Tokugawa Ieyasu was famous for his patience. His patience was so great that he persisted at his goal to unite Japan until he achieved it at the age of 60. In the process, he survived all his fearsome rivals by waiting for the right moment to seize power. It is for his great patience and strength to bear great hardship that makes him one of my heroes. What was the secret of his incredible patience? In the quote that follows, Tokugawa reveals the secret to his descendants.
Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Quote on Patience
“The strong manly ones in life are those who understand the meaning of the word patience. Patience means restraining one’s inclinations. There are seven emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, adoration, grief, fear, and hate, and if a man does not give way to these he can be called patient. I am not as strong as I might be, but I have long known and practiced patience. And if my descendants wish to be as I am, they must study patience.”
Tokugawa’s Definition of Patience
To Tokugawa, patience was not merely waiting. It was an act of endurance and self-control in the face of great hardship. It meant pressing on despite the odds to reach his goals no matter how long it took. No amount of strain, provocation, difficulties or setbacks would derail him from his path. Step by step, he would reach his goal. While most people think of patience in terms of hours, days or months, Tokugawa viewed patience in terms of decades.
The Secret of Tokugawa’s Patience
The secret to Tokugawa’s patience was his control over his feelings. This does not mean that he didn’t feel any emotion at all. He was just very good at controlling what he felt. The reason Tokugawa could restrain his feelings was due to his goal of uniting Japan. This was his number one priority. Everything else came second to it. If an action or emotion did not further his goal, Tokugawa set it aside. With this clarity of purpose, it was not too hard for him to restrain his feelings when the need arose.
In order to be patient, you need to restrain your emotions. To do so it helps to have clarity of vision and purpose. This makes it easier for you to restrain your emotional impulses because you know why you must do so.
How Emotions Affects Patience
It was Tokugawa’s goal to unite Japan to bring peace to the land. This was not something that he could do overnight since there were many rival warlords he had to beat. To do so, he needed patience and the help of his followers to carry out his will through war. In war, there was no place for emotions like anger or hate which could lead to recklessness and mistakes. With the lives of his soldiers at stake, Tokugawa had to restrain his emotions. He had to wait patiently for the right moment to make his next move.
Your emotions affect your objectivity and patience. When your emotions are in turmoil, you lose sight of the big picture and make choices that are rarely in your best interests. In the worst case scenario, you could end up making the wrong choice at the wrong time when the odds are against you. The result is rash actions and mistakes that cause needless problems and regret. A good example would be anger. When you are in a rage, you are likelier to say or do something that leads to regret. You are also less likely to be patient. But if there was a goal at stake, it would remind you to check your anger for the greater good.
The Struggle Behind Tokugawa’s Patience
Tokugawa had feelings. Despite his control over his emotions, he still felt them keenly. He loved his friends and valued his retainers. Before the Battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa found himself pursued by enemy troops who had greater numbers. If he fell, his dream would fall with him. In order to help him escape, his childhood friend, Torii Mototada, chose to stay behind to hold the enemy off. It was a suicide mission and both men knew it as they parted sadly. Due to Torii’s sacrifice, Tokugawa managed to escape to safety. Despite knowing that Torii would surely die, Tokugawa clung on to hope that his friend would survive somehow. The news that confirmed Torii’s death grieved him deeply. Tokugawa did not and could not renounce his feelings, but he had to keep them in check to unite Japan. That was the price of his ambition and patience.
I admire Tokugawa’s self-control because he had feelings. Had Tokugawa renounced all emotion, there would be no self-control to speak of. Instead it is harder to have feelings and to keep them in check. I believe that he used his goal of uniting Japan to keep his feelings in line. It was only by focusing on the bigger picture that Tokugawa could carry out his plans with ruthless efficiency. So if you want to be patient like Tokugawa to endure the challenges you face, you need a clear purpose. Your purpose will help you to be patient and to keep your feelings in check.
Tokugawa was not born patient. When he was younger, he made some rash decisions which cost him dearly. But he soon realized the need for patience and control over his feelings. Through force of habit and clarity of purpose, he learned to restrain his emotions. Thus with a clear purpose and continued practice, you too can become as patient as Tokugawa to achieve your goals.