24. Failures and suffering are stepping stones for success
I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith. – Gandhiji
There is a Sanskrit adage ‘Krishito Nasti durbhiksham’ which means efforts of hard work will never be wasted. But deep-rooted habits require greater effort to break, especially when you believe they are just reasons.
Meaningful accomplishments demand perseverance and hard work, usually in the face of unexpected delays and disappointments. One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat. Most people are guilty of this mistake at one time or another. One of the main weaknesses of mankind is the average man’s familiarity with the word “impossible.” He knows all the methods which will not work and all the things which cannot be done.
Gandhiji too failed many times during his experiments in personal life and freedom struggle. He saw himself as an integral part of the universe and hence if anybody wrongs, he used to punish himself by way of fasting. He also conducted experiments in celibacy because to control the followers one has to first achieve self-control. But those experiments became a source of misunderstandings and criticisms.
His support for Khilafat movement did not result in the much hoped alliance between the two religions. His non-violent campaigns turned violent in places such as Chouri choura and had to be called off, citing that people are not yet mature for such campaigns. His idea of Ramrajya (meaning Divine State, and not kingdom of mythical Rama) as an ideal state met with strong opposition from various sections of the society.
Gandhiji repeatedly refused when people insisted on giving him the reverential title of Mahatma (Great Soul). He publicly confessed his mistakes but kept learning from them and did not give up freedom struggle totally. He once said a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history. ‘If I have the belief that I can do it, I can surely acquire the capacity to do it even though I might not have it in the beginning’.
Another weakness of man is the habit of measuring everything, and everyone, by his own beliefs and standards. Their thought habits have been so steeped in ignorance and superstitions that they refuse to believe anything which they do not understand. They foolishly believe that their own limitations are the proper measure of limitations for everybody.
A historian who later became Gandhiji’s co-worker couldn’t accept that nonviolent fight could bring independence. He said ‘”Mr. Gandhi, you may know all about the Bhagavad Gita, but you know nothing at all about history. Never has a nation been able to free itself without violence’.
Gandhiji smiled and corrected him gently. ‘The first thing you have to learn about history is that, because something has not taken place in the past, that does not mean it cannot take place in the future.’
After returning from South Africa Gandhiji spent thirty long years in Indian freedom struggle. The road to success is a long one and requires commitment and persistence.
When Gandhiji came back from his student years in London, fully cultured and conscious of what he thought to be his legitimate rights, the first person he tried to impress was his wife. However, Kasturba was a woman with a will of her own. When Gandhiji began to demand his rights Kasturba, naturally started to do the same, at the same time. Often their disagreements became so fierce that Kasturba was reduced to tears, which only irritated Gandhiji more.
Once, Kastur Ba refused to clean to the toilets used by guests, saying it was beneath her dignity. Exasperated, Gandhiji shouted at her “I will not tolerate this nonsense in my house!”
Kasturba retarded, “Then keep your house to yourself and let me go”!
In a rage Gandhiji grabbed her arm and pushed her out of the house and closed the door.
She cried, “Have you no sense of shame?” Where can I go? I have no family in this country to take me in. Because I am your wife, do you think I have to put up with your abuse? For heaven’s sake behave yourself and open the door. Let us not be caught in front of others making such a scene!”
At that time Gandhiji thought it was his right as a husband to impose his opinions on his wife. But as the years passed and the storms between them continued, he began to realize what anguish he was causing her by his rigid beliefs. At last it occurred to him that rather than exercising his “rights,” he could fulfil his duties.
Immediately, instead of forcing Kasturba’s obedience to his newfound beliefs and values, Gandhiji began to try to win her over by his own example. It was a long, painful process. Often he had to ignore his cherished likes and dislikes to see things from her point of view rather than his own. But gradually he began to see that there was no friction between them except what he had imposed. He also discovered that Kasturba had always been trying to win him over by love.
By her personal example, Kasturba showed the way to root out the anger and competition eroding their marriage: not by retaliating and inflaming the situation more, but by constantly trying to support him and bear with him through his outbursts and mistakes. She kept her eyes always on what was good in him and encouraging him silently to live up to her respect.
It was one of the most radical discoveries he was to make in a lifetime of experiments: in order to transform others, you first have to transform yourself.
Gradually Gandhiji began to see that she was practicing every day what he himself had been admiring as a theoretical ideal. Gandhiji learned Kasturba’s patience and in return inspired her with his own fiery enthusiasm. She started treating untouchables with love and respect. Each became the other’s teacher. It was a long, arduous exacting discipline, which he used to say required the patience of a man trying to empty the ocean with a cup. But every time they overcame a barrier between them, they found they were not only able to love each other more, they had more love and patience for everyone else as well. By the time Gandhiji had learned to bring this love to bear even on his opponents, Kasturba too was in prison, gathering other women to her leadership.
“Be the change you want to see in the world. First people will ignore you, then they will ridicule you, then they will fight you, and then you win”. – Gandhiji
After you have begun putting the concepts of this book into practice, you may notice difference in your interaction with the people around you. You may begin to realize that some of the significant people in your life, both inside and outside your home, don’t seem to like the changes in you – even if the old you was a total disaster! Just when you expect cheerleaders dancing all around you and encouraging your development, you may find yourself faced with firing squads.
The reason is that people around are accustomed to interacting with you in a certain way. When that familiar pattern of interaction is disturbed, they may be clueless about how to interact with you. Hence there can be upset of varying degrees. Even when you understand it, this upset can be very disturbing and impede your progress. Another reason is that your well-wishers genuinely wish your safety and are afraid if you venture from the known world to the unknown. They may also worry about your state of mind and pull you back. Another reason is that family members naturally worry that you may neglect them and household responsibilities.
Some of the symptoms of transformation you may notice after using these principles may be below:
- Sudden increase in hunger for knowledge
- Disregard for time and absence of mind
- Becoming more generous and loving
- Rejection of previous norms and limitations
- Childlike sense of wonder and joy, and so on.
The symptoms are not important and should not be pursued. They serve as indicators that all these things are normal in transformation from ‘’old you’ to
When we make a resolve to live based on certain principles, the life won’t be a cake walk but often a road filled with thorns. It is important to remember that other people may not be at the same level of maturity to understand your experiences. Trying to convert others only causes friction and fights. So instead of trying to impress others about your ‘’discoveries’ or force your beliefs on them, you may consider sharing these principles with your friends and family members. By helping others to improve, you will help yourself, by creating a better world to live in. It is very essential to be associated with other aspirants with similar goals as yours so that you won‘t be pulled back by your old associates and old habits.
Success comes to those who are success-conscious. Failure comes to those who allow themselves to become failure-conscious. Your subconscious mind works continuously, while you are awake, and while you are asleep. Spasmodic or occasional effort to apply the rules will be of no value to you. You must apply all of the rules until their application becomes a fixed habit with you.
Symptoms of lack of persistence:
- Failure to recognize and to clearly define exactly what one wants.
- Procrastination, with or without cause (usually backed up with excuses).
- Lack of interest in acquiring required knowledge.
- Searching for short-cuts, trying to get something without giving a fair equivalent in return (gambling, lotteries, theft etc).
- Fear of criticism, failure to create plans and to put them into action, because of what other people will think or say.
Many people believe that success is the result of favourable “breaks.” But those depending entirely upon luck, are nearly always disappointed, because they fail to acknowledge that ‘luck’ is a point where ‘opportunity’ meets
If we want to climb Mount Everest our every step must be put towards Mount Everest. Persistence is a state of mind, and it can be cultivated. There are below four simple steps which lead to the habit of ‘persistence‘. They require no great amount of intelligence but little time and effort.
The necessary steps are:
- A friendly alliance with one or more persons who will encourage you to follow through actions
- A definite and written purpose backed by a burning desire for its fulfillment
- A definite plan expressed in continuous action
- A mind closed tightly against all negative influences – self-made and that of outsiders
With persistence, nothing is impossible!
In our lives we must always hope for the best but be prepared to face the worst. We strive to solve our problems, achieve our objectives and become successful. But life is not fair always. Life is uncertain and ever changing. Throughout history people have lost possessions and beloved ones in natural calamities or man-made calamities such as wars, holocausts, partitions and so on.
We know that all earthly possessions and people are temporal and should perish one day. But we wonder ‘why me? What have I done wrong to undergo such suffering?’ It is impossible to come up with accurate answer for such questions. But the most logical explanation is to think that we are working out our past karma and then decide how we respond in a particular situation.
God probably causes diseases and disasters to awaken us to the realization that we are not this physical body and this world is not our permanent abode.
When we are no longer able to change a situation – for instance an incurable disease such as terminal cancer or loss of a limb – we are challenged to change ourselves. Dancer Sudha Chandran lost one leg in an accident, but could dance using a prosthetic leg, drawing crowds, mesmerizing and inspiring them. She said that, if not for that accident, she would have remained an ordinary dancer among thousands. Her achievement became a movie and also a lesson in school curriculum.
Suffering ceases to be suffering the moment it finds a meaning, such as sacrifice for the sake of family or nation. When we lose or renounce family, we should be ready to embrace a bigger family, which is the world. The best way to face suffering is to lose ourselves in loving and serving others.
Thus we may find purpose of life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. Then we can witness the unique human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a human achievement.
Gandhiji redirected his frustration with injustice and unfairness and channelled it into a drive to fight them. He gave up successful and lucrative law practice, which was very high paying in those days. Though he and his family members could live in luxuries, he voluntarily chose suffering; imprisonments, beating by the police and rigorous fasting that damaged his health. Voluntary suffering can be equated with Tapas, which is one of five niyamas of ahstanga yoga mentioned in Raja Yoga. It leads to purification and self-evolvement.
Gandhiji internally understood that his ill treatment by the British was part of collective karma of Indians, higher castes were exploiting lower castes, and in turn they were being exploited by the British who were superior in science and technology.
Hence on one hand he aimed at bringing unity among various castes and religions. On the other hand he loved even his political opponents and oppressors such as the British. He reasoned that people may do wrong things, not out of evil intentions, but out of ignorance. So the best response would be to educate them, not retaliate. His suffering in the hands of the British awakened their conscience and led to a change in hearts.
Most of the human suffering can be of the below two categories.
- Financial loss – losing job or business failure, theft, fire so on.
- Emotional loss – losing loved ones, family members.
While the loss in first category can be recouped to some extent through insurance, the loss in second category cannot be replaced even through insurance coverage and it is often the most devastating.
Below are few ways how we can turn suffering into stepping stones for our growth.
- First thing we have to admit is that almost every human being goes through this suffering phase, in varying degrees, at one time or the other in their lifetime. Many of them often emerge stronger physically and emotionally after this phase.
- It may give a deeper understanding of philosophical answers such as our role in the world.
- Develops an understanding and empathy for sufferings of other people.
- Develops a deeper appreciation for life. This includes a deeper appreciation for the simple moments, opportunities in everyday life and for relationships that are often taken for granted.
- Develops a positive shift in values and priorities. This often includes a renewed sense that time and relationships are precious.
In the wake of suffering, many people find themselves expressing their emotions in a more open way. This often strengthens relationships and social support as one becomes more willing to admit limitations, vulnerabilities and appreciate help from others.
Blessed are those who undergo hardships, intense trials and learning, because they emerge stronger. Thus suffering can become stepping stone for success.
Rabindranath Tagore had lost most of his family members at a young age. That tragedy prompted him to come up with the Noble winner Gitanjali. He has not only rebuilt his own life but also has been inspiring many people to do so.
His life is a testimony to the truth that even in the greatest suffering a man has the spiritual freedom to choose how he responds in a given situation. Strange and varied are the ways of life, through which people are sometimes forced to undergo all sorts of suffering before discovering their true self, and their own capacity to transform their own and other’s lives too.
When we are forced to face bad things, we should always have faith that when God closes one door, He opens another. We must surrender to the will of God, but take responsibility for our life into our own hands. Then we can make our life a beautiful work of art!
All the best!