Patience, Briefly Explained
Patience involves learning to be present and upright with all our experiences, whether we have an affinity or an aversion for them, without turning toward or away from them. It is our capacity to accept how things really are, and it is necessary for developing the capacity to accept relative truth and to realize ultimate truth.
Patience is the capacity to open to the ultimate truth of emptiness.
Being patient means welcoming wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. It means being present, without our stories blinding us to what is really happening. It is a mindstate that is open, curious, and accepting. It is being present without characterizations that leave us in delusion.
Patience is the antonym for anger.
When patience is present in our mind it is impossible for anger to gain a foothold. If we are patient, we are other-centered, so self-centered anger is impossible.
It is always possible to be patient; there is no situation so bad that it cannot be accepted patiently. Patience is a character trait, not an emotion; it is an omnipresent lens through which we can view all phenomena, all the people, places, and things of our lives.
We start training ourselves to be patient in meditation (staying still and observing rather than giving in to every feeling or itch), then we take it off the cushion and practice patience by learning to be present with the small everyday difficulties and hardships that arise; allowing them to arise without complaint; without wanting them to be other than what they are. Gradually our patient mindstate increases and we remain peaceful in the face of our “imagined” adversaries and adversities of all sizes and dimensions.
When we practice the patience of voluntarily accepting suffering (which is all imagined, as we have already pointed out), we can maintain a peaceful mind regardless of what arises.
If we maintain this peaceful and positive state of mind through mindfulness (simply being present, with our breath if necessary), angry minds will have no opportunity to arise. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to dwell in aversive thoughts there will be no way for us to prevent anger from arising.
By training our mind to look at frustrating situations in a more realistic mindful manner, we can free ourselves from anger and a lot of other unnecessary mental suffering: If there is a way to remedy an unpleasant situation, what point is there in being angry? Just execute the remedy. On the other hand, if it is completely impossible to remedy the situation there is also no reason to get upset. This line of reasoning is very useful, for we can apply it when we feel ourselves just becoming angry and thereby move to patience before anger has taken hold.
Being patient doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do something to improve a deleterious situation. If it is possible to remedy the situation, then of course we should; but to do this we do not need to become angry. Simple awareness will do. And if it is not possible to remedy the situation, then too, there is no reason to get angry. Simply awareness will lead us to being patient.
By training our mind to look at frustrating, anger-producing situations with patience, we can free ourselves from a lot of unnecessary suffering.
Instead of reacting blindly through the force of emotional habit (anger), we should examine the situation. We should not become angry just because things do not go our way. Our goal is to move meaningfully forward with patience in our quest for peace and happiness rather than allowing negative emotions to cloud our vision.
Realize that all our problems are nothing more than a failure to accept things as they are. Realizing this we discover that patient acceptance, rather than attempting to change externals, is the solution to our discomfort.
Lessening and managing the anger is not the point on which we practice. The point is to patiently accept things are they are and to let go of all our fabrications about how they ought be or should be.
Problems do not exist outside our mind, so when we stop seeing other people and things as problems, they stop being problems.
Further, consider that patience is an act of compassion toward ourselves that leads to calm and peacefulness, and then to equanimity.
Excerpt from a Tricycle Article on Patience
By Michele McDonald
When I was a child, I was told many times, “Be patient” or “Patience is a virtue.” I would relate to these words in much the same way I would to the order “Eat your spinach.” To me, “Be patient” meant “Grin and bear it,” or that I should repress my feelings about the disagreeable aspects of life. This is not what is meant by patience from the Buddhist perspective, however.
Patience is the sixth of the ten perfections (the virtues that one has to perfect in order to fully awaken). There are ten perfections in the Theravada tradition [generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, persistence, patience, truthfulness, determination, lovingkindness, and equanimity], six in the Mahayana [generosity, morality, patience, right effort, meditation, and wisdom]. The clarity of wisdom and the softness of compassion are the companions to patience.
Patience is motivated by our desire for inward and outward peace and by faith in our ability to accept things as they are.
More About Patience
From an edited interview with Robert Thurman
Patience is the ultimate armor against the onslaught of suffering.
How does Buddhism view patience?
In Buddhism, patience is responding to injury without anger or hatred. In the sixth chapter of Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life [see DeepDharma’s commentary: https://www.deepdharma.org/our-commentaries/commentary-shantidevas-the-way-of-the-bodhisattva-chapter-6-patience/), there is a great classical presentation with the three levels of patience: tolerant patience, insightful patience, and forgiving patience. People who have not developed some degree of non-anger or non-hatred, and therefore, tolerance, when they talk about compassion, they’re just blowing smoke.
How does Buddhism define those three levels of tolerant, insightful, and forgiving patience?
The first one is a no-pain, no-gain sort of thing. Instead of primarily being oriented to whoever inflicted the injury, you use the injury to develop your own patience. Just like doing yoga or lifting weights, when you’re put yourself under stress you to build up greater and greater resilience. That is tolerant patience.
The second level, insight into reality, is where you look at the situation of the “alleged” injury, and you actually blame yourself by realizing that you put yourself into this situation and that you have some responsibility. You try to take as much ownership of the situation as you can because then you can do something about it by changing your response. So you ask, “What am I assigning to be the cause of this injury?” The insight of patience comes from realizing our role in the suffering and understanding there is a much better way of reacting.
Then the highest level [forgiving patience] is when a person has developed such a huge degree of patience and good judgment that when something appears to have injured them they actually feel compassion for the person who seems to have caused the injury. They will do whatever it takes to eliminate their sense of blame and to help that person, assuming conditions allow.
How can the Buddhist practice of patience be best adapted to some of the challenges of the current time?
That’s obvious. Non-violence. Non-violence has to be reestablished because we have been letting people get away with violence too much. Non-violence arises from patience.
The Answer to Anger & Aggression is Patience
Edited teaching from Pema Chodron
We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out, either way making things worse for ourselves and others. Or we can practice patience.
The Buddhist teachings tell us that patience is the antidote to anger and aggression. When we feel aggression in any of its many forms—uneasiness, dissatisfaction, resentment, bitterness, being very critical, complaining, raging, and so forth—we need a patience practice to relieve the suffering.
It’s said that patience is a way to de-escalate aggression. I’m thinking here of aggression as synonymous with pain or suffering. When we’re feeling aggressive—and in some sense this would apply toward any strong feeling—there’s an enormous pregnant quality that pulls us in the direction of wanting to get some resolution. It hurts and so we want it to be resolved.
Patience has a lot to do with getting smart at that point where we notice our anger and just waiting–not speaking or doing anything—allowing ourselves to just be present, calmly. On the other hand, it also means being completely and totally honest with yourself about the fact that you’re furious.
You’re not suppressing anything—patience has nothing to do with suppression. In fact, it has everything to do with being present with a gentle, honest relationship with yourself.
This suggests that fearlessness goes with patience; that relaxing into uncertainty goes with patience. When you practice patience, you’re not repressing anger, you’re looking at it deeply and then just letting it fall away. The desire to do or say something mean, to gossip or slander, to complain—all based in anger and aggression—lessens and self-compassion arises. So you’re patient, patient with yourself.
Patience is not ignoring. In fact, patience is being open, curious, and accepting.
When you begin to investigate, you notice that whenever there is anger, be it a gentle annoyance or raging hostility—if you really look into it, you can find out for yourself that behind the discomfort there is always something we are attached to, either an affinity or an aversion. There is always something we’re holding on to, that we want more of or less of, and are angry we aren’t getting the more or less we desire.
One of the Indian Buddhist teacher Atisha’s slogans says, “Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.” It means that if an irritating situation occurs, be patient, and if a pleasant situation occurs, be patient. This is an interesting point in terms of patience and the cessation of suffering, patience and fearlessness, and patience and curiosity.
The path to developing loving-kindness and compassion is through patience. It is to lighten up on yourself and to allow compassion, generosity, and wisdom to arise.
A Theravada Perspective on Patience and Practice
We’re an impatient society. Everything has to be done fast, the results have to come fast, or else we lose interest quickly. It’s because we’re so impatient that we don’t understand what patience is all about. When we’re told to be patient, we think that patience means a lack of resolution, a lack of dedication, that you’re a carefree and indifferent about when things are going to come together, when the results are going to show.
That’s not what patience means. Patience means sticking with the causes of your practice, no matter how long it takes to get the results. In other words, you’re resolute in doing the practice, you stick with it, you stay with it, slow and steady.
Khanti, the Pali word we often translate as patience, also means endurance. It means that you stick with things even when they take a long time to show results. You don’t get frustrated. You remind yourself: This a path that takes time — it’s about practice, not attainment. After all, we’re unlearning a lot of habits that we’ve been indulging for who knows how long. So it only stands to reason that it’s going to take time to unlearn those habits. The only way to unlearn them is to actually stick with the practice, to be resolute in what you’re doing. This firm resolution is what’s going to make the difference. This is patience.
We do the practice, focusing patiently on what we’re doing, rather than getting into an internal dialogue about when the results are going to come, what they’re going to be like, and how we can speed up the practice. Many times our efforts to speed things up actually get in the way. Our practice is pretty simple. Stay with the breath, allow the mind to settle in with the breath, be friends with the breath. That’s all you have to do.
Of course, we want to add things on top of that to make the results come faster, but the things we add on top get in the way. So try to keep things simple. Just stay with the breath. If the mind is going to get into any dialogue, engage in a dialogue about how the breath feels right then, reminding yourself to stay with breath, catching the mind when it’s going to slip off.
There’s a lot of work to do, even when you try to keep it simple. As for whether the results are coming as quickly as you’d like or, when they come, whether they’re going to stay as long as you’d like: That’s going to depend on what you’re doing right here with the breath. Our desire to have the results come, our desire to have them stay, is not going to keep them here. The actual doing of the practice is what will make the difference.
If you find yourself flagging, learn how to give yourself pep talks, encouraging yourself along the way. Do what you can to keep the mind right here as consistently and steadily as possible. Consistency is what builds up momentum. Although we’d like momentum to build up fast, sometimes our minds are pretty massive, and the massive minds are the ones that take time to accelerate. So try to streamline things as much as you can. Stay focused. Stay resolute in what you’re doing.
As for the results, be patient. You can rest assured that when conditions come together appropriately, there will be results, without your having to concoct a lot of preconceived notions about them.
Introduction to Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva
Edited teaching from Lama Zopa
Here we consider just the opening two verses of Chapter Six on Patience. For a comprehensive commentary on the full 134 verses of Chapter Six, go to https://www.deepdharma.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Patience-FINAL-12-21-21.pdf
Anger is the opposite of patience, and so, in order to develop patience, we need to first see the disadvantages of anger and the advantages of patience. When we understand this, there is a path to decreasing and eliminating the former and developing the latter, not that this is an easy matter.
Anger is a very powerful mind, an agitated mind that wishes to do harm to what it perceives aversive, as interfering with its happiness. The object of anger can be a sentient being or an inanimate object — it can even be an idea — but the nature of anger is harm, the wish to do harm. Therefore it is a violent, intense mind. Anger is described as like fire because it burns every good quality completely.
This is a good analogy. Living with anger is like having a burning coal in the heart. Just as a tiny spark can set off a grass fire that can destroy a city, a spark of anger can lead to creating harm that brings retaliation and then counterretaliation. It destroys our peace completely. Left unchecked, it grows into hatred and torments us with thoughts of revenge and the strong wish to somehow harm our enemy. Anger can destroy everything, and therefore it is often referred to as the most destructive negative mindstate.
Anger is the complete opposite of patience. Patience cannot be in our mind when anger is present. Anger is the mind that wishes to harm the other being — that is its function — whereas patience is an altruistic intention to be of benefit. Patience considers the well-being of others, and so wishing even the slightest harm is impossible. Therefore, patience is vital to develop.
Consider Verses One and Two of The Way of the Bodhisattva:
Anger Destroys All Virtue and Peace, Verses 1& 2
(1) One moment’s anger shatters all
Good acts accumulated
In a thousand eons, such as the giving
Of offerings to the Buddhas
(2) There is no misdeed like anger
No austerity like patience,
So cultivate assiduously
Patience in its various ways.
Our most urgent practice, therefore, is patience!