“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness – these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.42)
śamo damas tapaḥ śaucaṁ
kṣāntir ārjavam eva ca
jñānaṁ vijñānam āstikyaṁ
You’ve prepared yourself for this trip. From past experience, you know that you get frustrated quickly. The reason you prefer going by automobile is that then you’re not attached to fixed times. There isn’t as much pressure to meet a deadline. Alas, what can you do for overseas trips? You have to take an airplane. This means arriving at the airport at least two hours early, then waiting on a series of lines, showing your identification card multiple times. This is all while carrying heavy bags.
Since you know the process is stressful, you’ve told yourself to relax this time around.
“Just be tolerant. Everyone else is going through the same thing. They are just as stressed as you are, if not more. Do you see these mothers travelling with several small children? Imagine what they are going through. You couldn’t deal with that. So just chill out.”
Your patience is tested at the very outset. You think the seat next to you on the plane will be clear, freeing more space, but right as they close the cabin doors someone occupies the seat. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world normally, but this person smells very bad. As the journey starts, you settle in. The flight attendants bring out the beverage cart, and they don’t have the drink that you want. Then later on you go to use the restroom, only to find a giant mess in there.
As has happened to you many times before, the person seated directly behind you seems to have no problem pressing forward against your seat. They do it constantly, as if on purpose. You can’t stand it, yet you realize that getting angry is not going to help things. After a while, though, the person next to you starts to really get on your nerves. It’s bad enough that they smell, but they make their presence felt as well. They are constantly moving around, bumping into you. At one point they decide to try to sit down Indian style. That doesn’t work, as their feet overflow into your seat. At this point you’re ready to lose it. You want to scream out in frustration.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna mentions various qualities associated with the brahmana, who is the person in the mode of goodness. Goodness leads to enlightenment, passion to a neutral state, and ignorance regression. Activities, people, charity, body types – basically anything in the material world can be described by these three categories. The brahmana is in the mode of goodness to advance in consciousness. One of the qualities necessary for that advancement is tolerance. This applies to every person, but especially for one who is seeking enlightenment.
We can get the ideal example of tolerance from the Supreme Lord Himself. Not only can all good qualities be found in Him, but they exist at the highest levels as well. The Shrimad Bhagavatam describes the time Bhrigu Muni wanted to test who was supreme amongst the three presiding deities of the material creation. His method of testing was to insult. He first insulted his father Lord Brahma, the creator. Brahma got angry that Bhrigu did not offer respects when greeting him. Bhrigu next insulted Lord Shiva by speaking harsh words to him. Shiva got angry and had to be restrained by his wife Parvati.
Finally, Bhrigu went to visit Lord Vishnu, who is also known as the maintainer. The sage saved the best insult for last. With Brahma the insult was with the mind, and with Shiva with words. Here Bhrigu insulted with a deed, a pretty bad one at that. Seeing Vishnu lying down and resting, Bhrigu kicked the Lord in the chest. Lord Vishnu got up immediately and asked Bhrigu if he was alright. Vishnu said that His chest was known to be very hard and so such a kick would likely cause injury to someone’s foot.
Lord Vishnu was not offended since Bhrigu was from the brahmana class. In other words, when a devotee does something like that to God, there is no offense taken. Vishnu possesses full tolerance. In fact, based on knowledge of the spiritual science, we know that God must be the most tolerant person. He lives within everyone as the Supersoul. Through this expansion He acts as the all-pervading witness. By extension, He automatically witnesses every sinful deed. He knows everything that we have done since time immemorial.
He still accepts our service when we sincerely make the turn towards Him. To accept us, He must forgive every mistake we have made. The original sin, if you will, is turning from His shelter and looking for supremacy in the shadow land known as the material world. This mistake causes great harm, and though we remain obstinate for so long, Vishnu does not hold a grudge. He is the most tolerant, and so that quality is passed down to those who aspire to remain forever in His service, chanting the holy names with full humility: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Kid behind you kicking the seat,
On airplane tolerance difficult to keep.
Frustrated so easily to become,
How true enlightenment then to come?
Example of Lord Vishnu take,
How when Bhrigu Muni test to make.
Tolerating that swift kick to His chest,
Those in bhakti with same quality blessed.