A piece of advice which can be most useful in life runs something like this:
Aim at success, never at triumph. If you have aimed at success merely, then whether you meet with that or with failure, you will not be upset. You will not get excited, because your personal feelings have not been bound up with your action. But if you have aimed at triumph, then when it comes off, you will become overelated and want to tell everyone about it; and in failure you will get depressed or perhaps angry. In which case you will find yourself either trying to conceal it, or else blaming it on other people. So aim at success, never at triumph.
I once had an experience which brought this advice to life for me. I was given the job of sweeping the leaves away from one courtyard of a Japanese temple. Such courtyards are often covered with moss, and there are small trees which come into leaf at different times of the year, to give the moss the shade which it needs. Moss is regarded as a symbol of spiritual progress in Japanese Buddhism: its growth cannot be forced, but if all weeds are removed, it does make surprisingly fast progress.
The leaves were falling from the trees in this particular courtyard: some were on the ground and others were very loose. I swept the fallen leaves carefully from the surface of the moss into a heap which I then transferred into the bag provided. I wanted to leave the courtyard absolutely clear of leaves, absolutely. In other words, I wanted a triumph. This was one of the first jobs I had been given in the temple, and I wished it to be done perfectly. But I found that when I had swept the ground clear from under several of the trees, one or two more leaves then fell, marring the unbroken greenness of the moss carpet. With some irritation I walked across, snatched them, and stuffed them into the bag. Then a few more fell on another part which I had already swept.
I found myself becoming annoyed, and then angry. I was fairly strong, and as an experienced Judo man, I knew how to apply strength. So I took hold of each tree in turn and shook it violently. All the leaves which were at all loose came down in a shower. I then swept the whole lot up with powerful strokes of the besom. I felt like a man who had just won a Judo contest, in this case, however, against trees. I triumphantly surveyed the courtyard, now absolutely clear of leaves.
As I turned to go, with the full bag, I noticed a monk watching me. He said something to the effect that this was perhaps a little brutal, was it not? “We just sweep up every day the leaves that have fallen. If some more come down where we have already swept, we will sweep them up tomorrow.”
Years later, I read something by Mamiya, a great Zen master and poet of the early twentieth century, about sweeping leaves. From my own experience of annoyance at the trees, I could understand his meaning. I felt that perhaps he had had the same experience when young, and that it applied to much more than sweeping courtyards:
We sweep up the leaves that have fallen,
But we do not hate the trees for dropping them.