Ultimate stages of the path: The perfection of patience

Patience is a virtuous mind that is able to bear any kind of suffering or harm.  There are three main types:  the patience of not-retaliating, the patience of voluntarily enduring suffering and the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  The patience of not-retaliating is a mind that understands the dangers of anger and the benefits of patient acceptance, and on the basis of this makes effort to eliminate anger whenever it arises within one’s mind.  The patience of voluntarily enduring suffering is a mind that can accept suffering because we have a good reason to do so, such as viewing it as purification.  The patience of definitely thinking about Dharma is when we listen to, contemplate or meditate on Dharma with a patient and joyful mind so as to gain a special experience of it.

Patience practiced with a motivation of bodhichitta is the perfection of patience.  What this means is we practice patience understanding how it helps us become a Buddha, which we wish to do to help all beings.  So how does patience help us become a Buddha?  Most of the experiences we have in samsara are ones of suffering.  If we were only able to make progress along the spiritual path when conditions were good, it would be very difficult to make much progress in a given human life because good conditions are very rare.  If, however, we are also able to make spiritual progress on the basis of painful conditions then we can make progress during every moment of our lives.  And since painful moments are more common than pleasant ones, we are able to make progress for most of our life.  Further, patience is the cause of beauty.  We have many worldly reasons for wanting beauty, but why would a bodhisattva wish for beauty?  When we are beautiful, people are naturally attracted to us.  We want people to be attracted to us so that we can explain to them the paths to liberation and enlightenment.  The more patience we practice, the more radiant we become, until eventually we attain a Buddha’s form body which radiates infinitely in all directions drawing in all living beings.  It is this radiance which eventually draws all beings to the Buddha, and once they are drawn to him, he can then lead them to enlightenment.

The ultimate perfection of the practice of patience is the practice of the perfection of patience conjoined with an understanding of emptiness.  Once again, understanding the emptiness of the three spheres is helpful.  We have already discussed at length the emptiness of our self and others, two waves on the ocean of our mind.  Here we focus on the emptiness of the suffering itself.  Suffering is a mental experience that comes from not knowing how to accept painful experiences.  When we do not know how to accept painful experiences, we suffer from them.  If we have the wisdom that knows how to accept the painful experiences then we no longer suffer from them.  They may still be painful, but we will experience this pain as something quite beneficial for our spiritual development, so it will not be a problem for us, rather it will be experienced as a blessing.  Ultimately, if we attain a direct realization of emptiness, then we will not even experience any pain, which of course will make it very easy to accept such experiences!  A suffering experience is one that harms us in some way.  Something will harm us only if we do not know how to do anything useful with it.  But if we know how to constructively use a painful experience then it will no longer harm us, rather it will help us.  Because it helps us, we wholeheartedly welcome it without resistance.  The wisdom mind that can do this is patience.  Harm, therefore, is a mental construction what arises from the lack of wisdom knowing how to use constructively our painful experiences.  Harm does not exist from its own side.  As such, we can reconstruct the painful experience as a helpful one, and receive benefit.  Then, no harm will arise.  No harm means no suffering.  So the more we realize the emptiness of the painful experience, the more easily we will be able to reconstruct it into a beneficial experience, and the less we will suffer.

What enables us to use painful experiences?  First, our motivation must be pure, meaning we are primarily concerned about the happiness of our future lives (either in the upper realms, liberation or enlightenment).  On the basis of a pure motivation, we can consider how our painful experiences teach us we need to abandon negative actions, that we need to attain complete liberation from samsara and that we need to free all beings from all suffering.  Our suffering can be an opportunity to engage in purification, train in renunciation, train in cherishing others, train in compassion and train in bodhichitta.  The lojong teachings provide extensive explanations for how to transform painful experiences into the path.  As a living being, we have two types of experiences:  pleasant and unpleasant.  We can transform our pleasant experiences into the path through Tantra and we can transform our unpleasant experiences into the path through our practice of patience, specifically in dependence upon the lojong teachings.  Thanks to these two, Tantra and patience, we can transform our every experience into the path.  When we have these two realizations, for us it will be as if we are already in the pure land.  A pure land is one where there is no suffering and where everything functions for us as a cause of our enlightenment.  Because we can accept all unpleasant experiences, we experience no suffering, and because we know how to transform all of our experiences into the path, everything functions for us as a cause of our enlightenment.  Even though our body will still be of the human realm, our life will function for us as if we are already in the pure land.  How amazing!

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