Khanti pāramī : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
And how is a bhikkhu one who patiently endures? Here, a bhikkhu patiently endures cold and heat; hunger and thirst; contact with flies, mosquitoes, wind, the burning sun, and serpents; rude and offensive ways of speech; he is able to bear up with arisen bodily feelings that are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, harrowing, disagreeable, sapping one’s vitality. It is this way that a bhikkhu is one who patiently endures.
– from AN 4.114, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Many of us don’t experience the challenges that the Buddha describes above; we (mostly) are well-fed and relatively comfortable. Often, I think I live in paradise. But at some time in our lives, elements of what the Buddha is talking about come to all of us. A family member is disabled or becomes mentally ill; a job is lost and we have to move to less desirable housing; someone close to us dies or moves far away; we and our loved ones become old and frail, sometimes including gradual dementia. None of these situations are strange to us; unless we live in a bubble, we know people with these challenges.
When faced with difficulties, how do we respond? Is our first reaction “Why me?” An old joke tells of a woman 90+ years old who is told she has an untreatable illness. She looks incredulously at the Dr. and whines, “Why me?”, completely taken by surprise that she might have to face the end of her life. Do we have the same reaction when something we love is broken? When the traffic is inexplicably terrible?
How about when our children turn away from us, refuse contact? How can we cope with the embarrassment, the rejection, the sense of failure and helplessness? Khanti offers a way.
Just as the Buddha’s monks had to endure the vagaries of weather, insects, hunger, being scorned, and illness as a matter of course, we have our own set of pains and difficulties that can “sap our vitality”. With patient endurance and forbearance, we can see that we have not been singled out for punishment; these are normal events in a normal life. It’s only in fairy tales that people live happily ever after. The rest of us will have to find inner peace within the maelstrom that is modern life. Breathe, carry on. It’s OK.