Dharma Topic: Growing Our Hearts

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, our program willfocus on how, when faced with frustration or disappointment, we canrespond with an open and loving heart.

Growing our hearts, “kshanti,” is the third of the Six Paramitas, sixconcrete ways of practicing offered in the Mahayana Buddhist traditionwhich help us move from suffering toward peace, contentment,and freedom.

Kshanti is often translated as patience or forbearance, in the sense ofhaving a willingness to wait, or having an increased tolerance offrustration. Thich Nhat Hanh prefers to translate kshanti asinclusiveness, which he defines in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachingsas “the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform.”Kshanti/inclusiveness goes beyond putting up with something. We have thecapacity to reframe the frustration or irritation. Thich Nhat Hanhexplains:

When we practice inclusiveness,we don’t have to suffer or forbear, even when we have to embracesuffering and injustice. The other person says or does something thatmakes us angry. He inflicts on us some kind of injustice. But if ourheart is large enough, we don’t suffer.

When I think of kshanti I think of being with my son when he was aboutfour years old. From time to time he would have a bad day in which hewould yell and scream and not appreciate any of the ways I tried tocomfort him. If any one else, at that time in my life, had actedany way like that, anger would have flooded me. But my connection withhim was strong. I understood somehow that this behavior was almostalways related to illness, hunger, or sleepiness. I still acted tocontain his behavior, but, for the most part, I did it withoutanger. It was a remarkable discovery that I could do this.

How do we grow our hearts? For me, with my son, the sense of closeconnection was certainly part of the process. In the quote below, ThichNhat Hanh suggests that to grow our hearts we need the other paramitas:generosity, understanding, meditation, discipline, and joyfulenthusiasm. There is also below a related quote from Pema Chodron.

You are invited to join us this Thursday evening for our meditation andour program on growing our hearts. What has worked for you? What do youneed more of?

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Thich Nhat Hanh from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

To suppress our pain is not the teaching of inclusiveness. Wehave to receive it, embrace it, and transform it. The only way to dothis is to make our heart big. We look deeply in order to understandand forgive. Otherwise we will be caught in anger and hatred, and thinkthat we will feel better only after we punish the other person. Revengeis an unwholesome nutriment. The intention to help others is awholesome nutriment.

To practice kshanti paramita, we need the other paramitas. If ourpractice of inclusiveness does not bear the marks of understanding,giving, and meditation, we are just trying to suppress our pain anddrive it down to the bottom of our consciousness. This is dangerous.That kind of energy will blow up later and destroy ourselves andothers. If you practice deep looking, your heart will grow withoutlimits, and you will suffer less.

Pema Chodron from The Places That Scare You:

As we train in the patience paramita, we are first of all patient withourselves. We learn to relax with the restlessness of our energy–theenergy of anger, boredom, and excitement. Patience takes courage. It isnot an ideal state of calm. In fact, when we practice patience we willsee our agitation far more clearly.

One man decided to train in patience on his morning commute. He thoughthe was succeeding beautifully. He was patient when people cut infront of him. He was patient when they honked their horns. When hebecame anxious that the heavy traffic was going to make him late, hewas able to relax with his agitated energy. He was doing great. Then hehad to stop for a woman in a crosswalk. She was walking very slowly.The man sat there practicing patience–letting the thoughts go andconnecting with his restlessness as directly as he could. Suddenly thewoman turned, kicked his car, and started screaming at him. At thatpoint he totally lost his calm and started screaming back. Then heremembered hearing that in practicing patience we see our anger farmore clearly. He started breathing in for the woman and for himself.Here they were — two strangers screaming at each other — and he felt theabsurdity and tenderness of their situation.