In our society, some people believe that to be content is cease striving in life. Some people also believe that tolerance is a sign of passivity and the lack of will to improve. However, happiness flows from contentment and peace from tolerance.
Contentment may appear to be conservative, but it is the way to peace and happiness in life. Buddhist teachings encourage people to have benevolent goals, such as seeking knowledge, helping others, emulating the saints and sages, and overcoming worries and temptations. All of these inspire and motivate us to live better lives. On the other hand, there are defiled cravings, such as being greedy for money, sex, fame, fortune, narcotics, or luxury items. If we do not control our inappropriate cravings for sensual pleasures and are not content with what we have, we will lose ourselves.
Tolerance may seem to me passively letting oneself be at a disadvantage, but in truth, it requires great strength and wisdom. Tolerance is a powerful force. The Emperor Xuan of the Zhou Dynasty asked famed cockfighting master Ji Shengzi to train a fighting cock. However, after the latter accepted the job, he failed to report back for more than a month. The emperor was impatient and summoned him to the court. Ji replied, “It is not ready yet. This animal is arrogant by nature. It can only make a deceptive show of strength. If there is a strong opponent, he will be defeated in no time!”
The emperor waited for many more days and asked again. The reply was, “The cock is still not calm enough. Once it hears other cocks calling, it charges. It is not the way a real fighter should be!” The emperor was disappointed and eventually stopped inquiring. But one day, Ji reported, “Great Emperor! The fighting cock is now well-trained. Now, when the other cocks call, it appears to not hear them. When the other cocks jump, it seems as though he does not see them. He is like a wooden cock, steady and composed, complete in his abilities and well-groomed in his conduct. As soon as the other fighting cocks see him, they all run away quickly. Winning without even fighting is the sign of a true fighting cock.”
Ji’s training standards for fighting cocks suggests that a person should not just recklessly push forward. Without great wisdom, benevolence, and courage, one cannot cultivate tolerance. If a person is unable to tolerate others, how can there be peace? There is the saying that “peace flows from tolerance”. Tolerance is the gate to many wondrous achievements. Saints and sages of the past were all strengthened by tolerance. Confucius tolerated hunger and his disciple, Yen Hui, poverty. Huai Yin tolerated insults and Lou Gong tolerated slander.
Contentment comes from controlling our cravings for material things, reining in of our love and emotions, and the strength to overcome temptations. Craving is like a wild horse, and contentment is the reins. We must tame our cravings with the reins of contentment so that we will not be enslaved by them. Anger is like a sharp knife, and tolerance is the armor of the warrior. When our spirit is fortified by the armor of tolerance, we will not be endangered when life turns into a battlefield.
Contentment is supreme wealth. Venerable Master Fushang traveled to sparsely populated areas to beg for alms and to teach. Chan Master Damei Fachang survived on fruit and dressed in lotus leaves. There are many more examples throughout history where sages actively lived with just enough to get by. It was not that they did not understand the value of riches. They just refused to be enslaved by their desires. Many heroes and warriors retired to the countryside to till the soil. It was not that they feared fighting on the battlefield. They wished to pursue peace and quiet.