PERSEVERANCE AND PATIENCE
Spiritual growth is a long process that requires perseverance and
patience. Once the resolution is made and the journey is begun, it should
not be abandoned, for the result is often not decided until the very end.
Patience is not merely to wait for fate to intervene; rather it means to
persevere in the practices of the discipline until the goal is achieved.
The scriptures express the virtue of perseverance through various
metaphors: running a race, climbing a tree, digging a well, and boring to
the pith of a tree.
To conclude this section, we have singled out two passages which
tell stories of great patience. One, from the story of Job in the Bible,
describes his patience and faith in the midst of suffering. The other,
from the Qur'an, is the story of Moses' mystic journey, where the mark of
a patient man is that he can accept the vicissitudes of life, as unlikely
as they might be, without doubting the ever-present but unseen hand of
Be patient; surely God's promise is true. And ask forgiveness for your
sin, and proclaim the praise of your Lord at evening and dawn.
Islam. Qur'an 40.55
Though he be ever so tired by repeated failure, let him begin his
operations again and again; for fortune greatly favors the man who
perseveres in his undertakings.
Hinduism. Laws of Manu 9.300
And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap,
if we do not lose heart.
Christianity. Bible, Galatians 6.9
How long can you continue to sacrifice with a heart of love? This is what
determines whether you have victory or defeat.
Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 9-1-72
Once when the Master was standing by a stream, he said, "Could one but go
on and on like this, never ceasing day or night!"
Confucianism. Analects 9.16
The snail has no hands,
The snail has no feet,
Gently the snail climbs the tree.
African Traditional Religions. Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)
If fishermen, hunters, and farmers,
Thinking merely of their own livelihood,
Endure the sufferings of heat and cold,
Why am I not patient for the sake of the world's joy?
Buddhism. Shantideva, Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life
He who endures to the end will be saved.
Christianity. Mark 13.13
The day that the sun sets and does not rise again is indeed an evil day.
African Traditional Religions. Igala Proverb (Nigeria)
Perseverance prevails even against Heaven.
Judaism. Talmud, Sanhedrin 105a
Prosperity forsakes those who always dream of fate and favors those who
persevere. One should therefore always be active and alert.
Hinduism. Matsya Purana 221.2
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 4.40: Cf. Dhammapada 80, p. 731,
another comparison of the spiritual task to worldly labors. Igala
Proverb: Even the worst problems have solutions if one only perseveres.
Sanhedrin 105a: 'Heaven' here may mean one's God-ordained destiny. Cf.
Matsya Purana 180.5-7, p. 710. Matsya Purana 221.2: Cf. Acarangasutra
1.35-37. p. 739.
Master Tseng said, "The true Knight of the Way must perforce be both
broad-shouldered and stout of heart; his burden is heavy and he has far to
go. For Goodness is the burden he has taken upon himself; and must we not
grant that it is a heavy one to bear? Only with death does his journey
end; then must we not grant that he has far to go?"
Confucianism. Analects 8.7
Life is like a hill.
Mawu the Creator made it steep and slippery,
To right and left deep waters surround it,
You cannot turn back once you start to climb.
You must climb with a load on your head.
A man's arms will not help him, for it's a trial,
The world is a place of trial.
African Traditional Religions. Dahomey Song
You who believe, seek help through patience and prayer; God stands
alongside the patient! We will test you with a bit of fear and hunger,
and a shortage of wealth and souls and produce. Proclaim such to patient
people who say, whenever disaster strikes them, "We are God's, and are
returning to Him!" Such will be granted their prayers by their Lord as
well as mercy. Those are guided!
Islam. Qur'an 2.153-57
Race with one another for forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden.
Islam. Qur'an 57.21
Heedful among the heedless, wide awake amongst the slumbering, the wise
man advances as does a swift horse, leaving a weak jade behind.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 29
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one
receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete
exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable
wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not
box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after
preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Christianity. 1 Corinthians 9.24-27
Analacts 8.7: Cf. I Ching 58, p. 201; Lotus Sutra 13, pp. 882f. Qur'an
2.153-57: Cf. Qur'an 2.177, p. 861; 3.186, p. 879. 1 Corinthians 9.24-27:
Cf. 1 Timothy 4.7-8, p. 716; Hebrews 12.1-2, pp. 754f.
You will be running to the four corners of the universe:
To where the land meets the big water;
To where the sky meets the land;
To where the home of winter is;
To the home of rain.
Run this! Run!
For you are the mother of a people.
Native American Religions. Apache Song
Scripture credits with performance not him who begins a task, but him who
Judaism. Talmud, Sota 13b
You have crossed the great ocean; why do you halt so near the shore? Make
haste to get on the other side, Gautama; be careful all the while!
Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 10.34
Mencius said, "To try to achieve anything is like digging a well. You can
dig a hole nine fathoms deep, but if you fail to reach the source of
water, it is just an abandoned well."
Confucianism. Mencius VII.A.29
Rabbi Akiba, illiterate at forty, saw one day a stone's perforation where
water fell from a spring, and having heard people say, "Waters wear
stones," he thought, "If soft water can bore through a rock, surely
iron-clad Torah should, by sheer persistence, penetrate a tender mind";
and he turned to study.
Judaism. Talmud, Abot de Rabbi Nathan 6
Suppose a man goes to the forest to get some of the pith that grows
in the center of a tree and returns with a burden of branches and leaves,
thinking that he has secured what he went after; would he not be foolish?
A person seeks a path that will lead him away from misery; and yet,
he follows that path a little way, notices some little advance, and
immediately becomes proud and conceited. He is like the man who sought
pith and came back satisfied with a burden of branches and leaves.
Another man goes into the forest seeking pith and comes back with a
load of branches. He is like the person on the path who becomes satisfied
with the progress he has made by a little effort, and relaxes his effort
and becomes proud and conceited.
Another man comes back carrying a load of bark instead of the pith
he was looking for. He is like the person who finds that his mind is
becoming calmer and his thoughts clearer, and then relaxes his effort and
becomes proud and conceited. Then another man brings back a load of the
woody fiber of the tree instead of the pith. Like him is one who has
gained a measure of intuitive insight, and then relaxes his effort. All
of these seekers, who become easily satisfied after insufficient effort
and become proud and overbearing, relax their efforts and easily fall into
idleness. All these people will inevitably face suffering again.
Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya i.192-95: Simile of the Pith
Apache Song: This is a song for the girls' initiation to adulthood, which
takes place at puberty. Mencius VII.A.29: Cf. Luke 14.28-31, p. 736.
It matters not what you learn; but when you once learn a thing, you must
never give it up until you have mastered it. It matters not what you
inquire into, but when you inquire into a thing, you must never give it up
until you have thoroughly understood it. It matters not what you try to
think out, but when you once try to think out a thing you must never give
it up until you have got what you want. It matters not what you try to
sift out, but when you once try to sift out a thing, you must never give
it up until you have sifted it out clearly and distinctly. It matters not
what you try to carry out, but when you once try to carry out a thing you
must never give it up until you have done it thoroughly and well. If
another man succeed by one effort, you will use a hundred efforts. If
another man succeed by ten efforts, you will use a thousand efforts. Let
a man really proceed in this manner, and though dull, he will surely
become intelligent; though weak, he will surely become strong.
Confucianism. Doctrine of the Mean 20
Now there was a day when [Job's] sons and daughters were eating and
drinking wine in their eldest brother's house; and there came a messenger
to Job, and said, "The oxen were plowing and the asses feeding beside
them; and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them, and slew the servants
with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you." While
he was yet speaking, there came another, and said, "The fire of God fell
from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them;
and I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was yet speaking, there
came another, and said, "The Chaldeans formed three companies, and made a
raid upon the camels and took them, and slew the servants with the edge of
the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was yet
speaking, there came another, and said, "Your sons and daughters were
eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house; and behold, a
great wind came across the wilderness, and struck the four corners of the
house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead; and I alone
have escaped to tell you."
Then Job arose, and rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell
upon the ground, and worshipped. And he said, "Naked I came from my
mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has
taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Judaism and Christianity. Job 1.13-22
Majjhima Nikaya i.192-95: Cf. Parable of the Sower, Mark 4.3-20, pp. 718f.
Job 1.13-22: Cf. Job 2.9-10, pp. 707f.; Anguttara Nikaya iii.33, p. 697.
Moses... found one of Our servants to whom We had given mercy from
Ourself and taught him knowledge from Our very presence. Moses said to
him, "May I follow you so you may teach me some of the common sense you
have been taught?" He said, "You will never have any patience with me!
How can you show any patience with something that is beyond your
He said, "You will find me patient, if God so wishes. I will not
disobey you in any matter." He said, "If you follow me, do not ask me
about anything until I tell you something to remember it by."
So they both started out until, as they boarded a ship, he bored a
hole in her. [Moses] said, "Have you scuttled her to drown her crew? You
have done such a weird thing!" He said, "Didn't I say that you would not
manage to show any patience with me?" He said, "Do not take me to task
for what I have forgotten, nor weigh me down by making my case too
difficult for me."
They journeyed on and when they met a youth, he killed him. Moses
said, "Have you killed an innocent soul, who himself had not murdered
another? You have committed such a horrible deed!" He said, "Did I not
tell you that you would never manage to have any patience with me?" He
said, "If I ever ask you about anything after this, do not let me
accompany you. You have found an excuse so far as I am concerned."
They both proceeded further till when they came to the people of a
town, they asked its inhabitants for some food, and they refused to treat
either of them hospitably. They found a wall there which was about to
tumble down, so he set it straight. Moses said, "If you had wished, you
might have accepted some payment for it." He said, "This means a parting
between you and me. Yet I shall inform you about the interpretation of
what you had no patience for.
"As for the ship, it belonged to some poor men who worked at sea.
I wanted to damage it because there was a king behind them seizing every
ship by force. The young man's parents were believers, and we dreaded lest
he would burden them with arrogation and disbelief. We wanted the Lord to
replace him for them with someone better than him in purity and nearer to
tenderness. The wall belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and a
treasure of theirs lay underneath it. Their father had been honorable, so
your Lord wanted them to come of age and claim their treasure as a mercy
from your Lord. That is the interpretation of what you showed no patience
Islam. Qur'an 18.65-82
Qur'an 18.65-82: The biblical Moses had a weakness of anger and
impatience; once he killed an Egyptian and as a consequence had to flee
Egypt and live in exile in Midian; cf. Numbers 20.2-13, p. 924. This
parable about Moses has no parallel in the Bible. Moses seeks out a
teacher, which shows that despite his great faith and wisdom, he was
always humble to truth and eager to learn more. The unnamed teacher whom
he meets is one who is deeply acquainted with the secrets of life;
tradition assigns him the name Khidr. He has such spiritual insight that
he can see the reality behind appearances. For Moses, and all of us who
lack such unusual powers of insight, the truth is hidden, and we make
mistakes if we rely on quick judgments. The truth can only be found out
through patience and trust in God. Cf. Proverbs 3.5-6, p. 752.