illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
"Seeing things as they are" is another way of describing the disappearance of veils over reality, of distortions that blind us… of describing the "cessation of ignorance", also known as Awakening. But it's regularly misunderstood, in one of these ways that make Buddhism look like a pessimistic path.
Recently, I was asked to comment on a remark, which essentially asserted that wanting something amounts to not accepting things as they are, which is bad, so 'wanting' is bad. And 'wanting' is supposedly unwholesome if it's future-oriented, karma-creating (by putting things in motion), and/or manipulative (engaging with reality to change it).
The problem with such a remark is that one cannot reasonably speak of seeing, let alone accepting, "things as they are"… just to then reject 'wanting' as bad. 'Wanting', if present, is included in the things! And even if one asserts that's it's conditioned by ignorance (which is an easier assumption to make "in general" than to show "in the specific situation at hand"), then ignorance itself is included in the things, and the denial of ignorance is not a promising strategy!
From a Buddhist perspective, the rejection of 'wanting' amounts to a lack of compassion: « oh you're not a buddha yet? Well, it's unacceptable to be any lesser being… » Most depressing message ever; and way too much aversion for imperfections!
Seeing things as they are is tied to the cessation of ignorance, which is itself tied to the cessation of lust and of aversion. Aversion against 'wanting' is a sign of not seeing things as they are: conditioned, unfolding, leading to dukkha maybe but also providing lessons along the way…
The classic case asserts that it's OK to want Awakening, but it's not just some self-serving fallacies, as if magically the general judgement didn't apply to whatever the 'religion' defines as 'good'! It's deeper than that: it's OK to see your karma come to fruition; it's OK to be a practitioner on the path, or crossing, not yet on the other shore; it's OK to make mistakes, even if one might hope you'll pay attention enough to learn from them; do your best, for sure, but your best is conditioned and if you're to cultivate unconditioned compassion for others, you also need to learn to accept your own flaws (and to let them go, as in: to realise that your flaws are not your 'essence', and they don't prevent you from trying again and again, they don't prevent you from cultivating qualities… in fact, they rarely prevent you from amending, at least partially, what you've done).
If future-oriented, manipulating reality, or setting tendencies and views into motion (karma) were inherently unwholesome, then the Buddha shouldn't have taught… Apparently, teaching wholesome views would be unwholesome ;-)
But "accepting things as they are" is neither static nor passive, and it doesn't imply not to wish things to be different… It does not mean "everything is perfect as it is, get used to it" (crimes, terrorism, exploitations of fellow humans, depletions of resources…).
I tend to explain this with the analogy of a map.
It's all very well to know where your destination (let's say 'buddhahood') is on the map… but it's relatively pointless if you don't know as well where you currently are! Once you know where you are, then and only then the map becomes useful / helpful, to reach your destination.
"Seeing things as they are" is knowing where you are. It does not equate having reached your destination, it does not posit that it's bad to aim for a destination.
"Accepting things as they are" —or being at peace (nibbana) with things as they are— is about relinquishing the wishful thinking that it'd be better if you were to start your journey from somewhere else: you're starting from where you are, convenient vs. inconvenient is irrelevant… now, get moving (just like the Buddha got into teaching)!
See also http://www.koan.mu/gplus/iHfe1Jgx9ZM
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illustration: large bronze figure of Śakyamuni Buddha, Tibetan, 19th century