Hills and Valleys: Success and Failure

Finding maxima or minima (hills and valleys) is a type of problem that comes across in many fields such as economics and AI (neural networks).

The main difficulty is that there can be many hills and valleys, and what we find may be a local maximum rather than a global maximum. Once we reached a local peak, seeking any further improvement goes down the hill. Sometimes we have to reach the bottom before we can climb a better hill. So failures are an essential part of growth.

"New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings." – Lao Tzu.

Unfortunately, when we achieve some level of success, we desperately cling to it and fail to notice other new possibilities. As the saying goes, nothing fails like success! Often our idea of success is narrow and limited – focused on small aspects of life rather than our overall well-being. We buy into a wrong idea of success that is influenced and conditioned by society; and we desperately cling to that tiny peak!

We all want to be happy. Consciously or unconsciously, obviously or secretly, directly or cunningly, we all try to maximize our happiness and minimize our suffering. But we tend to focus on the gratifications or benefits, and fail to recognize their consequences and dangers. This is how we are trapped in egoistic, materialistic and spiritual materialistic gains. Hence Buddha recommends the contemplation of gratifications and dangers.

Life is short and we are making it even shorter. Life is filled with pain and we are adding more suffering to it. Whatever hills we may try to climb, let's ask: Is it worth our pain and effort, stress and struggles? May we find clarity to choose wisely for the benefit of ourselves and all others!

Serene Mountain

One day, a man beheld through the opening of a cloud, the calm face of the mountain. He stopped every passer-by, that would stay to give an answer, and inquired of the way that would lead him beyond the mists. Some said take this path, and others said take that path. After many days of confusion and toil, he arrived among the hills. A man, full in years, wise in the ways of the hills, said, "I know the way. You cannot reach the mountain, O friend, unless you are strengthened by the power that comes from the adoration of the image in yonder shrine." Many days passed in peaceful worship. Tired of worship, he asked of men that seemed great with understanding. "Yea," said one, "I know the way. But if you would gain the fulfillment of your desire, carry this on you. It will uphold you in your weariness." He gave him the symbol of his struggle. Another cried, "Yea, I know the way. But many days of contemplation must be passed in the seclusion of a sanctuary, with my picture of eternity." "I know the way," said another, "But you must perform these rites, understand these hidden laws, you must enter the association of the elect and hold fast to the knowledge that we shall give you." "Be loud in the song of praise of the reflection that you seek," said another. "Come, follow me, obeying all things I say. I know the way," cried another. Eventually, the calm face of the mountain was utterly forgotten. Now he wanders from hill to hill, crying aloud, "Yes, I know the way, but..."

There is a mountain, far beyond the plains and hills, whose great summit overlooks the dark valley and the open seas. Neither cloud nor deep mists ever hide its calm face. It is above the shadows of day and night. From the vast plain, no man can behold it. Some have seen it but there be few that have reached its feet. One in many thousand years gathers his strength and gains that abode of eternity. I speak of that mountain top, serene, infinite, beyond thought. I shout for joy!

— J. Krishnamurti