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Nomon Tim Burnett : Paramitas - Patience Beyond Patience (Kshanti)

Wednesday, September 09, 2015 8:30 PM | Talus Latona (Administrator)

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Tim's talk notes, including the Mary Oliver poem he read. The actual talk departs from these notes a good deal.

I had the opportunity to listen to Talus's wonderful talk about the 3rd perfection practice- the perfection of shila. Of ethics and precepts. The practice of living in a deeply ethical and caring way.


I appreciate Talus bringing our attention back to the intention to explore these 6 wonderful practices of generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom. And that we all do need to pick up yak poop sometimes. It was a really wonderful talk wasn't it? What a wonderful combination of Buddhist stories, personal reflections, and integration in the deep thought of emptiness. If you missed it please listen online. And there coincidentally we can thank Talus who's taken on the task of putting our talks online the very night they're given. Wonderful


I'm continuing to wonder about the practice of play.


And I realized that play fits right into the next perfection practice on the list.




I thought we'd explore a bit the third of these, the perfection of patience.  Ksantiparamita.


Ksanti means "unaffected by" or "able to bear". Thought it's most often translated as patience we can also think of tolerance. When we hear patience we think of virtuous patient people. Patience as a quality of personality. That's not exactly what's meant here. And we think of tolerance we think of putting up with stuff. Tolerating we don't think of as an ultimate virtue, more a kind of temporary way to hang on.


So paramita  is an usual kind of modifier word. It means not the ordinary patience, a deeper kind of patience than that. Sometimes it's translated as "perfection of patience" which is a bit intimidating, or "patience beyond patience" which has a nice quality of movement and practice even if it's still a little intimidating.


Our Buddhist understanding turns patience and tolerance around a little.


Our minds always go first to me and mine. We feel separate. How can I be patient. I. When I sit down to try to write out my thoughts my mind goes there too. How am I patient sometimes and not other times. What can I say in this talk that might be useful to you in trying to be patient with this topsy turvy life and world.


We start there and return there when we think about ourself. The self turns inward. It's how we're wired.


And then we sit down and practice and the space opens up. We feel our way into a wider understanding, a broader feeling of self and other. A self that includes others eases into view. A self that isn't so separate. A self that instead of trying to be patient with others can merge with others.


And as we sit we see that there are many selves inside our heads too. And that these practices of patient and generosity and energy and wisdom apply equally well in this cacophony of being that we call "me".


The 5th of those practices, meditation helping us to understand a dimension of patience, and the sixth wisdom always supporting all of these to go wider and deeper.


So a possible gloss here on the confusing Buddhist term not-self. Not that we don't have an experience of self, of course we do, but it's one we can dance with. I'm not a fisherman but the idea of catch and release comes to mind.  Are we the fish or the fisherman? It depends doesn't it?


The self catches us, we get hooked, and of course we're impatient. Things aren't the way we'd like. Sometimes that desire for things to be different is itself quite virtuous and noble, we want justice, we want human institutions to stop raping the earth, we want the madness in the Middle East to stop. Other times that desire for things to be other than the way they are is quite selfish - it's a little embarrassing isn't it? We want everyone to like us, we want a better office, we want a different assignment, we want the zendo schedule this way not that way, we want our partner to clean up their piles.


Other times we're the fisherperson. Oh you poor tense "me" - I know you can relax about that. I know you can accept that the only way forward to accept things completely as they are. Not just to accept but to appreciate. We gently pull that hook of desire and separation out of our fish and gently ease it back into the stream to swim a little more freely.


Dogen liked to use this metaphor of fish and fishermen and water too. It's hard for us to get unstuck from our self focused point of view, a little imagery can be helpful sometimes. The last time you were hooked by something what was that like? Were you the fish or the fisher-person? What had to shift before the hook came out?


Patience. How can we be deeply patient and tolerant with all of it? It's not easy sometimes. We have a homeless person sleeping sometimes in our back garden at the zendo now for instance. I've noticed a real diversity of reactions in our sangha members. Invite him in or shoo him away "this is private property you can't be here!" He was kind of hanging around in back for a while and then he came inside. Very respectfully taking his shoes off and seeking out "the priest" for a blessing of his special ring. Josiah turns out to be his name. A little smelly maybe but very appropriate. We say save all beings, so here's one now. Practicing patience as engagement instead of turning away.


Chris and I did our best to create a little blessing ceremony on the spot. I felt a little like I was making stuff up and patronizing him, that feeling was there, but also a feeling of just trying to meet him where he was and be of help, that was there to. Can I be patient with these different tides and currents inside me as I'm practicing patience with this interruption from somehow a little outside the neuro-typical mainstream where I'm more comfortable?


After we blessed his special ring he started telling me about a device he'd made of sacred gems that will save the world. It's 90% done. He wanted to show it to us and tell us all about it.  We were about to have a Practice Committee meeting it wasn't the right time for one thing, but for another I could feel that my inner resources to engage with him were running a little low. So I asked him to show us the device another time. Then patience seemed to be engaging him kindly and telling him we were done for now.  That felt good too. Off he went. It will be interesting to see how practicing with Josiah goes now that we've connected to this extent.


But so often we can't merge with what's happening. We resist, we try to manage it. We push away. We put up with.


There's a kind of unsustainable quality to the idea of patience and tolerance as me putting up with stuff from you. Me putting up with having to wait in line. Me putting up with someone else foibles. Or even me putting up with my own foibles. There's a kind of separation there, a kind of line between me and it, me and you.


The Buddhist idea of perfection of patience of kashanti is a fuller engagement than that. A merging with what is. Whether it's a desirable state or an undesirable state we enter into it and are able to be with it.


But goodness it doesn't take much from the outside to destabilize us does it? We can come up with plenty of worry and trouble on our own. Here's a Mary Oliver poem called "I Worried"


I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers 

flow in the right direction, will the earth turn 

as it was taught, and if not how shally 

I correct it? 


Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, 

can I do better? 


Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows 

can do it and I am, well, 



Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, 

am I going to get rheumatism, 

lockjaw, dementia? 


Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. 

And gave it up. And took my old body 

and went out into the morning, 

and sang.


How we know our worries, and she studies them quite carefully there, feel them and let them go?


I think a big part of the practice is this releasing from the story line. The story of what's happening. So and so said this or that. They aren't agreeing with my position so I need to convince them. I am good, I am bad. Our busy minds are so good at rolling forward with the story. It's so compelling. So important. So critical. We're hooked again.


Can we rise up internally out of that a little bit and look at the territory instead? What's the feeling? What are the mental habits at play?


Just naming "worry" as "worry" helps a lot.


The examples of patience and tolerance in the Buddhist literature can be pretty intense. There's a deeper possibility here than skillfully being patient in little bursts with our worries and with the Josiah's that wander in.


In one of the Prajna Paramita texts we find this suggestion for Bodhisattvas:


A bodhisattva should not be afraid if he finds himself in a wilderness infested by robbers. For bodhisattvas take pleasure in the wholesome practice of renouncing their belongings. A bodhisattva must cast away even her body, and he must renounce all that is necessary for life itself. She should react to the danger with the thought, "if those beings take away from me everything that is necessary for life, then let that be my gift to them. If someone should rob me of my life, I should feel no ill will, anger or fury on account of that. Even against them, I should take no offensive action, either by body, voice of mind.


There's also a lovely story somewhere of the Buddha in a previous life cheerfully being chopped up by robbers, so this theme is repeated in various places.


Patience and tolerance not just as putting with a few inconveniences but as a willingness to let go over everything if we think it will help other beings. The first paramita of generosity and this paramita of patience and tolerance are tightly connected. Well really all 6 are connected. We help others because we are ethical, we bring forward good energy to do so, we practice meditation so that the mind can be balanced and stable enough for all of this to work and we free ourselves from separation and limited views through our practice of wisdom.


Generosity, ethical living, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom. That's the plan.


There's a wonderful book on the Paramitas by the Buddhist scholar Dale Wright and he points out that in contrast to this Buddhist view, which was practiced by monastics in another culture, we have the Western view of righteous anger. There are some things in that view not to be so patient about in that frame.


Or maybe the true patient response look more like anger and opposition than acceptance.


He points out that Aristotle came to regard anger as a virtue actually. That the ideal person, the Greeks were all about how the ideal person comports him or herself, takes a kind of middle way approach to anger in the face of injustice. He said we should find a balance between being an irascible person who is always getting angry and a nonirascible person who never gets angry.


The irascible person is a kind of hothead, whether she's ranting on Facebook or the head of a big activist organization, destabilized and confused by his anger. And the nonirascible person is shut down, cowardly, apathetic - not able to rise to the occasion when a strong response is needed.


Aristotle's ideal person uses anger skillfully to help beings. That person may oppose things strongly but thanks to their clear headedness, remember reason was the big virtue for the Greeks, she uses that anger energy wisely. And the response doesn't look like so much like patience.


And Buddha's monastic students just let go and figure that this karmic purity of the act of not fighting, of acceptance, of giving away even their bodies, will eventually in the long long game of Buddhist understanding be the most beneficial for beings.


I think we need both approaches. A question of how we balance all of this. Or maybe balance here isn't quite right. Can we merge the two. Can we be energetic in our patience? Active but with a still core. Swimming hard but knowing that we're a fish on the line right now but it seems that tugging hard on that line might actually help. The hand of suffering holding the fishing rod might just wake up a little bit.


And the stability of the practice, and the insight into our minds supported by the practice may make this possible. Generosity, ethical living, energy, meditation and wisdom with our patience, supporting our patience, integrated with our patience. And through it all I think our most powerful tool is a kind of radical acceptance. What is, is. This can be understated.


A contemporary story from the wonderful Hidden Lamp collection [from which Talus got his story of the Thai nun]:


Crying in despair, an earnest student asked her teacher Seisho Maylie Scott, "I've worked so hard to transform this crippling loneliness. I can neither shake it nor live with it can you help me?"


Holding the student in a steady gaze and offering her confident smile, Maylie ended the conversation with, "Please do not ever think anything is out of place."


Patience beyond patience, tolerance beyond tolerance. Can our practice support us in jumping out of the storyline. Feeling the hook and having some wisdom about whether to cut the line or just go ahead and tug. Feeling the water around us.


Is the loneliness or the anger or the narrowness a problem? Is the powerful, gripping idea that loneliness or anger or even impatience itself is unacceptable - unbearable - is that the problem?


Can we be with what is? It just is. What does loneliness feel like to you. What does anger feel like? What does pushing away feel like?


Can we just be in, just be with, just be what is?


 Just being is such a powerful salve for our wounded hearts.


What does patience feel like to you. What does non-patience feel like. How do you respond to those states when they arise?




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