02/25/2013 12:53 pm ET Updated Apr 27, 2013

Buddha's Choice

The other day, I found myself thinking about the Buddha's life story. Specifically, the moment, before his Enlightenment, when he realized that he had learned all the great teachers had to teach, and it was all a failure.

What must that moment have been like? Here, he had given up everything, the Kingship of his clan, his palaces, his wife, son, all the luxuries he had grown up with. He had destroyed his father's dreams, left his infant son to be raised without a father, broken the heart of the woman he loved. And he had, for all of that, failed in his quest.

He had traveled across India, Nepal, Bhutan, searching for a teacher who could help him end suffering. He mastered every technique, learned every doctrine. He had mastered his own will. Exposed his body to every torment, blazing heat, biting cold, monsoon downpours. Even mastered his own desires to the point that he was only eating a single grain of rice a day. And what did he get as a reward? He was dying. Dying from starvation and exposure without the answer to suffering. He was dying a failure.

What must that realization have felt like? What must his heart have felt? To realize that you are dying, and all you've suffered has been in vain? I think most of us would have given up. We would have slunk off back home, filled with shame, embarrassment and guilt. Tucked our tails between our legs and run home to Daddy.

But that's not what happened. Somehow, in that moment of total failure, Siddhartha found the courage to try one more time. He made a choice to ignore the voice in his head telling him he was a failure, ignore the doubt and guilt and shame, and try one more time. Decided to forget all the teachers and ascetics, all they had taught him, and try his own way, alone.

It reminds me of the legend of the Phoenix. The bird rises from the ashes of it's own death. That's what Siddhartha did. Siddhartha the Ascetic had to be laid aside. Siddhartha the Ascetic had to die.

Most of us will never go through what Siddhartha did for those seven years. But all of us, at some point in our lives, will face the same choice: give up in failure, walk away, or try one more time. Decide we can't find the answer and give up in resignation. Or decide that we will rely on our own heart, and try one more time.

All of us will face Siddhartha's choice. The choice between living a life that's killing us emotionally and/or physically, and the possibility of redemption. Siddhartha's choice led to his Enlightenment, to Buddhahood. When you face your choice, how will you answer? Which path will you choose?