Gaining acceptance (kshanti)

Kshanti appears in the Bhagavad Gita as accommodation or acceptance (Chapter 13, Verse 8) as a spiritual quality. In Buddhism, both in Theravada and Mahayana, it is one of the paramitas or means of perfection associated with higher spiritual beings. In life, we have often wished that things, situations, or other people’s behaviors were not […]

Kshanti appears in the Bhagavad Gita as accommodation or acceptance (Chapter 13, Verse 8) as a spiritual quality. In Buddhism, both in Theravada and Mahayana, it is one of the paramitas or means of perfection associated with higher spiritual beings. In life, we have often wished that things, situations, or other people’s behaviors were not the way they are and that they were different. But an alternate paradigm is to accept things, situations, or other people’s behaviors as they are. If we can change something for the good and it is within our sphere of control then we must try to change that but if something is non-modifiable within our means then we must simply in a joyful manner, peacefully, and firmly accept that thing, behavior, or situation. Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), an American theologian, beautifully summarizes this sentiment in his prayer written in the 1940s, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” This prayer has been used by Alcoholics Anonymous in their twelve-step program to help alcoholics quit their habit of addiction. The prayer highlights the important difference between what we can change and what we cannot change for which focused perception is needed. Things that cannot be changed must be accepted as such and for things that can be changed actions must be pursued with fortitude.
This art of acceptance is very important for deriving peace and contentment in life. Eckhart Tolle (1948-present), the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose writes, “Acceptance looks like a passive state, but it brings something entirely new into this world. That peace, a subtle energy vibration, is consciousness.” Acceptance starts with us. We must accept the body and mind the way we are. If we are born with a fair complexion, then we must accept that, if we are born with a dark complexion, we must accept that, if we are born with a certain intelligence level, we must accept that and do things that suit our aptitude and similarly we must accept every attribute that we have in our personalities with grace and joy. We must not try to be like others and accept what unique talents and capacities genetics and our environment have bestowed on us. We must continually try to augment and polish what distinctive characteristics we have. If there is something that we desire to be different in our personality and we think it is within our capacity to change, then we must exercise our full force in altering that, but we should not get tied down with the results in the process and accept whatever results we get. In obtaining any result, three factors are crucial. First, is the right direction for our effort, second is the amount of effort that we exercise and, finally, is the unknown factor. Spiritually inclined people call this unknown factor as Almighty or God or Divine Will, and scientifically focused people call this unexplained variance. In any case, certain phenomena operate in the accomplishment of outcomes that are beyond our control. Accepting these unknowns is the key to contentment and peace. If after exercising due effort and that effort in the right direction, we do not get the results we must maintain our poise and remain satisfied. It is important to engage in actions and not worry about the results. Ralph Marston (1907-1967), a famous American football legend once said, “The keys to patience are acceptance and faith. Accept things as they are and look realistically at the world around you. Have faith in yourself and in the direction you have chosen.” These indeed are great lines to reflect in one’s pursuit of acceptance in one’s life. Having faith is an important aspect of the equation and must be held on to amid every difficulty and adversity that tends to challenge our ability to joyfully accept things as they are despite pressures whether internal or external.
The second level of acceptance pertains to our expectations of other people particularly regarding their behaviors. This starts with the shift in our expectation that others must change for our convenience to one of acceptance of them as they are. Everybody has a fair share of ego or perception of self-esteem or self-importance about themselves. Who are we to challenge that ego of theirs? We must understand that everyone has been endowed with due intelligence, capacities, and talents to exercise self-control in one’s behaviors. Albert Bandura (1925-2021), the famed psychologist from Stanford University who is among the most cited authors of our times, talks about these abilities in his book, Social Foundations of Thought and Action, as the symbolizing capability, forethought capability, vicarious capability, self-regulatory capability, and self-reflective capability. Only human beings are endowed with these capabilities. Symbolizing capability refers to the use of symbols in articulation and communication. Forethought capability is the role prior thoughts play in present behavior making all behaviors purposive. Vicarious capability is the ability to learn by observing other people’s behaviors and the results that they face. Self-regulatory capability is the ability to set self-standards and hold oneself accountable to those. Finally, self-reflective capability is the analysis of one’s experiences and basing one’s present behaviors on those inferences. So, given this context, we can only modulate our behaviors and perhaps guide children or others who are not able to fully self-reflect on their behaviors. Once again, we cannot mandate that others behave the way we want them to unless those impinge on societal norms or cause harm to self or others. If they do, then there are the various laws and regulations formulated by each society and one must refer to those for guidance. In the process, we must not get bent out of shape over the behavior of others, even if they happen to be close members of our family or friends circle. We can, at the most, gently remind them to exercise the capabilities that Bandura talks about and hope for the best. In any circumstance, we must not demand that others change. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” These lines are very important in our understanding of acceptance. Some professions advocate change in others such as health professionals, criminal justice professionals, social activists, politicians, teachers, religious leaders, and other such professions. For such professionals, it becomes mandatory that they espouse the change in themselves which they advocate in others. There are some zealots in every profession who want to force their choices on others, which must be curtailed.
Acceptance must be inculcated at the thought, words, and action level just like all good things in life. We must first streamline our thoughts to accept things as they are. Thoughts often precede words. Next, in our words, we must be accepting and accommodating to other’s viewpoints and behaviors. We must speak gently and candidly in expressing our viewpoints in such a manner that they do not hurt anyone and, if needed, we may resort to silence which may be better at times. Finally, our actions must show that we accept ourselves and others the way we and they are.

Dr. Manoj Sharma is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA. He is an avid practitioner of Kundalini Yoga.