More on Gentle Forbearance


Translated By Andrew Yang

As one of the six perfections in Buddhism, forbearance, or kṣanti in Sanskrit, is an approach to cultivation for all bodhisattvas. These six perfections or paramitas also include generosity, keeping precepts, diligence, meditation and wisdom. Forbearance is a virtue of enduring suffering and harm without generating resentment, anger or hatred. Buddhism advocates gentle forbearance and maintaining equanimity when facing humiliation or insult. If one harbours a grudge over trifling matters, conflict tends to build up, sometimes leading to an endless cycle of vengeance. Conversely, through gentle forbearance, acceptance and tolerance, one may reduce a serious problem to something marginal.

A person who practises forbearance is not a coward. Rather, forbearance is an indication of courage, fearlessness and compassion. A true practitioner of forbearance views all insult, slander and physical harm as opportunities for spiritual growth, as they, like a preceptor, test and cultivate one’s determination, compassion and wisdom.

The Sutra of Buddha’s Bequeathed Teachings states, “Those who undertakes forbearance can be called the truly powerful. If they cannot endure the poison of verbal abuse as if drinking sweet nectar, they may not be called wise individuals devoted to Buddhism.” Forbearance is a sublime virtue, embodying profound teachings. Its unparalleled power surpasses all forms of invective, physical aggression and forces of weaponry, with a capacity to subdue and transmute even the most stubborn. How then does one cultivate forbearance? Here are four things to consider,

First, when faced with insult, remain silent and refrain from using hurtful language, practicing restraint.
Secondly, in adversity, maintain calmness and approach problems with rationality to manage affliction.
Thirdly, when facing jealousy and hatred, remain vigilant and cultivate compassion to eliminate anger.
Lastly, with defamation, consider the instigator’s virtue and respond to resentment through kindness.

According to Yogacarabhumi Sastra, forbearance encompasses three aspects: not becoming angry, not holding grudges and not harbouring ill intent. Methods of practising forbearance encompass three dimensions: body, speech and mind. First, one should practise forbearance in terms of speech by refraining from verbal disputes and responding with silence. Second, one should practise forbearance with proper facial expressions, maintaining a pleasant countenance nonetheless. Lastly, one should practise forbearance by cultivating a compassionate, impartial and gentle mind in dealing with others, showing acceptance, tolerance and empathy.

Through cultivating forbearance, one could harmonize strength with gentleness, subdue misconduct with virtue and adapt to change with unwavering firmness in resolving crises. It enables one not only to remain unaffected by external circumstances but also to impact and transform those circumstances. The benefits of practising forbearance are twofold,

Firstly, it may alleviate resentment and extinguish animosity.
Secondly, it may cultivate virtue and increase positive karma.

Forbearance is an important aspect of Buddhist teachings. Master Hanshan (1546–1623) of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) emphasizes its virtue in The Song of Awakening the World. Here is an excerpt to share with you,

In the mundane world dust and waves unfurl.
Gentle forbearance is a remedy so wonderful.
As time goes ever by, circumstances we greet,
Living in serenity, a peaceful life-long retreat.
A bow’s string being so rigid, it breaks in time.
Sharp blades, easy wounds is a truth so prime.
No need to bicker what’s right, what’s wrong,
Or argue for this being short, that being long.
Living with somewhat a loss no harm it brings.
Retreating from one hold causes no hindrance.
While alive, in vain so much efforts we spend.
In death empty hands bring our journey’s end.
Nothing but joy and sorrow, reunion and strife.
Wealth and poverty give everybody a busy life.
Do not strive to conquer, nor a victory to claim,
For a hundred years is a mere theatrical game.
In an instant the sound of drummin’ will cease.
Alas, where is home, a place of eternal peace?

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