Sunday, August 31, 2008

Patience quotations

The greatest prayer is patience. Buddha

There is no evil like hatred, and no fortitude like patience. Shantideva

Humility is attentive patience. Simone Weil

The principal part of faith is patience. George MacDonald

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all. Friedrich Von Logau

Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience. George-Louis de Buffon

Genius is eternal patience. Michelangelo

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. Albert Einstein

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. Phaedrus

Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things easily. Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

Patience is the companion of wisdom. Saint Augustine

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. Mary Sarton

Patience is also a form of action. Auguste Rodin

Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength. Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

Patience and Gentleness is Power. Leigh Hunt

With love and patience, nothing is impossible. Daisaku Ikeda

Patience can conquer destiny. Irish proverb

He that can have patience can have what he will. Benjamin Franklin

Everything comes gradually and at its appointed hour. Ovid

With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown. Chinese proverb

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time. Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

Patience and passage of time do more than strength and fury. Jean de la Fontaine

Patience comes to those who wait. Terry Ballard

How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees? William Shakespeare.

If you add a little to a little, and then do it again, soon that little shall be much. Hesiod

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew. Saint Francis de Sales

Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind. Leonardo Da Vinci

One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life. Chinese Proverb

Who is the great man? He who is strongest in patience. He who patiently endures injury, and maintains a blameless life––he is a man indeed! H.P.Blavatsky

Experience has taught me this, that we undo ourselves by impatience. Misfortunes have their life and their limits, their sickness and their health. Michel de Montaigne

Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses and disappointments; but let us have patience and we soon shall see them in their proper figures. Joseph Addison

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake. Victor Hugo

Have patience and endure; this unhappiness will one day be beneficial. Ovid

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Patience - lifting the cover

As we have seen in my previous post, we can easily become victims of our desires. Making our happiness conditional on the continual success of satisfying our desires or on the possession of outer, material things is a sure way to disappointment.

If you seek this or that, if you wish to be here or there, without any other object but to satisfy yourself, and to live more in accordance with your liking, you will never have rest, and you will never be free from worry, because in everything you will find something that injures you, and everywhere someone who impedes you.
(My translation from Imitation de N.-S. J.-C. Livre III, Ch. XXVII.)

Yet this is the way we mostly live. This is the ‘default mode of living’ unless we make a conscious effort to uplift our thoughts to higher planes. There is nothing wrong with wanting a better life and working towards it. Where we go wrong is neglecting inner goals in favour of fleeting, chimerical outer goals, whereas the only real happiness comes from within. This outer world is only a means to an end.

The visible world is like a cover thrown over the invisible world, not only to keep out the wet and dirt, but also to stop it being seen. Otherwise the game of hide-and-seek would be over too soon, and we’d have to find something else to do with eternity…
The visible outer world of form and appearance, the arena and stage upon which we collectively play out the human drama, is a metaphor for the invisible, inner realm… The purpose of ceremonial magic, including that practiced by official religions and other occult organizations, is to remind us to access the door to the invisible realm within…
(The Barefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao, Stephen Russel)

What has this to do with patience? Everything, in that it gives us a deeper perspective. We can see disappointments (or anything else for that matter) at one remove as it were. We can ‘lift up the corner of the cover’ and try to see the invisible meaning hiding under the visible disappointment. And that helps us to deal with the situation and not become a prey to impatience, or even, God forbid, anger. This is, in fact, the only right way to live.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Patience - non-desire

In today’s society, it is considered quite normal to work hard, to be ambitious, to be continually pushing towards our goals and dreams. As we discussed in my post Decrease, we are ‘hard-wired’ to expect that life will always improve, or at least our life. And in this context, we can easily slip into impatience when improvement is not forthcoming. Not to mention, God forbid, when we meet obstacles, setbacks, decrease or failure. How can we be patient in our modern way of life?
In the Tao Te Ching, we find an invaluable ally: non-desire.

We are victims of our desires; every concession to their demands, each satisfaction obtained is a defeat since, in the world of the senses, the objects of our desires are mere apparitions. This race toward illusions takes us far, always farther from the Tao. That is why ‘There is no greater error than to wish to satisfy one’s desires; there is no greater misery than not knowing how to be sufficient in oneself. There is no greater calamity than the desire to possess.’ (46)

Instead of pushing, striving, and desiring all the time, what would happen if we took our foot off the gas? What if we let go for a while? What if we were ‘attentively patient’?

The misfortune is that we encumber our lives with calculations, with expectations, where past and future, hopes and dreams, apprehensions and regrets, are mixed together in a perpetual confusion. By subordinating all our actions to the requirements of our personal desire, these parasites of the soul prevent us from having a simplistic vision of existence, because they leave no room for the unknown, i.e. for the Spirit.

(My translations from the Dervy edition of the ‘Tao Te King’).

Discover the Taoist principle of non-desire. Allow the Spirit to work its magic in your life a little. It is better at it than you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Patience - the greatest prayer

The greatest prayer is patience, said the Buddha. Not surprising since, as we have seen in my posts on anger, Shantideva tells us some striking things with regard to patience and the lack thereof:

Whatever wholesome deeds,
Such as venerating the Buddhas and (practicing) generosity,
That have been amassed over a thousand eons,
Will all be destroyed in one moment of anger.


There is no evil like hatred,
And no fortitude like patience.
Thus I should strive in various ways
To meditate on patience.

Therefore, to pray for patience if we have none, or fear we may run out, is the greatest prayer we can offer.
Just as I was taken aback to realise the all-importance of humility in philosophy, I was equally amazed to discover the abhorrence of anger and the ‘essentiality’ of patience. As we shall see, patience is a cure or at least a fortitude for many ills and sorrows, a protection against wrongs, the companion of wisdom, and the secret of genius. I knew patience was ‘a good thing’, a very fine virtue. But it occurs to me that patience is practically the entire goal of philosophy. I would have said humility also, but there is such a connection between humility and patience as to blur the edges between them. A humble person is necessarily patient because he does not put his interests before those of others. I found this confirmed in a quote from Simone Weil:

Humility is attentive patience.

And in my posts on humility I used the following quotation from the Dervy edition of the Tao Te Ching (page 156), which I do not scruple to give again here:

The truly patient man does not examine who is testing him, whether it is his superior, his equal or his inferior, a good man or a bad man. But, treating all indiscriminately, he receives from God’s hand, gratefully, and as often as He likes, everything contrary that happens to him, and considers it a great benefit.

The truly patient man is, I think, a man who has faith. Faith that everything is grist for the mill. Faith that God, the Tao, the universe will ‘see him right’ in the long run if he tries earnestly to do the right thing. Faith in himself and his ability to lift himself up and come through. The truly patient man has philosophy! What do you think?
Photo by Rodolfo Clix

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Anger quotations

If a small thing has the power to make you angry, does that not indicate something about your size? Sydney J. Harris

A man is measured by the size of things that anger him. Geof Greenleaf

Anger ventilated often hurries toward forgiveness; and concealed often hardens into revenge. Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

I was angry with my friend I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow. William Blake

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Malachy McCourt

To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by one bee. William H. Walton

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. Buddha

He who angers you conquers you. Elizabet Kenny

How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it. Marcus Aurelius

If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. Chinese Proverb

Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes angry. Euripedes

Anger is short-lived madness. Horace

Anger and folly walk cheek by jole. Benjamin Franklin

Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools. Albert Einstein

Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. Ecclesiastes 7:9

In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves. Buddha

Reckon the days in which you have not been angry. I used to be angry every day; now every other day; then every third and fourth day; and if you miss it so long as thirty days, offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Epictetus

Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody's power, that is not easy. Aristotle

Anger is never without an argument, but seldom a good one. George Savile

Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame. Benjamin Franklin

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression. Proverbs 19:11

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he that rules his spirit better than he that takes a city. Proverbs 16:32

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be. Thomas à Kempis

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Anger (4) - no fortitude like patience

One moment of anger destroys a thousand eons of wholesome deeds, says Shantideva. At that rate, I at least have probably destroyed more eons of wholesome deeds than you can shake a stick at. On the other hand, I probably don’t have above an eon or two of good deeds to destroy. Humour aside, what are we going to do about it? For it is one thing to be angry through ignorance. It is another to continue to indulge in anger after one has been fortunate enough to come across the Buddhist teachings, among other philosophies, and so to finally realise one’s (awful) mistake. Shantideva does not leave us up in the air as to the answer. The second verse reads:

There is no evil like hatred,
And no fortitude like patience.
Thus I should strive in various ways
To meditate on patience. (2)

Patience then is the virtue we need to disarm anger. (After humility, that primordial virtue. But humility presupposes patience, since humility does not put itself forward). We need patience in the face of all the kinds of suffering we meet in this life. If you are prone to anger or impatience (and even if you are not), I highly recommend you study Healing Anger, by the Dalai Lama. In it he discusses the many verses of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life that dissect the nature and causes of anger. We are shown how we can skilfully cultivate patience and tolerance so that we can transcend the bad situations we encounter.
For example, when someone causes us harm, we may get angry because we feel they did it ‘on purpose’ or because ‘they are like that’. But this is a mistake:

Even if it were the nature of the childish
To cause harm to other beings,
It would still be incorrect to be angry with them,
For this would be like begrudging fire for having the nature to burn. (39)

Will getting angry put out a fire? On the other hand, even if we know the person is not to blame or has made a mistake, we may still get angry. What then?

And even if the fault were temporary
In those who are by nature reliable,
It would still be incorrect to be angry,
For this would be like begrudging space for allowing smoke to rise in it. (40)

By meditating on these insights, we become more skilful and aware in handling situations that annoy and anger us. And this enables us to react with compassion instead of anger. It also enables us to ‘keep our treasure’.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Anger (3) - losing our treasure

There is no greater misfortune than to make an enemy lightly; we almost lose our treasure.
Tao Te Ching, verse 69.

How easy it is to get angry! It takes no special skill, no preparation, very little discernment. But no matter how wronged we feel, no matter how justified we feel, the very second we get angry with another person the moral advantage shifts away from us. Where once we felt like a good person, ‘collecting merit’ by our good efforts, trying to be more compassionate in all our interactions, once we have gotten angry all that seems to go out the window. We are brought shamefully low in our spirits when we think of what we said, how we said it; what we did, the way we did it. We 'almost lose our treasure'.

The Buddhist tradition is less equivocal about it: anger certainly makes us lose our treasure. In his ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’, Shantideva opens the chapter on patience in this way:

Whatever wholesome deeds,
Such as venerating the Buddhas and (practicing) generosity,
That have been amassed over a thousand eons,
Will all be destroyed in one moment of anger.

(From Healing Anger, by the Dalai Lama).

One moment of anger can do that? This anger business bears a little more looking into, don’t you think?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Anger (2) - a short-lived madness

Anger is a complex subject. It is linked to so many other emotions (hatred, envy, fear, pride) and qualities (humility, patience, courage, forgiveness). Having a British upbringing and being something of a phlegmatic introvert by nature, I am not much given to anger in general. But, as the saying goes ‘beware the wrath of a patient man’, I have sometimes surprised myself with an occasional fit of anger, out of all proportion to the cause.
The cause is neither here nor there, it is my frame of mind that is to blame. When it happens, I know that I need to take a break and step back to see the wider picture. And what I always see is a lack of awareness that has crept up on me, a feeling of having lost my way, of having lost myself almost. And then I turn to philosophy again (which I should have been doing earlier) and realign my thinking along wiser paths.
The best antidote for anger that I know is the Tao Te Ching, particularly the Dervy edition in French, with explanatory notes. A few hours bathing in the Taoist waters of humility, detachment and simplicity soon puts things back into perspective, for me at least and perhaps for you also.

Do not think your house too small, do not be disgusted with your life. Do not despise your condition and you will not grow weary of it. (72)

For me, there are three precious things to which I am attached and that I hold in high esteem: the first, love; the second, frugality; the third, humility, by which we may dare to put ourselves in the forefront to act in the World.
With love, we can be audacious; with frugality, we can be generous; with humility, we can accomplish great things.
These days, we lack love and therefore courage; we lack frugality and therefore generosity; we refuse the last place and therefore lose the first. It is certainly the way of death! But if we have love as our weapon, we will surely be victorious. He who practices that is invincible, Heaven helps him and he is protected by his mercy. (67)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Anger (1) - The Rod of Hermes

When I make a big mistake or suffer an important setback, I often try to soften the blow by making a pact with myself. I decide that because this setback has happened I will do some other positive action that I would not otherwise have done. In this way I try to turn a negative into a positive.
The Buddhists believe that we should never be angry at others who do us harm because firstly, they will reap the negative karma of their actions in due course, and secondly they give us the opportunity to practice compassion and patience. If there are no obstacles in the world how can we practice? So from a negative, a positive is produced.
I found this concept echoed in a passage from ‘The Golden Sayings of Epictetus’ translated by George Long. I should not be surprised that this concept had a name thousands of years ago: Epictetus calls it the rod of Hermes.

Can any profit be derived from these men?
Aye, from all.
What, even from a reviler?

Why, tell me what profit a wrestler gains from him who exercises him beforehand? The very greatest: he trains me in the practice of endurance, of controlling my temper, of gentle ways. You deny it. What, the man who lays hold of my neck, and disciplines loins and shoulders, does me good, … while he that trains me to keep my temper does me none? This is what it means, not knowing how to gain advantage from men! Is my neighbour bad? Bad to himself, but good to me: he brings my good temper, my gentleness into play. Is my father bad? Bad to himself, but good to me. This is the rod of Hermes; touch what you will with it, they say, and it becomes gold. Nay, but bring what you will and I will transmute it into Good. Bring sickness, bring death, bring poverty and reproach, bring trial for life – all these things through the rod of Hermes shall be turned to profit.

Ship's log - August 2008

No matter where we are in our life, we are like the captain of a ship taking stock of the situation. We must take stock of the condition and the sailing qualities of our ship – (our talents and our energies). We must take stock of the elements and geography – (our environment and our opportunities). And of course we must take stock of where are we going – (our hopes and our goals).
So in philosophy we take stock: we must know our ship and the sea; we must know where we have been, where we are, and where we are going; we must know what to do in every kind of sea and weather. Of course, we cannot have experienced personally every condition, every contingency. Therefore philosophy is also about profiting from the wisdom and experience of other great captains. We can read their logs, look at the maps they made, and benefit from their trials and errors on our own voyage. And we can be inspired to sail closer to the wind, travel to goals we never thought possible or, most importantly, to continue our voyage when we were on the verge of losing hope. And that is a fine thing indeed.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond