This week, Tesshin continued our study of the Paramitas. Our focus for this week was the third paramita, Kshanti, which commonly translates as patience.
What is patience? Tesshin commented that he was always praised for being a “patient” child. Living in a family with eight siblings definitely helps one develop a kind of patience!! However, he thought that this was more around the skill of “waiting around” than the patience which Kshanti is pointing to. Tesshin invited us to deeply explore the word “patience.” The English word patience has the same Latin root as patient. This points to a meaning of someone who is sick, but is working through the process of getting better. The kanji roots (pictograms) of the word patient are the heart combined with the symbol for a sword. We can interpret this as meaning a heart in suffering. Without the distress and suffering, we are not practicing Kshanti.
Normally, when we are in distress we want to get as far away from the source of pain as possible. In many ways, this is running away from our problems instead of facing them bravely. Our practice is facing reality as it really is. This includes states of suffering and distress! Traditionally the Bodhisattva stays in the world of suffering until every sentient being is delivered from suffering. This is the ideal which we should aim for. Kshanti is not about running away from suffering in ourselves and others, it is about deeply understanding it, the causes of it, and patiently working to mitigate and transcend it.
Tesshin noted that another reaction to suffering is fear and anger. These emotions act to cloud our insight. The antidote to these emotions is patience which Kshanti alludes to. Consider anything which really makes you angry or induces suffering. How it ultimately affects you is really determined by your attitude. For instance, you get fired from a job – how do you react? You can ruminate over your failures and shortcomings and despair. An alternative strategy could be for you to realize that there is a recession and that many people are being laid off and that things will turn around. Patience gives the mind enough time to form new plans of action. Perhaps this is a good time to go back to school to learn a new skill or start a new business. Perhaps this setback is really an opportunity. Tesshin stated that Kshanti is not just being overly optimistic, however. There are very painful situations, many without easy answers. The point is that even the worst situation can be helped by the right attitude and patience.
Tesshin next described the formal types of Kshanti in the Buddhist tradition. He noted that we should not consider any level more advanced than others, but rather as different types of Kshanti.
•Gentle Compassion or Forbearance – this is how we deal with others. For instance, certain people could be cruel to us or others. Kshanti at this level is resistance to flying into a rage or judging the other person. What we should do is stop and consider their conditioning and understand their suffering. Why are they behaving in the way they are? If someone is acting badly, it is most likely a result of their karma which will affect many parts of their life.
•Patience with our own pain and suffering. We all have some type of distress – mental, physical, spiritual. Nobody can avoid this. We don’t want to get so wrapped up in it, however. Tesshin mentioned that his teacher used to say that a Zen master walking in the rain gets wet. It is that simple – there is not extra commentary! The master does not clutter the mind with the inherent unfairness of the timing of the rain. The weather is the weather. In this view, patience is a type of simplicity. It is this simplicity which allows the mind to clear and focus on what is really important.
•Patience with the teachings. Tesshin noted that a lot of people are “Zen Tourists.” Why is this? Some people struggle in the practice, and feel that they are getting nowhere. They give up before they gave the teachings a chance to blossom in their mind! Tesshin lamented that patience is NOT a virtue anymore. One cannot simply click a button on a webpage and get Kensho. Satori is not available to Amazon Prime members with free shipping! Nothing is free with our practice – we must pay the full price in the form of diligent and consistent practice. However, we must have the patience to allow the practice unfold at its own pace in our mind. This is the Kshanti of practice.
Tesshin wrapped up by noting that Ksanti is fuel for our practice right up to our very last breath.