In 2015, I joined a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat. One of the stories I heard there had little to do with meditation, but it left a mark nonetheless. It was about the value of hard work in the face of adversity. Years later, I still come back to this story from S.N. Goenka, the teacher.
A mother sent her son with an empty bottle and a ten-rupee note to buy some oil from the nearby grocer’s shop. The boy went and had the bottle filled, but as he was returning he fell down and dropped it. Before he could pick it up, half of the oil spilled out. Finding the bottle half empty, he came back to his mother crying,“Oh, I lost half the oil! I lost half the oil!” He was very unhappy.
The mother sent another son with another bottle and another ten-rupee note. He also had the bottle filled, and while returning fell down and dropped it. Again half of the oil spilled out. Picking up the bottle, he came back to his mother very happy: “Oh look, I saved half the oil! The bottle fell down and could have broken. The oil started spilling out; all of it might have been lost. But I saved half the oil!” Both came to the mother in the same position, with a bottle that was half empty, half full. One was crying for the empty half, one was happy with the filled part.
Then the mother sent another son with another bottle and a ten-rupee note. He also fell down while returning and dropped the bottle. Half of the oil spilled out. He picked up the bottle and, like the second boy, came to his mother very happy: “Mother, I saved half the oil!” But this boy was a Vipassana boy, full not only of optimism, but also of realism. He understood, “Well, half of the oil was saved, but half was also lost.” And so he said to his mother, “Now I shall go to the market, work hard for the whole day, earn five rupees, and get this bottle filled. By evening I will have it filled.”
This is Vipassana. No pessimism; instead, optimism, realism, and “workism”!
From The Art of Living by S.N. Goenka (PDF Link)