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The Spirituality of Patience

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Patience is the Mahayana Buddhist virtue that overcomes anger. According to this religious point of view, an angry mind is the result of ignorance, and when we act out of anger, we always cause ourselves spiritual harm. We often harm others when we act out of anger, but we always harm ourselves. So, from this spiritual perspective, we need to eliminate anger from our minds. We do this not by suppressing our anger, but by eliminating the ignorant way we conceive of those persons and things that cause us to become angry. Suppressing anger can cause psychological problems, but eliminating the causes of anger always results in psychological and spiritual health.

We become angry because of a deluded view we have of ourselves and the persons or things toward which our anger is directed. The deluded view, in general, is that the world consists of independent, discreet objects, which we divide into ourselves and others. We think that each of these things has an identifiable nature, but this is not the case; we are simply projecting onto an ever-changing reality, a world made up of what we think are permanent things with permanent characteristics. When we become angry, we are viewing a thing as permanently bad and hateful by nature -- it is as if this thing is pervaded by badness. We also project the characteristic of being "permanently me" onto a collection of body parts and mental states that is continually changing. We vigorously defend our sense of having a permanent self and become angry with anything we view as causing harm to this self.

This false way of viewing a world of permanent things is called a "delusion" in Buddhism. When we let go of the deluded view that we have a permanent and independent self and the deluded view that there are things pervaded with badness, we eliminate our anger. Although this is easier said than done, it can be done -- this is what Mahayana Buddhist practice aims to accomplish. When we eliminate this deluded way of viewing a world of permanent things, we become a Buddha and experience true and lasting happiness. Someone who has the aspiration to become a Buddha in order to lead all others to this true and lasting happiness is called a Bodhisattva. The practice of patience, along with five other virtues, is the path to becoming a Buddha.

A Bodhisattva cultivates patience by meditating to eliminate the beliefs that lead to anger, as well as to cultivate the beliefs that lead to being patient. He or she then integrates the results of meditation into daily life, and this process of meditation and integration eliminates anger and develops the virtue of patience. Meditation of the type I am discussing is more than what is commonly called "mindfulness." Mindfulness meditation and mindfulness practice attends to what is going on in one's mind. Being attentive to what is going on in your mind cannot by itself eliminate anger. You also have to assess whether the state of mind is positive or negative and employ methods that eliminate the negative states of mind. Mindfulness practices often include the technique of just allowing the negative states of mind to pass rather than acting on them, but it is far more effective to eliminate the patterns of thought that result in anger. To do this, meditation practices must include contemplation of the reasons why anger is a delusion and the disadvantages of anger. This type of contemplative meditation gives us additional ammunition in the battle to eliminate anger. We need to give ourselves the mental resources that allow us to let go of our anger and eventually eliminate it.

In your daily life, remind yourself that anger is a delusion, and that there are many disadvantages of being angry. I have already explained why anger is a delusion. Now, let's look at some of the disadvantages of anger.

Anger is a very unpleasant and disagreeable emotion to experience. No one would choose to experience anger for its own sake. Anger is not necessary in order to motivate us to protect ourselves and those we love from the harmful acts of others. It is possible to love someone aiming to do you harm and still prevent the harm. When you do this, you protect both yourself and your adversary from the harmful effects of their bad behavior. Anger causes us to act in ways that we often eventually regret, because we are not in full control of ourselves when we are angry. We cannot think clearly when we are angry, so we make serious mistakes in thinking and doing as a result.

Anger causes us to distance ourselves from others, because we appear repulsive and threatening when we are angry. Anger is the root cause of all wars, and wars cause widespread death and destruction. Anger can cause us to say hurtful things, even to those we dearly love. Anger can cause us to kill those we love, and it can even lead to suicide. Anger has serious negative karmic effects, such as consuming virtuous potentials in our minds and ripening as future suffering. There are many other disadvantages of anger. There are, also, many advantages of being patient, and you can include contemplating them during your meditation sessions to develop patience.

To complete your practice of using contemplative meditation to develop patience, you must integrate the results of meditation into your daily activities. When you encounter a situation that is similar to what has caused you to become angry in the past, remind yourself that anger springs from a deluded view of the object of your anger and that there are no advantages to being angry. You can rethink your view of the object of anger so that it doesn't appear repulsive, and this will help you let your anger go.

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