The Mirror Of The Self: [32] Contemplation Of Tolerance

Published: 15.03.2009
Updated: 15.03.2009

Contemplation Of Tolerance

The word, 'tolerance' is 01 three syllables, but possessed of deep significance! However, it has become too familiar to arouse any curiosity. We have ceased to enquire as to what it really means. Its very familiarity has become problematic. The unfamiliar always arouses inquisitiveness. When it grows familiar, we stop thinking about it. That is what has happened in the case of 'tolerance'. Behind this word lies such grand philosophy that full expression thereof would require a new book.

Tolerance is an important element of life. One particular individual cannot endure hunger. Of him it is said that his power of endurance is deficient. The man who cannot endure extremes of heat and cold will also be called 'weak'. To be weak and to be intolerant amount to one and the same thing. A muni must have the capacity to endure hunger and thirst, the heat and the cold. One individual may be able to endure these; another may not. This thought gave rise to the question, What is the cause thereof? How is it that one man is tolerant, the other intolerant?

Factor Behind Lack Of Tolerance

In Ayurveda are mentioned factors responsible for lack of tolerance. Men are of different kinds. Some of them are skin-predominant, others are bone-predominant, still others are fatty, and some are flesh-predominant. Such a classification is made on the basis of the predominant element in an individual. The man, in whom flesh is predominant, has greater capacity for forgiveness and his power of endurance is also more. One who is deficient in fleshy has less capacity to endure. He who is fat-predominant, has greater capacity to endure the heat and the cold, and hunger and thirst; one who has little fat, has less power of endurance. Thus we have a ruling principle 4the man who is deficient in flesh and fat, is usually weak and intolerant.' So the cause of intolerance and lack of-endurance is the deficiency of flesh and fat. In these circumstances, what is it that we require to endure? And who must we endure? Until that is clear, all talk of tolerance is meaningless. Some things are determined by fate. Whether a man is fleshy or fatty, is the work of destiny. What can a man do if he is born deficient in fat and flesh? How is he to become tolerant? A man may exercise his will-power, use auto-suggestion in the state of kayotsarg, practise anupreksha (contemplation), but if he has little fat and flesh, how can he face any conflict? This is an intricate problem.

Lack Of Endurance: One Aspect

A man undertakes a fast. Does he remain unfed during the course of fasting? Nature would not permit that. A man may stop taking material nourishment from outside, but the fire within keeps burning. It is the function of fire to consume. If nourishment comes from without, the inner fire would utilize it. But if the food from outside is withheld, the fire starts consuming flesh and fat. If a man is well provided with flesh and flat, he would be less exhausted and his power of endurance would be maintained. But if he is deficient in flesh and fat, he would be soon exhausted and grow utterly restless on account of hunger and thirst. His power of endurance would diminish. One's power of endurance is con­nected with one's physical constitution, the elements that go to make up one's body, which is determined by destiny.

Lack Of Endurance: The Other Aspect

This question has another aspect, too. There are people who have fat and flesh in plenty, and yet who are not able to endure any predicament whatsoever. A little thing makes them flare up and a situation of conflict develops. Such people indulge in extreme retaliation. Mao said, "Power flows from the barrel of a gun!" The students in China started a movement for the restoration of democracy. The movement was in no way totally uncalled for. The students' demand was that corruption should be eradicated and the activities of the people associated with the ruling janta strictly controlled. The students agitating in support of this demand were declared to be anti-revolutionaries, and the move­ment was put down with a heavy hand. Hundreds of students were done to death. Why did all this happen? Why was such a ruthless and barbarous act perpetrated? The reason is - intolerance! The rulers of China could not tolerate what the students said about them. It is very difficult to endure something which conflicts with one's beliefs and concepts, to tolerate anything that runs against one's interests and inclinations. It cannot be said that all those persons who are in power in China suffer from a deficiency of fat /and flesh. What is it then that made them intolerant?

Endurance Is Related To Mind And Feeling

As a matter of fact, the capacity to tolerate is not related to the state of the body alone. It is much more related to the psyche. Where there is no control over one's emotions, one cannot endure others. It is difficult to imagine any spirit of tolerance where passions are vehement and one is assailed by strong impulses and emotions.

Tolerance is also connected with the mind. If the mind has no capacity to endure, if it is deficient in the power to regulate its passions, a man cannot be tolerant. A little opposition makes him restless and annoyed. He is so filled with tension that he is not able to endure any discomfort even for a moment.

A sufi saint was extremely powerful; he had a vast army. (In ancient times, sufi saints were rulers, too.) One evening, in the course of passing through a forest, he was obliged to halt there.

An old man also passed that way. He was very much tired. He said to the saint, "I'm tired. Where else shall I find shelter? With your permission, I should like to spend the night here." The saint permitted him to stay. When it was time for offering namaz, all men gathered to pray. The old man never offered namaz. He spoke aloud to those who were praying, "Where is God? Who has seen Him? It is all delusion, sheer hypocrisy!" The saint was taken aback. He said, "My good man! That's no way to talk. Don't abuse God!" The old man turned a deaf ear to the saint's remonstrance. The saint was greatly piqued. He bade his men -  "Turn the old man out."

At this, the old man entreated, "Where shall I go in this irritably dark night? The saint said, I cannot allow an atheist to remain here. Get out!" The saint's servants pushed the old man out.

It is said that God manifested himself just then. He asked the saint, "What's going on here? What is all this bother about?"

The saint said, "Here was a villain, an infidel who abused you. The atheist had no respect for God. Although he was an old man of 70 years, he hurled insults at God. How could I tolerate such an affront? I, therefore, got him kicked out."

God said, "What you have done is not proper." Where will the poor man seek refuge at this hour? He would be put to a great deal of suffering and he might go astray. Where will he find shelter in this awful darkness, under the open sky? Here there are many tents and all other amenities. Why did you turn him out?"

The saint said, "I cannot tolerate such a person."

God said, "I have tolerated him for 70 years. Couldn't you endure him for just one night?"

What a poignant moral this fable embodies! Only God can endure his creatures. Only the Supreme Spirit or a great soul can tolerate others. An average person is incapable of tolerating anyone holding a different opinion.

Hurdles To Toleration

It is a great problem - the problem of the mind, of inward attitude; also a problem of the body. After all, what does toleration mean? What is to be tolerated. Tolerance is good, but then it is linked with a great many things. A slight imbalance in the bio­chemical process turns a man intolerant. A person's character stands changed due to an obstruction in the bio-chemical system. A well-behaved person becomes intolerant and ill tempered. His power of endurance is weakened. Those who regularly take strong drugs, particularly antibiotics, grow churlish. Circumstances and age also have an impact on a man's conduct. At times, due to age, a man's nervous system grows inert. In this state, his capacity for endurance is lost and the man cannot put up with even a slight inconvenience.

Importance Of Toleration

There are many factors, which obstruct toleration. Physical elements, mental processes, one's way of thinking and emotional excitation - all these make for intolerance. Under these cir­cumstances, the talk of tolerance appears to be a complex riddle. We must evolve a holistic point of view. What kind of tolerance do the scriptures prescribe? What form does toleration assume according to hygiene, in Ayurveda and Medical Science? All these unambiguously underline the importance of tolerance. From the hygienic point of view, if one's spirit of tolerance is not strong, one's health is bound to suffer. Intolerance is detrimental to health. From the viewpoint of bodily health, the capacity for tolerance is essential. From the religious point of view, emotional adjustment is extremely valuable. A religious person should be emotionally mature. The maturity of the mind is also very necessary. In group life particularly, intolerance can pose a tremendous problem. One has to coexist with others and if one cannot endure others, living is filled with hostility and becomes a prob­lem. It is universally recognised that all men are imperfect and that perfection is rare. If one man is guilty of intolerance and immodest conduct, the other person too can behave impolitely. If one person indulges in undesirable behaviour, the other too reacts ungently. If a man cannot tolerate another or appreciate another person's weakness, the problem of peaceful co-existence becomes very serious.

Should We Tolerate Injustice?

In this context, one question invariably arises, 'Can it be good to tolerate injustice?' No one would say, "Tolerate injus­tice!" Well, we may not tolerate injustice, but at least we must gracefully suffer justice. This is the first principle of justice - if we have to live together, in relationship with another, we must support one another. The talk of liquidating another, instead of helping him, cannot be right.

The mother taught her son, "Always do good to others. Trust in doing good!" The son accepted the precept. He went to school. The teacher was about to sit on his chair. The pupil drew away the chair from behind with the result that the teacher fell down with a thud. Thereupon, the teacher gave the boy a thrash­ing. The latter wailed aloud. On reaching home, he said, "O Mother! You said, 'Always do a good turn!' Well, look over my whole body. It is sorely bruised. This is what comes out of doing good!"

The mother said, "But son! Why?"

"I acted on your precept; and this is the result!"

"But tell me what happened?"

"Mother! The teacher entered the classroom. I saw his chair smeared with spilled ink.  He was about to sit. I said to myself, "There is the ink spilled on his chair! If he sits on this chair, his clothes would get spoiled." So, in order to save his clothes from being stained with ink, I drew away the chair from behind. I did a good turn, and look at the consequences thereof!"

The Way Of Purification

This is what happens when something is not properly un­derstood. One should never tolerate injustice! This sentence is often iterated. But then must not one first understand what con­stitutes injustice? Without understanding it, if we do not tolerate each other, we only create a new problem. The greatest requital or conduct of tolerance would be to bear with one's colleagues. Of course we must not tolerate injustice, evils and errors, but we must refine these. The way of purification is different from the common way. No intolerant person can adequately meet injustice or evil or carry out the work of purification. Also intolerant reaction touches no man's heart. Only that touches our heart, which comes out of tolerance. To suffer, to tolerate, and to communicate one's feelings with compassionate goodwill is very important.

Toleration: Sublimation Of Energy

Ten kinds of religious duty are enumerated. The first of these is forgiveness. Friendliness, forgiveness and toleration - the three are closely knit; they are inseparable. If we wish to develop friendliness and to cultivate goodwill towards all, we must find out whether forgiveness dwells within us or not. If we wish to cultivate forgiveness, we must develop our power of endurance. It has been said of a muni that he should be tolerant like the earth. To forbear and to be capable get merged with each other in essence. He, who is capable, strong, can forbear. He who is strong can forgive. He who is strong can be friendly. There is no room for the feeble-minded in the philosophy of Mahavira. He, who is weak, impotent, cannot bear the weight of great principles like toleration, forgiveness and friendliness. It is very necessary to be capable. Mahavira was a kshatriya. A kshetri is very competent. Mahavira sublimated his powers. The energy, which was spent in war, in killing others, was sublimated and used to release the inexhaustible source of power within. Forbearance means sub­limation of energy.

This is only a brief analysis of tolerance. Through reflec­tion and contemplation, we must comprehend it in a wider context. Let us assess its utility on the basis of the science of karma, along with the physical, mental and emotional circumstances. The destruction-cum-subsidence of antaraya karman (hindrance-producing karman), the destruction-cum-subsidence of mohaniya karman (deluding karman) and the destruction-cum-subsidence of jnanavarana karman (knowledge-covering karman) only when these three combine, does the capacity for immersion in the great ocean of forbearance awaken in a man. If we can awaken this capacity within ourselves and develop forbearance, we shall come by the secret of leading a successful and peaceful life.


3rd Edition 1995

Jain Vishva Bharati Institute
Ladnun -341 306 (Rajasthan)

Muni Dhananjay Kumar (Hindi)
Muni Mahendra Kumar (English)

Translated by:
Late Prof. R.K. Seth

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Antaraya
  2. Ayurveda
  3. Body
  4. Contemplation
  5. Fasting
  6. Gun
  7. Karma
  8. Karman
  9. Kayotsarg
  10. Mahavira
  11. Mohaniya
  12. Muni
  13. Science
  14. Soul
  15. Tolerance
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