The Parami of Patience

by | Sep 19, 2018

Our lives are busy. We run from one activity to another. Traffic is  clogged, our workmates are sometimes a great challenge, the world around us seems to be falling apart. The daily news cycle brings worrisome news of disasters and disorder of all kinds. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated.

The Buddha set a task for himself. What are the reasons humans are such a mess? He had enjoyed a princely life as a pampered son and future heir to land, riches and comforts of every kind. Yet he walked away from the life he was born to to become a wandering monk.

What did he leave for us like a trail of pebbles in the forest? He left the triple jewel, the four noble truths, the eightfold path and many other teachings which offered us a way to liberation from our distress. The paramis are not considered the first teachings of the Buddha but part of later instructions. Regardless, these attributes of the heart/mind are worth exploring in modern life.

The paramis are called perfections. It is said that they are a wisdom teaching practiced by boddhisatvas, being who have dedicated themselves to the liberation of all beings. But anyone is invited to explore these attributes for themselves.The paramis are these-generosity (dana), virtue (sila), renunciation (nekkhamma), wisdom (pañña), energy (viriya), patience (khanti), truthfulness (sacca), determination (aditthana), equanimity (upekkha) and lovingkindness (metta). Here I would like to talk about the parami of patience.

This week I watched the Jane Goodall documentary called ‘Jane’. It chronicled her life in Gombe with chimpanzees over many years. What struck me was her willingness to be open to an unfamiliar country and a seemingly impossible task; observe wild chimps in their natural habitat and document their activities. She had no training. She wasn’t a scientist. She had a lifelong desire to go to Africa and she was curious about animals. She sat for six months with a pair of field glasses, waiting for a chimp family to reveal themselves. Day after day she encountered chimps who would run away from her. Day after day, for six months. Her patience was remarkable, unnerving even. But she was exactly where she wanted to be, in Africa, watching animals. Then one day the alpha male didn’t run away. He allowed her to be in his sphere with him and slowly the whole troop of chimps came to trust Jane enough for her to be among them.

I was struck by her cheerful, unhurried waiting. How often do we find ourselves waiting impatiently for traffic, for lines in the grocery store, for the weather to change, for our discomfort to end? What do we notice if we drop our distracted impatience and begin to relax into the situation as it is? I was reminded by a friend that as womxn we have been told to be patient-eventually we’ll get the vote, eventually we’ll be paid the same wages, we’ll have the same rights and agency as men. We have been complicit in the bad behavior of our male counterparts for far too long. That is not really patience.

True patience sees the truth. Within patience is generosity and kindness. Equanimity is also present in patience. True patience is not passive or helpless. To stand in patience is to stand with strength. Cultivating the ability to wait for clear knowing in the midst of confusion and fear is what the wise would approve of.