Practicing the Pāramitās in Daily Life, Part Four: Patience
Patience comes into play when we encounter anger or difficult outside circumstances. This third of the six transcendental perfections, or pāramitās, helps us to remain stable as we face problems in mundane life and in spiritual practice. Here, Tulku Migmar Tsering discusses how we can rely on patience in our daily life. If we can learn how to tolerate difficult conditions without giving rise to anger, we are being patient.
Anger and difficulty do not arise constantly, do they? Tulku-la points out that attachment and clinging manifest more easily because we are distracted by sense objects. For this reason, he comments that many great masters of the past noticed that they did not often experience great anger or difficulty.
Thus, these masters began to carry a monkey around with them to test their own responses. Monkeys can cause a lot of trouble, and these masters would notice their own reaction when the monkey misbehaved. If they became angry easily when the monkey made a mess, then they were able to understand that their own patience was not so steady!
When others make mistakes, or when something doesn’t work out the way we want, patience helps us not to get angry. We can control our own reactions and not feel so upset or disappointed. And this diffuses our short temper and angry reactions. Obviously, in this life, we will face all sorts of difficulties. But if we don’t cultivate patience, then we will often give up in the face of problems. Then we won’t be able to look carefully at the problem and figure out a solution. Patience or tolerance in the Buddhist context doesn’t mean accepting everything with an attitude of defeat. Instead, we really cultivate patience when we calmly tackle our difficulties and resolve issues.
Additionally, when we work to benefit others, we need a lot of energy and endurance. And if we don’t have tolerance for difficult situations, we can’t be very effective in helping people or carrying out meaningful projects. Moreover, as our patience improves, we can easily handle people who might be obstructive or hard to work with—we don’t get so frustrated in our collaborations with others. Tulku-la here gives a very personal example from his experience offering guidance and teaching at a dharma center. He explains that he has applied patience in his own work with individuals as he works to help them overcome problems. By accepting slow, incremental change, he can begin to gently introduce people to deeper dharma teachings.
Spend some time thinking about your own tolerance or patience. Do you consider yourself a patient person? If so, take some time to rejoice, and think about how you might expand that quality. Are there areas in your life where you are less patient? How might you approach those situations differently?
If instead, you realize that your patience is not well developed, start slowly. Pick one or two small situations where you can make a conscious effort to pay attention. Do you get short-tempered when your partner or friend does something you don’t like? Try taking a mindful pause before reacting the next time that happens. Can you think–this person doesn’t want to hurt me—they are busy, or stressed, or not feeling well, or just not paying attention? When you take time for this short exercise how do you feel? How does your body react? Can you feel a sense of relaxation instead of tension? Do others comment on a change in your temper?
Experiment with different patience tests yourself. You may not need the monkey—but can you begin to see what your own stumbling blocks might be? Great! Now you know where you can begin to slowly and gently adopt a new attitude.