Question: What is success and failure?
Swami Satchidananda: There’s no need for failure in the worldly sense. If you really work hard, if you know the way, if you gather enough strength, nothing is impossible to achieve. But remember: that, even if you have the whole world at your beck and command, you can still experience failure. Why? Because the biggest failure is searching for happiness outside. As long as you depend on people and things from the outside, you are not going to be independent. That’s a big failure.
The moment you become totally independent, you are really free. That’s what you call real freedom, real success. You become free from your anxieties, worries, and expectations and from running after things. So, until that happens, even the so‑called successful things can bring failure. We see this in our daily lives. How many successful people got sucked into failure? The Shah of Iran was one of the richest men in the world. He died without even a country. Imelda Marcos had thousands of pairs of shoes. What happened to all that? Where is it now? Many people with great name, fame, all the riches—lost their thrones, lost everything. When you don’t run after thrones, you are not thrown out. That is what you call the ultimate success.
Question: How does one effectively deal with mistakes? I always feel guilty when I make a mistake.
Swami Satchidananda: What’s the point of simply feeling guilty? Don’t you want to do something about that? You made a mistake of walking with closed eyes and the result is that you fell into the pit. Now you cry, “Oh, I closed my eyes and walked and I fell into the pit.” Would you be lying there in the pit repeating that? Don’t you want to get up? If it’s a deep pit don’t you want to shout, “Hey, somebody help me!” There’s no point in feeling guilty and stopping there. Okay, you feel guilty. But immediately remedy it. Find ways to get out of it. There’s no point in brooding over spilt milk. It’s already spilled out. Learn a lesson from that and, next time, make sure you watch the condition of the flame when you put a milk pot on it.
Our failures should be stepping stones for our future success. Make use of the guilt to correct your mistakes and go forward. Tell me one person who never did anything wrong. If you don’t make mistakes, you can never grow. Remember that. We constantly tell our children, “Oh, don’t do this, don’t do that.” Allow them to make mistakes and then teach them how to do better.
That reminds of a time I was at a conference in Los Angeles with Buckminster Fuller, who was considered the modern day Leonardo da Vinci. I spoke first and was trying to give some advice by saying, “Let us be careful in our lives and not make mistakes. Let’s be vigilant and walk the path correctly,” and so on. When Buckminster Fuller got up next to speak, he said: “Friends, don’t listen to the Swami. It’s impossible not to make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, you cannot grow. So my advice to you is to make as many mistakes as possible and as soon as possible.” I can never forget that. What a wonderful man.
Question: You say that Yoga is “perfection in action.” I understand and agree, yet at times I seem almost addicted to perfection and get frustrated and annoyed with myself when I make a mistake. How can I overcome this problem?
Swami Satchidananda: True, even in the name of perfection, if you are going to lose your balance, then it’s not a perfect act. Just as I said a few minutes before, accept both, success and failure, it doesn’t matter. Maintain your balance. That’s what is meant by perfection. Consciously, you try your best and you do something and if it doesn’t come out the way you want, accept it. Ask yourself, “Did I do my best?” If the answer is yes, don’t find fault with yourself. You do your part well and leave it there. That’s what you call perfection. Do your best and leave the rest. You are only an instrument. You should not feel guilty later on. If you were negligent, if you didn’t do your best, okay, take the responsibility. Correct it next time, but don’t keep on brooding over it. Take the lesson. Make it a point that, “Next time I will do a better job.”
Question: Ego, success, and power have always been interrelated. Is it possible to lose the ego and still effect a change in society?
Swami Satchidananda: Ego, success, and power are interrelated. Who said these things are bad? You need ego. You have to have success. You have to have power. There’s nothing wrong with that. The only thing you have to do is to keep the ego clean. Let it be a healthy ego that exerts healthy power. The best way to know whether your ego is clean or not is to make sure that it’s totally free from selfishness. Or, in other words, have the ego—not for your sake but for the sake of serving people. For the sake of others you have to use your ego, you have to use your success, you have to use your power. If your ego is clean, you can really serve society.
See, even to answer your question, I should have a little ego. If I am totally egoless, my answer to your question will be: “I don’t know anything.” Then you can say, “Oh, the Swami is really egoless. See, he has no ego at all.” Yes, I have no ego but then I am useless to you. I have to have a little ego to answer you, or at least have the confidence, then I can answer this question. Is it not ego? So, you need ego to serve, but let it be clean.
Question: Please tell me how to be more successful, to move from poverty consciousness to the consciousness of abundance.
Swami Satchidananda: Even when you have all the outer success, all the things in the world you may want a little more and that will make you a poor person. Once upon a time a king went into the forest and he saw a sadhu, a spiritual person, near the riverside happily laughing and singing and dancing. The king was fascinated by the sadhu’s attitude and requested the sadhu to come with him to the palace. The sadhu asked, “What for?” The king explained, “Well, I really appreciate your happiness and joy and I want to offer you something.” The sadhu answered, “But I don’t need anything.” The king replied, “You may not need anything but I would like to offer you something, so would you please come?”
The sadhu agreed and went with the king to the palace. The first thing the king did was to show the sadhu how pious he was. The king had a beautiful shrine room and asked the sadhu to sit there while he prayed. So, the king went into the shrine room, sang all the chants, performed an elaborate puja (worship service), and at the end he made his request: “You are wonderful, God.” The king praised and glorified God and at the end of his prayers, the king said, “God, I have a little problem. Next to my country there’s a king who has a very little country but he seems to be constantly creating problem for me. So, God, please help me to conquer his kingdom.”
As the king finished his request he prostrated and got up, turned around, and saw the sadhu getting up and walking towards the door. He ran behind him shouting, “Sadhu, wait, wait, wait. You haven’t gotten anything from me and you are going away?” The sadhu turned around and said, “King, I don’t believe in accepting anything from beggars.” “How dare you call me a beggar, I am a king,” the king angrily replied. The sadhu asked, “Oh, are you a king? Then, what were you doing in the shrine room if not begging for something more? That makes you a poor man. I don’t want anything. I am a rich man, so you have nothing to give me.
Poverty is still wanting. Who is the richest person? The one who says, “I don’t want anything.” Who is the truly successful person? The one who knows how to make gold out of everything. Remember, contentment is golden.