On the Paramita of Patience, Some Musings – by Mitra Lee Worley

Thank you, Nalandabodhi Canada, for permission to repost the monthly selection from your new Paramita of the Month series of email posts, featuring inspiring teachings by our beloved Nalandabodhi Mitras. The third installment in the series focuses on the paramita of patience, with Mitra Lee Worley.  Enjoy!

The hardest part of practicing patience is seeing those who irritate or insult me as my benefactors and support for practice. “Be grateful to everyone” is a helpful slogan that reminds me, but often the first thought I have is anything but gratitude.

It helps to have studied the progressive stages of emptiness and thus understand that the colleague who has taken over the department, completely dismissing all the mindfulness forms I created, is a dream and illusion, but it really hurts my pride. Seeing him as “benefactor” means that I must set aside all my cozy conventional ways of viewing professional life and recognize that something else–bodhicitta, or freedom from samsara, or the path of dharma–comes first.

Patience isn’t the opposite of impatience as one might think. It is the opposite of anger, aggression. As our teachers often remind us, a moment of anger wipes out tonnes of merit.

I think of Shantideva and how judgmental the monks at Nalanda were, criticizing his behaviour and plotting how to make him look a fool. But Shantideva didn’t give way to anger though he must have been sorely tried, and quite familiar with the impulse, to be able to speak so eloquently about it:

 

Scorn and hostile words,

And comments that I do not like to hear –

My body is not harmed by them

What reason do you have, O mind, for your resentment? [1]

 

A second big challenge for me is competitiveness that flares up. Someone gets an interview with Rinpoche, someone gets to go on the pilgrimage, someone has completed the practices that I’m struggling to find time to do, someone is honored for their outstanding contribution, and on and on; and, instead of leaping with gladness for them, my little mind whimpers, “Why can’t I have that?”

This is another kind of anger but directed more toward myself, and it manifests as jealousy or begrudgingness. It’s for sure not a bodhisattvic feeling. Shantideva proclaims this pettiness to be his enemy:

 

You who want the happiness of beings,

Have wished to be enlightened for their sake.

So why should others irk you when

They find some little pleasure for themselves? [2]

 

Good question. I wish I knew the answer, Shantideva. I wish my reaction wasn’t so automatic.

 

If you truly wish that beings be enlightened,

Venerated by the triple world,

When petty marks of favor come their way

Why, oh why, are you in torment? [3]

 

Maybe it is because of a really deep-rooted, ancient sense of inadequacy and doubt that goodness, or bodhicitta, or a capacity for enlightenment exists within me. Instead of taming and training my own mind, I look to the illusory “outer world” for confirmation and an affirmation that I’m worth something. Do I need a medal? Flowers?

As Shantideva would say, “O mind….”

 

If I am wise in what is good for me,

I’ll ask what benefit these bring

For if it’s entertainment I desire,

I might as well resort to alcohol and cards. [4]

 

For some reason my mother comes into my mind. A staunch New Englander, she was always underscoring her disciplining of me with little maxims. It must have been how she herself was raised. In this case, “A watched pot never boils” pops up. I believe it was used to quell my impatience, encouraging me to allow things to happen without trying to hurry them along. Was I ever someone who hurried things?

I do remember actually watching pots on the stove to see if this statement was true, but I don’t remember ever having the triumph of proof that the slogan was incorrect. Grown-up me knows better than to think that it is my watching that prevents the boiling (wisps of thoughts about pulling up baby carrot sprouts to see if they are growing also come into my mind).

I sense a dharmic interpretation of this old saw. Seen through Shantideva’s eyes this might be an excellent slogan. Applying mindful attention to the volatility and suffering of life, attend to this stew carefully when things are heating up so they don’t boil over into anger. When we watch our pots with care, spills become fewer and fewer.

Shantideva promises in his last verse on patience:

 

For patience in samsara brings such things

As beauty, health, and good renown.

Its fruit is great longevity,

The vast contentment of a universal king.[5]

 

For me the paramita of patience serves as a cool breeze to counter flare-ups of my anger. It’s a gentle ear whisper to me that I have what it takes to bear with my suffering. And it’s a kiss from my meditation practice that leads me to the nature of my mind.

 

Patience

She sits like a rock in Boulder Creek,

Granite and grey,

Washed and sparkling in sunlight,

Unmoving and unmoved while the water rushes

Over and around her and off to somewhere else.

She’s an anchor, she’s a dignity,

Without her, only forward momentum.

 

Patience it is that mediates

The un-remittance of the stream.

 

25 February 2013
Boulder, CO 

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