Acceptance while striving

The four great vows of Zen are

The many beings are numberless; I vow to save them.
greed, hatred, and ignorance rise endlessly; I vow to abandon them.
dharma gates are countless; I vow to wake to them.
Buddha’s way is unsurpassed; I vow to embody it fully.

At the same time, Zen encourages non-dualistic thinking. How can you both accept how things are and strive for them to be different?

Wicked questions

I learned about the term "wicked question" from Liberating Structures. Liberating Structures is a great framework for engaging people in problem investigation and community building without relying on lecture or group discussion.

A wicked question is a question that helps anchor people between two extremes. They are designed to help keep people and organizations from swinging wildly between extremes. Here are a couple of example wicked questions:

  • How can we be transparent while also protecting confidentiality?
  • How can we save money while spending money?
  • How can we establish clear accountability while working as one team?


Accepting that something is a certain way doesn't mean agreeing that it should stay that way forever. See my earlier post about acceptance: acceptance for me in that instance was accepting that it was going to snow. Acceptance meant confronting reality rather than my perception of reality clouded by my own preferences and assumptions.

For me acceptance is removing biases and noticing how dualistic thinking, while useful, is not the only mode of engaging with the world.


Striving, or having goals for the future, for me is about identifying what I myself can do. I can try to accept what is happening so that I can be more effective in my actions. I think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez conveyed this very well:

"The choice isn't what I'm breathing in, it's what I exhale… And right now, in this moment, I feel a need for all of us to breathe fire." -Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

This is what Zen is saying with the great vows. We need to see clearly, and our actions are the only thing we control.

Acceptance is the breathing in; striving is breathing fire.