Lama Zopa Rinpoche: Practicing Patience

Practicing Patience by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Zopa Rinpoche gave this talk at Vajrapani Institute in May, 1997. It was transcribed and edited by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and is a chapter from A Chat about Heruka: Skillful Means to Take an Everlasting Holiday in the Pure Land of Vajrayogini, Tagpa Kacho, to be published by Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives.

Q. I’m not at the level yet where I can use meditation on emptiness or the illusory nature of phenomena as an antidote to my anger. When a problem is right in front of me, I try to remember emptiness, but the problem still seems enormous. What are some other tools to use to counteract the anger and avoid creating more negative karma?

If you meditate on emptiness, it doesn’t help? The problem arises while you’re meditating on emptiness? The problem arises while it’s empty? Maybe I’m also involved in the problem!

When you meditate on emptiness, the anger will stop because emptiness is a remedy for all the delusions. Why? Because it is the antidote to ignorance, which is the foundation of all the other delusions. So, the minute you meditate on emptiness, anger will stop. Anger arises when you believe in the false object, false I, false enemy, all these things which do not exist. When you believe they are true and really exist, anger arises. When you meditate on emptiness, you look at the truth of the I, the truth of the other person, so no foundation for anger exists. Thus it is the most powerful antidote for delusions. If anger arises after meditating on emptiness, it is because there is no continuation of the meditation. Because the mindfulness of emptiness has stopped, anger can arise.

First, you have to remember to use a meditation technique when you have a problem. Often not remembering to use a technique is a problem. But once you remember the technique and use it, it works. If you do not remember to apply a meditation technique, the delusion usually overwhelms you.

The first technique I recommend is to think about karma. This brings you back to the fundamental philosophy of Buddhism: no creator other than your own mind exists. Buddhists do not believe in God. Buddhists do not believe there is a creator of your life who has a separate mind from yours. This basic Buddhist tenet differentiates Buddhism from other religions that believe in a creator God. From a Buddhist viewpoint, no external being who creates your life exists. There is no other creator besides your own mind, your own karma.

Whatever happens in your life came from your own mind. Your aggregates—this association of body and mind, which includes your senses—the ways you view objects of the senses (forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile objects), and the feelings that arise by the senses contacting these objects are suffering in nature. Your whole world came from your mind because of the imprints of past karma—the positive, negative, and neutral karmic imprints left on your mindstream. These events and experiences are manifestations of those karmic imprints. Due to karmic imprints, you now have a human body, human aggregates. Your feelings of happiness or suffering are also due to the ripening of particular karmic imprints. Ultimately, all your experiences come from your mind.

Your aggregates, senses, your view of sense objects, and the feelings you experience through contacting them arise from karma. Karma is the mental factor of intention. Where did karma come from? From ignorance. When we speak of the twelve links of dependent arising, ignorance is the first. From it comes karma, and from karma come all the results you experience. All these came from your mind, not only from karma—the mental factor of intention—but also from the ignorance which is the root of samsara, the concept of an inherently existent I. This is the evolution of your happiness and suffering.

If your meditation on emptiness is not yet firm, then thinking about karma is very powerful to stop anger. The minute you think about karma, there is no place in the mind for anger because you see there’s no one and nothing to blame. Thinking of karma is putting into practice the basic Buddhist philosophy that there is no creator other than your mind. You need to apply that philosophy in your life. You shouldn’t just leave it as philosophy, written in your notebook which you put on the top shelf of your cupboard, but remember and apply it in your daily life, especially when you have problems. The philosophy of karma is very effective not only to discuss as a philosophy, but also to use in your life to calm your mind.

At the moment anger arises, your mind believes in a creator. You think that someone else is creating your problem. “The problem I’m experiencing came from that person.” That is similar to believing in an external creator. You have two opposite attitudes: you talk about karma and the philosophy of Buddhism and believe in it, but when you encounter difficulties in daily life, you think there is an external being who created it! Instead of practicing that there is no creator, you practice that there is a creator because the problem came from somebody else. “That person created my problem.” In daily life, you become just like practitioners of other religions; you practice there is a creator. Even you do not use the word “God,” you believe that there is a creator, somebody else who created your problem. With this as the basis, anger arises.

But the minute you think that you are the creator, that your mind is the creator, that all this came from the karma you created, you know there is nothing outside to blame, so there is no basis for anger to arise. The wish to retaliate and harm someone else is based on believing that the other person is harming you, that you are an innocent victim who has nothing to do with the problem.

Generating Compassion and Its Benefits

Thinking about karma first is powerful because it sets the foundation. On top of this, meditate on emptiness or compassion or any of the other techniques. In chapter six of The Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva said:

Previously I must have caused similar harm
To other sentient beings.
Therefore, it is right for this harm to be returned
To me who is the cause of injury to others.

Thinking this way is useful. It stops the mind that thinks we should be able to harm others, but we should not receive any harm from them. That thought is very illogical. That is why Shantideva said to think, “I deserve to receive this harm. That is, it is natural for me to receive harm, because I harmed others in the past.” In the same text, Shantideva also said:

Having been instigated by my own actions,
Those who cause me harm come into being.
If by these (actions) they should fall into hell,
Surely isn’t it I who am destroying them?

In other words, think, “Who started all this? It’s not the other person. I started it because my karma—the harmful actions I did in previous lives—made this to happen. In the past, I mistreated this sentient being, and that made the connection for me to receive harm now. My karma has persuaded the person to harm me now. By the other person harming me, he is creating negative karma, and that will cause him to take rebirth in the lower realms.” Question yourself, “Didn’t my action instigate what will be a very unfortunate situation for the other person?” Thinking this will help you to generate compassion for the other person, and when compassion is in the mind, anger is not.

In this way, you use the fact that the person is harming you to develop compassion for him. You use the problem to generate compassion and bodhicitta for him. By generating bodhicitta, you will able to actualize the entire Mahayana path to enlightenment, including the six paramitas, the sutra path and the tantra path. You will be able to cease all the mistakes of mind, complete all realizations of the path, and attain enlightenment. Depending on this person who is harming you, you will receive all these benefits. Due to his kindness and your generating compassion for him, in the future you will be able to free all sentient beings from suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. Being able to offer such incredible benefit to all sentient beings in the future comes due to the kindness of this person. By his harming you, he caused you to generate compassion, which is the root of the Mahayana path.

Also you can think, “This person is so precious and kind because due to him I can receive all the benefits of practicing patience. Developing compassion for one sentient being—him—will enable me later to generate compassion for all sentient beings.” This person is so kind and precious because he is helping you to stop harming all sentient beings and to have compassion for them. By your ceasing to harm them and benefiting them instead, sentient beings will have so much peace and happiness. The opportunity for you to offer all this peace and happiness to all sentient beings came from this person who gave you the chance to practice patience.

The Dharma has many different ways to think to counteract anger. Already we discussed thinking of karma, cultivating compassion, and remembering the benefits of practicing patience. There are others as well. You should apply the ways that are most effective for your mind. Geshe Wangyal translated a collection of advice from the Kadampa masters into English. In it, are six techniques for practicing patience. You may want to write them down or memorize them so that you can use them when the situation arises.

Shantideva explained, as did Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo in Liberation in Your Palm, a technique that is very effective for using the harm received by another person to develop compassion for him. If someone beats you with a stick, you usually do not get angry at the stick because it has no freedom; it is under the control of the person. Similarly, the person is under the control of her anger. She isn’t free; she has become a slave of her anger. Therefore, this person, who is not free and who is controlled by her anger, is only an object of compassion. Don’t just leave it at that, but take the responsibility to pacify that person’s anger. “I must do something to pacify her anger by whatever means I can find to help her mind.” If you can do nothing now to help directly, then pray to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to pacify her anger.

I Need Someone to Hate Me

His Holiness the Dalai Lama normally encourages us to meditate on the kindness of that person, to see that he is precious and kind just like the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Guru. Why is that person kind? If no one gets angry at you, you can never develop patience. Think, “If everybody loves me, I will never be able to develop patience, that precious and essential quality of mind on the path to enlightenment. I cannot practice this if everyone loves me, if no one gets angry at me. Therefore, I need someone to be angry at me. I really need this in my life. It’s so important that somebody is angry at me.”

That person’s anger is not precious to that person, but for you has become very precious. For the other person, his anger is torture. It throws him into the lower realms. “For that person his anger is terrible, but for me his being mad at me is so precious, so essential.” Normally, you say you need somebody to love you. You feel that need so deeply inside. Now, just like that, you think you need somebody to hate you. Someone not liking you is even more important than someone loving you. Why? Because someone loving you does not help you to actualize the path to enlightenment. It doesn’t help you cultivate the qualities needed to benefit all sentient beings. But if someone harms you and you transform your mind into patience, then the path to enlightenment lies open in front of you. If you practice patience, your anger will evaporate, and other sentient beings will not receive harm from you. They will receive only peace and happiness from you through your great patience. So this person is most kind because he gives you the precious opportunity to do this. His being mad at you is like a wish-fulfilling jewel.

The Disadvantages of Anger

Reflecting on the disadvantages of anger is also useful. Anger destroys your merit. It destroys not only your happiness now, in this life, but also your long-term happiness, your opportunity to attain liberation and enlightenment. It is a great obstacle to realizing bodhicitta, because you can’t have great love and compassion for sentient beings if you can’t stand them. In addition, depending on whom you get angry at, your receiving realizations may be delayed for many thousands of eons. The Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life mentions that getting angry one time delays realizations one thousand eons. However, this person being angry at you gives you the opportunity to practice patience. “Due to this, I will be able to overcome my anger. I’ll be able to complete the paramita of patience, fulfill the two collections, cease all obscurations in my mind, and realize the entire path to enlightenment. I’ll be able to free all sentient beings from suffering and lead them to enlightenment.” All this infinite benefit you can offer to all sentient beings comes from practicing patience for that person, and that depends on her harming you. So you can see that her anger at you is very important and necessary in your Dharma practice.

When you are upset, you can also think about impermanence and death. Your death could happen today, so what’s the point of getting angry? Thinking in this way is very powerful. Also, think that this person could die at any time. This helps us to let go of our anger and to generate patience and compassion for the other person.

Practicing patience does not mean you withdraw and hide. It does not mean you avoid finding solutions to problems. You have responsibilities, so you have to use your compassion and wisdom as much as possible to solve problems. As His Holiness says, when it is beyond your capacity to solve the problem, you have to rely on higher objects, the Triple Gem, for aid. In the meantime, use your abilities and do what you are able to do. Most important is to cultivate patience, the ability to remain calm in confront of problems and harm. To do this, use whichever techniques are most powerful for you.