Embroidery, chapter VI, verses 12-21
The Patience of Accepting and Enduring Suffering is the first of the three layers of practising patience as response to one’s own personal suffering. This is the suffering born from the wanting-what-you-cannot-have and not-wanting-what-you’ve-got of verse 7, and the related-to-oneself part of verse 11. (The French translation of) Togmé Zangpo (‘s commentary headings – I pray that someone will translate the full commentary someday within my lifetime) has it as ‘Acceptance’; in Meaningful to Behold as ‘Voluntary Endurance’. This is the initial dealing with one’s anger so it is fairly unsophisticated. It doesn’t stop anger, it just deals with the results of my having previously set up so many causes for whatever current shower of sufferings are happening in this life,
How (Skt. kathaṃ) can I attain happiness (Skt. saukhyaṃ) when the causes for happiness are obtained (Skt. cil labhyate) only through great effort and very rarely (Skt. ayatnataḥ), and when the seeds of pain and sorrow (Skt. duḥkhaṃ) are so prevalent, relentless and multifarious that they are realised easily and without any effort (Skt. sthitam)?
– transglomeration VI, S12a/T12ab
Accepting and/or enduring the suffering happening in one’s life is the first step in just recognising what is going on here. What is going on here is that I am experiencing this whole shower of binds and knots from a million big and little tangles that I made in a million separate acts and a million separate words and a million separate thoughts in a million different situations at a million different times during a million different lifetimes all of them clustered around a million individual whorls of what I wanted/didn’t want at those million different times. And these are tangles in what? They are tangles in the flow of cause and conditioning of the million different wants/don’t wants of the million other beings with their million different whorls of identity in their million different worlds. And those millions of millions of millions of binds and knots that I have created are constantly pulling, so many of them; any million of them will be pulling one way in one moment, another in the next. Binds and knots of them getting tighter and tighter, many of them strangely familiar by now, many of them having that strange pattern which somehow shapes my life. And every once in a while some of the knots get entangled with other knots that just get in the way and then there is yet another bind, oceans of it, long since drowned, long since I knew what was what.
This is just accepting karma. The practice of accepting and enduring suffering just dampens the overwhelm of this. It stops the tendency to ‘why does this all happen to me?’, feeling sorry or anxious or persecuted or despairing for or about or of oneself. It balances ones reaction to ‘my life’ by seeing it for what it is – the causes and situations for happiness are few, those for suffering and frustration are many – and it gives one the ownership of why it is like this, of why ‘my life’ is like it is. So accepting/enduring suffering dampens the effects of life by holding one from going into a reactive head-in-the-sand (or head-in-the-hand) self-pity. And it also empowers one by enabling the perspective that it (one’s experience of life) is constructed around those millions of tangles you create every time you flex your self’s want/don’t want: all this stuff is not happening to you, there is not something or someone ‘out there’ dealing you a fair/unfair hand, there is no implacable destiny (no cackling witches stood around a pot) over which you have no possibility of influencing. The dampening gives you a bit of space to breathe, the empowering gives you a bit of wisdom to do something about it …,
And yet it is only from suffering (Skt. duḥkhenaiva ca) that the thought and longing for escape and liberation from the suffering of conditioned existence will come about (Skt. niḥsāraḥ), therefore (Skt. tasmād), O my deepest mind (Skt. cetas), hold yourself strong, patient, steadfast (Skt. dṛḍhībhava)!
– transglomeration VI, S12b/T12cd
… and so this verse sketches that what can be done is the conception that all of these binds and knots could be untangled – I snagged them all up, I could untangle them all, or even, at the very least, I could stop making them any more tangled by just accepting and enduring the already-tangled binds and knots as they are, that this is how they came about.
This is phrased as ‘the thought and longing for escape and liberation’, or ‘renunciation’, otherwise translated as ‘definite emergence’, or ‘getting out of this tangle’. This first ‘layer’ of practising patience is not full-blown renunciation, but it is the start of it. Acceptance of suffering with this level of understanding of one’s inextricable involvement in the binds and knots of life open up the possibility that if my life is just one huge tangle then it could be untangled – it can be untangled. Enduring the binds and knots of life for what it is, is not a gritted-teeth endurance of an implacable pre-ordained life for which there is no purpose, it is the birth of a wisdom, the threads of a life that can be untangled placed right in the palms of your hand.
If the devotees of Durgā, the people of Karnāta (Skt. durgāputrakakarṇāṭā), can pointlessly (Skt. vṛthā) endure the torment and agony (Skt. sahante) of self-inflicted burns, piercing, mutilation and the like (Skt. dāhacchedādivedanām) in order to free the atman (Skt. muktyartham), then why (Skt. kasmāt) am I so timid, weak and faint-hearted (Skt. kātaraḥ) when my aim is for the Great Liberation of all?
– transglomeration VI, 13
Enduring life is the first exercise of that wisdom, and so this verse is encouraging one to practise that endurance for all your life’s worth; the example Śāntideva gives is of (then contemporary) ascetics who endure all sorts of mortifications in worship of a goddess, some of which mortifications involve having many hooks (like fishing hooks) inserted through the skin of one’s back, all attached to wire, enough to spread the weight over a wide-enough area of the back, so that when the devotee is gently hoisted above ground, his – and yes, it is usually a ‘he’ that got to practise this sort of austerity – back will not rip from his body as long as he is in a state of devotion to the goddess offering his controlled suffering for her delight, her devotion or for reward. Now that is endurance, but it is questionable whether that endurance will reap the hoped for reward, however that reward was conceived. Alright, modern examples could be working for days without sleep, fasting until illness to lose weight, training to injury to be the best of the best of the best. It is endurance for questionable gain, and yet if people can superhumanly endure for questionable gain, then we could at least humanly endure the suffering in our life for the definite gain of being able to untangle it … ‘yeah, I could do ‘enduring’ for that, I could probably take it quite far for a good reason’.
And so how do I endure, how do I do it right, where do I start (‘where are those fish hooks, where are those amphetamines’)? Verses 14-19i are the instruction: familiarity/acquaintance, (or as Pema Chodron titled her book on training the mind, ‘Start Where You Are’). It’s familiarisation with what? It’s with that glimpse of seeing that you are implacably woven in to the experiences of the life of which you are the experiencer and the co-creator, that you reap what you sow, that what goes around comes around, that you lay in the bed you made, that the shit that happens in life you probably defecated yourself if you really think about it. The practice of ‘Accepting’ that the suffering is happening, the familiarisation with it, is the renewing of this realisation again and again: you cannot be completely innocent from any of the experiences you yourself experience. And that familiarising oneself with this again and again and again and again, is … endurance, wise endurance, overview endurance, practical endurance, responsible endurance, calm endurance.
Verse 14 then specifies how you launch the practice of endurance by starting with the small sufferings and building up to the larger ones:
There isn’t anything whatsoever (Skt. na kiṃcid asti) that can remain difficult by itself (Skt. duṣkaram) and that doesn’t become easier to accomplish (Skt. tad vastu) through familiarity, through practice, through acquaintance (Skt. abhyāsasya). And so (Skt. tasmān) through tolerance and habituation with slight pain and difficulty (Skt. mṛduvyathābhyāsāt) even great suffering and adversity (Skt. mahāvyathā) is gradually rendered bearable (Skt. soḍhavyāpi) as I learn to practise acceptance, endurance, forbearance.
– transglomeration VI, 14
… standard training advice really: start where you are, do what you can do naturally, easily, and then minutely push it, just a bit, almost by nothing, hardly noticeable, again and again and again. If you go ALL OUT and try to endure everything from the start you’ll break yourself and end up able to endure even less than when you started. So, yes, the aim is to build up one’s endurance to the extent that the ascetics of verse 13 can build up their endurance for-no-good-reason, but you start from where you are, and where you are is only just having realised that there is something to endure here at all. And for a really good reason.
You are just on the threshold in verse 14, so verses 15-16 step it out for you:
Do you not see (Skt. paśyasi), it is pointless suffering through various (Skt. ud) discomforts acquired from (Skt. danām) bites (Skt. dive) of bugs (Skt. daṃśa), gadflies (Skt. daṃśa), mosquitoes (Skt. maśaka), (snakes, animals …), from feelings of thirst (Skt. pipāsā) and hunger (Skt. kṣut?), from the irritation of rashes and the like (Skt. mahatkaṇḍvādiduḥkhaṃ), all of these rendered of little importance or trivial (Skt. anarthaṃ) through a modicum of familiarisation and forbearance.
– transglomeration VI, 15
… starting with everyday slight annoyances (in 8th century India in the Gangetic plain) of bites, hunger, rashes (maybe repetitive adverts, late trains, tight shoes now). These are all illustrative, but what needs to be identified and started with is one’s own annoyances, just ‘tut’-level annoyances and endure those, then ‘ngnh’-level annoyances, then ‘snort’-level annoyances, then ‘not again’-level annoyances, then ‘oh come on’-level annoyances, then ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me’-level annoyances, then ‘wtf’-level annoyances … and so on. And, probably, notice that these higher level events all remain ‘annoyances’ and not ‘catastrophes’ or ‘calamities’ or ‘tragedies’ because you have, in the meantime, been building up your endurance (and if you do find yourself gritting teeth through ‘catastrophes’ or ‘calamities’ or ‘tragedies’ then you’ve probably reached too far here) …,
Cold, heat (Skt. śītoṣṇa), rain (Skt. vṛṣṭi), wind (Skt. vātā), arduous travel (Skt. dhva), illness (Skt. vyādhi), captivity (Skt. bandhana), even beating and torture (Skt. ḍanaiḥ), should not induce in me (Skt. na kartavyam) a sense of vulnerability and defeat (feeling sorry for myself like some lost child) (Skt. saukumāryaṃ), otherwise (Skt. anyathā) the distress (Skt. vyathā) will only aggravate and increase (Skt. vardhate), (rather I should become hardened to them by practising patience).
– transglomeration VI, 16
… so that by the time you get to the ‘cold, heat, rain, wind…’, sickness, bondage and beatings (all, in extremis, quite significant ‘catastrophes’ or ‘calamities’ or ‘tragedies’, or so it would seem to one still on the threshold at verse 14) you are ‘endured’ enough (= patient-enough) to treat them as annoyances, no biggie.
 Some [warriors] (Skt. kecit), seeing (Skt. dṛṣṭvā) their own blood (Skt. svaśoṇitaṃ) are emboldened in their advance (Skt. vikramante) showing especial determination, strength and courage (Skt. viśeṣataḥ), while others (Skt. eke) lose heart and collapse (Skt. mūrcchāṃ) within their own footsteps even as they advance (Skt. vrajanti yat) at the sight (Skt. dṛṣṭvā) of others’ blood (Skt. paraśoṇitam). [S18a/T18ab] These reactions [of the warrior] (Skt. tac) come from (Skt. cāgatam) the set of the spirit, the disposition of the mind (Skt. cittasya), whether it be resolute and brave (Skt. dṛḍhatvena) or weak and faint-hearted (Skt. kātaratvena).
– transglomeration VI, 17-S18a/T18ab
By this time (time that you have spent building up your wise endurance, however long or short that time needed to be for you) you are ‘endurable’, you are quite indomitable, you don’t get knocked sideways by much, you don’t duck and dive about in life. When you see yourself gashed by life – ‘aah, this could be the end’, blood and entrails everywhere – you don’t waver, you see this as an annoyance, you’ve got much bigger things to be concerned about, much further horizons to disentangle. You, by now, are inexorable, you are a lion, your mind is steady.
[S18b/T18cd] In this way (Skt. tasmād), I should become (Skt. bhaved) the master, invulnerable to all sorrow, harm and injury (Skt. duḥkhaduryodhanas), not allowing discomfort and hardship (Skt. vyathām) to throw me off, not allowing it to become unbearable, insurmountable (Skt. abhibhaved). [S19a/T19ab] Not even when (Skt. ‘pi naiva) in pain or distress – not even in the thick of battle – (Skt. duḥkhe), should I, using my wisdom (Skt. budhaḥ), let my mind become troubled or disturbed (Skt. kṣobhayed), my spirit retaining its tranquillity, its lightness, its composure, its balance, its confidence, its joy (Skt. prasādaṃ).
– transglomeration VI, S18b/T18cd-S19a/T19ab
There is no whingeing or wining anymore because your wise endurance has matured to such an extent that you have significantly extracted any reference to, and protection of, ‘me, me, me’ from your view of life and you now see the much wider (or deeper, or both) picture wherein the ‘me, me, me’ had made such a tangle of it all in the first place: not so much now, not such a biggie now.
Now (verses 19ii-21) you are a warrior … a silent warrior, an in-dominatable warrior, a warrior…
For those who engage in (Skt. saṃgrāmo) the struggle (Skt. saha) with the kleśas (Skt. kleśair), when in battle (Skt. yuddhe) there will be much hardship, pain and injury (Skt. vyathā), for these are plentiful during struggle. What battle is fought without the experience of suffering (Skt. sulabhā)? It is quite unimportant.
– transglomeration VI S19b/S19cd
… who stands and faces the hordes that come your way, swiping and slashing with their maces and swords, spittle and blood spattering from their mouths, eyes stark and make-up-outlined, focussed on you and carnage, no room for any other consideration at all, gangs of them, waves of them, horizons of them, all coming your way …;
There are those who take their enemies’ blows upon their chests, (taking them on the chin) (Skt. uras-ārāti-ghātān). It is they who are the victors, the heroes (Skt. te te vijayinaḥ śūrāḥ śeṣās), they who courageously disregard all suffering and pain in vanquishing the enemies such as hatred and so forth (Skt. pratīcchanto jayanty arīn). Ordinary warriors are just killers of the dead (Skt. mṛta-mārakāḥ).
– transglomeration VI, 20
… and by this time, again, in the face of them all before you, you let out the sigh – ‘still they come’ – with the hint of indulgent smile behind your grizzled beard (and we’re deep in metaphor, here, so we’ve moved way beyond notion of ‘me, me, me’, let alone whether ‘me’ is male or female). You set your sword-point upon the ground and rest your hands on the hilt, and with a slightly deeper in-take of breath you let them come, these annoying little hooligans with their chipmunk voices. They reach in for the kill and … ssmungpph, ‘wheredeego’, ‘pheeyoo, I’ve lost me pucker, need to sit down for a rest … ooh, me bunions, I’m getting too old for all this’. These are the māra-demons amassing around the Bodhisattva Prince sat under the Bodhi Tree, brandishing every imaginable weapon of threat, torture and intimidation – even boulders from the hills above, pestilence, pillage and razing to the ground – and they let them all loose in a thrashing cloud – arcs in the sky – and … they turn to a sprinkle of flowers falling, ever so quietly, about the Buddha’s lap and feet. The enemy is not met, it is understood with boundless and bottomless wisdom, its unravelling to behold. There is no fighting here, there is no killing, only release.
And more so (Skt. ‘paraś ca), there is further worth and benefit (Skt. guṇo) that arises from sorrow (Skt. duḥkhasya): hardship and despair will fell one’s puffed-up arrogance (Skt. madacyutiḥ) and ignite the desire for emancipation (Skt. yat-saṃvegān); it will nourish compassion for migrators who wander in saṃsāra (Skt. saṃsāriṣu ca kāruṇyaṃ); one will come to loathe un-virtue (Skt. pāpād bhītir), have joy in virtue and direct one’s deepest thought to the Conqueror (Skt. jine spṛhā).
– transglomeration VI, 21
Endurance of suffering has moved far beyond just ‘taking it’, endurance has built-up a wisdom which has infiltrated the endless binds and knots, which has travelled along the many strands with clear-eyed understanding, which sees why this is so and how that came to be and when they got tangled with the other and how ‘I’ made it worse. And it has straightened out these many strands like fabric conditioner leaving your clothes ‘fresh, soft and ever so bouncy’.
And endurance has carefully worked out this thorny ‘I’ from the tangle, very carefully, meticulously carefully, each and every million of them, working it backwards out of its bind, with no impatient tugs. And it has re-spun any tears or frays and smoothed the threads with its coarse and gentle hand. And it did all this with plain and simple endurance. It just lets it all come and smiles slightly on it all like a grandchild running out of school. Wisdom is not complicatedly clever and sophisticated, it is simply clever with a dash of love and perspective, because it accommodates what is.
And this is only the first layer of three in the practice of patience related to one’s own suffering, let alone relationships with others, let alone following patience through to its only logical conclusion … infinite love and compassion.