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The Paramita of Patience

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

The Perfection of Patience - Kshanti Paramita

How do we recognize the people who have developed the paramita of patience? To me, they are the unflappable ones. The people who engage with life as it is with grace and dignity. The people who practice The Sacred Pause so seamlessly we don’t even notice. Visions of Mother Teresa, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, the Pope, and Martin Luther Kind Junior come to mind. But so does my grandmother, and my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hartman. Who are the unflappable people in your life?

Patience is one (skillful) reaction to annoyance. In fact, cannot practice patience without being annoyed, irritated, frustrated, or otherwise stressed out. So we have the opportunity to practice patience multiple times a day! Think about all the little things that creep up during the day. My husband likes to have the TV on when he’s home. ALL the time. And then he sits on the sofa and watches TikToc - without headphones! There was an evening not so long ago when I recipe I was making for supper didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, and I was frustrated about that. Another “practice opportunity” for me is waiting in lines. Back in the day, I could NOT. Seriously, I would leave without buying what I came to the store for if the line was more than two deep. Over the years I have come to practice what I call “Line-waiting Zen.” It’s the practice of “being” in the line, knowing my turn will come. What are some of your big or small annoyances?

Cultivating our practice of patience is a very important practice. Without patience, all the other paramitas fall apart. How can we practice generosity without patience? How are we able to be in meditation without it? How do we practice diligence, especially if we’re working at something that doesn’t bring us joy, without patience? If everyone could be just a little more patient, show a little more tolerance, abide with annoyances and irritants, and practice The Sacred Pause, the world would be a better place. Wouldn’t it?

In our book study of Pay Attention For Goodness Sake, by Sylvia Boorstein, you might remember she writes that the habit we develop by practicing patience is abiding. You might also remember that this is a skill I’ve talked about many times. Because abiding doesn’t mean we have to like or approve of something. I don’t like it when my husband is watching TV AND the TikToks at the same time. BUT if I can abide with it, abide with the waiting in line, or the itchy stitches, or the person with the snarky comment. Then I, and other people are going to be way better off. Situations are diffused before they even escalate.

How on earth do we do this? The switch from annoyance to unskillful reactions (anger, frustration, snarkiness, and aversion to name a few) is a millisecond. How do we stop fanning the flames that get ignited within us every day?

We take a three-pronged approach:

1. Recognize that what is annoying you is not about you.

The snarky comment, the annoying habits, the things that don’t turn out our way, all the everyday irritations we might feel are almost always about someone or something outside ourselves. We fan the flames and ignite the fire by our reactions (i.e. snarkiness, anger, frustration, aversion

2. Impermanence. Realize that everything changes. Understanding impermanence and remembering that nothing is forever in these moments is important. Think,“This too shall pass.”

3. We start where it all begins: on the cushion. Our work with patience starts the first time we sit on a cushion. The practice of patience continues there as well. The practice of sitting and staying there, for 5 minutes or 50, develops patience with ourselves and our practice. Meditation is foundational in developing patience on as well as off the cushion.

As we sit every day with whatever comes up, we are learning to abide. To just let “it” be, right there next to us. We don’t have to like it and we don’t have to let the annoyance, the fear, the anger, the frustration, the memory, the tension, take us for a ride. It doesn’t need to be the driver. Whatever drove those feelings doesn’t belong to us. It’s not our bus and we don’t have to get on. Our meditation practice is the primer for practicing patience and the antidote to impatience.

With each breath we take, both on and off the cushion, we can release the tension and take the skillful action of abiding - just being. Not turning away from, but not inviting the tension to take up residence. It’s recognizing the feeling, but not reacting to it, knowing “this too shall pass. Patience has the capacity to be present with whatever life throws us. It’s dealing with how things are without running away or exhausting ourselves (and others) by fighting it or by inviting it in to stay. We simply do what’s in front of us to do.

If we are on the Path, we are called to practice the Paramitas. As Precept holders we vow to live by the precepts and paramitas - the Buddha Way. This means letting go of our need to be in control, our need to be right, and of our need to “clap back” when someone says something or does something we don’t like. When we can do this, we gain an understanding of human suffering. We begin to realize that the “thing” testing our patience is a product of someone else’s ignorance or suffering. They are suffering and are projecting that suffering to an outside world. When we can remember this, and practice patience, the Sacred Pause, the kind (sometimes firm) word, and compassion for ourselves and others, we are able to touch the bodhisattva present in each of us. We are able to wield the sword of Manjushri (Prajna) and be merciful as is Kuan Yin.

These are the ripples of Right Action and those ripples travel to infinity.

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