Patient endurance is the supreme
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE that is highly praised within Buddhist circles, but not considered so terribly important in the materialist world, where efficiency and getting what we want instantly are far more desirable. With all the instant things that are produced now, as soon as we feel a desire, a need for something, we can get it quickly – and if we can't get it quickly we become very annoyed or upset and complain ... 'This country's going to the dogs.' We hear that all the time – don't we? – people complaining ... because if people are going on strike, or aren't efficient enough, quick enough to satisfy our desires, we have to wait and patiently endure.
Notice in sitting, when pain arises in your body, how impatient you become, automatically trying to get away from pain. If you have a fever or become sick, notice how you resent the inconvenience, the annoyance of the body, and try to get well to get away from pain as soon as possible.
The virtue of patience is probably the most important one for us to consider at this time, because if you don't have patience then of course spiritual development is an impossibility. So I might think, 'I'll take the instant Zen practice; I don't want to be bothered with that Theravada because it takes too long a time. I want to get enlightened instantly, quickly, so I don't have to wait around doing boring things, doing things that take time that I may not feel like doing. Maybe I can take a course, or take a pill, have some kind of machine and get enlightened quickly.' I remember when LSD first became known, people were saying that it was the quick way to enlightenment: 'You just swallow this tablet and you understand everything! You don't have to bother with ordination as a monk, and have to sit around in a monastery. Just take a pill and you'll be enlightened. Go to the chemist or the dope peddler ... and you don't have to commit yourself to anything.'
Wouldn't that be wonderful, if that was all one had to do? But then after a few trips on LSD, people began to realise that, somehow, the enlightening experience seemed to disappear, and you were left in an even worse state than ever. No patience.
In a monastery, the development of patience is a part of our way of life. In the forest monasteries of North-East Thailand, you have a chance to become very patient, because there life is much less efficient and you have to endure. You have to endure through all kinds of unpleasant physical experiences, such as malarial fevers, and the hot season. The hot season in the North-East is one of the dreariest things I've experienced in my life. You wake up in the morning and think, 'Not another day' – everything seems so deary. You think, 'Another hot day, an endless day of heat and mosquitoes and sweat.' A seemingly endless day, and one day after another.
And then one reminds oneself: 'What a wonderful opportunity for developing patience!' You hear about modern American ways to enlightenment where you can get involved in the most interesting kinds of personal relationships and scientific machinery, doing absolutely fascinating things to each other, and get enlightened. And here you are, sitting in the hot season, a hot, dreary day, endless, in which one hour seems like an eternity. You think, 'What am I doing here? I could be in California, having a fascinating life, doing fascinating things, getting enlightened quicker and more efficiently. California is much more advanced and with?it than the North-East of Thailand.' And then you receive letters from impatient Americans who have gone around the world, visited all the Ajahns. . . 'What am I doing here, sweating through my robes, being bitten by mosquitoes?'
And then you think: 'I'm developing patience. If I just learn to be patient in this lifetime, I've not wasted it. just to be a little more patient – it's good enough. I won't go to California, get caught up in those fascinating encounter groups, modern therapies and scientific experiments.... I'll just sit here and learn to be patient with a mosquito biting my arm ... learn to be patient with an endless, dreary hot season that seems to go on for ever.'
I also used to think: 'My mind is too alert and bright; I've got so much restless movement in my mind.' Because I had always wanted to have an interesting personality, I trained myself in that direction and acquired all sorts of useless information and silly ideas, so I could be a charming, entertaining person. But it doesn't really count – it's useless in a monastery in North-East Thailand – that mental habit just goes around in your mind when you're alone, with nobody to charm, and nothing's fascinating any more. Instead of becoming fascinating and charming – I could see there was no point in that – I started looking at the water buffaloes, and wondering what went on in their minds. A Thai water buffalo is one of the most stupid?looking creatures in the whole world. It's a big, clumsy thing, and it has the dullest-looking face. 'That's what I need, to sit in my kuti, sweating through my robes, trying to imagine what a water buffalo is thinking.' So I'd sit there and create in my mind an image of a water buffalo, becoming more stupid, more dull, more patient, and less of a fascinating and clever, interesting personality.
Just learning to be more patient with things as they are, with oneself – one's hang-ups, one's obsessive thoughts, restless mind ... and with the way things are externally. Like here at Chithurst – how many of you are really patient with Chithurst? I hear some of you complaining that you have to work too hard, or there's not enough of this, or you want more time, or you want.... There are too many people, not enough privacy the mind goes on, doesn't it? There's always some place that's better. But patience means that you endure through the way things are right now. How many of you would be willing to sit through a hot season in North-East Thailand? Or endure through a year of having some tropical disease, patiently, without wanting to go home and have mother take care of you?
We still have the hope that eventually enlightenment will make us a more interesting, with-it person than an unenlightened being: if you could just get enlightened you could surely increase the feeling of self-importance. But the Buddha-wisdom is a very humbling wisdom, and it takes a great deal of patience to be wise like Buddha. Buddha-wisdom isn't a particularly fascinating kind of wisdom – it's not like being a nuclear physicist, or a psychiatrist or a philosopher. Buddha-wisdom is very humbling, because it knows that whatever arises passes away and is not-self. So it knows that whatever condition of the body and mind arises, it is conditioned, and whatever arises passes away. And it knows the Unconditioned as the Unconditioned.
But is knowing the Unconditioned very interesting or fascinating? Try to think of knowing the Unconditioned – would that be interesting? You might think, 'I'd like to know God or Dhamma: it's going to be an incredibly fascinating thing to know, something blissful and ecstatic.' So you look in your meditation for that kind of experience. You think that getting high is getting close. But the Unconditioned is as interesting as the space in this room. The space in this room – is it very interesting to look at? It's not to me: the space in this room is like the space in the other room. The things in this room might be interesting or uninteresting or whatever – good, bad, beautiful, ugly – but the space ... what is it? There is nothing you can really say or think about it, it has no quality except being spacious. And to be able to be really spacious, one has to be patient.
As there is nothing one can grasp, one recognises space only by not clinging to the objects in the room. When you let go, when you stop your absorptions, judgements, criticisms and evaluations of the beings and the things in the room, you begin to experience the space of it. But that takes a lot of patience and humility. With conceit and pride we can form all our opinions ... about whether we like the Buddha?image or not, or the picture in the back, or the colour of the walls, whether we think the photograph of Ajahn Mun is an inspiring one, or the photograph of Ajahn Chah. But when we just sit here in the space ... the body starts becoming painful, we become restless, or sleepy. Then we endure, we watch and we listen. We listen to the mind – the complaining of the mind, the fears, the doubts and the worries – not in order to come up with some fascinating, interesting conclusions about ourselves as being anything, but just as a mere recognition, a bare recognition that all that arises passes away.
Buddha-wisdom is just that much: knowing the conditioned as the conditioned, and the Unconditioned as the Unconditioned. Buddhas rest in the Unconditioned, and no longer, unless it's necessary, seek absorption into anything. They are no longer deluded by any conditions, and they incline to the Unconditioned, the spaciousness, the emptiness, rather than towards the changing conditions within the space.
In your meditation now, as you incline towards the emptiness of the mind, towards the spaciousness of the mind, your habitual grasping, fascination, revulsions, fears, doubts and worries about the conditions lessen. You begin to recognise they're just things that come and go: they're not-self, nothing to get excited about or depressed about, they are as they are. We can allow conditions to be just as they are, because they come and go – their nature is to go away, so we don't have to make them go away. We're free and patient and enduring enough to allow things to take their natural course. In this way, we liberate ourselves from the struggle, strife, and the confusion of the ignorant mind that has to spend all its time evaluating and discriminating, trying to hold onto something, trying to get rid of something.
So reflect on what I've said, and take all the time in the world to endure the unendurable. What seems to be unendurable is endurable if you are patient. Be patient with others and with the world as it is, rather than always dwelling on what's wrong with it and how you'd like it to be if you had your way. Remember that the world happens to be as it is, and right now that's the only way it can be. The only thing we can do is be patient with it. It doesn't mean that we approve, or like it any the more. . . it means we can exist in it peacefully, rather than complaining, rebelling and causing more frictions and confusion, adding to the confusion through believing in our own confusion.