With aversion of failure, one does not try.
With attachment to failure, one does not retry.
— Stonepeace | Get Books
There is a saying that is useful for practitioners: “Put down the myriad thoughts. Take up the practice.” The myriad thoughts are scattered, random, extraneous concerns. The practice is your method of cultivation. When your mind wanders to extraneous concerns, put them down as soon as they appear. But should you treat the method in the same way as a wandering thought — putting it down as soon as it appears? No. From moment to moment, put down extraneous thoughts and return your mind to the method of practice.
One time I asked a student, “Are you having many extraneous thoughts?” He replied, “Not too many.” I said, “I’ll bet I know one of them. You’re thinking of your girl friend all the time, aren’t you?” He retorted, “How can you say that?” After the retreat he said, “Originally, I wasn’t thinking of my girl friend at all. But after Shih-fu mentioned her I couldn’t stop thinking of her.” I told him that he hadn’t seen through his problem yet. He may have thought that his mind was not on his girl friend, but his concern was still there. Perhaps you try to put down extraneous concerns but find that you just can’t. Every time you put one down, it comes back again. This upsets you. You keep telling yourself, “Put it down. Put it down.” Actually it doesn’t matter if you can’t put it down.
If you eventually get to the point where you say to yourself, “It doesn’t matter if I can’t put it down,” then you will be putting it down. You should not fear failure. Neither should you embrace it. You may conclude that the retreat is just not going well for you — your body is uncomfortable, your mind is in tumult. You are unable to control yourself. You haven’t made the proper preparations. So you think, why not forget this one and leave tomorrow? Maybe I’ll try again the next time. But don’t succumb to this defeatist attitude. A Chinese proverb says: “A hundred birds in a tree are not worth one bird in the palm.” If you let go of that one bird to go after the hundred you will end up with nothing. Even though you feel unprepared and doomed to failure, being here still presents a wonderful opportunity to practice.
Faith in Mind: A Guide to Chan Practice