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We Can Learn a Lot from a Failure; We Can Make It a Chance to Make Progress

The Story of Shakyamuni Buddha and His Disciples

We have been learning about the six good deeds that bring us happiness (Six Paramitas). This month we will focus on the fifth one, “Contemplation.”

“Contemplation” or “zen-jo” is self-reflection. Both zen and jo mean keeping our mind calm. We cannot make right decisions if our minds are scattered and we are thinking about many different things. “Contemplation” means to reflect on what you say and do with a calm mind, and move towards the light.

A Teaching from Vimala-kirti, Disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha: “Do Not Be Fixated On Appearance”

Sariputra, one of the Ten Great Disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, was sitting and meditating in a quiet place in the mountains, which he had chosen for that purpose. Vimala-kirti, who Sariputra was in awe of, happened to pass by there. He was a lay Buddhist disciple, and even Shakyamuni Buddha respected him. Seeing Sariputra sitting in meditation, Vimala-kirti asked, “Sariputra, what are you doing there?”

Sariputra felt irritated at this question. Anyone could see what he was doing, yet Vimala-kirti had intentionally asked about it. So Sariputra answered dryly, “Well, I’m meditating...”

Seeing through to Sariputra’s disordered mind, Vimala-kirti quickly pointed out,

“What? You are meditating? If meditation only meant not moving your body, that would mean the trees here are doing a fine job at meditating!” Then he earnestly taught the true aim of meditation.

If we are fixated on appearance, we are not reflecting on ourselves.

This episode teaches us the importance of reflecting on ourselves with a calm mind.

A failure is a chance to make progress If we are careful, we can turn a failure into a chance to make progress.

Sometimes we shed tears or become unable to sleep because of our failure. However, we can learn a lot from it. We can find many such examples in history. Tokugawa Ieyasu succeeded in taking control of the whole of Japan. He was defeated only once in battle and learned a lot from it. That was at the Battle of Mikatagahara.

In the third year of the Genki era (1573), Ieyasu did battle with Takeda Shingen at Mikatagahara, which is located in modern-day Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka.

At that time he had a feeling of liberation after being released from a long-time hostage situation in Imagawa. He also had a kind of self-conceit and underestimated Takeda Shingen, because he had beaten two other significant foes.

When Shingen invaded *Tootoumi, Oda Nobunaga, who was the boss of Ieyasu at that time, insisted that they should hold the castle and wait for the chance to counterattack. On the other hand, Ieyasu insisted on an aggressive attack and carried it out.

He ended up being thoroughly caught out by Shingen’s deceptive tactics and suffered a crushing defeat. He barely escaped back to Hamamatsu Castle.

However, it was because Ieyasu respected Shingen as a teacher and learned strategies from him that he was a great man.

After 28 years, in the 5th year of the Keicho era (1600), he did battle with Ishida Mitsunari at Sekigahara for control of the whole country. At the beginning Ieyasu pretended to be off-guard by going to the territory of Uesugi to attack him. The aim was to lead the enemy forces to send out their army.

On the day before the final battle, Ieyasu spread the fake rumor that he would attack Mitsunari’s base, Sawayama Castle. He succeeded in luring Mitsunari’s army onto the battlefield of Sekigahara. Ieyasu exactly copied the tactic Shingen had used on him.

It is deep reflection and the desire to improve oneself that turn failure into the mother of success.

*Tootoumi: Modern-day western Shizuoka Prefecture


73. Look to the Essence, Not the Form (Unshakable Spirit, pg. 160)

The Buddha’s wisdom is the light that brightens our life. If we practice the Buddhist teachings, our daily life will dramatically change.


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