Patience

· Articles & Essays · ,

by Chogyam Trungpa

The third paramita is patience. In the Buddhist tradition, the paramita of patience, or kshanti paramita, means that you are not perturbed by any samsaric conditions. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, patience means being willing to wait a long time for something to happen, but in this case it means that you bear your existence. You hold it as it is, stay where you are.

Whether you are wearing green, yellow, red, or gray clothing, whether your stature is tall, short, or distorted, whether you have short arms or long arms, whether you are wearing blue shoes, green shoes, or purple shoes, whether you have short hair or long hair, you remain as you are, on the spot. You maintain your existence and bearing uninterruptedly. The analogy for patience is the ocean: whatever happens, the ocean cannot be disturbed. It remains the same all the time.

 

The Tibetan Term For patience is söpa, which means “forbearance.” Sö means “bearing any problems,” and pa is “doing so”; therefore söpa means “willing to bear any problems.” The Sanskrit term for patience is kshanti, which means “having equilibrium.” It is a kind of indifference in the sense of not giving in to the discursiveness or chaos of whatever has arisen in you. With kshanti, you are able to practice your shamatha-vipashyana discipline in the middle of Grand Central Station. You are willing to wait for the harmoniousness of a situation to arise by not correcting the disharmony. It is like waiting for good weather to happen.

The Buddhist meaning of patience is freedom from aggression, and the main obstacle to patience is anger. According to the sutras, there is no greater evil than aggression, and there is no greater practice than patience. You may have attained a level of generosity and discipline, but if you cannot be without aggression, you have not achieved the paramita of patience. Aggression is the most dangerous emotion, because it does not allow any form of gentleness. One instant of aggression can destroy your connection with the world, including your dedication to the relative and absolute bodhichitta principles. If you want to kill your dharmic connection, a moment’s aggression is your best weapon. It has been said in the scriptures that one moment of aggression will destroy aeons and aeons of virtue.

Aggression is absolutely terrible; it is anti-mahayana. Passion, lust, and desire may have qualities of neurosis, and they may destroy your mindfulness and awareness, but at the same time they have the nature of acceptance. However, aggression is based on total rejection, whether it is aggression toward yourself or aggression toward other sentient beings.

Patience means that you wait a minute; you wait and see what happens…. Just because you have indulged, you should not panic. Just wait. Be patient.

When you recognize your ego-orientation or your indulgence in aggression, there is a tendency to punish yourself. However, patience is not based on punishing yourself. Patience means that you wait a minute; you wait and see what happens. It means not coming to conclusions too quickly. Just because you have indulged, you should not panic. Just wait. Be patient.

 

The Paramita of Patience continues the pattern of alternating shamatha and vipashyana through the paramitas. That is, the first paramita, generosity, is connected with shamatha; the second paramita, discipline, is connected with vipashyana; and with the third paramita, we are back to shamatha. Patience is the way to quell the heat of aggression by following the way of shamatha tranquillity and peacefulness—but it is a highly advanced level of shamatha discipline. As we go on to higher and higher levels of paramitas, the standard of shamatha and vipashyana escalates, so the paramita of patience involves a higher level of sha- matha than the paramita of generosity.

The sequence of the paramitas is significant. Generosity is the stripping-off process, and discipline is remaining in the loneliness. Having gone through those two processes, we find our situation unbearable, as if we were being beaten by hundreds of people. All kinds of pain come up in our life, not as the result of punishment but as the result of being generous and disciplined. We actually invite pain by being alone and keeping our discipline. We are like an owl in the daylight, physically and psychically attacked from all directions by visible and invisible forces. The paramita of patience means not getting resentful about that.

When you have anger and resentment, however disciplined or generous you might be, you are not actually that enlightened. When you have a burst of aggression, it makes everything dry and terribly unproductive. You may have cultivated the soil, sowed the seeds, and watered the ground beautifully, but aggression destroys the whole thing. When you are angry, you reject both other people and yourself. At that point, you have no connection with the dharma at all. When you lose your temper, you are so furious that you couldn’t care less about the sacredness of anything. You couldn’t care less about yourself, or the other person, or your teacher, or your path. But if you reverse the logic, when somebody is angry with you and you are patient with that person, you are creating a thousand kalpas of merit on the spot. When somebody is angry, that is your chance to be patient. You could breathe in the anger, and not only that, you could project goodness. But if you get angry in turn, you lose it.

 

One Of The Best Things about patience is that it is very sharp and clear. It speaks for itself. Anger is anger, and patience is patience. They are very sharply divided, and that distinction should be properly understood. However, patience is not based on suppressing anger. At times aggression may be legitimate, such as when others are doing something wrong and you lose your temper in order to stop them. At other times aggression is not legitimate, such as when you are simply unable to cope with a situation and become impatient. But basically, it is not appropriate to apply anger unless you are in the role of teacher. When you are teaching somebody how to behave or you are helping others, some form of anger may be necessary.

Anger may be obvious or subtle, but whether you are expressing anger in subtle or obvious ways, the point is to get rid of the anger at the first possibility. Any method that quells aggression is valid. You might even need to manifest your anger first, if that helps, and develop patience afterward. You don’t have to be genteel about the whole thing.

Overcoming aggression is not simply based on the moralistic approach of saying that you have been bad, so you had better be good. You develop patience and forbearance in order to maintain a quality of continual virtue. Such virtue is based on the idea of basic goodness and the sense that you are a worthy person, a healthy person. You are able to develop basic goodness, and you have the potential to attain enlightenment and eventually be a buddha.


Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987) founded Shambhala International, an international association of meditation centers in the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Beginning with Meditation in Action in 1969, he published fourteen books on the spiritual path.

From The Bodhisattva Path of Wisdom and Compassion. Copyright © 2013 by Diana J. Mukpo. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc. www.shambhala.com

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