Failing to Succeed

By Mahatma Dasa - 5.10 2020

Learn to take lessons from the best teacher of success. As soon as we hear the word success what comes to mind? Money, influence, fame? Right from childhood we are conditioned to believe this is what success means.

But suppose we attain success and then, as many do, lose everything. We are now considered a failure. So we have to start again creating our success. Even if we again achieve unending success, we still won’t be allowed to take our success with us. Death will take away all that we struggled to obtain. If success means money, power, and fame, then we all are ultimately destined to be material failures.

No Failure on the Spiritual Platform

The Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna’s immortal words of wisdom, teaches us that we are spirit souls trapped in a material body. Unlike the body, the soul is undying and eternal. Therefore, anything done on the spiritual platform is an eternal success. “In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Gita 2.40)

Success on the spiritual platform means to please Krishna by our thoughts, words and activities. In contrast to material success, which can be measured with quantifiable results, spiritual success may have nothing to do with measurable external results. Devotional service to Krishna is absolute, so we can even successfully serve Krishna even in our mind besides serving through our body and words.

The Brahma-vaivarta Purana describes a beautiful story of a brahmana in South India who wanted to offer sweet rice (khir) to his Deities but couldn’t afford the ingredients. So he decided to offer the sweet mentally. In deep meditation, he collected all the ingredients and cooked it. After the preparation was ready, he wanted to cool it down before he offered it to Krishna. After a while he touched his finger to see if the sweet rice had cooled down. It was still hot, and to his surprise his finger was burnt by the sweet rice! Because of his devotion in preparing and testing the khir, even though only in his mind, the Lord happily accepted the offering and soon brought him to Vaikuntha, His eternal abode.

Visualizing what kind of devotee we would like to be and what kind of service we would like to render for Krishna can also be counted within devotional service. The Lord is pleased with our sincere efforts to improve our service, even if we can’t realize those goals right away. That we make a goal to be a better devotee or do a particular service is itself devotional service, and if we always think about doing something for Him, there’s a good chance we will do it someday. After all, Srila Prabhupada thought about preaching in the West for forty-two years before he was ready and able to do it.

Making devotional goals reveals our heart and desires to Krishna. The acharyas pray, “Oh when will that day be mine…” in the mood of hankering for a level of Krishna consciousness they presently don’t have. Therefore, having clear devotional goals expresses the hankering of our heart for Krishna. Since we are not pure devotees, we can express simple desires, like praying, “Oh, when will that day be mine when I think of Krishna once in a while during the day.” Later on, we can worry about praying for the day when we will be running along the Yamuna half mad in ecstatic love.

Also, research has shown that we are more likely to follow through on a goal if we write it down. Even if you think you can’t achieve the goal or won’t follow through, write it down anyway. You’ll be surprised at what happens. I once wrote down some goals and then forgot about them, but a week or so later I found myself pursuing some of those goals even though I hadn’t reviewed my list. For example, if you want to wake up an hour earlier every day, just write that goal on a piece of paper and see what happens. Writing down a goal puts that goal into your subconscious and then you often start acting on it.

A Devotee Can’t Fail

Because devotional service is absolute, the effort is spiritual and perfect despite the outcome. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, would appreciate a devotee if he sold even one magazine for a few paisa. Prabhupada said there is no question of success or failure in devotional service because our position is like a soldier who has a duty to fight. We simply do our duty.

Therefore, the only failure is to not make the effort.

Srila Prabhupada didn’t know if Krishna consciousness would be accepted in the West, but because his spiritual master ordered him to preach, he felt he must try. He knew that anything is possible by the mercy of guru and Krishna, but externally it was not obvious how it would happen or even if it would happen. When asked why he chose to go to New York instead of London, Prabhupada jokingly said, “My god-brothers went to London and failed, so I thought I would go to New York and fail.”

Although he said this jokingly, he was well aware that he might fail. However, since his guru asked him to spread Krishna consciousness in the West, it would have obviously been a much bigger failure to not try. Prabhupada’s real success was that he got on the boat to America. He wasn’t thinking, “What if I don’t succeed, what will everyone in India think of me?” He was only thinking of the order of his guru.

Sometimes we are afraid to fail simply because our egos can’t take it. We don’t want to admit to ourselves that we are not as competent as we think we are.

Blessings for Real Success

Srila Prabhupada was fully surrendered to the will of Krishna. Despite repeated failures to set up a mission in India, he never gave up dreams of establishing a worldwide Krishna conscious society. For more than forty years, he worked tirelessly to establish the Hare Krishna movement writing articles and books, preaching to individuals, contacting political leaders. After reaching America, even when there was no apparent success during his first year, he never gave up his duty. He was ordered to preach in the West and he was doing his best to fulfill that order. Therefore, he was a success long before he achieved external results.

Finally, when those external results came, Srila Prabhupada recognized that his success was due to the blessings of guru and Krishna. Prabhupada said those blessings came simply because he tried to execute the order of his spiritual master. If guru and Krishna help us, the impossible can become possible, even for us. We do our duty and leave the results to Krishna.

Don’t Fail to Fail to Succeed

We shouldn’t be afraid to fail. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura quoted the famous maxim, “Failure is the pillar of success.” We are designed to learn through failure. Therefore, we should be ready to accept failure as a learning process. Effective salesmen accept that they must go through a certain number of rejections before they get the sale. Some of the best writers subscribe to the principle, “Write as if your words will end up in the dust bin.”

Those who are afraid to fail rarely do anything great.

Consequently, when you think you have failed, just ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” and then you can give your failure a new name. You can call it a “learning experience.”

Since our effort to serve Krishna is our success, and since the reality is that we often need to fail to improve, we can’t lose by making the effort. However, if we fail to fail, then we fail to succeed.