidence, and confidence arises from ease, and ease arises from embodying Dharma.  When one lives the Dharma, one’s mind eventually arrives at a state of ease (even in action), and when the mind is at ease, a deep inner confidence arises, and that confidence leads to fearlessness.  But that’s a topic for another day.