By Daniel Scharpenburg
Obviously it’s normal to want to avoid difficulty whenever we can.
The problem is that we can’t avoid all of the challenges life will throw at us. In fact, a lot of the time pretending that we can avoid the challenges of life brings difficulty and extra suffering to us. Facing difficulty and accepting that life is hard is a better thing for us to do. This is associated with the cultivation of patience, our ability to weather the storms of life.
It’s hard to think in this way, but difficult people give us the chance to practice forgiveness, and difficult circumstances give us a chance to practice patience and equanimity. The distractions that are everywhere give us a chance to practice mindfulness and concentration. If we can see these things as opportunities, then our practice is in good shape.
I’m going to tell you the story of Atisha and his assistant.
Atisha is a very important figure in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. He wrote a wonderful text that’s still revered in Tibetan Buddhism called, The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, which I really recommend.
He was a famous teacher in the Mahayana tradition in India in the 11th century. After a period when Buddhism had experienced a few decades of repression, the new king of Tibet wanted to find a way to revitalize it. So, he invited this famous teacher from India to come give teachings. After some effort was made to convince him, this great teacher Atisha decided to go to Tibet. He traveled around spreading the teachings, and he had an assistant with him.
It’s said that Atisha was very wise, patient and kind. His assistant, on the other hand, was not. He was always rude and complaining, didn’t get along with anyone and always seemed unhappy and irritable. He was the kind of person you don’t want to hang out with. Everyone that met Atisha and the assistant wondered why this great master would bring a jerk around with him.
Eventually someone asked, “What’s the deal with your assistant? Why do you hang out with that guy?” Atisha said, “He’s the only one who can teach me patience and compassion.”
You see, Atisha was turning this difficult person into part of the path. It takes a lot of hard work for us to do that, but we have the same ability.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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