Growing Our Hearts

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Dear Still Water Friends,

In the past several weeks events have reminded me that mindful living is not just living in the present moment, it is living in the present moment with an open heart.

The Buddha’s path encourages us:

  • first to settle, to become more calm and clear headed,
  • then to explore within, especially to gain insight into the ways we co-participate in bringing suffering or contentment into our lives,
  • and finally, to act on our insights: to guide our thoughts, words, and behaviors so that we reduce the suffering we create for ourselves and others.

Since the time of the Buddha, teachers have encouraged their students to nourish certain ways of being, virtuous ways of responding.

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

Growing our hearts, kshanti, is the third of the Six Paramitas offered in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. The six Paramitas are concrete ways of practicing that help us move from suffering toward peace, contentment, and freedom.

Kshanti is often translated as patience or forbearance, in the sense of willingness to wait or tolerating frustration. Thich Nhat Hanh prefers to translate kshanti as inclusiveness, which he defines in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings as "the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform." Kshanti/inclusiveness goes beyond putting up with something. We can learn to reframe the frustration or irritation. Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

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

Shantideva, the great Tibetan saint who lived in the 8th century, compared those who caused him to suffer to "Buddhas bestowing their blessings":

Those who cause me suffering
Are like Buddhas bestowing their blessings.
Since they lead me to liberating paths
Why should I get angry with them?

"Don’t they obstruct your virtuous practice?"
No! There is no virtuous practice greater than patience;
Therefore I will never get angry
With those who cause me suffering.

If, because of my own shortcomings,
I do not practice patience with my enemy
It is not he, but I, who prevents me from practicing patience.

[From Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, by Shantideva, translated by Neal Elliot and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.]

When I think of kshanti I think of being with my son when he was about four years old. From time to time he would have a rough day. He yelled and screamed and did not appreciate any of the ways I tried to comfort him. If any one else had acted like that at that time in my life, anger would have flooded me. But my connection with him was strong. I understood somehow that this behavior was almost always related to illness, hunger, or fatigue. I still acted to contain his behavior, but, for the most part, I did it without anger. It was a remarkable discovery that I could do this.

How do we grow our hearts? For me, with my son, the sense of close connection was certainly part of the process. In the quote below, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that we need the other paramitas: generosity, understanding, meditation, discipline, and joyful enthusiasm. An example related by Pema Chodron follows.

You are invited to join us this Thursday evening for our meditation and our program focused on growing our hearts. What has worked for you? Is there something you need more of? Or less of?

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher



The Practice of Inclusiveness
by Thich Nhat Hanh from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings

To suppress our pain is not the teaching of inclusiveness. We have to receive it, embrace it, and transform it. The only way to do this is to make our heart big. We look deeply in order to understand and forgive. Otherwise we will be caught in anger and hatred, and think that we will feel better only after we punish the other person. Revenge is an unwholesome nutriment. The intention to help others is a wholesome nutriment.

To practice kshanti paramita, we need the other paramitas. If our practice of inclusiveness does not bear the marks of understanding, giving, and meditation, we are just trying to suppress our pain and drive it down to the bottom of our consciousness. This is dangerous. That kind of energy will blow up later and destroy ourselves and others. If you practice deep looking, your heart will grow without limits, and you will suffer less.

Training in Patience
by Pema Chodron from The Places That Scare You

As we train in the patience paramita, we are first of all patient with ourselves. We learn to relax with the restlessness of our energy–the energy of anger, boredom, and excitement. Patience takes courage. It is not an ideal state of calm. In fact, when we practice patience we will see our agitation far more clearly.

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