Kshanti: Patience & Forbearance

July 7, 2016

The Sanskrit word, kshanti, is generally translated as patience. It is also translated as endurance and as forbearance. Patience is defined as the capacity to bear pains or trials calmly or without complaint; manifesting forbearance under  provocation or strain; not being hasty or impetuous; being steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity. The way of Patience is vast and the living of it is all-encompassing. The words endurance and forbearance point to the many variations of the experience

Endurance is not always the calm that patience implies and yet, with stillness overriding the impulse to act, it remains endurance. Even when abiding as anguish and not as the calm we associate with the word patience, it remains endurance. Endurance implies the survival of hardship pr adversity, however one managed to survive them. It is not the experience of a moment. It is an experience lived over time. Sometimes it is an experience lived over generations. Endurance is a slightly different dharma gate than patience.

Forbearance also means endurance, but it carries with it the feeling of restraint. It is not only surviving adversity, but controlling one’s impulse to lash out against the perceived cause of the adversity. This, too, is a slightly different dharma gate. There are many reasons for controlling the impulse to lash out. Not all of those reasons are grounded in the dharma of no-self or of self as other.  We may fear of punishment or retaliation.  We may feel disempowered and lack a sense of agency or the ability to influence our own reality. We may be stunned by hardship into confusion, unable to work out a solution to our adverse circumstances. To stay in such confusion is to risk an outburst that deepens our own suffering and possibly extends it to others. Patience may be calm, but it is passive at its own risk.

Patience, endurance, and forbearance need a long, clear view of being. A long, clear view needs relinquishment and discipline. As we practice the paramitas we see how they are entangled and interdependent. As we practice this Way, we understand more and more deeply that it is the practice of lifetimes.

Shantideva was a 7th/8th century Indian monk at the monastic university of Nalanda. In the teaching we call The Way of the Bodhisattva he outlines the bodhisattva (awakening being) path from the first thought of awakening to the opening into wisdom and compassion. This path corresponds to the way of the paramitas. In the verses about kshanti, or patience he begins:

Good works gathered in a thousand ages,
Such as deeds of generosity,
Or offerings to the blissful ones—
A single flash of anger shatters them.

And also true is the reality that Oneness cannot be torn into separate parts. Isness is the nature of Oneness or Oneness is the nature of Isness. A single flash of anger can send a ripple of suffering.