A pupil who lived rather carelessly remarked: ‘Mistakes are a necessary part of the path of training. If you read the biographies of even the greatest, they all say that they made many mistakes. Some of them say that mistakes are necessary – one learns from them. So I don’t worry about my own conduct: let the mistakes come, I think, let ’em all come. I’ll go through them and come out the other side. It is all part of the path.’
This was put to a senior pupil, a business woman, for her opinion. She remarked: ‘You need not tell him I said this, but I don’t think our teacher would rate the idea very high in terms of clear thinking. It’s easy to get woolly about spiritual things. I remember when I learnt to type. It was in a class. Of course we made mistakes, but the teacher always stressed the importance of getting the habit of absolutely accurate typing. He never said that as mistakes are inevitable in learning to type, let ’em all come. He told us we should type very slowly, if necessary, to reduce the mistakes to almost nil. Those of us who followed his advice finally learnt to type with perfect accuracy without thinking about it. The others, though at first they typed a bit quicker, were always subject to occasional lapses and never became good typists.
‘Mistakes are like the falls when one is taking up skating. Some are inevitable, but we should make them as few as possible. They are part of the path, it is true, but they are stumbles, not forward steps.’
Some students discourage themselves by looking at themselves each day. After trying hard for a session, they feel that as there has been no result they have failed. Next day they try again, and again they fail. Gradually this builds up into a conviction of continuous failure, and they begin to think: ‘Oh, what’s the use of trying?’
For such occasions there is an ancient Indian example, that of the well-digger. The Indian tradition was that beneath the desert there is water, however deeply hidden. (This has recently been confirmed in the case of the vast Rajasthan desert in north-west India, beneath which a legendary river was supposed to flow. It has been established that the river is actually there, though deep underground.) The maxim of the well-digger is this. Each day when he digs but finds no water, he does not think: ‘I have failed.’ Next day he digs again, deeper, and so on day after day. Every evening, though he has found no water yet, he thinks not, ‘I have failed,’ but, ‘Nearer, nearer, nearer!’
© Trevor Leggett