His Eminence Khentin Tai Situ Rinpoche teaches that there are three ways to practice patience: (1) to refrain from hurting those who have caused us grief and pain, (2) to deal with any suffering we experience without fighting it uselessly or feeling intimidated, and (3) to have confidence in the ultimate truth.
The first type of patience is the patience of not being moved by those who hurt us. Now this is such a challenge. Shantideva says the way we learn to do this is by practicing in “little ways,” then we will have gained enough skill in patience that when the big things happen we may be able to handle them as a bodhisattva might. It’s like being stuck in traffic and being anxious and angry because you’re going to be late for your appointment or work and saying to yourself, “how would a bodhisattva handle this? Would she curse and smack the steering wheel and be angry at all these people in all these cars or would she say … oh all this suffering, let me suffer for us all while the rest sing and car dance.” That’s where we start. Then we practice this in each of those small situations… when we are insulted, when we are snubbed… uninvited… when we’re threatened… Tai Situ says that “By practicing patience and forbearance in the wake of irrelevant matters, one will eventually be able to master much more crucial situations and events.”
The second type of patience is the patience of enduring any suffering we experience without fighting it uselessly or feeling intimidated. OK so this doesn’t mean we seek suffering and pain and rejoice when we’re in agony. He says “Since time that has no beginning until the present every sentient being living in one of the six realms of existence has been suffering in one way or another. During the entire expanse of time it is a fact that everyone has endured billions of centuries of suffering in the hell realms… and in all other realms of our world system, which is therefore referred to as “the Saha world – the three thousand fold universe – of endurance.” In one way, all past suffering can be helpful in that one appreciates that one doesn’t suffer much at this point, yet in another way it hasn’t really helped much.”
The third type of patience is practiced by having confidence in the ultimate truth… the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, the four noble truths, understanding impermanence and dependent origination – inter-connectedness or emptiness – karma. We gain confidence in the teachings, in the dharma, by watching it work in our lives. The more we practice and then take a moment to notice the effect of our practice on ourselves internally and then how that effects others, the more we can trust that the dharma is working in our lives.