Patience is a virtue that is highly praised within Buddhist circles but not considered so terribly important in the materialist world, where efficiency and getting what we want instantly are far more desirable. With all the instant things that are produced now, as soon as we feel a desire, a need for something, we can get it quickly. And if we can’t get it quickly we become very annoyed or upset, and complain, ‘This country’s going to the dogs.’ We hear that all the time: complaining, because if people are going on strike or aren’t efficient enough, quick enough to satisfy our desires, we have to wait and patiently endure.
Notice in sitting how impatient you become, when pain arises in your body, and how you automatically try to get away from pain. If you have a fever or fall sick, notice how you resent the inconvenience, the annoyance of the body and try to get well to get away from the pain as soon as possible.
The virtue of patience is probably the most important one for us to consider at this time, because if you don’t have patience, spiritual development is an impossibility….
I remember that when LSD first became known, people said it was the quick way to enlightenment: ‘You just swallow this tablet and you understand everything! You don’t have to bother with ordination as a monk and sit around in a monastery. Just take a pill and you’ll be enlightened. Go to the chemist or the dope peddler – and you don’t have to commit yourself to anything.’ Wouldn’t that be wonderful, if that was all one had to do? But after a few trips on LSD, people began to realize that the enlightening experience seemed to disappear, and they were left in an even worse state than ever…
You hear about modern American ways to enlightenment where you can become involved in the most interesting kinds of personal relationships and in scientific experiments, doing absolutely fascinating things to each other, and be enlightened. And here you are sitting in the hot season, in an endless hot, dreary day in which one hour seems like an eternity. You think, ‘What am I doing here? I could be in California, having a fascinating life, doing fascinating things, becoming enlightened quicker and more efficiently. California is much more advanced and with it than North East Thailand. What am I doing here, sweating through my robes, being bitten by mosquitoes?’
But then you think: ‘I’m developing patience. If I just learn to be patient in this lifetime, I’ve not wasted it. Just to be a little more patient is good enough. I won’t go to California, get caught up in those fascinating encounter groups, modern therapies and scientific experiments. I’ll just sit here and learn to be patient with a mosquito biting my arm … learn to be patient with an endless, dreary hot season that seems to go on forever.’
This reflection by Ajahn Sumedho is from the book, Peace Is a Simple Step, (pdf) p. 55-57.