37 practices: verse 27, part 2 of 2

The translation and audio for practice 27, to cultivate patience, may be found in verse 27, part 1. Bear with me — this is a longer than usual post because I found some extra resources for the patience paramita. Or, to put it another way, this post is an excellent opportunity to practice the second kind of patience — and the reward will be immediate, because there are some fabulous commentaries ahead.

In part 1, we looked mainly at the first of the three categories of patience: being patient with sentient beings who harm or irritate us. Though this may be the kind of patience we are most often called upon to exercise — and also where we may be at the greatest risk of doing harm if we lose our patience — the other two types are also important, and we will look briefly at those today.

Pop quiz: Do you remember what the three categories of patience are, along with the three ways we are instructed to practice patience toward other beings, and — also very important to keep in mind — what exactly the Buddha meant by “patience”? If not, I recommend a quick review of the class notes for verse 27, part 1, and/or Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s commentary.

In the second class, we also looked at commentaries by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Pema Chodron, and Ken McLeod; and turned to His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, for some invaluable advice on how to prevent our practice of patience and the other paramitas from being plagued by . . . demons! 

Being patient with hardships and suffering, according to Geshe Jampa Tegchok, “enables us to manage what life brings and continue to practice dharma without interruption.” Commentaries by Tibetan masters focus mainly on hardships related to dharma practice, which were perhaps more overtly challenging for ancient yogins meditating in extreme weather conditions in isolated caves than for those of us nowadays who have excellent shelter, clothing, and access to groceries. (Though, as we know, even today, there are dharma practitioners who, like the ancient masters, experience hardship with regard to basic needs, and we can look for opportunities to exercise the second paramita by helping them.)

However fortunate we may be, we all have some types of hardships and obstacles with regard to the dharma — I think of sudden schedule changes (formerly known as “Tibetan time”), livestream glitches, parking problems, food that doesn’t meet our dietary requirements or preferences, retreat roommates who snore . . . . we can work on not being perturbed by these! Not to mention maintaining our practice in the face of so many options 24/7 for distraction and entertainment. Yes, we really do need to put our phone down and turn off the TV to accomplish buddhahood. And all of us —  yogins in caves and modern media consumers — have to put up with illness, bad weather, bad moods, and any number of other challenges to both our dharma practice and our daily life.

As for category number three, according to Geshe Jampa Tegchok, “The patience of not being afraid of the profound meaning [of the dharma] refers to being able to meditate on emptiness.” The Buddha taught that all phenomena are empty of existing in the way we think they do, including our sense of who we are. If this idea doesn’t seem that scary, we might ponder this description of emptiness from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche: “The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang onto, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground.”

I think this type of patience might also be applicable to any number of teachings, such rebirth, buddha nature, the three kayas, the twelve links of interdependence — and even “others first”! It requires patience not to give up when the teachings don’t make sense to us, or when they fly in the face of our habitual perceptions,  beliefs, or personal comfort. (More on joyful perseverance in verse 28.)

News flash: After this week’s class, I ran across an explanation of the third type of patience by Lama Norlha Rinpoche, from his teaching on the six paramitas in the mandala section of the PTC Dharma Path program: “The patience of having certainty about the dharma includes having fearless intellectual receptivity toward the profound skillful means of the Vajrayana and also the vast scope of the deeds of buddhas and bodhisattvas. You may hear about great practitioners such as Milarepa, and the activities of the Buddha, and think, ‘They can do those sorts of things, but I will never be able to.’ But you shouldn’t think that way; you should be very decisive that you have buddha nature and so you have the capacity and the potential to accomplish everything, including complete liberation. Strengthening your determination is really the key to success in dharma practice.

“And further, you should also have fearless intellectual receptivity toward the profound meaning of emptiness and freedom from conceptual extremes, toward all the terms used to describe the nature of mind. . . . If you have patience [with hardships and with the profound meaning of the dharma], you will make great progress.”

About those demons: His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, also has a commentary on the 37 practices, Traveling the Path of Compassion. Because it’s very concise we rely mainly on the more comprehensive commentaries, but in this case, His Holiness Karmapa makes a point not mentioned by any of the other teachers.

“When misunderstood, the perfections can have a darker side, which is metaphorically called a ‘demon.'” He first mentions this in the context of the second paramita, ethical conduct, so he doesn’t specify a demon for generosity, though he does say that true generosity requires some wisdom. Guru Vajradhara Chamgon Kenting Tai Situpa (the full title of Situ Rinpoche, the spiritual director of PTC) explained in a teaching at PTC in 2016 that compassion without wisdom is what we sometimes call “idiot compassion,” which means “helping” someone in a way that they don’t want or is not helpful, or even ends up causing harm. I think this might also describe how our practice of generosity might go awry.

With regard to ethical conduct, the second transcending action, His Holiness Karmapa says, “The downside of the perfection of discipline is called ‘the demon of austerity’ — taking on discipline as a hardship and making it into a struggle. Done right, discipline is taken on joyfully and with a clear understanding of why engaging in it is good.”

“The third perfection is patience, which also has an obstacle, called ‘the demon of too much struggling’ or ‘too much patience.'” He explains that our patience should not be overly extreme, and he gives three examples: 1) deciding to practice only patience toward illness and not get treatment when we need it; 2) letting people harm us or others by being “patient” with them when we need to clearly say no; and 3) being excessively patient with our own faults and afflictions. As always, this last type of extreme patience doesn’t mean we should engage in self-criticism and guilt, but that we should recognize and cut it out when we find ourselves indulging laziness, emotional reactivity, or addictive behaviors. As Trungpa Rinpoche instructs us in Training the Mind, when emotional afflictions arise, “stamp on them”!

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche: Though there is a lot more wonderful material we covered in class, I don’t want to make this post too long, so I will just briefly mention other sources we used. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche tells us that patience is said in the sutras to have four qualities: 1) it pacifies anger, 2) it is endowed with nonconceptual primordial wisdom that understands the selflessness of individuals and phenomena, 3) through patience we come to like all sentient beings by wanting their happiness and not holding resentment when they harm us, and 4) through patience we can help others travel the path of compassion and wisdom. I think the latter is true even just by our example: just as when an angry person enters a room, it changes the dynamic for everyone, likewise when a person quietly demonstrates patience in the face of harm and adversity, it has an inspiring and calming effect on everyone present.

Ken McLeod‘s commentary on verse 27 offers another excellent explanation from a Western point of view, along with practical, step by step advice on how to connect with patience, and specifically with transcendent patience, in the very moment when we feel our anger or irritation arising. I highly recommend his book as a supplement to the traditional commentaries by realized Tibetan masters.

And finally, Pema Chodron sums it all up: “To practice patience, you need someone who irritates you. You learn to sit still with the restlessness of the energy of the anger that wants to strike out, or of the craving that wants more — not to act or speak out of it, but to feel what you’re feeling.”

Ultimately, as we have learned, the definition of patience is “to be unperturbed by anything,” which means that when we have perfected transcendent patience we  don’t even give rise to negative feelings in response to harmful actions or adversity. But until we reach that level, perhaps in the bodhisattva bhumis, it’s important to remember, as Pema Chodron reminds us, that our job is to feel  our emotional reactions rather than suppress them, and to apply our dharma understanding and techniques to work with them internally even as we refrain from acting them out toward ourself and others. Eventually, through applying the fourth paramita of joyful perseverance to our practice of patience, we all have the capacity, as Lama Norlha Rinpoche reminded us above, to arrive at the level of not being bothered at all, no matter what comes our way.

Related post: Some Buddhist Ways to Work with Emotional Overwhelm

The index of the study guide and recordings of the classes are here.

Next practice: Verse 28: to persevere with joyful effort

The complete study guideclick here (see “about the 37 practices study guide” at top of page for orientation if needed)

Complete list of verses to date: “37 practices translation” at top of screen, or click on link