I lectured on the Vajra Sutra when I was sixteen years old. That Sutra talks about the Patient Immortal, who endured being dismembered by King Kali without giving rise to anger. When I read that story, I vowed to emulate the Patient Immortal and wholeheartedly devote myself to the practice of patience. I had always had a harsh and stubborn character, and the practice of patience was just what I needed. Once I made up my mind, challenges came from all directions to test my resolve. I was scolded by people who had never scolded me before, beaten by others who had never struck me before, and assaulted by friends who previously had treated me well. I thought to myself, “I explained the Vajra Sutra to people, and that Sutra says that the Patient Immortal didn’t feel hatred even when his limbs were chopped off. I have only been scolded and assaulted, but no one has chopped my limbs off. If I cannot endure this, how can I be qualified to explain the Vajra Sutra to others?”
Thus, I resolved to be patient. No matter who bullied me or tried to harm me, I endured it. I learned to remain unaffected by external states. Instead of harming me, these people were teaching me by testing me out. I bowed to those who scolded me and lay down when I was beaten. I encountered frequent tests like this as a layman, and I was never short of
“good advisors” after I left the home-life either. All the other monks looked down on me and bullied me, considering me a thorn in their flesh. One monk saw me light incense and railed, “What kind of monk are you that you don’t even know how to light incense? What an idiot! How dare you talk about leaving home!”
I said to myself, “Here it comes again. The Patient Immortal didn’t feel anger even when King Kali cut off his limbs. This isn’t half as bad as that. Fine, I’ll just bow to him.” Then I bowed to the monk and thanked him for his help. Both left-home and lay
“good advisors” constantly came to “help me,” and I never got angry at them. Each time I would reflect:
“I must not have helped them in past lives. Now they’re coming
to help me, so I ought to thank them.”
Do you understand now? Your teacher is one who specializes in practicing patience when he is bullied by other people. I specialize in bearing what others cannot bear, and in yielding where others cannot yield. What use is this kind of person? You all are pretty unfortunate for having encountered such a useless and stupid teacher and deciding to study with him. Nevertheless, since you came to study with me, I have to tell you about my past. I travelled the path of patience.
When you study Buddhism, you should not only listen to the teachings, but also put them into practice in your own lives. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to be especially kind to those who mistreat us. Buddhism teaches us to regard loved ones and enemies equally. We should treat everyone the same way, not regarding some as closer than others or favoring certain people over others. If students of Buddhism cannot put the teachings into practice, then their learning is superficial and they cannot gain real benefit.
Remember, the first step in studying Buddhism is to practice patience. Even if someone wants to kill you, you shouldn’t get angry. We should go one step further than the Patient Immortal in practicing patience. However, that doesn’t mean saying,
“The Patient Immortal didn’t get angry when his four limbs were severed. Now you can hack up my body and I won’t get angry.” That’s still copying someone else; it doesn’t come from yourself, so it’s already second-rate. Not only should we feel no anger when people chop our limbs off, we shouldn’t resent it even if they pulverize our body. That’s why, when people slander me or treat me rudely, I don’t get angry.