‘Never Give Up’ and the Buddha Story

‘The one thing successful people never do is quit.’


You see this phrase and variants of it bandied about the inspirational and self-help crowd quite a bit.  There’s enough truth in it that it sounds worth repeating—and it is—and a lot of folks do just that.  Never surrender.  Hang in there.  Keep on truckin’.  Fall down seven times, get up eight.

It’s good advice.  It’s manifestly true that if you never try, you cannot succeed.  Or as Heinlein once put it, “Certainly the game is rigged.  Don’t let that stop you; if you don’t bet you can’t win.

I have only one caution regarding the never quit game.

If you don’t give up, it’s still not a guarantee that you will succeed.  It’s not a guarantee.  A third time: you are not going to get something just because you tried to get it.  Even if you try really hard for a long time.  There are reasons for this.

You might be trying the wrong way.  The story of Buddha is a nice illustration of this.  Young Buddha was trying to become enlightened by depriving himself and meditating, and it wasn’t working out.  After years of trying, he finally said ‘screw this’, planted himself under a tree and swore not to eat or drink until he became enlightened.  As he soon found out, issuing ultimatums is generally a crappy way to get things done, especially when you issue your ultimatum to something as abstract as the entire way that life and the universe work.  He passed out, was rescued by some nice folks who nursed him back to health, and he tried again and succeeded.

“So what?” you say.  “It only proves your point.  He kept at it, and eventually was successful.”

He almost killed himself because he was stubborn.  That’s what actually happened.  It was only after he GAVE UP AND TRIED A DIFFERENT WAY that he found what he was looking for.

He did get what he was looking for.  It wasn’t what he was originally looking for in the beginning of the story.  In the beginning of the story he wasn’t looking to understand life, the universe, and everything.  Nor was he looking to become a teacher.  He was trying to square the worldview of his sheltered upbringing with the suffering that he became aware of, for his own personal understanding.  He didn’t get it the way he was looking for it, either.  He had a very firm idea of how to get what he wanted and it damn near killed him.

‘Never give up’ is only part of the story.  You also need to be open to finding different ways to achieve your goals.  You need to be ready to discover that you’re doing it all wrong, and be ready to change your approach.  You need to be ready and willing to understand that you might not know it all now, you’re going to learn more as you go, and you will need to incorporate that learning into your efforts.

You need to understand that your goal at the start and your goal later on may be two different things.  You might end up with an entirely different goal and an entirely different achievement than the one you were seeking when you started.

There’s more than one way to give up.  Stubbornly clinging to old misunderstandings, old ways, and old goals is one of them.


Brick Wall

You might want to try going around.  Straight through just ain’t gonna work.



3 thoughts on “‘Never Give Up’ and the Buddha Story

Add yours

  1. I also tell people the same when anyone quotes ‘never quit’ line. One has to take the changing conditions & change & then try again. Only trying on won’t work.

    1. Most of the short, snappy things that people say… if not all… have more to them. Other things that must be considered if they are to make sense. One that was very popular in my area a few years ago was ‘NO FEAR’. I used to see it on t-shirts and bumper stickers all the time, and I still do once in a while. The only problem with it is that people generally took it to mean that they shouldn’t have any fear of anything at all. The fact of the matter is that fear is natural and warns you when you’re in danger.

      What you really need to do is set your natural fear aside, engage your mind, and act from intelligence rather than reacting blindly.

      But of course, that won’t fit on a t-shirt. 😀

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