Food for Thought|Sep 6, 2007 2:07 PM| by:

The Success of Failure

It has been said in spiritual traditions that success is often a harder test to pass than failure. Truly, if we compare the effect that the two have upon us we can see why it is so.

Success can make one dizzy, haughty and even arrogant. Men drunk with success often forget the great Power working from behind that has pushed them to victory. They begin to believe and sometimes even delude themselves that they are someone special and extraordinary. Very soon their confidence passes into an overconfidence that loses contact with earthly realities. Flying upon the wings of vanity they presume, like Daedelus & Sampati(1), that they can touch the sun with their beaks. Success is indeed a heady wine that one enjoys in the beginning but end up by being swallowed by it.

While success hypnotizes and gets us stuck, failure dehypnotizes and opens options. It forces us towards humility, making us aware of realistic limitations, so that we may work steadily and patiently to exceed them. Success creates the illusion of power and control, except in exceptional cases, and even there one can easily fall into a trap of confusing a limited and ignorant power for a genuine and supreme one. Failure strips us of all shows and shams, those facades and images that men cling to, to deceive themselves and the world. It teaches us how to distinguish the real from the artificial, the genuine from the imitation, by rubbing off the glitter and glamour that falsehood uses as a cover, at times, to hide its ugliness. Failure bares us all, so that we can confront ourselves in our utter nakedness and walk, even if slowly, in the light of truth. Indeed failure has a much greater potential than success to bring us closer to Truth.

Indeed when all outer doors close upon us, one by one, we have this rare chance to open the inner door and find ‘the One’ who never fails us; ‘the One’ who is the source of all security, satisfaction, strength; ‘the One’ whose touch upon our lives brings such peace and joy that outer success can never bring. Success often depletes us by expending our energies over perishable goods or toys that break and by crowding our life with flowers that are scentless. Failure, on the other hand, by teaching perseverance and endurance, helps us discover our own inner strength. It allows us the possibility of new perspectives, and invites us to fresh goals, different aims; alternate life-views that are more complete. Indeed he who has not known failure has not known one of the most potent aspects of God’s Grace that comes to make us grow and progress. And fortunate is he who has weathered the storms of failure that toss against his boat. He has seen through the mask of night and when the storm and dust settles, he is ready to receive the light of wisdom and look at wider horizons. Indeed blessed is misfortune, for through it one can see the face of God.

Outer success carries in itself the seed of its own failure if it is not commensurate with an inner growth. Few can keep themselves detached from success, see it for what it is worth and use it for a greater good than mere self-aggrandisement. But failure can incite and challenge us, and even though our body fall to pieces, our mind and our soul can grow victor over death and triumph in the hour of defeat and distress. Christ’s crucifixion paves the way for the inner triumph and glory of Christ within us. Joan of Arc changes the destiny of France by being burnt to the stake by her fellow-men. Guru Teg Bahadur opens the door to India’s freedom from Muslim rule by his sacrifice and Kalidasa turns his hour of insult and anguish into a sword to cut his ignorance and become the author of immortal works. So also Duryodhana and Hitler and Ravana conquer for the moment and just when they are laughing in the midst of their success, there comes the inevitable downfall. It is not success or failure but the attitude with which we face them that matters.

This does not mean that we should seek after failure. As we have seen, every success carries in itself the seed of failure and every failure hides within its crust, the fruit of success. Yet we should seek neither but simply do the deed that God has put into our hearts, to fulfill the purpose for which we are born, to be in tune with the ‘Will’ that moves the world. And this indeed is true success, the sign of a life well-lived, a life worthy of man. To go ahead and do what we must, without caring for victory or defeat,  jeers and cheers, praise and insult heaped by demons or gods.
Better it is to perish while following one’s own true law of being rather than succeed following an alien way.


1. Mythical characters from Greek and Indian myths who drunk with pride of their prowess, disregarded their elder brother’s advice and tried to fly across the borders of the sun, crashing down to the earth as a result.

Tags: ,