October 2015 By Punya Srivatsava Forbearance is the only virtue which can return sanity to the highly reactive, rage-infested world of today, says Punya Srivastava India is the land of forbearance, or titiksha. This land has birthed men and women who bore physical, mental and emotional pain with unflinching faith, and without a murmur. Adi Shankaracharya extolled forbearance in his vivekachudamani as one of the six necessary virtues required in a spiritual seeker. He defines it as “The bearing of all difficulties, miseries, and problems, without caring to redress them or worrying or lamenting on their account.” Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela – all these avatars, realized souls and great men, validated the significance of forbearance through their own lives. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa said, “The quality of forbearance is of the highest importance to every man. He alone is not destroyed who possesses this quality.” All the spiritual texts, scriptures and doctrines consider forbearance as the pre-requisite for spiritual evolution. Swami Yuktamananda, Minister and Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre of New York, says, “Not impulsive reaction but only forbearance will help us lead a saner and meaningful life. Every impulsive reaction results in loss of mental energy, which in turn, affects our physical health. Forbearance helps us gain a true perspective of ourselves, purifies our mind, strengthens our will, and paves the way for a fruitful spiritual struggle.” But the question is how to practice forbearance in this rage-infested world? Practicality of forbearance The quality of forbearance has always been an enigma to me. Friends and family members inherently blessed with this virtue awe me and hold a high place in my heart. Yet, I couldn’t relate with this quality. It was as though they were of a different species, too sacred or godly to be among average humans like me. Moreover, by virtue of being a Libran, I seek balance in everything, and have quite a strong sense of justice, and fairness. I value practicality, and forbearance always came across to me as misplaced sentimentality. I found it too extreme a quality to appreciate. However, in the course of writing this article, the Universe, with its highly amusing sense of humour, decided to give me a demo and pushed me into a situation where I witnessed forbearance being practised upfront. Though an observer, I was placed too close to the situation for my own comfort. I was unsuccessfully trying to exhort one of my dearest friends to not accept injustice from another friend. I pleaded, cajoled, even shouted at her to stop seeing good in someone who did not have it in the first place. However, she valiantly struggled out of my ‘concern’, telling me amidst tears that it was not the other person’s lack of empathy but my constant struggle to get her justice which was hurting her. She had already moved on from the previous hurt. “It is better to appreciate the good in this person and her actions, instead of moping about feeling wronged or taken for granted. By being tolerant, and forgiving her I can maintain my inner peace. I am not justifying her wrongdoing, merely accepting it as a manifestation of the difficulties she is undergoing,” she said with finality. I was astounded by the compassion in her heart. Geshe Thupten Jinpa: Forbearance is an active stance, not passive response to a situation. “Forbearance is a natural expression of true compassion,” says Geshe Thupten Jinpa Langri, former English translator of HH Dalai Lama, and the author of A Fearless Heart: Why compassion is the key to greater well-being. “It is defined as a stance that involves choosing not to respond to the other’s harm or injustice, with anger and vengefulness. It is an active stance, not a passive response to the situation. Forbearance also includes responding to situations of pain, disappointment, and failure with understanding and composure.” Forbearance and its various folds The three pillars of tolerance, patience and forgiveness constitute forbearance. When one becomes mindful in a difficult situation, one tends to choose to be peaceful and happy, instead of being right. This is when forbearance comes into practice. Shantideva, the most renowned eighth-century Indian Buddhist monk of Mahayana Buddhism, defined forbearance or Soe-pa (in Tibetan), in his treatise Bodhicaryavatara (Bodhisattva’s Way of Life), as: Tolerance based on conscious acceptance of pain and hardships Tolerance resulting from the nature of reality Tolerance towards injuries from others Forbearance is best cultivated under adverse circumstances, and therefore it is better to welcome hardships instead of regarding them as problems. When the soul chooses to take birth as a human, it has on the soul level, chosen to subject itself to adversities of the flesh already. When one acknowledges this fact it becomes easier to accept body-related issues. Towards the end of his life, when one day Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa was lying in bed, suffering from throat cancer, someone asked him to pray to the Divine Mother to cure him. The master expressed his inability saying that the mind that had been given to God could not be made to dwell on the body. Similarly, Shantideva says that when a person learns to separate the anger from the angry person, he is able to drop all rancour against the person. Instead one feels compassionate towards others’ pain and gets the strength to forgive abusers. Difference between forbearance and passivity However, there is a risk of confusing passivity with forbearance, especially in a relationship. There is nothing about forbearance, and even compassion, that precludes being firm. What is required is that we do not give in to the impulse of anger, resentment, and vengeance. Says Thupten Jinpa, “With forbearance you can firmly explain to your partner that what he or she did was unskilful and not constructive at all. Ideally, this kind of clarification should be done once the temperature has cooled down so that the other side does not take an immediately defensive stance. Generally, in close relationships where both the sides truly care for each other, there is a lot more room for people to bring their best through patience and understanding.” What is also important is to recognise that bad behaviour is not in the best interest of the other. If our focus is on the other’s good rather than on our own injured feelings, what we say and how we say it will change substantially; and the energy of these words will impact the other positively. “Forbearance and nonviolence are manifestations of inner strength. Inactivity resulting from incapacity cannot pass Swami Yuktatmananda: Only forbearance will help us lead a sane life for forbearance. Passivity is not restraint. If we are strong enough to react, but refrain from reacting, we practice true forbearance,” says Swami Yuktatmananda. Forbearance in relationships Forbearance is not the capacity to forgive the offender when he or she repents. Forbearance is the capacity to forgive without expecting any apology or repentance. You do it out of your own goodness, because it is the right thing to do. Often, I would scoff at my mother’s easy acceptance of people who were openly hostile to her. I would argue that she was being naïve, even stupid, for being tolerant of people who were taking her for granted. She would forgive people even before they had realised their mistakes. Once, I launched a tirade against a close relative who had the temerity to hint in my mother’s presence that she was tending to my bed-ridden grandmother out of an ulterior motive. This pinched her for a while, but she quickly overcame the hurt. When I asked her what made her forgive people so easily, she simply said, “Because that is the right thing to do.” I was rendered speechless. This is when I realised the importance of not giving in to automatic reactivity, which often worsens the situation “If either of the two parties – especially in intimate relationships where emotional investments are high – are able to bring more forbearance into their interaction, they have an excellent chance of ensuring that difficult exchanges do not spiral into an exchange of reactivity. When reactivity dominates the tone of interaction, people become immediately defensive, and in such states, we tend to say hurtful things that leave lasting impressions,” says Thupten Jinpa. So forbearance helps us retain our sense of proportion, and deal with even difficult situations with calmness. My younger sister, all of 22, shows tremendous tolerance in the face of unprovoked inflictions just like my mother. Being the youngest in the family, and somewhat of a nonconformist, she is often subjected to needless barbs, mockery and bursts of anger from elders. “I think it is better to work on myself and my life instead of reacting or moping about all the wrongs done to me. God has made me for a purpose. I would rather shape my soul to reach that purpose than waste my time in being petty and lose my peace of mind in the process. Egotistical tugs of wars hold little significance in my life now for I have better things to do. If this means walking on the path alone, then so be it. I forgive and forget,” she told me once nonchalantly. Cultivating forbearance Perhaps, the first step towards practising forbearance on a daily basis is by focussing on ourselves and our situations than on other people. Be mindful of every hassle, be it slow moving traffic or a long queue, so that these small, everyday things do not unhinge us. Explains Jinpa, “You can then start practising it in rela
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