The Nirvana of Losing

Losing is Nirvana. Photo by Ian @

There is a ritual Tibetan monks perform in the second year of their ministry, high in the snowy Himalayan mountains. The ritual involves replicating an intricate ancient symbol, called the Rangoli. The Rangoli is meant as a sacred welcoming area for the deities.

Replication of this incredibly detailed symbol takes five years of painting part time. During this period, no one can see the work in progress. The monk paints in solitude.

On the final day, the divine Sensei of the monastery examines the design. The monk is blessed if the Sensei approves of his painstaking endevours.

On that fateful day of examination, as the painting is being presented before the Sensei, the Sensei looks the monk directly in the eyes and proceeds to destroy the fragile design with a single sweep of his arm.

The shock of witnessing this work of beauty being destroyed without hesitation is meant to create one of two responses from the monk: a shining moment of blankness, known as Nirvana, or the monk weeps with joy with the abrupt realization that anything and everything can be reduced to nothing.

The monk loses something precious, but gains something far greater: understanding of an eternal principle.

The moral of this story is this: winning doesn’t exist. As Scott Adam’s asserts, winning is merely a predetermined outcome based on a lot of practice and even more losing.

To put it another way, the secret to success is failure.

Losing on the other hand, brings understanding. Sometimes, like in the case of Tibetan monks who have 5 years of painstaking labour trashed without a glance, it brings enlightenment.

Losing may signify you haven’t lost enough, or weren’t lucky enough. Either way, it means nothing.

It is Nirvana.

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Story of the Tibetan ritual was gleaned from Akshat Sehgal’s An Edifice Of Thought.


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§ 2 Responses to The Nirvana of Losing"

  • Great post Jason. The connection I made was a bit different, though the same; it made me think about “destroying” or simply not using my own work, and becoming unattached to them (sort of like a mother disregarding or killing her own children). At first it was hard to do, given all the time and work that goes into creating anything, but I find that the easier it is to do that, the more able I am to look for (design) solutions that work.

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  • rinkjustice says:

    Yes, I made that same connection, to not be attached to an outcome, win or lose. And I’m glad it evoked that connection with you as well.

    Thanks Nick!

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