Patience – A Spiritual Virtue
by Morgan Arundel
We have all heard the saying ‘Patience is a virtue’ but just what is patience and why is it considered a good thing to have.
“The word patience is derived from Latin pati ‘to suffer’, and it describes the capacity to tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without becoming angry or upset. It was associated, by the early Christians, with those who endured persecution and misfortune without complaint or loss of faith.” (Oxford English Dictionary)
Patience is valuable to those on a Spiritual path because it allows us to continue our spiritual efforts even though we may be seeing little or no progress. Without patience we may give up our practice, before the desired results appear. When we do not see results when we expect them, this can lead to loosing our enthusiasm for our practice or even to doubting its capacity to give the expected results. So patience gives us the strength to continue our spiritual efforts and to allow time for the beneficial results to appear in our being.
Patience is also that quality which allows us to surpass the obstacles that we face on the spiritual path. In this aspect patience is closely connected with hope, with the belief that we will be able to overcome the obstacles that we are currently facing and that the future will bring us success. So patience first of all implies a trust in our own capacities and ultimately a trust in the will of God, knowing that everything happens in this universe according to the will of God. Knowing and accepting this is what prevents us from suffering and allows us to align our individual will with the universal will.
Being patient is very much about being in the present moment
We are impatient generally because we are thinking about the future, expecting something or wanting something to happen exactly in the way we would like it. Being patient actually means to be attentive to what is happening in the present moment, living it to the fullest and seeing the signs that may be right in front of us.
In our modern society, patience is often seen as something passive and boring. A likely cause of this attitude is the importance placed on ambition, achievement and productivity. When things get in the way of this we become impatient. Yet patience is not boring and certainly not passive, it is an active quality which shows strength and a deeper understanding of reality.
Like any virtue, patience must be practised to be improved. Any time we are able to remain calm and not get upset whenever we are forced to wait or to tolerate something we don’t like, then we strengthen and amplify this quality of patience within our being. Bearing this in mind we can practice patience in many life situations, from trivial circumstances, such as waiting for the bus when its late or waiting in the checkout line at the supermarket, to more profound situations such as being patient with our loved ones or waiting to see the results from months or even years of spiritual practice. In each situation, we are provided with the opportunity to practice patience, until we reach the point of being able to cope with any situation, while being fully aware that we are getting exactly what we deserve and that in the bigger scheme of things everything is happening as it should.
Patience needs to be applied to the correct areas of our lives
We should also realise that patience needs to be applied to the correct areas of our lives. For example, patience should be applied to any action that will result in a positive transformation of our being, but it can also be applied in the areas of our own weaknesses. In this case, patience could become an excuse for passivity or inaction.
A good way to increase our patience is to think carefully about what could possibly be achieved by being impatient. We will find that being impatient rarely, if ever, achieves anything and that it usually leads to agitation, frustration and eventually anger – which is one of the most destructive energies that we can allow to manifest through us. If we can truly realise this, then we will see that being impatient is a foolish, weak and destructive thing. So, from this perspective, patience is a sign of understanding, wisdom and strength.
A good way to help us be patient with other people is to accept that they won’t always do things exactly as we think they should be done and to remember that at a certain time we may need people to be patient with us, and so in this situation we receive what we give.
We can also find the importance of patience expressed in the world religions.
In the Buddhist tradition, patience is one of the “perfections” that a bodhisattva trains in and practices to realize perfect enlightenment (bodhi). Named Kshanti in Sanskrit, it is the practice of exercising patience toward behaviour or situations that might not seem necessarily to deserve it — it is seen as a conscious choice to actively give patience as if it is a gift, rather than being in a state of oppression in which one feels obligated to act in such a way.
In the Christian tradition, patience is one of the seven virtues. In Galatians, patience is listed as one of the “fruit of the Spirit”: “love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”. (Galatians 5:21-23, NIV)
In the Islamic tradition, patience is the best and most valuable virtue in life. Some of the Quran verses about patience urge Muslims to “seek God (Allah)’s help with patient perseverance and prayer” (2:45) It notes that “No one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, none but persons of the greatest good fortune.” (41:35)
In Judaism patience and self-discipline are basic moral values. In the Hebrew Bible, patience is referred to in several proverbs, including this one from Proverbs which shows the power of patience “A patient man is better than a warrior, and he who rules his temper, than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)
In Hinduism patience is mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita “..Among feminine qualities I am glory, beauty, fine speech, memory, intelligence, steadfastness and patience.” (10.34)
So patience is a virtue that allows us to overcome the obstacles we face on our spiritual path, to allow the results of our spiritual efforts to emerge and to have faith in the universal will. We can amplify our patience by practice, and perhaps even by saying a little prayer…“God, give me patience…but please hurry!”
Taken from the website of Tara Yoga Center