How can we cultivate ourselves to attain true power of endurance? It can only be attained through practice and experience. There are many ways to cultivate spiritually, but none of it will work without “forbearance”.
If a person is often unable to bear with anger, it will really be torturous for him. When we enter into conflicts with others, we often self-righteously think, “Why should I give in to you when you don’t do the same to me?” People refuse to give in to each other because they (do not want to lose their pride). This naturally traps them in great anguish and suffering.
Once, a young lady who was full of grievances said to me: "Master, I'm very dedicated to my work and often take on tasks that my colleagues do not want to do. Yet, there are still people who comment that I haven't done enough and what I’ve done is not good enough. I am able to endure and persevere no matter how tough the work is. However, despite my effort and hard work, not only do others not compliment me, they also detest my work. I really cannot swallow my hurt and anger!"
I replied, “What you are doing currently is just tolerating. You haven’t reached the state of ‘swallowing it’. Actually, the real power is not just about swallowing it; you must also be able to ‘digest it’.”
Exercising forbearance is like placing a rock on earth. The seeds are still in the ground, but they cannot grow through the surface for the time being.
Therefore, we should start with tolerance. Then, we “swallow” the discomfort of tolerance, and finally digesting it away to attain the natural state of endurance, without feeling that we are enduring something.
For example, no matter how delicious the food is, it must be swallowed and digested before its nutrients can be absorbed by the body and waste is passed out of the body. Similarly, when someone says something offensive to you, his words will forever remain in your heart if you don’t digest them away.
What others say may be unintentional, but you take it to heart. Hence, you are often hurt by the words of others. As we engage in spiritual practice, we must learn the power of “swallowing” such hurtful words and also “digesting them away”.
After hearing what I had said, she smiled happily though tears were still rolling in her eyes. She said, “Master, I understand it now. Is it because my sense of pride is too strong, so I get upset easily and a single criticism is enough to make me feel unbearable?”
I replied, “That’s right! When a person’s pride is too strong, he will develop arrogance in his heart. He may start to think of why, despite having already done a good job, he is not receiving any compliments and is being criticized instead. This is how an inflated ego brings about an arrogant reaction. It is also because of pride that one expects oneself to do a good job. If the work is not done well, the person will give rise to a sense of inferiority. However, when the person faces others, his sense of inferiority may turn into ‘base pride’. Due to his inferiority complex, he develops an arrogant attitude. Terming it as 'pride' is just to make it sound nice, but it is actually ‘deviant arrogance’!”
She further said, "When I was working in another department, I always felt wronged by my colleagues, so I felt very troubled and couldn't get along with them. Thus, I requested to be transferred to the current department. Now, as I reflect on it, I think my colleagues back then were actually very nice people. They were not wrong; It was my own fault.”
She encountered even more troubles in the current department than in the previous department. But undergoing those tribulations spurred her to recall what she had done in the past, prompting her to review and reflect on the various mistakes she had made. This further inspired her to completely change her deviant perspective of life.
Sometimes, we fail to cherish the good environment we are in and only think that “others have wronged or failed us, but we have not done so to them”. After moving into another environment and encountering other interpersonal challenges, we may then come to realise that the people in the previous place were not that bad compared to those in the current place! And we may wonder why we still suffer the same as before after changing to a new environment.
The problem actually lies in oneself, because the egoistic self is unable to endure and swallow the hurt and anger it feels, let alone digest it away.
There are many different levels and ways of spiritual cultivation. However, if we lack the power of "forbearance" and "the ability to swallow and digest our egoistic pride", then whatever skills or abilities we have attained would be useless.
We must remember to constantly reflect on ourselves to examine whether our sense of pride is too strong or if we have a sense of “base pride” (i.e. “deviant arrogance”)?
We should complete a task to the best of our means and ability. After completing the job, even if the outcome is far from perfection, we should just feel at peace for having made every effort to do our best, and not be bothered by the criticisms of others.
In dealing with any people or matter, if we can be understanding with a heart of gratitude and tolerance, we will always feel joyful, happy and at ease. If we have the ability to be understanding, we will not need to tolerate, swallow or digest our hurt and anger as described earlier.
Extracted from “Huan Xi Zi Zai”《欢喜自在》
Translated by the Tzu Chi Singapore translation team