Patience Under Insult

Where does the greatest power lie? It lies in patience under insult. Those who are patient do not feel resentment and thus they are honored by all.

— Sutra in Forty-Two Sections

The Power of Patience

The patience we are discussing here is the kind of patience that is able to endure hardship, disgrace, calamity and bad luck. This kind of patience can triumph over anything. Remember, everything is transient. Nothing lasts forever. When we approach hardship with an attitude of acceptance and patience, we already have gone a long way toward improving our situation. What we resist persists. Patience should be our first response. When we allow our lives to be guided by patience and humility, we cannot go wrong.

The Patience of Rahula Sutra says:

Patience is clear and bright like sunlight or moonlight. The dragon and elephant are very strong, but even together they do not have a thousandth part of the strength of one who is patient. Common people believe jewels and treasures are the greatest things. They do not see the calamities they cause and the pain. The real, true treasure is patience for it always assures one of peace and it always treats others well and it always brings the greatest reward.

The Dharmapada says, “The best way to rid yourself of anger is through patience.”

The Importance of Patience

In this section we are mainly discussing “patience under insult” or “patience under disgrace” because insult and disgrace are the most difficult assaults most of us ever have to endure. Since we all are social beings, we all feel the sting of disgrace or the slap of insult more sharply than anything else. Hunger, fatigue, hard work, even illness and loss are generally easier for most people to bear than ridicule, disgrace or insult.

The Buddha was very wise and that is why he went straight to the heart of the matter in his discussions of patience. Being patient can be compared to accepting a burden, to recognizing a truth, to managing something, to sacrificing something, to making a resolution, to being courageous, to being fearless or to being wise.

Each of us will understand patience in our own way. This is because none of us needs to be patient except insofar as we have a false sense of self that feels the need to endure something it doesn’t like. Bodhisattvas have no need of patience. Advanced practitioners enjoy insults since they provide an excellent chance to learn and improve. Some people want to fight when they are insulted. Others want to cry. Others want to justify themselves. The responses are many. The cause is but one—the illusion of self has been stimulated to defend itself against a well-aimed attack. The cure is to understand that there is nothing to be attacked and there is no attack; both of them are empty.

You cannot feel insulted unless you are deluded. All anger is an illusion. To understand this is to understand the highest form of patience. At its highest level, patience is just another word for wisdom.

The Upasakasila Sutra says:

There are two kinds of patience: the patience of this world and the patience that transcends this world.

In the patience of this world, we learn to endure hunger, thirst, heat, cold, suffering, and joy.

In the patience that transcends this world we learn to be steady in belief, wisdom, generosity, compassion and open-mindedness. We learn to be steadfast in our loyalty to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and we learn to endure insults, beatings, taunting, evil plots against us, greed, anger, ignorance and all the other vile and humiliating things of this world. We learn to endure the unendurable and to accomplish the impossible. This is what is known as the patience that transcends this world.

There are four basic ways to face situations that may call for patience.

  1. When you are insulted, do not respond. Silence is the best answer.

  2. If you are to be beaten, become peaceful in your own mind. A peaceful mind can endure anything and it will always prevail in the end.

  3. When you must take the brunt of someone’s jealous hatred, return it with compassion. In the end, even a flicker of compassion can melt all the hatred in the world.

  4. When you are slandered and insulted, contemplate virtue and mercy. The sting of insult makes virtue grow while the absurdity of slander informs the mind of the importance of mercy.

How to Be Patient Under Insult and Disgrace

The Yogacarabhumi Sastra says that true patience under insult requires that we not become angry, that we not become resentful and that we not harbor evil thoughts.

Master Hanshan said, “If you want to follow the bodhisattva path, protect your true mind with patience under insult.”

In the Sutra of Bequeathed Teachings, the Buddha said, “Those who are able to be patient become powerful and great.”

True patience requires no energy. If you have to expend energy to be patient, you can be sure your patience will not last. Patience is found in resting in the spaces between thoughts. Patience is calm and nonjudgmental. It is humble and wise in that it does not expect to be first or to have everything go its own way all the time.

If you find yourself losing your patience, first, watch what you say. Be patient with speech. Don’t say something nasty. Second, be careful about your facial expression and your body language. Don’t express disapproval through your posture or attitude. Third, observe your mind. Untoward emotions in their basic states are nothing but surges of energy. If we do not label them as anger or impatience, we will find that they are valuable sources of energy. Fourth, remember that karma and conditions produce the appearance of a world around us. If we do not accept our conditions, we will not learn from them. If we do not learn from them, they will not change.

The Benefits of Patience

Patience brings many benefits. Patience teaches us and helps us grow quickly and efficiently toward full realization of the indwelling Buddha mind.

The four most basic benefits conferred by patience are:

  1. Patience dissipates anger
    The Avadanas say, “You must not repay anger with anger for anger must come to an end. By being patient you will bring an end to anger; this is the way of the Tathagata.”

    Patience exhausts more than just the anger the person who is being patient might feel. Patience exhausts the anger of all who are around it because it gives that anger nothing to feed on. Without fuel, anger cannot burn for long.

  2. Patience is a reliable refuge
    In this world of suffering and pain, patience is our only certain refuge. The Patience of Rahula Sutra says:

    There is no refuge in this world except reliance on patience. Patience is a peaceful dwelling where disasters cannot begin. Patience is an armor that a band of soldiers can not penetrate. Patience is a raft that will carry us across troubled waters. Patience is a medicine that can save our lives. The determination of one who is patient is strong enough to keep any vow.

  3. Patience is the source of great goodness
    Patience is a hidden virtue. It may not always be obvious to others, but it always produces much goodness. The Mahasamnipata says that patience is the highest virtue and the way to peace and happiness. It says that patience leads one out of isolation while providing one with the joys of a sage. The Mahasamnipata continues with a long list of the benefits of practicing patience. It says that patience can be a friend, improve your reputation, is loved by all the world, is a benefit in and of itself, is magnificent, brings one great power, and its light shines over the world. It achieves all happiness, creates success, defeats anger, eradicates suffering, produces a pleasant appearance, provides a good family, and receives many rewards. It is the best path, brings joy to people, achieves many wonderful things, removes all trouble, lengthens one’s lifespan, eradicates anger, and brings no harm to anyone. It does not steal, lie or indulge in sexual misconduct. It does not flatter or use harsh speech, become duplicitous, is not greedy or given to anger, is disconnected from all wrong views and wrong thoughts, always upholds the precepts, makes steady progress, aids meditation, increases Prajna wisdom and helps one fulfill the Six Paramitas.

  4. Patience is the source or cause of bodhi wisdom
    Patience under insult not only teaches us how to live among the beings in this world, it also teaches us how to become Buddhas ourselves.

    In the Patience of Rahula Sutra, the Buddha says, “Due to the practice of patience, I have attained Buddhahood and am revered by all worlds. Freely, I travel throughout the three realms.”

The Upasakasila Sutra says:

Even if your body were being hacked to pieces, you still should not become angry; you should contemplate deeply the causes of this karma and practice compassion and kindness toward all beings. If you are unable to be patient in little things, how will you be able to do the great work of helping all sentient beings? Patience under insult is the main cause of awakening in the bodhi mind. Anuttarasamyaksambodhi [complete enlightenment] is the result of being patient under insult. If you do not plant those seeds, then how can you expect to attain those results?