Archives for July 2015

How to keep Hell full

By Paulo Coelho

 

According to a traditional story, at the moment when the Son of God expired on the cross, He went straight to Hell in order to save sinners.

The Devil was most put out.

‘I have no other function in the universe,’ he said. ‘From now on, all the delinquents who broke the rules, committed adultery and infringed the religious laws will be sent straight to Heaven!’

Jesus looked at him and smiled:

‘Don’t worry,’ he said to the poor Devil. ‘All those who judge themselves to be full of virtue and therefore spend their lives condemning those who don’t follow my word, they will come here. Just wait a few hundred years and you’ll find that Hell is fuller than ever!’

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In Buddha and in the Virgin Mary

The Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, is one of the most respected teachers of Buddhism in the West.
When he was travelling in Sri Lanka, he met six barefoot children. ‘They were not children from a shanty town, but children from the country, and looking at them, I saw that they formed part of the nature which surrounded them.’
He was alone on the beach and they all ran towards him. Since Thich Nhat Hanh did not speak their language, he simply hugged them and they hugged him back.
At one point, however, he suddenly remembered an ancient Buddhist prayer: ‘I take refuge in Buddha’. He began singing it, and four of the children joined in. Thich Nhat Hanh made a sign to the other two children who were not singing. They smiled, put their hands together and said in Pali: ‘I take refuge in the Virgin Mary.’

The sound of the prayer was the same. On that beach, on that afternoon, Thich Nhat Nanh says that he found a harmony and serenity he had rarely experienced before.

 

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40 SEC READING: the magic moment

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“You have to take risks”- he said.

“We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.

“Every day, God gives us the sun–and also one moment in which we have the ability to change everything that makes us unhappy.
“Every day, we try to pretend that we haven’t perceived that moment, that it doesn’t exist–that today is the same as yesterday and will be the same as tomorrow.

But if people really pay attention to their everyday lives, they will discover that magic moment.

It may arrive in the instant when we are doing something mundane, like putting our front-door key in the lock.
It may lie hidden in the quiet that follows the lunch hour or in the thousand and one things that all seem the same to us.

But that moment exists–a moment when all the power of the stars becomes a part of us and enables us to perform miracles.”

In “By the river Piedra I sat down and wept”

And while out walking…

 

While walking through a field, a man spotted a scarecrow.
“You must be tired standing there in this lonely field with nothing to do,” he commented.
The scarecrow replied:
“There is great pleasure in driving away danger, and I never grow tired doing this.”
“Yes, I too have acted like that, and with good results,” agreed the man.
“But those who are full of straw inside are always chasing things away,” said the scarecrow.
The man took some years to understand the answer: those with flesh and blood in their body must accept some unexpected things. But those with nothing inside them are always driving off everything that comes near them – and not even the blessings of God can come close to them.

The grove of cedar trees

 

In 1939, the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara was working in the Japanese embassy in Lithuania during one of the most terrible periods humanity has known, and he saved thousands of Polish Jews from the Nazi threat by issuing them with exit visas.
His act of heroism, in defying his own government for many years, was just an obscure footnote in the history of the War until the people whom Sugihara had saved broke their silence and decided to tell his story. Then everyone celebrated his great courage; the media joined in and authors were inspired to write books describing him as a ‘Japanese Schindler’.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government was collating the names of all such saviours in order to reward them for their efforts. One of the ways in which the Jewish state tried to acknowledge their debt to these heroes was to plant trees in their honour. When Sugihara’s bravery became known, the Israeli authorities planned, as was the custom, to plant a grove of trees in his memory, cherry trees – Japan’s traditional tree.
Suddenly, the unusual decision was taken to revoke the order. They decided that cherry trees were not an adequate symbol of Sugihara’s courage. They chose instead to plant a grove of cedar trees because the cedar is a much more vigorous tree and one with sacred connotations, having been used in the construction of the first Temple.
Only when the trees had already been planted did the authorities learn that in Japanese ‘sugihara’ means…a grove of cedar trees.

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The small farm and the cow

 

A philosopher was strolling through the forest with a disciple, discussing the importance of unexpected encounters. According to the philosopher, everything around us provides us with an opportunity to learn or to teach.
At that moment, they passed the gate of a small farm which, although well situated, appeared to be extremely run down.
‘Just look at this place,’ said the disciple. ‘You’re quite right. What I learn from this is that many people live in Paradise, but are not even aware that they do and continue to live in the most miserable conditions.’
‘I said learn and teach,’ retorted the philosopher. ‘It is never enough simply to notice what is going on, you must also find out the causes, because we can only understand the world when we understand the causes.’
They knocked on the door and were received by the inhabitants: a couple and their three children, all dressed in ragged, dirty clothes.
‘You live in the middle of the forest with no shops anywhere around,’ said the philosopher to the father of the family. ‘How do you survive here?’
The man very calmly replied:
‘My friend, we have a cow who gives us several litres of milk every day. Some of this we sell or exchange in the neighbouring town for other food, and with the remainder we make cheese, yoghurt and butter for ourselves. And that is how we survive.’
The philosopher thanked him for this information, looked at the place for a few moments and then left. As they walked away, he said to his disciple:
‘Take the cow, lead it to that precipice and push it over.’
‘But the cow is the family’s only means of support.’
The philosopher said nothing. Having no alternative, the young man did as he was told, and the cow fell to its death.
The scene remained engraved on his memory. Many years later, when he himself was a successful businessman, he resolved to return to that place, to tell the family everything, to ask their forgiveness and to help them financially.
Imagine his surprise when he found the place transformed into a beautiful farm with flowering trees, a car in the garage and children playing in the garden. He was gripped by despair, thinking that the humble family must have been forced to sell the farm in order to survive. He hurried on and was greeted by a friendly servant.
‘What happened to the family who used to live here ten years ago?’ he asked.
‘They still own the place,’ came the reply.
Astonished, he ran into the house, and the owner recognised him. He asked after the philosopher, but the young man was too anxious to find out how the man had managed to improve the farm and to raise his standard of living so dramatically.
‘Well, we used to have a cow, but it fell over the precipice and died,’ said the man. ‘Then, in order to support my family, I had to plant herbs and vegetables. The plants took a while to grow, and so I started cutting down trees to sell the wood. Then, of course, I had to buy saplings to replace the trees. When I was buying the saplings, I thought about my children’s clothes, and it occurred to me that I could perhaps try growing my own cotton. I had a difficult first year, but by the time harvest came around, I was already selling vegetables, cotton and aromatic herbs. I had never realised how much potential the farm had. It was a bit of luck really that cow dying!’
(A story circulating on the Internet in 1999, author unknown.)

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When the bridges are collapsing

Mr. Coelho, are you interested in building bridges between cultures?

For a writer you have to be interested in different cultures, different backgrounds. You are not there to write only about your village. You’re there to show a bit of your village, but also to understand other villages. Like Tolstoy says: everything that happens in a village happens everywhere.

Were you raised with that kind of approach?

As a child I was influenced by many different inputs and cultures – Arabic, Jewish, American – and I became interested like this. We did not select music that we were going to hear out of political correctness. We selected something that you either like or you don’t like. When I started writing I started seeing this input manifesting itself. And then I became interested.

Do you feel like we have more bridges between cultures today than in the past?

Today I see all the bridges collapsing. It seems that nobody is capable of understanding each other anymore. I feel it’s my duty as a human being, as a person who is trying – like everybody else who thinks about the state of the world – to enhance the importance of this multicultural connection. As long as you still have one bridge left, nothing is lost. But from the moment that you cannot even understand the storytelling or the music of other cultures anymore, then we become strangers to each other and the situation will become very complicated.

Well I’d say you are bridging cultures with your online presence – you have 22 million Facebook Likes, 9 million Twitter followers, and you have been blogging since 2006. Why are you so active on the internet?

It’s a new platform and as a writer I have to find platforms that can use this writing process. The internet is one of them. People are reading more and writing more now because of the internet. So the virtual world is a way for me to listen to my readers and interact with my readers. It is a way that they can voice their opinion. I like to be challenged with language, so I start to do texts for my blogs that people can download, can spread. There is no commercial interest behind it. It’s only for fun, like doing something that you really enjoy to do. I have texts that I write specifically for the internet and I put them there. I am interested in how readers also respond to the texts that I write to them.

Does it trouble you that the wealth of information also brings less credibility with it?

I’m not sure about that. I think the more information you can get, the better you can find information for your own purposes.

Is it true that you always look for a white feather before you start writing?

That’s true for starting the book. Meaning there’s a tradition back to The Pilgrimage, my first book in 1987. Back then I was not sure if I should write the book or not, I was in a moment of doubt. I was in Madrid and I said, “If today I see a white feather, that’s the sign that I should write.”

But what if you have a great idea and you really want to start writing, but you can’t find a white feather?

No, you normally find a white feather. The problem is to find a white feather in January or so. But it is possible. The moment that I find this white feather I start writing. But it has nothing to do with the contents of the book, it has to do with the book itself.

Do you have a similar sign that tells you what the book should be about or have you already decided by that point?

Of course I am a person that is very curious about what is going on in the world and there are a lot of subjects to write about, you meet a lot of interesting people. But one idea will be there and it will show up without any logic. It is a book that has been written in my heart before it is written into sentences. So I don’t choose. Normally it’s the book that chooses me.

So you don’t write with a purpose in mind?

I write because I need to share my thoughts with the audience. I don’t know if the books are making the world a much better place. I don’t write with that objective. What I know is that I see my readers creating a critical mass so we can at least understand this world in a different way. You need to change yourself. The moment that you change yourself it is a gigantic step. And this is what I do. The book is much more important than the writer.

But your personality is still very present in your work.

I am very present in my work and my work is somehow an expression of my soul, but at the same time I think that a writer cannot write out of nothing. You have two types of writers: one like Proust who was locked in his room and wrote the masterpiece À la recherche du temps perdu. And the other type was Hemingway who celebrated life and also wrote a masterpiece.

A central theme of The Alchemist, your most famous book, is the idea that one should live in the pursuit of his or her dreams. Does your life within that theory make perfect sense to you, or are you also still searching for something?

It makes perfect sense, but that doesn’t mean that I understand the sense. So the issue is not answering questions, but leaving discussions open. Not in the sense that probably one day you are going to have an answer or you are not going to have an answer. Just live your life, do what you have to do, what you are enthusiastic about doing.

Life is like a big bike race

Life is like a big bike race, with the path to the finish line being your personal path.

At the start, we all ride together – sharing the camaraderie and enthusiasm. But as the race progresses, the initial joy gives way to the real challenges: tiredness, monotony, doubts about our own abilities.

Notice that some friends will give up, they are still going, but only because they do not know how to stop in the middle of a road, they are numerous, pedaling alongside the support car, talking amongst themselves and meeting an obligation.

Eventually we distance ourselves from them and are forced to cope with loneliness and unfamiliar bends in the road, not to mention problems with the bike. After some time, we may begin to wonder if it’s worth the effort.

Yes, it’s worth it. You just can’t quit.

Furthermore, if you stop pedaling, you begin falling.