Paramita of the Month: Patience

March is here again and despite the blustery, wet weather we can also know that the spring that will soon arrive brings forth an abundance of the new. Some of these new situations will be joyful, others will test our patience. With that in mind, let’s practice the third of the paramitas, patience, which is so beautifully explained by HH Dilgo Kheyntse Rinpoche in the text below.

From The Heart of Compassion, HH Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary on The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva.



For a bodhisattva who desires the joys of virtue,
All who harm him are like a precious treasure.
Therefore, to cultivate patience toward all,
Without resentment, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

There are three kinds of patience. The first is to bear without anger whatever harm people may do you. The second kind is to endure without sadness whatever hardships you may experience for the sake of the Dharma. The third is to face without fear the profound meaning of the Dharma and the boundless qualities of the Three Jewels.

For the first, when you feel you are being harmed by someone, remember that the harm that person may be inflicting on you (or on someone dear to you) is the direct result of you yourself having harmed others in the past. Reflect that this person is so overpowered by delusion that he or she is as if possessed, and cannot resist harming you. As a result of this harm, he or she will have to suffer in samsaraʼs lower realms in a future life. When you think how terrible that will be, you will feel only sadness and pity rather than anger.

Remember, too, that if you can patiently accept all this harm, many of your own past negative actions will be purified, and you will accumulate both merit and wisdom. Indeed, this person who appears to be harming you is therefore doing you a great kindness, and is a true spiritual friend. As an expression of your gratitude, dedicate whatever merit you have accumulated to him or her.

Seeing all such situations in this way, train yourself not to get upset when someone harms you, not to seek revenge, and never to bear the slightest grudge.

Moreover, when you look even more deeply into what is happening, you will see that the person beings harmed, the person doing the harm, and the harm itself are all totally devoid of any inherent existence. Who is going to get angry at delusions? In these empty phenomena, what is there to be gained or lost, to want or to reject? Understand it all as being like the vast, empty sky.

Now for the second kind of patience, enduring hardships for the sake of Dharma. In order to be able to practice Dharma, it may happen that you have to endure illness, or suffer from heat, cold, hunger, or thirst. But since these short-term sufferings will help you purify your past negative actions and, in the long term, reach ultimate buddhahood, accept them with joy, like a swan gliding into a lotus pond. In The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva says:

Is a man not relieved when, though condemned to death,
He’s freed, his hand cut off in ransom for his life?
Enduring likewise merely human ills,
Am I not happy to avoid the pains of hell?

The third kind of patience is to have the deep, inner courage that it takes to be ready, out of compassion, to work over many aeons for the sake of beings and to face without any fear the highest truths of the teachings—that ultimately all phenomena are totally empty by nature, that emptiness is expressed as radiant clarity, that there is a buddha nature, a self-existing primordial wisdom that is uncompounded, and an absolute truth beyond the reach of the intellect. If you are afraid to accept the reality of emptiness, and criticize practices such as the Great Perfection by which the true nature of all phenomena can be realized, you are rejecting the very essence of the Dharma and are preparing your own downfall into the lower realms. When Lord Buddha taught the profound teachings on emptiness, some of the monks who were present reacted to the deep truths of the teaching with panic so intense that they vomited blood and died forthwith. These truths are by no means easy to fathom, but it is of the utmost importance to try to grasp their true meaning, and not to have a negative view of them.

These three kinds of patience should be developed with the aid of wisdom and skillful means.

To practice the paramita of patience is essential, so that you can never be overcome by anger, hatred, and despair. Once you have entered the path of the bodhisattvas, you should in any case have kindness in your heart for all beings, seeing them as your former parents. So when people are against you and do you harm, you should have even more love, dedicating all your merit to them and taking all their suffering upon yourself.

Indeed, adversaries and people who try to harm you can be powerful sources of help on the bodhisattva path. By bringing about situations that would normally trigger your anger or hatred, they give you the precious opportunity to train in transforming those negative emotions with patience. On the path, such people will do you far more good than any well-disposed friend.

Now, Shantideva says:

Good works gathered in a thousand ages,
Such as deeds of generosity,
Or offerings to the blissful ones—
A single flash of anger shatters them.

And in the Sutra of the Meeting of Father and Son it is said:

Hatred is not the way to buddhahood.
But love, if constantly cultivated, 
Will give rise to enlightenment.

So if you react to an enemy with hatred and anger, he will certainly be leading you to the depths of the hell realms. But if you know how to see such a person with the deepest loving-kindness, he can only lead you toward liberation. No matter how much harm he tries to do you, it will only do you good. The difference is crucial. You may have studied various teachings and meditated for a while, and even feel rather proud of it. But if, as soon as someone says a few bad words to you, you burst with anger, that is a sign that you have not let the Dharma really permeate you—it has not changed your mind in the least.

Shantideva also says:

No evil is there similar to anger,
No austerity to be compared with patience.

If the land were full of sharp stones and thorns, you might try to protect your feet by covering over the whole countryside with tough leather. But that would be a difficult task. It is much easier to put the leather just on the soles of your feet. In the same way, even if the whole world is full of enemies, they can do you no harm as long as you keep loving-kindness and patience in your mind. Whatever apparent harm they do you would, in fact, help you on the path to enlightenment. As it is said:

When you encounter the emotions’ formidable army,
Don the solid and excellent armor of patience;
Thus, unscathed by the weapons of harsh words and vindictive blows,
Pass through them to reach the land of nirvana.

There is no peace for a person whose mind is filled with anger and hatred. Anger and hatred need to be subdued by the great army of patience, for they are your only true enemies. It would be impossible for you to experience harm if your own anger and hatred had not, in the past, brought about the causes from which the present harm arises, like the returning echo of your own voice.

Look, too, at the true nature of harm itself. It is as ungraspable as writing on water. Let resentment vanish of its own accord, and as soon as the fiery waves of thoughts subside, let everything become like an empty sky, where there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose.

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