According to two proverbs popular in Japan, good medicine tastes bitter and good advice grates on the ear. It can be hard to respond graciously when someone we work with or look to for advice makes us uncomfortable by pointing out our failings. Sometimes we are aware of our shortcomings and the need to correct them; sometimes we are completely unaware. The implication of the proverbs mentioned above is that accepting criticism as an aid to self-discipline fosters rapid spiritual growth.
We are unconscious of our immense reserves of physical strength. In emergencies people can perform unimaginable feats when sudden stress causes glands to flood the bloodstream with adrenaline and other hormones that are normally present in only tiny quantities.
In the same way, provocative exchanges with the people around us, however stressful, can call up mental strength. If we heard only soothing, pleasing comments, we would hardly benefit. Young people would not mature if they heard nothing but praise. Improvement and development depend on heeding and pondering adverse criticism. People who close their minds to criticism, as if it were a nuisance, cease to grow.
Indeed, it is a great blessing to know people who care enough to point out our failings and thus help us develop our full potential.
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Inexperience and immaturity often spell defeat M carrying out projects or pursuing goals. Young people sometimes become discouraged when they find that a task is beyond them even though they have tried their best. This happens because they lack the experience to recognize that failure is possible in any undertaking.
An excessive fear of failure and an overly cautious approach can sap a person's confidence and make him or her want to give up, forfeiting any chance of success. But if we look for the causes of failure, make the necessary corrections, and try again, success comes within reach. History is a record of trial and error. Despite repeated failures, humanity has produced the great inventions and made the great discoveries that have shaped modern civilization. Failure is the author of success. When we overcome our failures and take them as valuable lessons, they open up new possibilities for us.
No one sets out to fail, but failures occur nonetheless. Perseverance and the lessons of failure help us develop self-confidence. It is especially important that young people not be discouraged by small mistakes and that they adopt a positive, daring outlook. It is by taking mistakes in stride that they will develop into wise adults with a rich store of experience.
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New employees, fresh out of high school or college, often make mistakes and are reprimanded by their supervisors. Without parental guidance and on their own for the first time, some of them may feel trapped and unhappy. Correction may be hard for them to accept. But young people who accept correction not as a sign of dislike but as on-the-job training to prepare them quickly for greater responsibilities will feel grateful.
Young people who are determined to be useful to society and to improve themselves as much as they can will have the foresight to take criticism in the right spirit and will try to rectify their shortcomings. On the other hand, those interested only in money and comfort may simply be annoyed by criticism.
Shakyamuni Buddha said that we live in a world of suffering and that suffering must be endured. In other words, suffering is a part of life and is essential to spiritual development. We improve ourselves by overcoming the many sufferings we encounter in the course of our lives.
The late Haruchika Noguchi, a proponent of holistic medicine, wrote: "What enables a car to move is friction between its tires and the road. . . . A car can barely move on slippery ice because there is too little friction." Suffering relates to personal growth in much the same way that friction does to the motion of a car. It allows forward movement.
The Lotus Sutra, one of the most important scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, teaches that selfishness is the principal cause of suffering. Our lives are affected greatly by whether we realize this and look within ourselves for the causes of our suffering or try to evade suffering by ignoring its causes and changing our surroundings. Temporary escape is possible, but unless we rid ourselves of selfishness, new surroundings will not save us from further hardship and pain.
Suffering is, ultimately, a source of comfort. Accumulated experience and the ability to accept criticism and advice help us acquire flexibility of mind and self-confidence, and these in turn bring inner peace.
On a television program not long ago, a Buddhist priest said: "Religious discipline and training don' t have to be all hardship. They can teach us to find profound spiritual satisfaction in trusting one another and helping one another overcome suffering. This kind of satisfaction is what enables us to go on with our discipline and training."
Obviously people are unlikely to persevere in anything that brings unrelieved suffering. But with perseverance, we can overcome suffering and find happiness. About three years ago I started an exercise regimen. At first my legs and hips ached, but I did not give up. Gradually, as I became used to the exercises, the pain went away and I began to feel that I was in good condition physically. What had begun as a hardship turned into a source of well-being.
Enduring and triumphing over suffering bring pleasure and happiness. This is why we should all strive diligently to progress and should realize that suffering is essential to spiritual growth.