He endures , without anger, insult, assault, & imprisonment. His army is strength;his strength, forbearance:he’s what I calla brahmanDhammapada verse 399
The practice of patience or endurance is also a Buddhist practice. In our modern world, much marketing had been done to showcase the practice of mindfulness in Buddhism, but not much is being said about patience.
One story about Buddha celebrated his previous life as a hermit. In that life, he was perfecting his patience or endurance. A king falsely accused him of seducing his concubines and tortured the hermit cruelly, cutting away his limps, ears, nose, etc. The hermit endured all those tortures without getting angry with the king!
In our recent time, His Holiness Dalai Lama recounted how a senior monk was mistreated by his prisoners. All those while, that monk was worried that he might lose his patience with his prisoner and forsake being compassionate towards them!
So what exactly are we trying to practice?
The paramita of patience refers to a state of mind that is unshaken by external situations. In another word, one is unperturbed or agitated by situations in life. One will not bear ill-will or become angry, or hurt another person, thus losing one’s compassion and loving-kindness. One will also be detached to the entire situations and one’s action. We let it pass without grudges.
Patience also helps our daily meditation and chanting practices. We develop an endurance to stick to our practice and be consistent.
In our most recent context, patience help us endure the discomfort of wearing a mask for the greater good of humanity? YES! Buddhist practice is so “scalable”. We do not need to be flogged before we can practice patience.
In case you think that Buddha walked the Earth with adoring fans all the time, then you are mistaken. He was jeered by people who wished to preserve the caste system in India. He was jeered by families whose sons or daughters entered the monastic orders. For every man who was wise enough to recognise the precious Dharma, there was another who ignorantly jeered it as heresy. Buddha’s patience was unwavering and his composure was so dignifying that people become awed by it.
Our modern society tends to celebrate the opposite. Movies and TV shows celebrate quick revenge and fast reaction to every situation. If you feel wronged, make sure to hit back. Tolerance is depicted as a weakness.
BUT, if we tolerate bad behaviors, won’t we be encouraging more of it? Shouldn’t we stand up and do something about it? What about people demonstrating and protesting for a good cause? If nobody does anything, wouldn’t injustice pervade society?
With such thoughts in mind, it may be very confusing for a beginner. Should I tolerate a bully or should I just punch him in the nose?
Let us take a peek into Buddha’s life. What did he do?
In one story, Buddha managed to stop a sacrificial ritual that involved 500 livestock. Buddha did not tolerate mindless killing. He stopped it. In another story, he walked into the middle of a battlefield to stop a war. He did not tolerate mindless violence.
On the other hand, Buddha tolerated countless assassination attempt. Buddha tolerated false accusation and fake news that resulted in lesser sponsors for alms.
Therefore, it is apparent that the practice of patience lies within us. We learn to be patient with our situations. However, that doesn’t mean we tolerate injustice or crimes suffered by other sentient beings.
Just like Buddha did, Buddhist can participate in noble causes that prevent animal cruelty or social injustice. However, when we practice patience, our mind will not be easily disturbed. We won’t lose our mind and end up creating more problems instead of solving them. Such as attacking people wearing fur coat?
Individually, when we practice patience, we try not to blame people for our sufferings or situations. For example, we can practice patience when a waiter is being rude. Most of us were taught to complain to his manager but that need not be the only solution. For a Buddhist, that is an opportunity to practice patience.
On the other hand, it becomes incorrect for us to tolerate bad behaviours from our children or students. That is because our roles require us to teach them the right way. But when we practice patience, our reaction will be measured. We won’t lose control of ourselves and do something that we might regret later.
This brings us back to the initial definition of this practice.
Practicing patience doesn’t mean we become incapable of right action. It doesn’t mean we tolerate wrong actions. I think the practice of patience is fundamentally a mind training. We learn to maintain a balanced state of mind that does not easily give way to anger and ill-will. Needless to say, that prevents us from wrong actions.
Therefore, in the story of the defenceless hermit or lama, they cannot do anything against an angry king or a bullying prisoner. However, they choose to maintain the purity of their mind and uphold their compassion. That resulted in their dignify inaction.
On the other hand, the Buddha went all out to save the life of 500 livestock or stop a war.
It is not about self but others…
May all be well and happy.