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Let Us Learn To Live: The Art Of Tolerance

Published: 24.02.2012

Both tolerance and intolerance are inherent in all three forms of yoga (action): physical, mental, and vocal. Tolerance mends broken relationships, fosters affection and cultivates respect, while intolerance does the opposite.

Tolerance is a human virtue essential for creating and sustaining a harmonious society. It is also a necessity for one's own well being and for maintaining a happy, stress-free life. "To live and let others live peacefully" is both a social and a personal obligation. A tolerant person possesses the prerequisite to lead a balanced life. Anyone who cannot put up with internal and external situations with equanimity not only disturbs his own peace but also the peace around him. One who lacks the aptitude to listen, understand, make allowances, and respect others' ideas and opinions will always cause strife. The root cause of disputes, struggles, and unrest in life is intolerance.

Most people are peace loving by nature, but at times they do exhibit violent or tumultuous tendencies. Such behavior can be ascribed to certain indiscernible phobias, greed, or ego. A serene person is ideal for the family as well as society. Such individuals can tackle even the most unpleasant and explosive situations with patience. On the other hand violent or turbulent human traits can break families and result in oppressed and uncivilized societies. Fortunately, humans have the potential to overcome these weaknesses by exercising their willpower.

According to Jain philosophy, all activities, good and bad, are the result of three forms of yoga (action): physical movement, mental processes, and verbal or written communication.

Physical Tolerance

Physical strength and stamina varies from person to person. Some people can easily walk five to ten miles everyday, whereas others cannot cover even short distances. Some can endure hard work for hours and have the strength to lift enormous weights while others get exhausted very easily. Farmers who must work in open fields carry on their routines in the scorching sun or torrential rain. But those accustomed to luxuries and comforts such as air-conditioning, heating, soft furnishings and other modern conveniences become distressed by the slightest change in weather.

While all humans share basic physiology, each one of us exhibits different physical traits. They reflect the lifestyle we have adopted. The physical intolerances evident in today's society can mostly be attributed to our modern lifestyle.

Once, while walking in a forest, Emperor Akbar and his confidant Birbal spotted a boy asleep on an uneven rock. This unusual sight perplexed Akbar and he asked Birbal as to how could it be possible for anyone to lie on a rugged rock, let alone sleep on it. Birbal replied, "Your Majesty! What is so surprising about it? This is simply a habit one develops. The body adapts as it is trained. This boy is accustomed to harsh living." Astounded by Birbal's explanation, the King asked him to prove it.

Birbal invited the boy to stay with them at the palace. The boy was overwhelmed and could not resist the tempting invitation. He enthusiastically followed them and soon began enjoying a life full of luxury.

One day, Birbal spread some gravel on the boy's bedding. The boy went to bed as usual but couldn't sleep at all that night. The next day Birbal summoned the boy before the King and asked him about his sleep.

The boy confessed he hadn't slept a wink during the night. He stated that he normally slept soundly but couldn't rest last night and as a result, his whole body was still aching.

Birbal turned to the King and said, "Your Majesty! This boy, who not too long ago was accustomed to rough surfaces, is now unable to sleep on his bed because of a little gravel on it. This is because he is no longer physically and mentally used to hardship. In a short time he forgot his old habits and now he cannot tolerate the slightest discomfort."

The human body is an anatomical marvel that can be trained to adapt and survive in very harsh environments. Some people, out of fear of getting sick in the winter, put on warm gloves, socks, and thermals and wear a scarf around their necks. Gurudev Tulsi casually advised against such precautions. Wrapping yourself warmly ail the time reduces your immunity to cold. If you try to overprotect your body will react to the slightest change in outside temperature, thereby courting sickness. It is therefore prudent to condition your body to tolerate and even enjoy temperature variations.

Mental Tolerance

Forbearance not only imparts serenity and wellbeing to the practitioner but is also conducive to harmony and peace for others who come in contact with him. The mind needs to be trained to endure the body in all circumstances, because intolerance can only generate tension, frustration, oppression and unhappiness. An excessively intolerant attitude may result in insanity and have tragic consequences, such as murder and suicide. As our society becomes increasingly intolerant even small children are prone to tension. A lady once told me that if she asks her five-year-old son to fetch a glass of water during his play time he gets annoyed and frustrated!

Mental intolerance can terminate friendships and end good will. What will happen to the family if the father has no tolerance for the son, or te mother-in-law for the daughter-in-law, or the daughter for the mother and vice versa? What will happen to the institution of marriage, if a husband and wife cannot be tolerant?

Cordial relationships can flourish only when there are no family conflicts and no strife between husbands and wives. Tolerance mends broken relationships, fosters affection, and generates respect.

Verbal Restraint

Speech, the principle means of communication, has been the cornerstone of human development and civilization. It can bring about unity and stability as well as conflict and chaos. A controlled tongue, which usually means refraining from reacting, can save you from the troubles arising from hasty, thoughtless or misguided words. Conscious silence, i.e., abstinence from inappropriate speech, is one way to keep the peace. Undoubtedly, there is truth in the saying, "If speech is silver, then silence is gold."

A person who has control over his tongue will not hurt others by using inappropriate, unpleasant or harsh words. Such a restrained person well understands that a seemingly insignificant remark stated the wrong way can ruin a close relationship. The Mahabharata is an excellent example of the importance of verbal restraint. Had Draupadi refrained from one improper remark mocking Duryodhana "the blind son of a blind father" there would not have been a brutal war! When a small matter turns into a major conflict, the person responsible may rather belatedly realize that the unwarranted clash could have been averted had he or she controlled his speech and not had an emotional outburst. He or she regretfully thinks, "I had no right to impose my ideas on other people when I myself hate being imposed upon. If I don't like being dominated, I shouldn't expect others to accept or tolerate my domination." By understanding and sincerely following this principle you can maintain forbearance and remain calm in any situation.

Preventing Anger

Anger is a negative emotion, appreciated by none but felt by all. Anger can be irrational or pretentious. Irrational anger is the loss of self-awareness and self-control, culminating in a rush of negative feelings including antagonism, resentment and helplessness. Assumed anger, on the other hand, does not exist in the mind; it is an outward expression, such as the indignation shown by those making political or religious speeches to make an impact on the masses. Assumed anger is also seen in in schools to maintain discipline and in the workplace to drive higher levels of performance and to develop innate abilities or bring errant people on the right path.

I have closely observed Gurudev Tulsi disciplining his disciples. His approach was an ideal combination of toughness and tenderness. He had always maintained that for a medication to be effective it should be right for the specific disease. The pills may be bitter or sugarcoated but the aim of any treatment should be to not only cure the manifestations of the disease, but also eradicate its root cause. Therefore, whether administering medicine or teaching or disciplining, one must be specific to the target and, simultaneously, as rigorous and furious as thunder and as mild and gentle as a breeze. Such fury cannot be deemed senseless cruelty. Only that anger is harmful and malignant which makes a man lose his consciousness or self-awareness.

One of the ways to protect yourself from the ravages of anger is to observe silence for a minimum of ten minutes whenever anger is imminent. Silence is a quick spiritual remedy that pacifies rage. A story told by Gurudev Tulsi beautifully illustrates this point:

Once upon a time a couple lived with an only child - a daughter. They brought her up with unconditional love and profound devotion. They gave her every freedom and did not discipline her even when she misbehaved. Her pampered upbringing made her willful and impetuous, and she had an uncontrollable temper. Regardless of who she was addressing she spoke her mind with no regard for the consequences.

When she grew up, she was married into a prosperous and respectable family. Her charm, however, did not last and in no time she began getting into trouble for her boorish behavior. She had no clue of her own shortcomings. Instead every member of her new family seemed evil to her.

Time passed. One day, while on a visit to her parents, her father asked her about her new life. She broke down saying, "Father! What shall I say? That house is worse than hell. My father-in-law, mother-in-law, and my husband are like demons. It would have been far better to push me into a well than marry me into such a family. I don't want to go back."

Her father was distressed, but he wasn't blind to his daughter's character. He said, "My dear, don't worry. I will give you a special medicine that will bring your in-laws under your control. Your hell will then turn into heaven."

When the time came for the girl to return to her husband's home, her father gave her a bottle filled with sweet water. He told her, "Whenever you get angry, take a mouthful of this medicine, keep it in your mouth for ten minutes and then spit it out."

She followed his instructions diligently. Every time she got angry, the mouthful of medicine made her silent for ten minutes. By the time she spat it out, her anger would have already subsided. Gradually her bad temper diminished and her demeanor changed. A few months later, when questioned by her father, she stated that her husband's home was now indeed like heaven.

Such a positive change can certainly be achieved by conquering anger. Silence is a potent antidote for bringing anger under control. If need be, leave the scene that is causing distress. Deep breathing and periodic breath holding can also help pacify anger.

Practicing physical, mental, and verbal tolerance improves character and brings lasting happiness. Tolerance empowers the body, mind, and spirit and instills inner peace and contentment.


Let Us Learn To Live

Jain Vishva Bharati, Ladnun With Best Wishes:
Buddhmal Chordia Charitable trust
Charwas - Kolkata 1. Edition: June 2011
2. Edition: November 2011

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Akbar
  2. Anger
  3. Body
  4. Consciousness
  5. Discipline
  6. Equanimity
  7. Fear
  8. Greed
  9. Gurudev
  10. Jain Philosophy
  11. Mahabharata
  12. Tolerance
  13. Tulsi
  14. Yoga
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