Examples in the Pāli canon identify using forbearance in response to others’ anger, cuckolding, torture and even fatal assaults.
Khanti is the first word of the Ovada-Patimokkha Gatha (Pāli for “Patimokkha Exhortation Verse”), also found in the Dhammapada, verse 184:
He who injures another
He who mistreats another,
Na hi pabbajito
Elsewhere in the Dhammapada khanti is found in verse 399:
- He endures — unangered —
- insult, assault, & imprisonment.
- His army is strength;
- his strength, forbearance:
- he’s what I call
- a brahman.
Lord Sakka’s restraint
In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha tells of an ancient battle between devas and asuras during which the devas were victorious and the asura king Vepacitti was captured and imprisoned. When the deva lord, Sakka visited Vepacitti in prison, Vepacitti “abused and reviled him with rude, harsh words,” to which Sakka did not respond in kind. Afterwards, Sakka’s charioteer questioned Sakka about this, expressing concern that some would see Sakka’s response as indicative of fear or weakness. Sakka replied:
- It is neither through fear nor weakness
- That I am patient with Vepacitti.
- How can a wise person like me
- Engage in combat with a fool?
- … Of goals that culminate in one’s own good
- None is found better than patience.
- …One who repays an angry man with anger
- Thereby makes things worse for himself.
- Not repaying an angry man with anger,
- One wins a battle hard to win.
- He practices for the welfare of both,
- His own and the other’s,
- When, knowing that his foe is angry,
- He mindfully maintains his peace.
- When he achieves the cure of both —
- His own and the other’s —
- The people who consider him a fool
- Are unskilled in the Dhamma.
The Buddha then commended to his followers Sakka’s praise for “patience and gentleness” (khantisoraccassa).
A cuckold’s forbearance
In a Jātaka tale, Exposition on Patience Birth Story (Khanti-vaṇṇana-jātaka: J 225), the Buddha tells of a former life when he was Brahmadatta, a king of Benares. At the time, a courtier of the king “fell into an intrigue in the king’s harem.” This same courtier was being similarly betrayed by one of his own servants and complained to the king about that servant. In response, the king disclosed his knowledge of the courtier’s betrayal and stated:
- “Good men, I trow, are rare enow: so patience is my rede.”
Shamed by the king’s awareness of their deeds, the courtier and his servant henceforth ceased their betrayals.
Parables of torture
The Majjhima Nikaya has a classic parable of Buddhist forbearance, the Buddha’s Simile of the Saw:
- Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: “Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.” That’s how you should train yourselves.
Similarly, in the Jātaka Tale, Patience Teacher Birth Story (Khantivādī Jātaka: J 313), a jealous king repeatedly asked an ascetic what the ascetic taught, to which the ascetic replied, “Patience,” which the ascetic further defined as “not to get angry when injured, criticized or struck.” To test the ascetic’s patience, the king had the ascetic struck two thousand times with a whip of thorns, had the ascetic’s hands and feet axed off, cut off the ascetic’s nose and ears, and then kicked the ascetic in the heart. After the king left, the ascetic wished the king a long life and said, “Those like myself do not feel wrath.” The ascetic died later that day.
- Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 232, entry for “Khanti & Khantī” (retrieved 3 Jul 2007).
- Thanissaro (1997b).Archived 2007-07-08 at the Wayback Machine Note that, while the versification used here is that used by Thanissaro, this English translation does not line up exactly in terms of word order with the parallel Pāli text; thus, the breaks in the Pāli text here are inserted more for visual consonance with Thanissaro’s versification than to provide a word-for-word translation of the same line of English.
- This Pali is from the Ovāda-Pāṭimokkha Gāthā in Dhammayut Order in the United States of America (1994).Archived 2009-03-06 at the Wayback Machine (Valthuis characters replaced with Romanized Pāli diacrits.)
- Thanissaro (1997a).
- Bodhi (2000), Vepacitti (or Patience) sutta, pp. 321-23.
- Bodhi (2000), ibid.
- Rouse (1895), Jataka No. 225, pp. 145-46.
- Rouse (1895), ibid.
- Thanissaro (1997c).
- Nandisena (2000).