Discovering the art of waiting – the importance of patience and impatience in Buddhism

July 4, 2023

This article originally appeared in the BuddhaFoundation (Buddha Stiftung) website at . We thank Jochen Weber for kindly giving us permission to repost this article.


Since the Corona pandemic, waiting has once again entered our consciousness as a central and unavoidable part of life. In our fast-paced world, we had become accustomed to the fact that many things are just a mouse click away. But whether we are standing in a line, waiting for an answer, or expecting a certain outcome, waiting and impatience are often siblings.

From a Buddhist perspective, however, waiting is not seen as an obstacle, but as an opportunity for growth and the development of wisdom. In this article we will look at waiting from different perspectives. We try to look at waiting in a different way, as an opportunity to practice the art of patience and equanimity.

First I waited slowly, then faster and faster

Karl Valentin, German comedian, 1881-1948

Waiting - just wasted time?

Waiting is a common experience of all life on this planet. Plants wait for the right external conditions before they bloom their flowers. Insects and animals wait for prey, people wait for trains, the ‘great love’, a creative idea, or for an illness to get better. Everyone waits, but our reactions to it can vary greatly. Some find waiting frustrating and stressful and become restless, irritable and impatient (dukkha), while others approach it with a sense of calm (upekkha). When we are forced to wait, such as in a traffic jam or a line at a checkout, we often begin to engage in something to distract ourselves from the unpleasant experience of waiting; we check the smartphone, we get lost in thought, or we bark at someone. 

Buddhism invites us to explore the nature of waiting and our reactions to it with mindfulness. It emphasizes the impermanence or non-permanence of all things (annica), including moments of waiting. By recognizing the impermanence of our (unpleasant) experiences of waiting, we can cultivate patience and accept the present moment as it is without being captured by impatience. In this sense, times of waiting are free time for conscious mindfulness practice.

Persevering patience is the most important virtue (of an ethical life) 

Dhammapada 184

Free German translation by BuddhaFoundation of an English version of the Dhammapada on,

Patience is more than passive perseverance

In Buddhism, patience is considered a virtue and an essential quality for an ethical life to practice. In order to cultivate patience, we must develop an unbiased understanding of our own minds and emotions. By observing our impatience and its underlying causes, we can gain insight into our desires, cravings, and aversions. We may learn how attached we are to things or people we are waiting for, or how little control we have over life when we or loved ones are suddenly ill or in need of care.

Buddhism teaches that true patience is more than mere perseverance; it is an active engagement with the present moment, a willingness to accept things as they are, and a compassionate response to the suffering of others.

This is expressed in the second task of Buddha's teaching, not to react immediately and automatically to unpleasant experiences, but to ‘not react,’ ‘let be’ as it is, or ‘let go.’ In this sense, the practice of patience is an important virtue because it prevents reacting inappropriately or hurtfully to unpleasant experiences reflexively.

The power of equanimity

Equanimity (upekkha) complements the practice of patience in the face of waiting. Equanimity refers to a state of mental calm and stability in which we are able to maintain balance and composure in the midst of life's ups and downs. It is a state of non-reactivity and non-attachment in which we do not allow external circumstances to derail our lives. This is true for our everyday tests of patience; when extreme events occur, few are likely to succeed. 

Equanimity allows us to fully accept the present moment without resistance or judgment. It is the ability to give space to both pleasant and unpleasant experiences and to recognize that all things and experiences arise and pass away. Through equanimity, we find a deep sense of acceptance and serenity in the midst of waiting.

In the context of waiting, cultivating equanimity allows us to remain centered and serene. It allows us to let go of the strong identification with desires and outcomes that often lead to impatience. Time spent doing ‘nothing’ or ‘nothing meaningful’ is considered wasted time by many. We often don't see how much our self-worth depends on having produced something, professionally, in our free time, in relationships. Yet people close to us often say that the greatest gift we can give them is our presence and attention.

Waiting and the practice of mindfulness

Central to the cultivation of patience and equanimity in Buddhism is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness means perceiving the present moment in a non-judgmental way and meeting our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations with curiosity and acceptance. Through mindfulness we become familiar with the arising and passing of experiences, including our experiences in the moments of waiting. 

When we encounter waiting with mindfulness, we become aware of the impatience that arises within us. We observe the restlessness, the desire for things to be different, and the resistance to the present moment. By acknowledging these human, automatic reactions without judging them, we create space for a more compassionate and balanced approach to times of waiting.

Mindfulness also allows us to explore the causes of our impatience, such as fear, a sense of powerlessness, or the belief that we have developed certain entitlements toward others. Through the consistent practice of mindfulness, we can develop a clearer understanding of ourselves and our relationship to waiting.

Waiting as a mindful Buddhist practice

Waiting can be seen as an invitation to deepen our practice. Buddhism encourages us to use moments of waiting as opportunities for self-reflection and meditation, and to cultivate virtues such as patience and equanimity for the benefit of ourselves as well as the world.



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2 Replies to “Discovering the art of waiting – the importance of patience and impatience in Buddhism”

David Dane

Thank you for those very creative thoughts on patience. I sometimes experience impatience within my mindfulness of breathing meditation. This is I think because I get a feeling the time is going too slowly. I have painfully realised that meditation is about being open to all experiences and not trying to classify meditation as good or bad meditations. This is important in cultivating equanimity. I enjoyed this article very much. I feel it is a valuable contribution to daily practice.
Best wishes David Dane

Jannat touchstone

Thank you for sharing this
I enjoyed it very much, and somehow put into words, feelings or reactions that I have.
I do value time, and luckily do not get impatient , when in a traffic jam or waiting for a bus
I feel that in the past, youth, young parenthood, I never stopped to seize the moment and to remember forever that particular moment or feeling
Many thanks

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