The Three Kinds Of Patience

There is no evil like hatred,
And no fortitude like patience.
Thus I should strive in various ways
To meditate on patience.

– Shantideva
(Guide To Bodhisattva’s Way Of Life)

[1] Not Becoming Upset with Those Who Do Harm

The first type of patience is to not become angry or upset with those who do harm… both physically and mentally. It even includes people who don’t thank or appreciate us. Especially if we’re helping others, it’s important not to get angry with them if they don’t take our advice or if it doesn’t work. There are a lot of people who are very, very difficult to help, and so instead of losing our patience, we need to endure all of the difficulties involved. If we’re teachers, we must never lose our patience with our students, no matter how slow or unintelligent someone is. It’s up to us as a teacher… to be patient and not give in to frustration. It’s like teaching a baby: we need to be skillful; we can’t expect a baby to learn as quickly as an adult.

[2] Enduring Suffering

The second type of patience is to accept and endure our own suffering, something that Shantideva speaks a lot about. He says that if we’ve got a problem that can be solved, there’s no point in getting angry, upset or worried. Just do what’s needed to solve it. But, if there’s nothing that can be done about the situation, why get angry? It doesn’t help. It’s like if it’s cold and we have warm clothing. Why complain and get angry that it’s cold, when we could just put on some extra layers? If we don’t have any warm clothes, then getting angry or upset isn’t going to make us warm.

We can also look at the suffering we experience as burning off negative obstacles, becoming happy that negative karma is ripening now, rather than in the future when it could be even worse. In a sense, we’re getting off lightly. Let’s say we bang our foot against the table and it really hurts – well, that’s great, because we haven’t broken our leg! Thinking like this can help us not get angry. After all, jumping up and down and making a big scene when our foot hurts isn’t going to help in the slightest… [W]hen we’re trying to do very positive and constructive work, like starting a long retreat, going on a journey to help others, or working with some Dharma project. If there are lots of obstacles and difficulties at the beginning, then it’s actually great. It’s like all of the obstacles burning off so that the rest of the undertaking can go well. We should be happy that it’s burning off now, rather than making a huge problem later on…

[W]hen we are suffering, there are various good qualities that we can appreciate. Suffering lowers our arrogance and makes us humbler. It also allows us to develop compassion for others suffering similar types of problems. It’s like if we contract a certain disease, we have a natural appreciation of and compassion for our fellow sufferers. When we get old, we can finally really understand the pain of old age. We don’t usually have compassion for old people when we’re 16, because we can hardly fathom what it’s like to be 70. But when we do reach old age and experience all of it, then we have a great deal of compassion and understanding for old people… [If] we have some understanding of behavioral cause and effect – karma – then when we suffer, it reminds us to avoid acting destructively. Why? Simply because acting negatively is the cause for suffering. It will encourage us to engage more strongly in constructive actions, which are the cause of happiness.

[3] Enduring Hardships for the Sake of the Dharma

The third type of patience is to endure the hardships involved in studying and practicing the Dharma. It’s going to take a tremendous amount of work and effort to reach enlightenment, and we need to be realistic about this so as not to become discouraged: we need to be patient with ourselves… [W]e need to be patient and not just give up when one day doesn’t go as planned. Maybe we thought we’d already dealt with anger and would never get angry again, but all of a sudden something happens and we lose our temper. Well, it happens. We’re not getting rid of anger entirely until we’re liberated as an Arhat. So, patience is the key.

The Perfection of Patience: Kshantiparamita
Dr. Alexander Berzin

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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