Ven. Dr. Am Koe Beighley Su
April 2, 2022
Patience (Kshanti): “Honor the Pause
Ven. Dr. Am Koe Beighley Su
Today we are going to talk about another of the immeasurables, PATIENCE, or Kshanti in Sanskrit. I’ve entitled it “Honor the pause”. That’s p-a-u-s-e, not p-a-w-s, for those of you who are pet owners.
There are several precursors to patience; it is not a stand-alone endeavor. To acquire patience first takes patience and the practice of gradually, over time, developing patience. It also requires everything we have been studying this year. It requires an abiding belief in the Four Noble Truths, internalizing them as truths and making them an integral part of your being in this lifetime. Patience also requires a strong belief in the Noble Eightfold Path, and, again…not just a belief, but the integration of each particular item in the Noble Eightfold Path into everything you think, say, and do in this lifetime. Patience is not an event. The development of abiding patience is a lifetime practice. It is not like making a cake; at no point can we ever declare, “There is my cake. It is done. Now I can enjoy it.” No, the development of patience is an ongoing endeavor, developed to be employed to whatever the point we possess it throughout our lives, whenever the need for patience arises…and that is usually ALWAYS.
Now, given my own personal history, I am probably the least qualified person to teach on the subject of patience. Even writing this Dharma talk was an exercise in patience and not an easy endeavor.
How many of you like to grocery shop? I was not very fond of grocery shopping and never quite got the hang of “mindful grocery shopping”, although I’m getting better at it over time.
Some years ago, my wife at the time and I were grocery shopping at Meijer. It was my job in the relationship to push the cart around the store while she filled it. I remember that it was around Thanksgiving time and we were at Meijer, I was pushing the cart—she was filling it, and the store was very crowded. At one point, she turned around to put something in the cart, looked at me and said, “You’re doing that thing you do when we shop.” “What thing?”, I asked, rather indignantly. She looked at me and said, “We’ll talk about it when we get home.” How many of you men get really excited when your partner tells you, “We’ll talk about it when we get home”? That’s like the kiss of death. So, when we got home, I cautiously brought it up, knowing that she certainly wasn’t going to forget about it.
“So, what’s this thing you think I do when we’re at Meijer?”
Here was her response: “I call it your “Meijer Face”. You know how much you hate to shop. And you know how much you especially hate to shop at Meijer. And when we’re there, you have this look about you that lets everyone know you’re not happy about being there. That’s your “Meijer face.”
I honestly had to say I had no idea my impatience was that obvious! To my credit, however, I asked her to bring it to my attention whenever she saw it, because I really didn’t want to be perceived as a grumpy old man. Throughout our relationship, every once in a while, she would turn around in a store and look at me and say, “You’re doing it…” And I learned, over and over again.
You see, to me patience wasn’t a virtue, it was a pain in the backside. It wasn’t until I fully embraced the Buddha’s path that I learned patience was not only a virtue…it was a necessity for spiritual growth…a necessity for any wholesome journey.
What gets in the way of patience? Our minds, our anger, our delusions, our egos, our pride, our ignorance…just to name a few. The Buddha teaches that when we cling to any of those things we suffer. Not only do we suffer, but we create karmic events in which others suffer as well.
The Buddha also teaches that everything is created by mind alone. This includes our anger, delusions, pride, and ignorance, as well of this thing we call “I”, “Me”, or “Mine”. It includes the objects or endeavors we claim in our lives. It includes anything we see as separate from ourselves, any duality we incorporate into our thinking.
However, we also create in our minds the potential for compassion, loving kindness, and equanimity. And these are the primary elements of patience.
Look at the persons sitting around you…
Now, repeat after me: “There are zero degrees of separation between us.” Say it again. “There are zero degrees of separation between us.”
How does that feel? Does it make you nervous, anxious, or afraid? Does it make you comfortable, at ease, or at peace? If this is true of our fellow Sangha members, is it not also true with all the fellow shoppers at Meijer, true of all the individuals driving cars around us, of our children, partners, friends, and enemies? If we are to follow the Buddha’s path, it is necessary that we do not see ourselves as separate from anything at all. It requires that we develop ourselves spiritually and achieve the qualities of spiritual growth. and one of the requirements for obtaining that kind of virtue is PATIENCE. And, patience requires practice.
In the book, “The Way of the Bodhisattva”, Shantideva says, “There is nothing which remains difficult if it is practiced. So, through practice with minor discomforts, even major discomfort becomes bearable. The irritation of bugs, gnats, and mosquitoes, of hunger and thirst, and suffering such as an enormous itch: why do you not see them as significant? Cold, heat, rain and wind, journeying and sickness, imprisonment and beatings: one should not be too squeamish about them. Otherwise the distress becomes worse.” Shantideva is telling us that if and as we become patient with the natural world, we will develop our ability to be patient with the more major and significant things in our lives. Life in this time gives us plenty of opportunity to practice. From the sanders that were in full force a few weeks ago when it was time for our meditation, to traffic, to power being out due to high winds a few weeks back, to the water main burst on Division, to living in Michigan in the winter…there is no lack of opportunity to practice patience. The more we seek worldly comfort in our lives, the more “precious” we become about ourselves, the less we will be able to tolerate discomfort and hardship, therefore creating the potential for more suffering and distress in our lives rather than less.
We also need to develop and practice patience towards ourselves. It is just as important, if not more important to develop patience with our bodies and our health. It is important to have patience in our aging and with our illness. My own experience with motorcycle accidents, strokes, and numerous bodily afflictions over the past several years has taught me that to not have developed some level of patience in the recovery process would have led to a great level of suffering; physical, mental, and emotional insanity. In these bodies it is inevitable that we are going to suffer when we are born, as we age, as we become sick, and as we eventually pass from this body and this world. Impatience through these processes only increases our suffering.
I wish I had coined the phrase “Honor The Pause” and I have great respect for the individual who did. As we have thoughts of patience or impatience, when we take pause, we have the opportunity to put reins on our immediate impulses and exercise many, if not all, elements of the Noble Eightfold path: right speech, right action, right effort, and the rest. This allows for a brief respite between our mind and our thoughts, and what we do next…what actions we take or what thoughts and feelings we cling to.
The Immeasurable quality of PATIENCE also demands on us that we be TRUTHFUL…with ourselves and others around us about what is actually occurring in our lives. One Buddhist writer succinctly put it this way: “I think sometimes people exaggerate their suffering and illnesses in order to gain sympathy. Not every headache is a migraine. Not every cold is influenza. We need to continue to be truthful, in the sense of factual accuracy, even when we are ill. It is of course important to look after ourselves and to alleviate suffering where possible, for ourselves and others. It is also important to let others know when we are unwell so that they can help if necessary. But we need to be patient with the course of nature not childishly petulant. Illness is not a moral retribution or punishment.”
As a Buddhist practitioner, I think the same could be said about aging. No matter how much money you spend or products you use in an attempt to stay young…eventually you will sag in all of the appropriate places, wrinkle in all the ways that aging presents, and…you will pass through this life. You came into this lifetime kicking and screaming, and, if you are not awakened, enlightening, or patient with the process of old age and death…you’ll probably leave this lifetime kicking and screaming, as well.
Aging gracefully requires acceptance of our inevitable leaving of this body, and amending our lives and lifestyle AS we age in order to accommodate the changes occurring in our bodies. This will afford us a far greater opportunity to age with tranquility, compassion, and equanimity and pass from this lifetime having gained merit for whatever is to come next.
Another place we need to practice patience is in our spiritual development and progress. When I talk with friends and colleagues, I hear often, “I’m not a good meditator. I just can’t get the hang of this meditation thing.” When I ask what they imagine a ‘good’ meditator to be, most are hard pressed for an answer. That would be equivalent to my saying, “If this Dharma talk is not perfect, it means I’m just not a good Buddhist”, when the fact is, I’m neither a good Buddhist nor a bad Buddhist. I’m just a guy practicing Buddhism, and learning as I go, realizing that I must be patient with the fact IT’S ALL PRACTICE!! I must be patient that I will never be able to say, “I’ve arrived…no more effort is necessary.” Anyone here who has ever been in a relationship knows that you cannot claim, “There…I’ve established this relationship…no more effort is necessary.”
When we experience difficulties in our spiritual practice, I think it would actually be wise to welcome them, and be patient with them, for the difficulties we face are actually a sign of spiritual progress and development as we face and work through them. The same is true when we face resistance to our spiritual practice. If we are patient and examine our resistance carefully and mindfully, we can very often make significant strides in our spiritual development.
So…be patient with yourself. Be patient with others. We’re all on our journey. Everything is a journey…and we will never arrive. So, relax and enjoy the ride.
And we bow…
Prepare yourselves for meditation.