The Paramita of Forbearance
by Tai Situ Rinpoche
This too can be explained through three principal aspects. The first is to refrain from hurting those who have hurt us. The second is to cope with whatever suffering we have to endure, without fighting it uselessly or developing strong feelings of resentment. The third is to have confidence in the ultimate truth.
Non-retaliation means that when someone hits us, abuses us, does anything to injure us, our possessions or those dear to us, or anything which might increase our anger, we do not react negatively. Very simply, it means that when we are struck, if we hit that person in return then they have really struck us; if we do not retaliate, they have not really struck us. Furthermore, it is not that their blow came from nowhere. It arose from causes and conditions created in the past; it is the result of some cause that we ourselves have generated. By just accepting that blow, the cause of that particular suffering is removed, and at the same time the blow itself can become the object of diligent practice. Thus the striking becomes beneficial rather than harmful.
This is a very easy thing to say but very hard to practice. This was especially true in Tibet where, through the cultural conditioning which totally ignored the proper way of dealing with the situation, anyone who did not retaliate when struck was looked down upon; they felt ashamed. I saw, though, something which really amazed me when I was in Sikkim. There was a monk there who was a very nice and very funny man. One day he made a frivolous comment to another monk who was short-tempered. This other monk was angered by his remarks and first kicked him and then struck him on the head with a piece of wood. The monk who had been struck remained as soft as cotton, without getting uptight or angry and said, “Thank you, thank you very much. If there was no one with anger, I would never be able to develop my forbearance. Thank you.” He really meant what he was saying. When such a situation arises we have to be ready to cope with it in that way. We have to begin with the most simple things: first, when someone says something annoying but not very important then we just say, “Yes, yes – it’s very true.” We do not really mean that but it saves argument and we must avoid being led into argument. What they say is just words. By developing forbearance on the less relevant things, we will eventually be able to deal with the difficult ones.
The second aspect of forbearance concerns not avoiding suffering. It does not mean that we should look for suffering or be happy to suffer, even if it does sound like that. From beginningless time until the present, each individual being has been suffering in the six realms of existence. During that enormous span of time it is certain that we have suffered billions of centuries in the hell realms, billions of centuries in the animal realm and so forth. In one way, it could be said that all that suffering was beneficial because we are here at present and have little suffering. In another way, it has not really done much good. Now as we sit down to a session of meditation, we have very little forbearance or patience, and it is a great effort to sit in the right posture, form the right attitude of mind and recite the necessary things. If we do have the forbearance, it will be highly beneficial for both ourselves and others. Buddha practised intensively for six years on the banks of the river Neranjara before achieving his enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. The result of his endeavour has endured until the present day and will continue until the end of everything. That benefit was not only for this planet but for all beings in all states. Thus, we should not regard as difficulties all our petty troubles encountered in meditation and Dharma practice.
Sometimes we do suffer intensely, when we are sick and so on. When we are sick we should resort to medicines and when we get into trouble with people we should try to get out of that trouble. Definitely. However, our attitude to the suffering and the trouble should not be one that defines them as solely negative. Suffering is like a broom that sweeps away the causes of suffering and when we understand this then the suffering is reduced to its true stature. Without the understanding it tends to become amplified to twice, ten or a hundred times its true size. The way we develop our understanding is to think, “The suffering that I am now experiencing is the result of previous karmic causes. Just as I do not want to suffer, neither does any being. Thus may this present suffering be of true benefit in removing the sufferings of all beings.” In such a way we mentally take the sufferings of all beings to ourselves and remove them by our own suffering.
If we do not do this with the fullest confidence and if there is no karmic connection between ourselves and those suffering whereby their suffering can be removed by us, then this practice can only benefit our Mind Training and cannot actually help them. If we really mean what we think then it can accomplish much more than just the taking of their suffering to ourselves. Practice involving such thinking is called tonglen in Tibetan: taking (len) the sufferings of others and giving (tong) them our happiness.
The third sort of forbearance is to have confidence in the excellent qualities of the Three Jewels. It comes about through taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and through practising Dharma. We should constantly remember to seek our inspiration in the Three Jewels and to apply ourselves to comprehending the absolute and relative aspects of truth. In the relative world, karma, cause and effect, exist and we should do good and avoid bad action. In the absolute truth there is neither good nor bad and all is seen as illusion. To strive hard to understand these two simultaneous levels of truth, hard for most people to grasp, especially to understand the absolute, is to forbear the ultimate truth.
We start the practice of this third aspect from a very basic position, such as the understanding of the precious human existence, how good our life is and how we can do whatever we wish with it. We have exactly what is right for us to be good – all the required qualities are present in this precious human body. Since we have these qualities it would be a waste not to use them. If a poor family has a hundred kilos of gold buried beneath the floor of their house and yet do not dig it up to use it to buy food and so forth, then they are wasting the gold’s value, it serves for nothing. In exactly the same way is our human life of great value ; it is extremely precious but if we do not use it, it is just wasted. It will not last very long. By developing such understanding to the point where we use our lives to the full, and then deepening the understanding step by step, we cultivate this third aspect of forbearance.