Intercultural dialogue

UN News Centre: Why are you so committed to intercultural dialogue… with your readers and through your work with the UN?

Paulo Coelho:
It is because of my personal history. I lived in a dictatorship in Brazil and I was arrested three times. I felt in my flesh what it is to live under such a regime and experience deprivation of freedom.
When I realized my books were being read around the world – currently over 180 millions copies have been sold, and each book is read by an average of three people – I felt if I can share stories that touch the hearts of so many different people, then I can in some way collaborate to make improvements in this world. Each of those readers has a different background, from Iran, Israel, Iraq, Kurdistan, South Africa…but there is still a cultural bridge.

I think all people have the same question. At the end of the day we are all asking this classic and common question: what am I doing here?
Probably we don’t have the same answer. But if we have the same question, we can understand each other.

Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbours are, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions. People have to understand that their neighbours are not different even if they have a different religion, different sociological background.
At this moment, I don’t see too much hope in political dialogue. But I see a lot of hope in cultural dialogue.

On the Jewish Day of Pardon

On the day of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Elimelekh of Lisensk took his disciples to a bricklayer’s workshop.
“Notice how this man behaves,” he said. “Because he manages to communicate well with the Lord.”

Without noticing that he was being observed, the bricklayer ended his work and went to the window. He took two pieces of paper from his pocket and raised them to the sky, saying:

“Lord, on one paper I have written the list of my sins. I have erred and there is no reason for me to hide that I offended You several times.
“But on the other paper is the list of Your sins towards me. You have demanded of me more than what is necessary, brought me difficult moments, and made me suffer.

“If we compare the two lists, You are in debt towards me. But since today is the Day of Pardon, You pardon me, I pardon You, and we shall continue on our path together for another year.”

12 steps to fulfillment

When Joseph Campbell, today’s most famous scholar of mythology (and author of the excellent “The Power of Myth”) created the expression “follow your blessing,” he was reflecting an idea that seems to be very appropriate right now. In “The Alchemist,” this same idea is called “Personal Legend.”

Alan Cohen, a therapist who lives in Hawaii, is also working on this theme. He says that in his lectures he asks those who are dissatisfied with their work and seventy-five percent of the audience raise their hands. Cohen has created a system of twelve steps to help people to rediscover their “blessing” (he is a follower of Campbell):

1] Tell yourself the truth:
draw two columns on a sheet of paper and in the left column write down what you would love to do. Then write down on the other side everything you’re doing without any enthusiasm. Write as if nobody were ever going to read what is there, don’t censure or judge your answers.

2] Start slowly, but start: call your travel agent, look for something that fits your budget; go and see the movie that you’ve been putting off; buy the book that you’ve been wanting to buy. Be generous to yourself and you’ll see that even these small steps will make you feel more alive.

3] Stop slowly, but stop:
some things use up all your energy. Do you really need to go that committee meeting? Do you need to help those who do not want to be helped? Does your boss have the right to demand that in addition to your work you have to go to all the same parties that he goes to? When you stop doing what you’re not interested in doing, you’ll realize that you were making more demands of yourself than others were really asking.

4] Discover your small talents: what do your friends tell you that you do well? What do you do with relish, even if it’s not perfectly well done? These small talents are hidden messages of your large occult talents.

5] Begin to choose:
if something gives you pleasure, don’t hesitate. If you’re in doubt, close your eyes, imagine that you’ve made decision A and see all that it will bring you. Now do the same with decision B. The decision that makes you feel more connected to life is the right one – even if it’s not the easiest to make.

6] Don’t base your decisions on financial gain: the gain will come if you really do it with enthusiasm. The same vase, made by a potter who loves what he does and by a man who hates his job, has a soul. It will be quickly sold (in the first case) or will stay on the shelves (in the second case).

7] Follow your intuition: the most interesting work is the one where you allow yourself to be creative. Einstein said: “I did not reach my understanding of the Universe using just mathematics.” Descartes, the father of logic, developed his method based on a dream he had.

8] Don’t be afraid to change your mind: if you put a decision aside and this bothers you, think again about what you chose. Don’t struggle against what gives you pleasure.

9] Learn how to rest: one day a week without thinking about work lets the subconscious help you, and many problems (but not all) are solved without any help from reason.

10] Let things show you a happier path:
if you are struggling too much for something, without any results appearing, be more flexible and follow the paths that life offers. This does not mean giving up the struggle, growing lazy or leaving things in the hands of others – it means understanding that work with love brings us strength, never despair.

11] Read the signs:
this is an individual language joined to intuition that appears at the right moments. Even if the signs point in the opposite direction from what you planned, follow them. Sometimes you can go wrong, but this is the best way to learn this new language.

12] Finally, take risks! the men who have changed the world set out on their paths through an act of faith. Believe in the force of your dreams. God is fair, He wouldn’t put in your heart a desire that couldn’t come true.

The universe conspires

There is sometimes a bit of confusion in regards to a passage of my book The Alchemist “When you really want something, the world conspires to make a dream come true”.

Mind you, some people don’t truly want something or sometimes want things that in the end won’t truly help them. The Universe is a merely and echo of our desires, may they be constructive or destructive ones.

One has also to keep in mind the difference between dream and obsession, which is the same difference that lies between personal legend and zahir. When you follow your the personal legend, you walk your path and learn from it. The objective doesn’t blind you to the road that takes you there. In the other hand obsession is what prevents you from admiring the teachings of life. It’s like trying to get to your objective without passing through the challenges.

I realized that despite the fear and the bruises of life, one has to keep on fighting for one’s dream. As Borges said in his writings “there no other virtue than being brave”. And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.

On the art of the sword – Finding the right master

Many centuries ago, in the days of the samurais, a text was written in Japan on the spiritual art of wielding the sword: “Impassive comprehension”, also known as “The Treatise of Tahlan”, the name of the author (a fencing master and Zen monk). Below are an extract that I have adapted:

Our path will always cross that of many others who for love or pride wish to teach us something. How can we tell the friend apart from the manipulator?

“The answer is simple: the true master is not the one who teaches an ideal path but rather he who shows his pupil the many ways that lead to the road that must be travelled to reach the destination.

“As of the moment that you find this road, the master can no longer help you, because your challenges are unique.

If we fail to understand this item, we will never get anywhere.

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Explaining God – Beginning at the beginning

It’s no use asking for explanations about God. You might hear lovely words, but deep down they are all empty phrases. Just as you can read a whole encyclopedia about love and not know what it is to love.

No-one is ever going to manage to prove that God exists, or that he doesn’t exist. Certain things in life were made to be experienced, but never explained.

One of these things is love. God – who is love – is another. Faith is a childish experience, in that magical sense that Jesus taught us: “The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the children.”
The Arabian story that follows speaks of how innocent the search is:

Beginning at the beginning

A man asked al-Husayn:

– What do I have to do to be closer to God?

– Tell Him a secret. And don’t let anyone in the world know what the secret is. In that way a bond of trust will be established with the Divine.

But the man went on:

– Only that will help me get closer?

– Establish a firm relation at the start of your spiritual journey. Pray. It’s also important to have will power. And if it’s possible to enjoy a little solitude, all the better.

– But how do I reach the ideal stage of communicating with Him?

– I have already explained all that you need – said al-Husayn. – But you want to reach the end before you even begin, and that is just not possible.

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Bhagavad Gita (Chapter II, 16-26)

:
“Man is not born, nor does he ever die. For ever he tries to exist, he will never stop doing this, because this is eternal and permanent.”

“Just as a man casts off his old clothes and starts to wear new ones, the soul casts off the old body and takes on a new one.”

“But the soul is indestructible; spades cannot cut it down, fire does not burn it, water does not wet it, and the wind never dries it. The soul is beyond the power of all such things.”

“As man is indestructible, he is always victorious (even in his defeats), and therefore should never have regrets.”

The right speed

 

A warrior of the light needs patience and speed at the same time. The two greatest faults of a strategy are: acting too soon, or allowing an opportunity to slip too far away.

In order to avoid this, the warrior deals with each situation as if it were unique, and does not apply formulas, paradigms or the opinions of others.

Caliph Moauiyat once asked Omr Ben Al-Aas what was the secret of his great political skills:

“I never became involved in anything, without first studying a retreat; conversely, I have never embarked on something and wanted to abandon it immediately,” was his reply.

 

(from “The Warrior of the Light: a manual” )

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The art of retreat

By Paulo Coelho

A warrior of the light who trusts too much in his intelligence ends up under-estimating the power of the adversary.

One must not forget: there are moments when strength is more effective than sagacity. And when we find ourselves faced with a certain kind of violence, no brilliance, argument, intelligence or charm can prevent tragedy.

That is why the warrior never under-estimates brute force. When it is irrationally aggressive, he retreats from the battle field until the enemy has spent his energy.

However, let it be made quite clear: a warrior of the light is never cowardly. Flight can be an excellent art of defense but it cannot be used when there is great fear.

In the face of any doubt, the warrior prefers to accept defeat and take care of his wounds, because he knows that if he flees he will be giving the attacker a greater power than he deserves.

He can cure physical suffering but he will be eternally persecuted for his spiritual weakness. In some difficult and painful moments, the warrior faces a situation of disadvantage with heroism, resignation and courage.

To achieve the necessary state of mind (since he is entering the fight at a disadvantage and may suffer a lot), the warrior has to understand exactly what can cause him harm. Okakura Kakuso comments in his book on the Japanese tea ritual:

“We look at the evil of others because we know evil through our own behavior. We never forgive those who injure us because we believe that we would never be forgiven. We tell painful truth to our neighbor because we want to hide it from ourselves. We show our strength so that no-one can see our fragility.”

“That is why, whenever you are judging your brother, know that it you who are on trial.”

Sometimes this knowledge can prevent a fight that will only bring disadvantages. However, at other times there is no way out, only an unequal fight.

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Question by Ruth

In your novels, you transmit a wonderful magical world, full of spirituality and goodness, and you insist that goodness is not limited to a place, religion or group. How did you reach this conclusion, especially with all that you went through earlier in your life?

The cost is always high but worth it. If I look back at my life – which in this moment I am “obliged” to look at since a biography about my lyricist days just came out in Brazil and soon another will come out by the end of the year – I see many occasions where society tried to make me conform to “normality”. This resulted in three hospitalizations in an asylum when I was a teenager (which I describe in my book Veronika decides to die), torture when I was a young adult by the hands of the paramilitaries, and many defeats. You could look at these experiences and say “Paulo’s life is tragic” but I don’t see it that way. What I do see is someone trying to remain true to oneself. Yes there is a price but I believe that life tends to be very generous to those that are brave enough to take these risks. In a word, I’ve always had faith in life.

Dieting already?

One of Brazil’s great philosophers, Tim Maia, once said: “I decided to go on a strict diet. I cut out alcohol, all fats and sugar. In two weeks I lost 14 days”.

The worst of it all is that at each and every moment there appears a new way to lose weight: eating calories, then not eating calories, compulsively consuming fats, then avoiding fats at any price. We step inside a pharmacy and are visually assaulted by all sorts of miraculous products that promise to do away with our desire to eat, with our fat tissue, with our belly, and so on.

We have survived all these millennia because we could eat. And nowadays this seems to have turned into a curse. Why is that? What makes us try at the age of 40 to keep the same body we had when we were young? Will it ever be at all possible to stop this dimension of time?

Of course not. And so why do we need to be slim?

We don’t. We buy books, go to the gym, devote a great deal of our concentration trying to stop time, when we ought to be celebrating the miracle of living in this world. Instead of wondering how to live better, we are obsessed with how much we weigh.

Let’s forget all that; you can read all the books you want, do all the exercise you want, suffer all the punishment you decide to inflict on yourself, and you will have only two choices – you either stop living, or else you will get fat.

It is obvious that you have to eat moderately, but above all you have to take pleasure in eating. Jesus Christ said that: “evil is not what goes into man’s mouth, but rather what comes out of it”.

Remember that for thousands of years we fought to avoid being hungry. Who invented this story that we have to spend our whole life being slim?

Let me give you the answer: the vampires of the soul, who think that it is possible to stop the wheel of time. It is not possible. Use the energy and the effort of a diet to feed yourself with the bread of the spirit, and go on enjoying (moderately, let me repeat) the pleasures of good eating.

While millions of people the world over are hungry, we see people provoking this other obsession because at some moment or other somebody decides that being slim is the only option for regaining youth and beauty.

Instead of artificially burning those calories, we should try to turn them into the energy we need to fight for our dreams; no-one has ever stayed slim for long just by following a diet.

Gestalt: Four People & Middle column

A gestalt has two or more parts (like figure and ground) that are so integrated together that we perceive them as one object. Think of teaching “the whole child,” and you have the idea behind gestalt.

The perception of oneness from many is the basis of gestalt. It derived from the 1890 German philosophy of Gestaltqualität, meaning “form or shape,” which explored the idea of perception. For example, a picture might have several separate parts that work together to form one perceived image. The area of gestalt psychology developed in 1912, focusing on the various aspects of a person and how they combine into a whole that affects that person’s relationship with his or her environment.

A warrior does not rely on strength alone

A warrior of light does not rely on strength alone, he makes use of his opponent’s energy too.

When he enters the fight, all he has is his enthusiasm and the moves and strikes that he learned during his training. As the fight progresses, he discovers that enthusiasm and training are not enough to win: what counts is experience.
Then he opens his heart to the Universe and asks God to give him the inspiration he needs to turn every blow from his enemy into a lesson in self-defence.
His companions say: ‘He’s so superstitious. He stopped fighting in order to pray; he even shows respect for his opponent’s tricks.’
The warrior does not respond to these provocations.

He knows that without inspiration and experience, no amount of training will help him.

(from my book “Warrior of the Light, a Manual” )

The law as a metaphor

I am someone who believes in the judicial system despite all the drawbacks we see. The United States Supreme Court disqualifying torture as an interrogation method, for example, even when the president of the country and his VP have, through legal artifices, tried to justify it.

Nonetheless, my belief is not shared by many people. A lawyer friend said to me that, “the law is not made to solve problems, but to prolong them indefinitely.” Just to exercise my imagination, I decided to use his theory to analyze Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

If God were alive today, we would all still be in Paradise. He, however, would still be replying to pleas, appeals, letters, court injunctions or writs; He would be required to explain his decision to expel Adam and Eve from Paradise just for breaking the arbitrary law of refraining from the evil fruit, without any legal grounds at countless hearings.

If He hadn’t wanted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, why did he put that tree in the middle of the Garden and not outside the walls of Paradise? If an experienced lawyer were called to defend the couple, he could allege the theory of “administrative omission.” Besides putting the tree in the wrong place, he didn’t surround it with notices and fences, failing to take the minimum safety measures and therefore exposing all who passed by to danger.

Another lawyer might accuse him of “inducement to crime”; He drew the attention of Adam and Eve to the exact place where the tree was growing. If He had not said anything, generations and generations would have passed through this Earth without anyone being interested in the forbidden fruit – considering that it should have been in a forest, full of similar trees, and, therefore lacking any specific merit.

But Genesis happened before the judicial system and, therefore, allowed God to have full freedom of action. He wrote a single law, and found a way of convincing someone to break it, just to be able to invent Punishment. He knew that Adam and Eve would end up bored with so many perfect things, and, sooner or later, would try His patience. He stayed there waiting, because He – Almighty God – was also bored with things working perfectly. If Eve had not eaten the apple, what interesting things would have happened in those billions of years?

Nothing.

When the law was broken, God – the All Powerful Judge – had even simulated a pursuit, as if he did not know all the possible hiding places. With the angels watching and amusing themselves with the prank (life for them also must have been very tedious, since Lucifer had left Heaven), He finds Adam.

“Where art thou?” God asked, already knowing the answer. He did not warn him about the consequences of the reply. He did not say the well-known words that we have heard so often in movies, “anything you say may be used against you”.

“I heard your steps in the garden, I was afraid and hid, because I am naked”, answered Adam, without knowing that, from then on, he would be the admitted culprit of a crime.

Well. Through a simple trick, where he seemed not to know where Adam was, nor the reason for his escape, God had managed to get what he wanted. He expelled the couple, and their children ended up paying for the crime as well (as happens until today with the children of criminals), and the judicial system had been invented; law, breaking the law, judgment and punishment.

The master and the combat

By Paulo Coelho

The aikidí´ master demanded intensive training but never allowed his pupils to compete with other martial-arts academies. They all complained among themselves but no-one ever had the nerve to bring up the subject in class.

And then one day one of the boys dared to ask:

– We have dedicated ourselves wholeheartedly to the study of aikidí´, but we shall never know whether we are good or bad fighters because we cannot compete with anyone from outside here.

– And may you never need to know that – was the master’s answer. – He who wants to fight loses his bond with the Universe. Here we study the art of resolving conflicts, not starting them.

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A tale by Khalil Gibran

I was walking on the gardens of an insane asylum when I met a young man reading a philosophy book.

For his manners and the health he portrayed, he didn’t quite match with the patients there. I sat beside him and asked: “What are you doing here?” He looked at me surprised. But as he saw that I wasn’t one of the doctors, he answered: “That’s very simple. My father, a brilliant lawyer, wanted me to be like him.

“My uncle, owner of a large commercial warehouse, wanted me to follow his example. My mother wanted me to become the image of her beloved father. My sister always cited her husband as the example of a well succeeded man. My brother tried to train me to become an excellent athlete like him.”

“And the same happened with my teachers at school, the piano teacher, the English tutor: all of them were convinced and resolute; they were the best examples to be followed. No one looked at me like someone should look to a man “” but as if they looked into a mirror.”

“That way, I decided to admit myself in this asylum. Here at least, I can be myself.”

Choosing with confidence

By Paulo Coelho

The warrior of the light always manages to balance Rigor and Mercy. To attain his dream he needs to have a strong will – as well as an immense capacity of self-surrender.

Although he has an objective, the road to reach it is not always the one he imagines, so he has to use discipline and compassion. God never abandons his children – but the designs of Providence are unfathomable.

So, for the warrior of the light nothing is abstract. Everything is concrete and everything concerns him.

Some of his companions spend their lives criticizing the lack of options or commenting on the decisions of others. The warrior, however, turns his thoughts into action.

Sometimes he makes mistakes, and pays the price of his error. Other times he strays from the path and wastes a lot of time getting back to the original destination.

But a warrior does not become distracted, because he knows what he is looking for.

 

taken from my book “The Warrior of the Light: a Manual”

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The right to choose

Dr. Victor Frankl, survivor of the concentration camp in Auschwitz, wrote in his diary:

“Those who lived in these places of death can still recall that at night, some of those who were there, would go from tent to tent, comforting the most desperate, many times offering a piece of leftover bread or potato.”

“Only a few were able to act like this, but these few gave everyone the greatest of the lessons: it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, you can take everything from a man except the freedom of choice.”

Warrior of the light necklace

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The hole in the sidewalk

Adapted from a text by Portia Nelson (in Stories for the Heart): 

â–  I walk along the street. There is a hole in the sidewalk. I am distracted, thinking about myself, and fall inside. I feel lost, unhappy and incapable of asking for help. It wasn’t my fault, but the ones who dug that hole there. I feel disgusted, I am a victim of the irresponsibility of others, and I spend a great amount of time in there.

â–  I walk along the street. There is a hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it, that’s not my problem. I fall in there again. I can’t believe that happened once again, I should have learnt the lesson and sent someone to close the hole. It takes a long time for me to get out of there.

â–  I walk along the street. There is a hole in the sidewalk. I see it. I know it is there because I fell in there twice. However, I am someone used to always take the same path. Due to that, I fall into the hole for the third time; it’s the habit.

â–  I walk along the street. There is a hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it. Soon after I pass the hole, I hear someone yelling “” he must have fallen into the hole. The street is closed and I can’t go on.

â–  I walk along the street. There is a hole in the sidewalk. I put a fence around it. I can go on my way and no one will fall in there again.