Monthly Dharma Quotation: On Failure and The Path of Training

One of the dangers of expressing Dharma in the West is people have this idea that you’ve got to behave in a particular way. It’s prescriptive in other words. You have to be a good girl or a good boy and do this and do that and it’s not a path of training, it’s a path of “it has to be like that, you have to make yourself do that”. But it’s not like that in the Dharma.

Will you fail in your training? Well, it’s what a Westerner might call failing but it’s not what we would call failing. You know, if somebody says I’m going to learn French, what do I do? Speak French the first day, perfectly? The answer is no. I make mistakes! But my path is to right that mistake because I’ve got a guide. Ideally somebody who speaks both languages! And in this case you have the guru as guide.

Will you make mistakes? Yes! As one of our gurus said, “Stumbling, stumbling we move along the path.” There’s no magic wand you can wave to make yourself a totally transformed person. It takes time. But you follow this path, you stumble, you set yourself right. You don’t say to yourself, “I’m a bad person.” Just, “Oh I pick myself up and I’ll go on.” “Oh I’ve fallen down again, I’ll do it again.” And you remain happy about doing it again. You don’t kind of revel in the failures if you’re going to call them that. You just think, “Well the next thing is to get myself up and go again.” But you don’t even make that a gigantic deal where you’re kind of a suffering person who is dragging themselves up somehow. You can be much more realistic and happy than that.

In the West some people say, “I will not take the bodhisattva vow because I might fail. I can’t make these promises, I might fail” But that’s ridiculous. If you’re going to call it failure, your failure is inevitable. But it’s not failure, it’s just part of the training. Try and think, you know: “We are training.” That’s what we do in the Dharma. This is not Christianity or some other system which says prescriptively, you have to be perfect straight away. I expect you to make mistakes, I expect you to stumble.

If problems come up and you can’t solve them immediately, you think, “Well I’m on the path, I can afford to relax at this point.” It doesn’t mean you’re giving up but you’re allowing yourself some space and some gentleness. That’s what I recommend.

Rigdzin Shikpo

This month’s Dharma quotation came from teachings Rigdzin Shikpo recently gave on the Endless Compassionate Vision path of training. This course follows the Lion’s Roar training to give students a more in-depth understanding of the Buddhist path and in particular the Mahayana teachings. For more information on our events and programmes, please email If you are a student of Rigdzin Shikpo and have any suggestions for the monthly Dharma quotation, please email

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