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Master Shi Heng Yi referred to Laozi (Chinese Taoist Teacher) as saying that

It's better to remain clam and do nothing while achieving nothing than doing a lot and investing a lot of effort and energy and at the end not achieving anything (https://youtu.be/HN-YejxtWko)

On the other hand, we often hear things like "There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons" i.e. keep trying until you succeed.

These two thoughts sound contradictory to me. Could anyone kindly help me figure out what I am missing here? I am open to all schools of thoughts. Personally, I procrastinate a lot while planning or trying to find motivation. I would really appreciate if someone could also share their personal experience.

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In the standard Buddhist model there are "desire" and "aversion". Sometimes there are both desire and aversion at the same time.

For example, desire to get something and aversion to difficulties and effort. When desire is stronger than aversion, motivation wins. When aversion is stronger than desire, procrastination wins.

That monk spoke about motivation and effort to achieve the worldly goals. You may be very motivated by desire, put a lot of effort, and feel like you are achieving something - but in the end you still die, so what have you achieved and what was the point of all that effort?

Is the goal worthy of the effort, that is the question. The monk says, the worldly goals are not and that's because of impermanence.

Let's be honest with ourselves and stop forcing ourselves towards worldly attainments when deep inside we know they are pretty much useless. Let's find something Timeless, Non-Transient, Not bounded by conditions - now wouldn't that be the lofty goal, truly worthy of our effort?

That's what's known as Nirvana (Nibbana) or Enlightenment (Bodhi) and the Buddhism says it is actually attainable.

Now, when it comes to pursuing a lofty prize like that, I will agree with your second quote. "There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons." Even if it takes you 25 years to figure it out, in the end it's totally worth it, because it solves the fundamental problem at the fundamental level.

Mahayana Buddhism offers altruism and the pursuit of Enlightenment as alternatives to the modern goals of personal wealth, fame, and success. Imagine society that lives according to this paradigm, helping others and seeking Enlightenment.

Maybe that is why you don't feel motivated. Maybe the modern paradigm of success is not engaging enough and the time is coming for that to change.

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    I know these comments arn't supposed to be used in this way, but moved I was to read: Let's find something Timeless, Non-Transient, Not bounded by conditions - now wouldn't that be the lofty goal, truly worthy of our effort?
    – user17652
    Feb 23, 2023 at 11:59
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    Again you saved me and helped me see through my confusion. Thank you!
    – Noob
    Feb 23, 2023 at 14:03
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First, you must have Right View (samma ditthi), so that when you have the effort, it will be the Right Effort and when you have the resolve, it will be the Right Resolve. Without Right View, you will be running for miles in the wrong direction.

This is why Right View is the forerunner of the path.

"Of those, right view is the forerunner. And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view. .....

"And what is the right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path? The discernment, the faculty of discernment, the strength of discernment, analysis of qualities as a factor for awakening, the path factor of right view in one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose mind is without effluents, who is fully possessed of the noble path. This is the right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.
MN 117

The Buddha taught to strive with heedfulness (appamādena sampādethā”ti), as the pursuit of liberation is an urgent task. The famous last words of the Buddha, before his passing away, were "vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā”ti".

Then the Gracious One addressed the monks, saying: “Come now, monks, for I tell you all conditioned things are subject to decay, strive on with heedfulness!” These were the last words of the Realised One.
DN 16

There's Right Effort (samma vayamo):

"And what, monks, is right effort? (i) There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen. (ii) He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the abandonment of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen. (iii) He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen. (iv) He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen: This, monks, is called right effort.
SN 45.8

There's also the part about the right balance between energy (vīriya) and serenity (samatha). Not too much energy in one's effort, otherwise it makes one restless. And also not too little energy in one's effort, otherwise one becomes lazy.

The Buddha said to him, “Soṇa, ... didn’t this thought come to your mind: ‘I am one of the Buddha’s most energetic disciples. Yet my mind is not freed from defilements by not grasping. ...

“Yes, sir.”

“What do you think, Soṇa? When you were still a layman, weren’t you a good player of the arched harp?”

“Yes, sir.”

“When your harp’s strings were tuned too tight, was it resonant and playable?”

“No, sir.”

“When your harp’s strings were tuned too slack, was it resonant and playable?”

“No, sir.”

“But when your harp’s strings were tuned neither too tight nor too slack, but fixed at an even tension, was it resonant and playable?”

“Yes, sir.”

“In the same way, Soṇa, when energy is too forceful it leads to restlessness. When energy is too slack it leads to laziness. So, Soṇa, you should apply yourself to energy and serenity, find a balance of the faculties, and learn the pattern of this situation.

“Yes, sir,” Soṇa replied. ...

After some time Soṇa applied himself to energy and serenity, found a balance of the faculties, and learned the pattern of this situation. Then Soṇa, living alone, withdrawn, diligent, keen, and resolute, soon realized the supreme culmination of the spiritual path in this very life.
AN 6.55

It's perhaps in this last sutta quote, plus Right View, that you find the balance of your two quotes.

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"We ask Master Gotama about the quality most helpful for the final attainment of the truth.”

“Exertion is most helpful for the final attainment of the truth, Bhāradvāja. If one didn’t make an exertion, one wouldn’t finally attain the truth. Because one makes an exertion, one finally attains the truth. Therefore, exertion is most helpful for the final attainment of the truth.”

“But what quality is most helpful for exertion? We ask Master Gotama about the quality most helpful for exertion.” “Contemplating is most helpful for exertion, Bhāradvāja. If one didn’t contemplate, one wouldn’t make an exertion. Because one contemplates, one makes an exertion. Therefore, contemplating is most helpful for exertion.”

“But what quality is most helpful for contemplating? …” “Being willing.… If one weren’t willing, one wouldn’t contemplate.…”

“But what quality is most helpful for being willing? …” “Desire.… If desire didn’t arise, one wouldn’t be willing.…”

“But what quality is most helpful for desire? …” “Coming to an agreement through pondering dhammas.… If one didn’t come to an agreement through pondering dhammas, desire wouldn’t arise.…”

“But what quality is most helpful for coming to an agreement through pondering dhammas? …” “Penetrating the meaning.… If one didn’t penetrate the meaning, one wouldn’t come to an agreement through pondering dhammas.…”

“But what quality is most helpful for penetrating the meaning?.…” “Remembering the Dhamma.… If one didn’t remember the Dhamma, one wouldn’t penetrate the meaning.…”

“But what quality is most helpful for remembering the Dhamma?… ” “Hearing the Dhamma.… If one didn’t hear the Dhamma, one wouldn’t remember the Dhamma.…”

“But what quality is most helpful for hearing the Dhamma? … ” “Lending ear.… If one didn’t lend ear, one wouldn’t hear the Dhamma.…”

“But what quality is most helpful for lending ear? … ” “Growing close.… If one didn’t grow close, one wouldn’t lend ear.…”

“But what quality is most helpful for growing close? … ” “Visiting.… If one didn’t visit, one wouldn’t grow close.…”

“But what quality is most helpful for visiting? We ask Master Gotama about the quality most helpful for visiting.” “Conviction is most helpful for visiting, Bhāradvāja. If conviction (in a person) didn’t arise, one wouldn’t visit (that person). Because conviction arises, one visits. Therefore, conviction is most helpful for visiting.”

From: Caṅkī Sutta: With Caṅkī, transl. Thanissaro https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/MN/MN95.html

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