Archives for April 2008

I want to find God

By Paulo Coelho

The man arrived at the monastery exhausted:

– I have been looking for God for so long – he said. – Perhaps you can teach me the right way of finding Him.

– Enter and see our convent – said the priest, taking him by the hand and leading him to the chapel. – Here are some fine works of art of the 16th century, which portray the life of the Lord, and His glory among men.

The man waited, while the priest explained each one of the beautiful paintings and sculptures which adorned the chapel.
Afterwards, he repeated the question:

– Everything you showed me is very beautiful. But I’d like to learn the best way to find God.

– God! – replied the priest. – You said exactly that: God!

And he took the man to the refectory, where supper was being prepared for the monks.

– Look around: soon supper will be served, and you are invited to dine with us. You will be able to listen to the Scriptures, while you satisfy your hunger.

– I am not hungry, and I have already read the entire Scriptures – insisted the man. – I wish to learn. I have come here to find God.

Again the priest took the stranger by the hand and they began walking around the cloisters which encircled a lovely garden.

– I ask my monks to always keep the grass cut, and to remove the dry leaves from the fountain you see over there in the middle. I think this must be the best kept monastery in the whole region.

The stranger walked with the priest a short way, then excused himself, saying he must be leaving.

– Won’t you stay for supper? asked the priest.

As he mounted his horse, the stranger spoke:

– Congratulations on your fine church, your welcoming refectory and the perfectly clean courtyard. But I have journeyed many leagues just in order to learn to find God, and not to marvel at efficiency, comfort and discipline.

A flash of lightening struck, the horse reared up and the earth shook. Suddenly, the strange man removed his disguise, and the priest saw that it was Jesus.

– God is wherever He is invited in – said Jesus. – But you have closed the doors of this monastery to Him, with rules, pride, wealth, ostentation. The next time a stranger comes asking to find God, do not show him what you have managed in His name: listen to the question, and try to answer with love, charity and simplicity.

And so saying, He disappeared.

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Happiness … is a warm gun?

Today, I came upon this interview in The New York Times with Dr. Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness”. This particular part of the interview caught my eye :

Professor Happiness: The interview
by Claudia Dreifus The New York Times

(…)

Q. DO MOST OF US HARBOR UNREASONABLE NOTIONS OF WHAT HAPPINESS IS?

A. Inaccurate, flawed ideas. Few of us can accurately gauge how we will feel tomorrow or next week. That’s why when you go to the supermarket on an empty stomach, you’ll buy too much, and if you shop after a big meal, you’ll buy too little.

Another factor that makes it difficult to forecast our future happiness is that most of us are rationalizers. We expect to feel devastated if our spouse leaves us or if we get passed over for a big promotion at work.

But when things like that do happen, it’s soon, “She never was right for me,” or “I actually need more free time for my family.” People have remarkable talent for finding ways to soften the impact of negative events. Thus they mistakenly expect such blows to be much more devastating than they turn out to be.

Q. SO, IF WE DIDN’T HAVE THESE MECHANISMS, WOULD WE BE TOO DEPRESSED TO GO ON?

A. There may be something to that. People who are clinically depressed often seem to lack the ability to reframe events. That suggests that if the rest of us didn’t have this, we might be depressed as well.

(…)

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/04/23/healthscience/22conv.php

Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

In your novels, events and backgrounds are “historical – mythical – cultural …” and related to far removed from Latin American reality. Did you try to escape the dominance of fantastic realism?

In my work, I try to see the world with the eyes of a Brazilian, but I do not create limits for my imagination. Therefore, as the human conflicts take place in human hearts – regardless the cultural background – I write about them, but free in time and space.

Man and the absolute power

In the Lucifer Effect- a book by Philip Zimbardo – tells of an experiment conducted in the sixties in Standford University. Students were chosen to carry out an experiment in the basement of the university. A prison was recreated and by the flip of a coin 7 students were held hostage while the other 7 students were the prison guards. The guards had absolute power over the victims (except for physical violence) and the experiment was meant to last 2 weeks. Yet, at the end of the 6th day the experiment had to be ceased – victims having nervous breakdowns. The guards, that unleashed their evil, had to go under therapy for years to come. My question then is: is Man, when given absolute power, evil?

You can watch the video here

Quote of the Day

By Paulo Coelho

A threat need not provoke a response
if it is not taken up.
(The Pilgrimage)

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Reflections of the Warrior of the Light

By Paulo Coelho

A warrior of the light does not put off his decisions.

He reflects properly before acting, considers his training, his responsibility, and his duty to the master. He seeks to maintain serenity, and analyzes each step as if it were the most important one.

But at the moment of making a decision, the warrior moves ahead: he no longer has any doubts about his choice, nor does he alter course should the circumstances be other than those he imagined.

If his decision was the correct one, he will win the combat – even if it takes longer than planned. If his decision is wrong, he will be defeated, and will have to start over again – with more wisdom.

But when he starts out, the warrior of the light follows through to the end.

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Which biofuel?

Today, I read this interesting article of opinion in the International Herald Tribune:

Bring on the right biofuels
by Roger Cohen International Herald Tribune
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

(…)

Where fuel distilled from plant matter was once hailed as an answer to everything from global warming to the geostrategic power shift favoring repressive one-pipeline oil states, it’s now a “scam” and “part of the problem,” according to Time Magazine. Ethanol has turned awful. The supposed crimes of biofuels are manifold. They’re behind soaring global commodity prices, the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, increased rather than diminished greenhouse gases, food riots in Haiti, Indonesian deforestation and, no doubt, your mother-in-law’s toothache. Most of this, to borrow a farm image, is hogwash and bilge.

(…)

Much larger trends are at work that dwarf the still tiny biofuel industry (roughly a $40 billion annual business, or the equivalent of Exxon Mobil’s $40.6 billion profits in 2007). I refer to the rise of more than one third of humanity in China and India, the disintegrating dollar and soaring oil prices.

(…)

The danger in all this anti-biofuel hysteria is that we’re going to throw out the baby with the bath water. (…) Right now, the biofuel market is being grossly distorted by subsidies and trade barriers in the United States and the European Union. These make it rewarding to produce ethanol from corn or grains that are far less productive than sugarcane ethanol, divert land from food production (unlike sugarcane), and have environmental credentials that are dubious.

(…)

The real scam lies in developed world protectionism and skewed subsidies, not the biofuel idea.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/04/23/opinion/edcohen.php

Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

In your novels “The Fifth Mountain” or The Alchemist there is a wide deep understanding of the countries where events took place, how did you reach such relation with what you are not related to. Are books and movies enough?

You relate to cultures through art – this is the most important bridge among different civilizations. The Arabian Nights, and most of the classical Arabic texts helped me to understand and admire the soul of the Arabian people.

The Valkyries for free!

Dear readers,
You can now browse the full edition of The Valkyries (courtesy of Harper Collins).

Therefore, you can read the first pages (or the full edition). If you decide do buy the book, there is a link on the left side.

Quote of the Day

By Paulo Coelho

The Man who defends his friends
is never overwhelmed by the storms of life;
he is strong enough to come through difficulties
and carry on.
(Manual of the Warrior of Light)

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Universe in disenchantment

Today, I stumbled upon this interesting article by David Brooks for the New York Times

The great escape
by David Brooks The New York Times
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Over the past 15 months, I’ve been writing pretty regularly about the presidential campaign, which has meant thinking a lot about attack ads, tracking polls and which campaign is renouncing which over-the-line comment from a surrogate that particular day (…) But on my desk for much of this period I have kept a short essay about how people in the Middle Ages viewed the night sky, and it’s about a mentality so totally removed from the campaign mentality that it’s like a refreshing dip in a cool and cleansing pool.

(…)

The essay, which appeared in Books & Culture, is called “C. S. Lewis and the Star of Bethlehem,” by Michael Ward, a chaplain at Peterhouse College at Cambridge. It points out that while we moderns see space as a black, cold, mostly empty vastness, with planets and stars propelled by gravitational and other forces, Europeans in the Middle Ages saw a more intimate and magical place. The heavens, to them, were a ceiling of moving spheres, rippling with signs and symbols, and moved by the love of God. The medieval universe, Lewis wrote, “was tingling with anthropomorphic life, dancing, ceremonial, a festival not a machine.”

The modern view disenchants the universe, Lewis argued, and tends to make it “all fact and no meaning.” When we say that a star is a huge flaming ball of gas, he wrote, we are merely describing what it is made of. We are not describing what it is. Lewis also wanted to include the mythologies, symbols and stories that have been told about the heavenly actors, and which were so real to those who looked up into the sky hundreds of years ago. He wanted to strengthen the imaginative faculty that comes naturally to those who see the heavens as fundamentally spiritual and alive.

(…)

As many historians have written, Europeans in the Middle Ages lived with an almost childlike emotional intensity. There were stark contrasts between daytime and darkness, between summer heat and winter cold, between misery and exuberance, and good and evil. Certain distinctions were less recognized, namely between the sacred and the profane.

(…)


http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/04/22/opinion/edbrooks.php

The importance of the cat in meditation

By Paulo Coelho

Having recently written a book about madness, I was forced to wonder how many things we do are imposed on us by necessity, or by the absurd. Why wear a tie? Why do clocks run “clockwise”? If we live in a decimal system, why does the day have 24 hours of 60 minutes?

The fact is, many of the rules we obey nowadays have no real foundation. Nevertheless, if we wish to act differently, we are considered “crazy” or “immature”.

Meanwhile, society continues to create some systems which, in the fullness of time, lose their reason for existence, but continue to impose their rules. An interesting Japanese story illustrates what I mean by this:

A great Zen Buddhist master, who was in charge of the Mayu Kagi monastery, had a cat which was his true passion in life. So, during meditation classes, he kept the cat by his side – in order to make the most of his company.

One morning, the master – who was already quite old – passed away. His most adept disciple took his place.

– What shall we do with the cat? – asked the other monks.

As a tribute to the memory of their old instructor, the new master decided to allow the cat to continue attending the Zen-Buddhist classes.

Some disciples from the neighboring monasteries, traveling through those parts, discovered that, in one of the region’s most renowned temples, a cat took part in the meditation sessions. The story began to spread.

Many years passed. The cat died, but the students at the monastery were so used to its presence, they soon found another cat. Meanwhile, the other temples began introducing cats in their meditation sessions: they believed the cat was truly responsible for the fame and excellence of Mayu Kagi’s teaching, and in doing so forgot that the old master was a fine instructor.

A generation passed, and technical treatises began to appear about the importance of the cat in Zen meditation. A university professor developed a thesis – which was accepted by the academic community – that felines have the ability to increase human concentration, and eliminate negative energy.

And so, for a whole century, the cat was considered an essential part of Zen-Buddhist studies in that region.

Until a master appeared who was allergic to animal hair, and decided to remove the cat from his daily exercises with the students.

There was a fierce negative reaction – but the master insisted. Since he was an excellent instructor, the students continued to make the same scholarly progress, in spite of the absence of the cat.

Little by little, the monasteries – always in search of new ideas, and already tired of having to feed so many cats – began eliminating the animals from the classes. In twenty years time, new revolutionary theories began to appear – with very convincing titles such as “The Importance of Meditating Without a Cat”, or “Balancing the Zen Universe by Will Power Alone, Without the Help of Animals”.

Another century passed, and the cat withdrew completely from the meditation rituals in that region. But two hundred years were necessary for everything to return to normal – because during all this time, no one asked why the cat was there.

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Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

Some consider that Portuguese language as a grave for literature, as it is so difficult and not widely used in world. But through translation your novels are widely read in many languages. So what is your relation with translation from Portuguese, its positive and negative effects on your native language and its aesthetic values?

Portuguese is my mother tongue, and it is a beautiful language. A translator cannot create a book- and good translators are able to understand the deepness of Portuguese.

Quote of the Day

By Paulo Coelho

To each of man’s ages the Lord gives its own anxieties.

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Food Shortage

Today is the beginning of the London Summit about rising food prices.
For the past weeks now we keep on hearing about the increasing threat of the price of food and therefore I would like to share with you this interesting article that I read on the International Herald Tribune last week:

Economic ministers urge action on food shortages
by Steven R. Weisman The New York Times

The world’s economic ministers declared that shortages and skyrocketing prices for food posed a potentially greater threat to economic and political stability than the turmoil in capital markets.

The ministers, conferring in the shadow of a slumping U.S. economy that threatens to pull down other countries, turned their attention to the food crisis and called on the wealthiest countries to fulfill pledges to help prevent starvation and disorder in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said the food crisis posed questions about the survivability of democracy and political regimes.

“As we know in the past, sometimes those questions lead to war,” he said. “We now need to devote 100 percent of our time to these questions.”

World Bank and IMF officials noted that political instability had already hit countries as disparate as Haiti, Egypt, the Philippines and Indonesia because of food shortages, forcing some countries to limit food exports.

(…)

Some ministers from poor countries are growing impatient with the way the West is addressing global warming by subsidizing and encouraging conversion of corn, sugar cane and other food products into substitutes for oil. The shift is helping to drive up prices, they say.

Strauss-Kahn said he had heard from many financial officials this weekend that the West’s focus on fuel, at the expense of food, was a “crime against humanity.” Though he noted that the IMF was primarily a monetary and financial agency, he said it would try to “review its tools” to help countries pay for food imports.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/04/14/business/food.php

Reflections of the Warrior of the Light

By Paulo Coelho

Of uselessness

The warrior of the light knows that no one is a fool, and that life teaches everyone – even if that requires time.

So he treats his neighbor according to the qualities he sees, and seeks to show the whole world each one’s capabilities.

Several companions say: “some people are useless”.

The warrior is not thrown by this. And continues to stimulate others, for this is a way to stimulate himself.

In search of affection

A warrior of the light needs love. Affection and tenderness are part of his nature – as much as eating, drinking, and the taste for Good Combat.

When a warrior is unhappy as he watches the setting sun, something is wrong.

At this time, the warrior interrupts the combat and goes to seek company, in order to watch the sunset together.

If he has difficulty finding company, he asks himself: “was I afraid to approach someone? Did I receive affection, and did not notice?”

A warrior of the light uses loneliness, but is not used by it.

Facing despair

A warrior of the light often despairs.

He thinks that the feelings he had hoped to awaken are nowhere to be found. Many afternoons and nights he is forced to adopt a position of the defeated, and no new event can bring back his enthusiasm.

His friends comment: “perhaps your fight has come to an end.”

The warrior feels pain and confusion upon hearing these comments, for he knows that he has not come as far as he wished. But he is determined, and does not abandon that which he set out to do.

Then, when he least expects it, a new door opens.

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Today’s Question by Aart Hilal

After visiting Egypt and Lebanon, what is your impression about both countries , and about Arabic literature ? Did you read any Arabic novels, and if you did what are the novels you are celebrated more, also the novelists?

The visit to Egypt, in 1987, was fundamental for me to be able to write “The Alchemist”. It was then that I learned more about Islam and about the richness of this country but I learned that when talking to common people, who still keep the ancient knowledge of Egypt in their heart, although not in a conscious manner. I was deeply impressed by the sensibility I found there. As for the Arabic influence in the world literature, you have millennia of great writers and prose, so it will be unfair to single out one or two writers.