The most often used translation of ksanti in western commentaries and teachings is patience. Like innumerable words in the English language, ksanti can have different meanings depending on the context. In the essay, “The Psycho-semantic Structure of the Word kṣānti (Ch. Jen)” in the 7-10-2016 edition of Buddhism.org, Sungtaek Cho points to at least seven different meanings of ksanti that are not patience. In fact Cho states the majority of uses in the early sutras and subsequent commentaries do not translate as patience. Most of these indicate that it has a complex meaning which at their core, point to the activity of the mind that notices, and then turns the attention or focus away from, habitual tendencies and toward the actuality or the nature of what is, or simply: goodness.
For example, in meditation practice when we find that we are wandering the wonderful canyons of memories or planning the day ahead, we notice that and turn the attention back to the breath or point of focus of that practice. When waiting in a long line and we are late for an appointment, we may choose to turn the attention away from frustration, anger, fear and toward an inquiry about the reactivity or toward kindness and compassion for other folks who might be experiencing the same struggles. When we stumble or fumble or just can’t keep up due to the body losing capacities because of illness or aging, we have an opportunity to turn the mind’s focus away from self deprecation, doubt or despair and toward a contemplation of impermanence.
As I was reflecting on patience this week, inquiring into the causes and conditions that contribute to patience in this body-mind-life, I noticed that the first step was always noticing that I was in an habitual reactive state. Secondly, letting loose of the attachment to an agenda or a fixed idea about the experience, myself or another. Then third, to attend to the breath or the senses or to practice seeing what was happening through the qualities of kindness, compassion, peace… or any generative practice. Fourth, acting from that seeing.
From this perspective patience is not just the acts of waiting, refraining, or subduing negative thoughts, emotions, or actions. Those are merely the result or symptoms of “the activity of the mind that notices and then turns the attention or focus away from habitual tendencies and toward the actuality or the nature of what is, or simply goodness.” Patience is the first awareness of “negative” thoughts or emotions all the way through making a choice to turn away, turning away, and choosing to attend to what’s really happening. In other words, ksanti in all of its uses and contexts is this complete patience.
The acts of waiting, refraining, or subduing “negative” tendencies without the understanding of the causes of anger, impatience, fear, doubt… and without the confidence in the practice of turning away from the habitual tendencies of the regular mind stream and turning toward actuality, are only the reflections of the pure, transcendent practice of patience. These acts of restraint are noble and beneficial and can prevent further suffering, and they are like the beauty of the moon’s reflection in a still pond. It will waver when the pond is disturbed or disappear with the passing of a storm. True patience, that is an essential quality of the nature of all phenomena, including our body-mind, is like the moon. It does not waver or diminish or temporarily disappear in the storms of emotion, reasoning, sickness, old age, or death. Paramita ksanti, transcendent patience, is the ever present knowing of reality, however it appears, as its true nature: simply goodness.
With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being
Painting by Shelby McQuilkin
Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome.
We practice on ZOOM:
- Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time
- Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time
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