28 July 2010

Six Paramitas: Ksanti, or Patience (4 of 7)

The great Tibetan master Gampopa, in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation (trans. H.V. Guenther), presents the perfection of patience or ksanti paramita in a striking way:

The essence of patience is to be prepared for any event (p. 174).

Now, this begs the question: what does it mean to be prepared, and what is meant by any event in this context?

Being prepared means having cultivated a mind broad, deep, and stable enough to accept the situation at hand as workable: not to get swept up in it as an object, like a wad of trash in a tornado, but instead as a subject aware of his or her responsibilities and capable of carrying on with them regardless of the tempting lures of desire and fear or other volatile emotions. In short, to develop patience (and here I am leaning on Gampopa again), one must deepen and broaden one's compassion to include all conceivable situations (thus, being prepared for any event): even if chased by a horde razorback hogs and a regiment of enraged rhinoceroses at full gallop over a cliff into a burnin' lake of fire, remember the precepts, remember mindfulness, remember the sufferings of others.

Here, compassion is understood as actively identifying with the sufferings of others.

Approached differently, to be patient means to meet people and all other living creatures where they are, not letting one's hangups get in the way of your great work. It is a quiet practice, not a performance at all. Pet peeves can be a particular test of patience in this context. You can't afford to ignore someone's dying words simply because she has the worst halitosis you've encountered, or because her socks don't match, or because she likes the wrong kind of music. More to the point, suffering beings are often unpleasant to be around for more than one reason, and can really push your buttons. You are responsible for your response in such a situation; it is up to you to make something out of it. Patience is a condition of possibility for skillful action.

In this way, you let the light of Dharma that is within you shine int all corners and all the hearts you meet, leaving sparks behind that may well grow in time. Most days, you need not say a word. Each instance of impatience gives you an opportunity to catch yourself, redouble your commitment, and try again again again ("again" is patience too, but it also anticipates the next paramita, that of persistent and vigorous energy).


  1. Thank you sincerely for this post on Ksanti. I really needed to read this right now.

    ~ Right back on the horse, Doko.

  2. Funny how patience is really the opposite of passivity. You have to do it and it definitely takes practice for all of us, myself included too.

  3. Well put. Something else to reflect on.

    ~ Thanks Jikan