Patience as a Vital Organ
By Khenpo Pema Wangdak
You can live without arms and legs or even eyes, even without one kidney or one lung. You can live without many things, but there are certain organs without which you cannot survive. Each vital organ is as important as every other vital organ. This means there is no alternative: a vital organ is one we cannot live without.
Patience is like this. It a vital component of our spiritual life. Yet patience is not just spiritual: for anything you do, you need patience. We know this, but we never think about it. We don’t appreciate how critical it is.
Even criminals know the value of patience. You cannot rob a bank without patience. Now, if criminals know this, that should say something to those of us who are not criminals, who are working hard to maintain peace and happiness, to keep the family and the community together. Namely: you must have patience. So patience is like one of the vital organs of the body. Without it, we cannot survive.
Many people want to talk about peace. But talking about peace while neglecting patience is like talking about your heart while ignoring your kidneys: your common sense says that this alone is not sufficient to keep your life going. Of course, compassion, kindness, and peace are nothing new. Saints and sinners, criminals and scholars—everybody says the same thing: peace, kindness, compassion. And this is not just a religious thing. Even animals know it: if you love them, they understand what that means. Yet the one area that we fail to recognize is patience.
In Western culture we talk about patience as a virtue. But it’s not just virtue: it’s a matter of life and death, of survival. If you want to keep your family together, love is not enough. In fact, if something goes wrong in your family or at work or between friends, you might still love them, but what is the first thing that breaks down, that goes out the window? Peace of mind! Even though we say peace of mind is the most important thing.
Why in the world do we dump our most precious possession, our peace of mind, when the tiniest thing goes wrong? That’s strange behavior. Next, you lose a little trust, and finally you lose interest. Then you say, “It’s not working.” And you might still believe that you love each other. So why is it not working? This gives you a clue that something is missing. There’s not enough stamina or strength or durability. That durability is none other than patience.
Peace by itself is fragile. It is extremely brittle and breaks easily. Yet we still say it’s the most important thing. Our religions say it, our books say it, scholars say it: nobody disagrees that this is the case. Yet everybody treats it as if it were the least important thing. You might be holding garbage tightly in your hand, but your peace of mind has gone far away.
This fragility is a clue that there is a missing component, and that component is patience. Patience is a reinforcer. It makes things strong. Your peace is not just peace; your love is not just love. They have to be strong and durable, and they get that strength and durability from patience.
In 1982, Khenpo Pema Wangdak was sent to the West by His Holiness the Sakya Trichen, as the first of the younger generation of Tibetan teachers in America from the Sakya School. In 1989 Khenpo Pema founded the Vikramasila Foundation. The Foundation encompasses the Palden Sakya Centers in New York City, Woodstock, NY, Philmont, NY, Englewood, NJ, Springfield, VT, Portland, ME, and Dayton OH. The Palden Sakya Centers offer courses in Tibetan Buddhist studies and meditation. More