Today – and for the next three entries – I am continuing my plan to go through the Buddhist Parami, often translated as the Six Perfections, as favoured in the Mahayana scriptures. I will consider the larger list of ten parami – or paramita – at a later time. In my last entry, I contemplated Right Action, also translated as Morality. Next in line (and the order is significant) comes patience – or ‘Ksanti’ in Sanskrit. After patience comes energy/effort or diligence, followed by concentration and, finally, wisdom.
So, we’re now well into our third week in Sydney, attending the precious and rare Lam Dre teachings given by His Holiness Sakya Trizin. We’re also into our third week in the student lodgings we have booked for while we are in Sydney. In both cases, Alan (hubbie) and I are having our patience tested! The teaching is very special and we are indeed privileged to be able to hear it. However, neither of us are used to the Tibetan side of the experience. Our teachers to date (with the exception of the Dalai Lama) have all spoken English as their first language. Here, the pith teaching is given first in Tibetan and then in English,but the lengthy chants and prayers that preceed and follow the teachings are said in Tibetan. Even though the teaching is translated into English, the accent and rapid speech makes accurate hearing and the writing of notes difficult. On the first (rather long) day of teaching, the combination of Tibetan chanting and a new, and therefore unknown, format – involving all the different prayers that were not listed in linear order in our folder – triggered considerable confusion and accompanying discomfort. Patience in waiting for the unknown to become more familiar was required.
I regret to say that the required patience was initially in short supply, over-ridden by doubt and self talk along the lines of “what on earth am I doing here? How shall I endure five weeks of this?” Fortunately for me, a sympathetic guiding word by one of my Canadian teachers – who was also attending the teaching – helped me take a more open, balanced view of this totally new experience. She gently pointed out that perhaps the organisers and teachers’ decision to keep the prayers in Tibetan was one way of testing our commitment to receiving the teaching (which was, after all, provided in English) and would act as a filter to sort out the wheat from the chaff! As I was determined to be the wheat, I quickly settled down and evoked patience – to allow myself time to learn the order and how to participate in the process. The reminder that I couldn’t immediately know what I had no previous experience of – and that some things, such as precious teachings, are well worth waiting for – was enough to trigger a more patient stance, that was also a great deal more comfortable!
The internet as pleasure or pain?
The second way in which our patience is being tested here in Sydney is by the vagaries of our internet connection. We had chosen this particular lodge where we are staying because of its claim to provide free, fast internet access to every room. First we found that “free” had changed to $10 per week extra if you wanted it in your room and then we discovered that it was excruciatingly slow and unreliable, frequently fading away altogether! Complaining to the manager was met with irritation and dismissal and so our only choice has been to accept the service as it is or move to more expensive lodgings. As we don’t currently have the funds to upgrade, we’ve had to call upon our patience, to just sit and wait, or turn our attention to other things than the computer.
It’s interesting to notice how becoming mindful of one’s impatience immediately helps one to choose patience and, with that switch of emotion, to notice how much better patience feels than impatience! Now, for example, if I have to sit and wait for an internet connection, I can choose to sit quietly and watch my breath. This feels so much better than tapping my fingers or feet in agitation at the frustration of my desire. As I write this blog, the process is slowed down by snail’s pace page refreshment whenever I want to save what I’ve written. I have learned – with the assistance of patience – to take the opportunity of getting up at such times to stretch, or fetch a new glass of water, choosing to look at the slowed pace as a benefit rather than a frustration.
Patience unravelling conditioning
On a more serious note, the two areas where we most need to apply patience are (1) the seemingly endless task of unravelling conditioning: our past, unhelpful learnings and (2) to stop irritation or ill will arising when our desires are frustrated.
The process of unravelling the past – and especially childhood – learnings, means that we need to make conscious the generally unconscious links to the past that are triggered by a present situation. The problems is that they evoke, for most of us, habitual assumptions and emotional reactions similar to those learned previously, rather than to the situation that is currently arising. This is what so often leads to inappropriate responses or a closing off of interest because “I know that!”
These emotional over and under reactions are a frequent cause of conflict, frustration or just plain distress in relationships with our partners and loved ones, leading to such complaints as “he/she never listens!” or “I just can’t get through to them!” or “he/she always……”! Clearly, the process of becoming aware of these automatic reactions is a long one, and one made longer by the common tendency to place the “problem” with the other person, rather than oneself. To get to the point where one is both aware of one’s part in whatever is causing conflict or difficulty and one is determined to change one’s interpretation of what’s going on and the consequent behaviour – in other words, one’s impulses – to a new response guided by different values to those originally learned, requires a great deal of PATIENCE!
Indeed, since we are often so resistant to seeing our own part in interactions – because so much of our reaction is unconscious and it’s much easier to see other people’s behaviours – many people these days have turned to counsellors, psychotherapists and psychiatrists to help them discover more about themselves and the past learnings that push them around. With or without professional help, we need patience to keep us on the task and to ensure that we don’t become despondent or overwhelmed or just decide that ‘it is all too hard!’ Patience to keep picking ourselves up and trying again. And again. And again!
Patience identifying and dropping anger and ill will
The second major way in which we need to apply patience has some overlap with the first but refers specifically to the continual effort that is required to stop ill will and anger arising when we don’t get what we want. Since we are continually swinging between wanting this and not wanting that, it requires great patience to doggedly work at exchanging impulsive impatient reactions when our desires are frustrated. The Buddha is often quoted as saying “suffering is wanting things to be other than they are!” And I, for one, have been testing this theory for many years, both with myself and the many people I have had the privilege of working with, and I have found it to be a very true statement.
So, to conclude, patience is a critical virtue – or perfection – to develop as the medicine to help us accept what is present. This doesn’t mean that we become passive non-doers and non-reactors, but rather that we use patience to stop impulsive reacting and instead promote consideration of options and discovery of the most wholesome and appropriate response to what is currently arising.
Like all the Six Perfections, or Parami, patience is a quality to contemplate and hold question about. What areas of my life require more patience? Am I making effort to uncover my habitual, unhelpful responses and to pause, patiently, to allow space to break the impulse and replace it with a more appropriate, beneficial and updated response? I have found it often helpful to spend a week focusing on just one of the perfections. Perhaps it is time to focus on patience?
So, does anyone out there have reflections on what is patience? And do you have examples of patience to share? Or questions? The comments box is waiting!