Shantideva Aug 1 2009


Question 1. Explain the commonly heard phrase “we are our own worst enemies” from a Buddhist perspective. Focus specifically on how it relates to the practice of patience.

Question 2. What’s the difference between true patience and a “grit your teeth and bear it” attitude?

Question 3. We live in a very fast paced culture where in some ways, patience is no longer considered a virtue — it’s almost been made obsolete, or irrelevant; perhaps it’s even archaic. What advice would you give to the many people who turn to the Dharma in times of distress during their lives and then give up their Dharma practice because they lack patience?

Meditation (you don’t need to prepare a written response for this)

Is it easier for you to be patient with others or with yourself?

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7 thoughts on “Shantideva Aug 1 2009

  1. 1) We are “our own worst enemies” when we do not guard our minds, as our unsubdued minds cause us greater harm than any external conditions possibly could. The mind must be kept under control and we must guard and watch our thoughts through discipline and analysis. We must train in skillful mindfulness so we habituate our minds to positive thinking, actions and peaceful well being. This requires heaps of patience and constant practice. Shantideva states in chapter 6 verse 9 “Even if I fall into extreme adversity, I should not disrupt my happiness.”

    2) “Grit your teeth and bear it” speaks to a situation which has already disrupted one’s peace of mind and one is tolerating a situation, not taming or controlling it. True patience is calm endurance without losing self control. Shantideva states in chapter 6 verse 7 “Finding its fuel in discontent originating from an undesired event and from an impediment to desired events, anger becomes inflamed and destroys me.”

    • Exactly — the true enemy lies within — external enemies are the result of our own delusions and karma. The only lasting way to get rid of external enemies is by uprooting our self-cherishing minds. See for example chapter 4 v. 32, “All other enemies are incapable Of remaining for such a long time As can my disturbing conceptions, The long-time enemy with neither beginning nor end.”

    • Regarding the second question, you’re definitely on the right track. Another key difference is that bodhisattvas REJOICE in hardship, they gladly endure sufferings for the benefits of others. So for them, they wouldn’t really grit their teeth in the first place.

  2. 3) Suffering will cycle in our lives and only reoccur until we train the mind to turn from it’s habitual patterns of self cherishing and wrong view. Be patient with yourself, through suffering we are encouraged to practice the dharma. When things are going well and one is happy it is easy not to be focused on dharma study and practice because one selfishly does not feel in need. So, suffering provides us with the urge to practice, to reflect, to consider other sentient beings and their suffering, to train in being compassionate. So, to this person I would say this is common to all of us, this self cherishing I , we should contemplate the disadvantages of living for one’s self only and know that everything becomes easier through habituation. So, practice this positive mind and train. As Shantideva says in chapter 6 verse 14
    “There is nothing whatsoever that remains difficult as one gets used to it. Thus through habituation with slight pain, even great pain becomes bearable.” The “battle is with mental afflictions.”

    • What a beautiful response! I think some people get frustrated because this type of spiritual development doesn’t happen over night. We need to take baby steps and keep our expectations ‘no to low’ and be realistic — this can take eons.

      In the short term, assess if there’s a difference in the outcome of a difficult situation when you act with a positive motivation and practice patience versus the probable result if you had acted in a self-cherishing manner. Usually the difference is obvious even in the most trivial situations.

      Bear in mind the long term karmic consequences as well and how the sufferings that we are experience today are merely the ripening of actions perfomed in the past. Don’t kick back and get lazy when life is good because you never know precisely when things will take a down-turn — it’s unavoidable.

      So, if we are careful and act in a virtuous manner today, we will create fewer causes/reasons for being patient in the future, LOL!

  3. Q1: There is no benefit in engaging in anger and no fortitude like patience. The phrase that ‘we are our own worst enemies’ could mean from a Buddhist perspective that we engage often in activities with our body, speech and mind that has no benefit. Anger breeds anger, patience breeds compassion. In our Buddhist practice the aim is to cultivate compassion and learn how to love other people, therefore we are our own worst enemies in that we forget what to adopt and what to discard.

    Q2: True patience has to do with a determination to honor and strive for the truth and cultivate compassion; it is also a commitment to mind training. When you grit and bear it there is more of an attitude to follow social norms and not a commitment to mind training in love and compassion.

    Q3: I would suggest to read the Way of the Bodhisattva and try to understand the longer perspective of 3 eons. Also I would suggest the idea that negative emotions fuel the climate in which we find patience lacking in value/ Also, sometimes when you are very patient people notice and become happy.

    It is not possible to persuade someone that Dharma is valuable, but I could remind someone that the world is controlled in a large degree by beings that are under the control of negative emotions and ignorance. With Dharma negative emotions can be lessened and that is both a personal benefit and one that benefits the world. Therefore it is valuable to see the responsibility to practice dharma and the importance of thinking about others.

    • Q1. That’s an interesting comment — you’re right, we can be our own worst enemies simply by wasting our precious human rebirths pursuing meaningless activities instead of practicing Dharma and helping ourselves and others.

      Q2. Another good point — I was thinking of people in the service industries like waiters who have to bite their tongues and be polite to their customers no matter how rude they are. So that is a situation where social norms (and the threat of losing your pay check) can force you to control yourself at least temporarily. Of course, you might release all your pent up anger on your boyfriend after work, or drown it in a six pack. As you mentioned true mind training prevents anger from rising in the first place.

      Q3. I like the way you pointed out how it’s our personal responsibility to practice Dharm and how the world is ultimately a collection of individuals. A student asked Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche how to end violent conflicts between nations from a Buddhist perspective. He replied that the only way is for each individual to practice mind training, there’s no alternative. Peace chas to be in the minds of each and every citizen.

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