My Tango Precepts

I would like to expand a little on what I meant by my third tango precept, Accept what’s offered.

In my book, Tango, an Argentine Love Story, I describe how I distilled four guiding precepts for attending the many milongas (where tango is danced) here in Buenos Aires. I distilled the four pithy adages from the ten Zen Buddhist grave precepts (there are also four or six other precepts in Zen, but the grave ones are like the Moses variety, the Kahunas):

1. Show up.

2. Remain present.

3. Accept what is offered.

4. Be kind to Self and Other.

The first two, while they have their challenges that you well know about, are easily understood. One could discourse at length on what an accomplishment it is at times to show up and remain fully present. Being kind to self and other is easily understood and resonates with most tango dancers, too.

However, accepting what is offered has generated some confusion and concern. I don’t mean I turn into a blob, drop my boundaries, become obsequious and oblivious to my limits, and fully discredit my own tastes and preferences. No. What I mean is that in the milonga I am living on several levels of awareness—in parallel universes, one might say. I am aware of my longing and desire to dance with this milonguero, or that one, or that one . . . They may or may not be connecting with me, though. So I could narrow my focus and put energy into making happen what I think I want to happen. I could give in to the urge to be disappointed when I don’t get what I want. Or I can be still, observant, and open to what is being offered. Something is always being offered (“stay close and do nothing or you might miss it.”) I can stay in my snap judgments about a dancer, in my little anxieties.  Or, I can see beyond those body/mind states with a fresh eye of discovery, of the possibility that I might even benefit from dancing with a “bad” dancer. I might make his day. He might make my day.

Perhaps a more clear way to state this precept is Accept from what’s offered. . .

When you find, through meditation or right concentration or accidental awareness, this state of mind where you know deeply that something is always possible and that just what you need or want will always be given to you, you will understand that accepting (from) what is offered, is always a gift from the universe. You will understand it as an active, muscular state, not at all passive, flaccid, or pusillanimous. It’s just like following the lead in tango.

Tango encourages us to test our limits, to jump into the scary abyss of intimacy with one other, one stranger. It pushes us to lower our boundaries, even if only briefly, to soften our expectations, to forget our cherished hopes, to take chances, to venture out of our normal and accepted comfort zone. And—que milagro!—to find happiness in so doing.

If this were not right for us, so many of us wouldn’t keep returning to dos por quatro.


Soon I will tell you about tango and Divine Discontent, this link, an audio one at which you can listen to a lecture on that theme given by one of my longtime Zen teachers, Paul Haller. Listen carefully and stick with it— Paul’s teaching style is low key but it builds. He’s no Biaggi. More like a slow protracted Piazzola. What has his lecture to do with tango? I will tell you soon.