The Buddha Shakyamuni said that “patience is the greatest austerity.” This was a significant departure from the norm in ancient India, where people practiced severe austerities in the hope of spiritual attainment.
When the Buddha says that patience is the greatest austerity, He is saying that it is both more difficult to practice than mortification of the flesh, and more efficacious than any other austerity.
The alternatives to patience are frustration, anger, and wasted energy. By trying to force ourselves to grow, we hinder our growth. If we try to force others to change, we prevent them from changing. Patience is needed to further our own spiritual growth and to help others to grow.
Having patience does not mean that we exert no effort; in fact, it implies great effort. Patient effort, enduring effort, persistent, consistent effort is greater, more noble, than the violent effort of frustration and anger. And patient, enduring effort is also more successful. This sort of effort, the effort that persists day after day, the effort that persists during good times and bad times, is an effort that understands and uses the law of karma.
All actions have consequences. Skillful actions have beneficial consequences. Patient, enduring effort in skillfulness of body, speech, and mind brings about spiritual progress. Patient, persistent effort in ethics, meditation, and study brings about spiritual growth.
Patience is the ability to control our reactions and retain our peace of mind in any situation, imperturbable in the face of harm and hardship. It is the practice of exercising forbearance toward persons, objects, behaviors, or situations that might otherwise disturb our peace.
Patience is the conscious choice to actively manifest forbearance, and is not experienced as an oppressive duty or obligation.
Patience with Others
- When someone treats us (or our relatives and friends) with contempt, addresses us with harsh words, slanders us behind our back, or causes us pain.
- When our enemies and those who oppose us (or our relatives and friends) find pleasure and wellbeing, when they receive honors and rewards, when they are offered praise, or when people speak well of them.
- When our friends and relatives, especially those whom we have favored by thought, word, and deed, are ungrateful, and repay us with harm.
The patience of disregarding the harm done to us by others can be cultivated:
- By seeing those who harm us as objects of compassion.
- By considering how all the harm done to us is the product of our own past karma.
- By realizing that it is only with the help of those who harm us that we can gain the merit of practicing patience.
Patience with Ourselves
- When we manifest ignorance and limitation, fail to attain our goals, give comfort to our enemies, and disappoint ourselves and others.
Patience with the Teaching
- When the Teaching is difficult, or extensive, or apparently repetitive; when the conditions in which the Teaching is imparted are not optimal; and when the Teaching elicits fear.
- When we see our faults more clearly, fail to make rapid progress on the path, temporarily regress to previous stages of attainment, or cannot abide in the View.
- When the Teaching challenges our habitual or conceptual views, or when it seems to contradict earlier Teaching, as in the gradual progression from the truth of dependent origination, to emptiness of self and phenomena, to True Being.
Three reasons for accepting suffering with patience:
- Suffering can exhaust our negative karma.
- Through suffering, we develop renunciation, compassion, and the wish to adopt wholesome actions and avoid unwholesome ones.
- Suffering subdues our pride, takes away the sting of envy, overcomes the strength of desire and attachment, and leads us on towards accomplishment.
Patience can be cultivated by contemplating with certainty the profound teachings:
- Considering the relative truth of dependent origination, we can cultivate patience by realizing how the harm-doer and the suffering itself are dependent on causes and conditions.
- Considering the provisional truth of emptiness, we can cultivate patience by reflecting on how the harm that is done to us and the one who is doing the harm are both lacking in any true reality.
- Considering the ultimate truth of Buddha Essence, we can cultivate patience by recognizing all anger to be the expression of clarity, or Mirror-like Wisdom.