Divine Qualities (Part 26)

Forbearance (Continued)

Forbearance Is Not Weakness

Forbearance does not consist in acquiescing to the whims of others or in meekly allowing ourselves to be bullied. We need to see that our silence is not mistaken for weakness. Sri Ramakrishna did not encourage weakness masquerading as forbearance. He taught this lesson through the parable of the snake that would not even hiss to protect itself from harm. The snake had stopped biting anyone after a brahmachari gave it a mantra and told it to repeat the sacred word and do no harm to anybody. The venomous snake became gentle and did not even protest in self-defense when a group of boys caught it by the tail, and slammed it hard against the ground again and again, bruising it badly. When the brahmachari returned after some time to see how the snake was faring he was surprised to see that it had been reduced to mere skin and bones. On coming to know the cause, he told the snake, "What a shame! You are such a fool! You don't know how to protect yourself. I asked you not to bite, but I didn't forbid you to hiss. Why didn't you scare them by hissing?" Sri Ramakrishna said: "So you must hiss at wicked people. You must frighten them lest they should do you harm. But never inject your venom into them. One must not injure others."

Forbearance and Nonviolence

Forbearance and nonviolence are manifestations of inner strength. Inactivity resulting from incapacity cannot pass for forbearance. Passivity is not restraint. If we are strong enough to react, but refrain from reacting, we practice true forbearance. Swami Vivekananda explains true nonviolence: "The karma-yogi is the man who understands that the highest ideal is non-resistance, and who also knows that this non-resistance is the highest manifestation of power; but he knows, too, that what is called the resisting of evil is a step on the way towards the manifestation of this highest power, namely, non-resistance. Before reaching this highest ideal man's duty is to resist evil. Let him work, let him fight, let him strike straight from the shoulder. Then only, when he has gained the power to resist, will non-resistance be a virtue."

Forbearance and Calmness of Mind

Sri Shankaracharya's definition of forbearance involves two aspects: (1) not seeking to remove misery, and (2) not worrying and lamenting on that account. The first aspect may be possible only for advanced spiritual seekers, but the second aspect lends itself to practice by everyone. Far from helping us face adverse situations, worry and restlessness of any kind only drain our mental energy and prevent us from doing meaningful work. In one of his lectures on "Practical Vedanta" Swami Vivekananda says: "The less passion there is, the better we work. The calmer we are, the better it is for us and the greater is the amount of work we can do. When we let loose our feelings, we waste so much energy, shatter our nerves, disturb our minds, and accomplish very little work. The energy which ought to have gone into work is spent as mere feeling, which counts for nothing....The man who gives way to anger or hatred or any other passion cannot work; he only breaks himself to pieces, and does nothing practical. It is the calm, forgiving, equable, well balanced mind that does the greatest amount of work."

Part 27

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