Age of Intolerance – The ability to tolerate is the measure of true greatness


Ever heard a hothead yell cuss words at a bad driver?

Is your amped-up evangelist a target for the middle finger?

Or maybe you were brown-eyed by bare buttocks while strolling the beach?

Whatever the provocation, you probably cannot count the number of times you had to exercise a little tolerance in your life.

What drives you to kick someone in the teeth?

Is it the colour of their skin, a devotion they profess, their economic viability, or just plain old bias and bigotry?

I knew an Indian boy at school called Raj whom kids labelled the “curry-muncher.” Being a minority amongst rugby jocks and Catholics, bullies ambushed him as they yanked down his pants and beat him pell-mell to the ground. One day it got too much for Raj – at age seventeen he hung himself.

The fact is, whether you think you’re perfect or not, others will have to tolerate your faults. Cute platitudes such as “treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated” are nice. But if you consider the world’s violent history and present social discord, it appears that tolerating your neighbour is not so simple.

Is our society producing a generation who cannot tolerate even the slightest prodding?

Are humans evolving into primates who lack self-control and serenity?

World teacher and scholar His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhubupada points out:

“Small lamps may be agitated by a slight breeze, but the greatest lamp or the greatest illuminating source, the sun, is never moved, even by the greatest hurricane. One’s greatness has to be estimated by one’s ability to tolerate provoking situations.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, chapter 89)

According to ancient yoga texts of India, tolerance is a qualifying characteristic for being human—a virtue lost in times where all we are taught is to live easy like Sunday mornings. It’s all part of being modern—we are to horde possessions and make life cosy, and if life is all about acquiring comforts, then where is the need for tolerance? Yet this world isn’t meant for luxury; it is infected with three kinds of material misery:

1) Inconvenience arising from other living entities like the in-laws you wished were dead, or the acute sting of a bloodsucker, or perhaps neighbours who are raucous at midnight;

2) Inconvenience arising from natural calamities such as Hurricane Hermine or Typhoon Koppu, and the earthquake that levelled Christchurch;

3) Inconvenience arising from our body and mind such as illness, aches and pains, anxiety and depression— now an epidemic in the First World.

Moreover, as time takes its toll, the ultimate inconvenience forces death – as it rips apart everything we sweat for.

We live in a world of faults where tolerance must be cultivated by practising austerity, the voluntary acceptance of inconvenience for a higher purpose. And the greatest purpose? Self-realisation: achieving that divine experience beyond the confines of our material body and mind. Through applied spiritual technology, we can develop our consciousness to the highest level of perception, where the heart is purified, and, attaining eternal blissful life, a person transcends even material happiness.

Srila Prabhupada writes:

“Every human being is meant simply for this austerity and for no other business, because by penance only can one realize his self; and self-realization, not sense gratification, is the business of human life . . . By austerity only can one get the profit of human life, and not by a polished civilization of animal life.” (Srimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.6 commentary.)

We are accustomed to accepting austerity for material benefits: exotic edibles, a soft spot to sleep, a picturesque house and a perfect mate, what a wildlife pursuit!

When I was seventeen I would wake up at 3.00am and bike five kilometres to work, five days a week. I worked eight-hour shifts, striving through wind and rain, cold and heat—slaving away in a New World bakery to buy a black Honda Civic. Some days I peed blood from exertion, but I thought it was worth the sweat—all to impress the chicks. But the one girl I hooked up with was so hard to please, I felt like punching my car in and kicking her off the front seat! Obviously she did not appreciate what a young guy had to go through to take her out.

The yogis point out, why not endure austerity for a greater benefit— a nonmaterial benefit?

While consumer marketing seeks to invoke illusions of pleasure in an atmosphere of tribulation the sages demonstrate how austerity helps us detach from this world of transitory sensations.

We gain tolerance when we understand that we are not this body, which is composed of matter. Understanding our spiritual identity apart from the body gives us the capacity to tolerate material interactions. You will see everything in the right perspective, because matter is nonpermanent and such fluctuations are trifling.

Krishna, the master of the yoga system, gives an analysis of successful enlightenment:

1) The ecstasy where one is situated in boundless nonmaterial happiness, perceived by refined sense perception.

2) Being fixed in this transcendental consciousness, and realising no greater gain, such a person is never affected by material illusions.

3) Freed from all miseries, they are never disturbed amongst any agitation.

Taking to the process of enlightenment is requisite if we desire peace and freedom from life’s turbulence. Selfrealised masters are grounded in their identity as nonmaterial beings of eternity, knowledge, and bliss. Hence, for them, tolerating is easy.

We can fake many things in this world, but we cannot fake tolerance.

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