Angulimala teaches the Real Meaning of Patience

In the rare Mahayana version of the Angulimala Sutta, called the Angulimaliya Sutra, Angulimala dicusses with the Venerable Dabba about the practice of patience.

Now Venerable Dabba was known to have had skill in the practice of patience, so Angulimala asks him about his practice, “How do we become patient?  Please tell us!”

The Venerable Dabba answers, “Treat an axe the same as you would treat sandalwood – this will enable you to patiently endure things”.

Remember, sandalwood smells really nice and I’m presuming he’s talking about the wooden handle of an axe where the wood doesn’t smell as nice.  So perhaps he’s talking about equanimity – even-mindedness.

Accepting things with even-mindedness, however they come whether good or bad.  So that’s what the Venerable Dabba says is the key to patience.

So what do you think Angulimala says next?  Do you think he agrees with this experienced cultivator of patience?

Angulimala says:

“There are people who have wrong views and lack learning, teaching non-self instead of Self as their doctrine.  These people get angry and attack people who teach about the Buddha Nature (as being our real Self) to the world.

BUT

“If you can teach about the Buddha Nature despite this – whilst understanding that those unlearned people are not yet mature enough to understand and so, their views are still unbalanced – then you teach for the benefit of the world.  You teach with true patience.

“Even a mosquito can endure hunger and thirst!  So be silent!  Because your practice of patience is like that of a mosquito!”

So notice that to be patient, it’s not just a matter of enduring things mindlessly like an insect endures hunger and thirst.  If even insects can endure it – then this type of patience isn’t really that lofty is it?

Although patient acceptance of whatever comes is a nice skill to have – it is still only a superficial type of patience, isn’t it?

But

1.  If you can be understanding of what perspective these people are coming from when they are attacking you AND
2.  Still teach about the Buddha Nature (despite their attacks)
Then you teach for the benefit of the entire world.  And that, is true patience.
Why does Angulimala say that teaching ONLY about non-self is unbalanced?  Because the Buddha taught about BOTH non-self AND Self (e.g., even in the Pali Suttas like the Anattalakkhana Sutta – the Buddha gives the formula “If ‘x’ is Self, then it would not lead to affliction.  AND because ‘x’ is not-self, therefore it leads to affliction”).  So teaching only the non-self teachings from the Buddha are one-sided and give only a partial, incomplete understanding of the Buddha’s teaching.  You need to know both – for a complete understanding.
So here, Angulimala is combining compassion with wisdom and applying it to the practice of patience, isn’t he?
  • Compassion in understanding where people are coming from, wisdom in understanding where they are coming from too.
  • Wisdom in knowing what you know confidently enough to be able to stand by it in the face of adversity – to patiently endure it
  • And compassion once again of wanting to benefit the whole world with it

So a more beneficial level of patience utilizes wisdom and compassion in the application of patience too!  Understanding of the context, knowing your stuff to be able to be able to stand by it despite external attacks on you and wanting to benefit the whole world!

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