20 sec reading: the giant tree


By Paulo Coelho

A carpenter and his apprentices were travelling through the province of Qi in search of building materials.
They saw a giant tree; five men all holding hands could not encompass its girth, and its crown reached almost to the clouds.

‘Let’s not waste our time with this tree,’ said the master carpenter. ‘It would take us for ever to cut it down. If we wanted to make a ship out of that heavy trunk, the ship would sink. If we tried to use it to build a roof, the walls would have to be specially reinforced.’

The group continued on its way. One of the apprentices remarked:

‘Such a big tree and no use to anyone!’

‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ said the master carpenter. ‘The tree was true to its own destiny.
“If it had been like all the others, we would have cut it down. But because it had the courage to be different, it will remain alive and strong for a long time yet.’

Illustration by Ken Crane

30 SEC READ: A story by Kahlil Gibran

I was strolling in the gardens of an insane asylum when I met a young man who was reading a philosophy book.

His behavior and his evident good health made him stand out from the other inmates.

I sat down beside him and asked:

‘What are you doing here?’

He looked at me, surprised. But seeing that I was not one of the doctors, he replied:

‘It’s very simple. My father, a brilliant lawyer, wanted me to be like him. My uncle, who owns a large emporium, hoped I would follow his example. My mother wanted me to be the image of her beloved father. My sister always set her husband before me as an example of the successful man. My brother tried to train me up to be a fine athlete like himself.

And the same thing happened at school, with the piano teacher and the English teacher – they were all convinced and determined that they were the best possible example to follow. None of them looked at me as one should look at a man, but as if they were looking in a mirror.

So I decided to enter this asylum. At least here I can be myself.’

How one of the most important books in the world came to be written

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In the twenty-third year of the reign of Zhao, Lao Tzu realized that the war would ultimately destroy the place where he lived. Since he had spent years meditating on the essence of life, he knew that there are times when one has to be practical. He made the simplest possible decision: to move.

He took his few belongings and set off for Han Keou. As he was leaving the city, he met a gatekeeper.

‘Where is an eminent sage like you going?’ asked the gatekeeper.

‘Somewhere far from the war.’

‘You can’t just leave like that. I would like to know what you have learned after all these years of meditation. I will only let you leave, if you share what you know with me.’

Simply in order to get rid of the man, Lao Tzu wrote a slender volume right there and then, and gave that one copy to the gatekeeper. Then he went on his way, and was never heard of again.

Further copies of Lao Tzu’s book were made, it crossed centuries, it crossed millennia, and reached our time. It is called Tao Te Ching and is, quite simply, essential reading. Here are a few examples from its pages:

He who keeps to his path has will.

Be humble and you will remain whole.

Bow down and you will remain erect.

Empty yourself and you will remain full.

Wear yourself out and you will remain new.

The wise man does not show himself, and that is why he shines.

He does not attract attention to himself, and that is why he is noticed.

He does not praise himself, and that is why he has merit.

And because he is not competing, no one in the world can compete with him.

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15 SEC READ: the search to be different

good-to-be-different-sheep-sticker-decal

 

Do you know exactly where you are now?

You are in a city, along with a lot of other people, and it is highly likely that, at this very moment, various people are sheltering in their hearts the same hopes and anxieties that you are sheltering in yours.

Let us go further: you are a microscopic speck on the surface of a ball. This ball spins around another ball, which, in turn, is located in one tiny corner of a galaxy along with millions of other similar balls.

This galaxy forms part of something called the Universe, full of vast star clusters. No one knows exactly where this Universe begins and ends.

This does not mean that you are not of vital importance; you struggle, you strive, you try to improve, you have dreams, you are made happy or sad by love. You are UNIQUE

If you were not alive, something would be missing.

10 SEC READ: the importance of the forest

‘All the teachers say that spiritual treasure is something one finds alone. So why are we all here together?’ asked a disciple of the Sufi master Nasrudin.

‘You are all here together because a forest is always stronger than a lone tree,’ replied Nasrudin.
‘The forest maintains the humidity in the air, it resists the hurricane, and it helps to make the soil fertile.
‘But what makes a tree strong is its root, and the root of one plant cannot help another plant to grow.

‘Working together towards the same end and allowing each one to grow in his own way, that is the path for those who wish to commune with God.’

 

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The divine melody



Zaki heard Xa asking his friends what was the most beautiful sound on Earth.

‘The sound of the flute,’ said one.

‘Birdsong,’ said another.

‘A woman’s voice,’ said a third.

They continued the discussion late into the night, without reaching any conclusion.

Days later, Zaki invited Xa and his friends to supper. In the room next door, the best orchestra in the world was playing lovely music, but there was no food on the table. Around midnight, by which time his guests were all starving hungry, Zaki finally served up an exquisite banquet.

‘After hours without eating, isn’t the clatter of cutlery on plates a divine sound?’ remarked Xa.

‘I am simply answering your question about what is the most beautiful sound on Earth,’ replied Zaki. ‘It could be the voice of the woman we love, the singing of birds, the clatter of plates, the breathing beside us in bed of someone dear to us, but it will always be the sound that our heart needs to hear at that precise moment.’

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Which is the best example to follow?

By Paulo Coelho

Dov Beer of Mezeritch was asked:

‘Which is the best example to follow? That of the pious man who dedicates his life to God without ever asking why, or that of the erudite man, who tries to understand the will of the Almighty?’

‘The best example to follow is that of the child,’ replied Dov Beer.

‘But a child knows nothing. It doesn’t even understand what reality is!’ was the general response.

‘There you are much mistaken, because the child has four qualities that we should never forget. A child is always happy for no reason. A child is always busy. When a child wants something, he or she shows great persistence and determination in demanding that thing. Lastly, a child is always very quick to stop crying.’

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Between faith and prayer

‘Is there anything more important than prayer?’ a disciple asked his teacher.

The teacher told the disciple to go to a nearby tree and cut off a branch. The disciple obeyed.

‘Is the tree still alive?’ asked the teacher.

‘As alive as it was before.’

‘Then go over there and slice through its roots.’

‘If I do that, the tree will die.’

‘Prayers are the branches of a tree whose roots are called Faith,’ said the teacher. ‘Faith can exist without prayer, but prayer cannot exist without faith.’

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20 SEC READING: the city on the other side

Illustration by Ken Crane

A hermit from the monastery of Sceta approached Abbot Theodore:
 
‘I know exactly what the purpose of life is. I know what God asks of man and I know the best way to serve Him. And yet, even so, I am incapable of doing everything I should be doing in order to serve the Lord.’
 
The Abbot remained silent for a long time. Then he said:
 
‘You know that there is a city on the other side of the ocean, but you have not yet found the ship or placed your baggage on board and crossed the sea.
‘Why then bother talking about it or about how we should walk its streets?
 
‘It is not enough to know what life is for or to know the best way to serve God.
‘Put your ideas into practice and the road will reveal itself to you.’
 
 

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20 SEC READING: Measuring love


‘I’ve always wanted to know if I was capable of loving my wife as much as you love yours,’ said the journalist Keichiro to my publisher Satoshi Gungi over supper one night.
 
‘There is nothing else but love,’ came the reply. ‘It is love that keeps the world turning and the stars in their spheres.’
 
‘I know. But how can I know if my love is big enough?’
 
‘Ask yourself if you give yourself fully or if you flee from your emotions, but do not ask yourself if your love is big enough, because love is neither big nor small, it is simply love.
‘You cannot measure a feeling the way you measure a road.
‘If you do that, you will start comparing your love with what others tell you of theirs or with your own expectations of love.
‘That way, you will always be listening to some story, rather than pushing your emotions to their limits.’
 
 

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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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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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The porcelain vase and the rose

Alessandra Marin tells the following story: the Grand Master and the Guardian shared the administration of a Zen monastery. One day, the Guardian died and a replacement had to be found.
The Grand Master gathered together all the disciples in order to decide who would have the honour of working at his side.

‘I am going to set you a problem,’ said the Grand Master. ‘And the first one to solve that problem will be the new Guardian of the temple.’
Once this briefest of speeches was over, he placed a small stool in the middle of the room. On it stood a priceless porcelain vase containing a red rose.
‘There is the problem,’ said the Grand Master.

The disciples looked in some perplexity at what was there before them: the rare, sophisticated designs on the porcelain vase and the elegance of the flower. What did it represent? What should they do? What did this enigma mean?
After a few moments, one of the disciples got to his feet and looked at the master and at his fellow students. Then he walked resolutely over to the vase and threw it to the ground, shattering it.

‘You are the new Guardian,’ the Grand Master said to the student.
And as soon as the student had returned to his place, he explained.

‘I made myself perfectly clear. I said that there was a problem to be solved. Now it does not matter how beautiful or fascinating a problem might be, it has to be eliminated.
A problem is a problem. It could be a very rare porcelain vase, a delightful love affair that no longer makes any sense, or a course of action that we should abandon, but which we insist on continuing because it brings us comfort.
There is only one way to deal with a problem: attack it head on. At such moments, one cannot feel pity, nor be diverted by the fascination inherent in any conflict.’

Respect my wishes

 
On his deathbed, Jacob summoned his wife, Sarah, to his side.

 
‘Dear Sarah, I want to make my will. To my first-born, Abraham, I am going to leave half of my estate. He is, after all, a man of faith.’

 
‘Oh, don’t do that, Jacob! Abraham doesn’t need all that money, he’s got his own business; besides, he has faith in our religion. Leave it to Isaac, who is in such turmoil about whether or not God exists, and who has still not found his way in the world.’

 
‘All right, I’ll leave it to Isaac. And Abraham can have my shares.’

 
‘Like I said, dear Jacob, Abraham doesn’t need anything. I’ll have the shares and I can always help out the children as and when.’

 
‘You’re quite right, Sarah. Now about the land we own in Israel. I think I’ll leave it to Deborah.’

 
‘To Deborah! Are you mad, Jacob? She’s already got land in Israel. Do you want to make her into a businesswoman and ruin her marriage? I think our daughter Michele is much more in need of help.’

 
Mustering his last ounce of strength, Jacob sat up indignantly.

 
‘My dear Sarah, you have been an excellent wife, an excellent mother, and I know you want the best for each of your children, butwho’s dying here, you or me?’

Forgiving in the same spirit

Rabbi Nahum of Chernobyl was the object of constant insults from a shopkeeper. One day, the man’s business began to go downhill.
 
‘It must be the rabbi, asking for vengeance from God,’ he thought. And he went to apologise to the rabbi.
 
‘I forgive you in the same spirit in which you forgive me,’ replied the rabbi.
 
Yet the man continued to lose money hand over fist until, finally, he was reduced to abject poverty. Nahum’s disciples were horrified and went to ask the rabbi what had happened.
 
‘I forgave him, but deep down in his heart, he still hated me,’ said the rabbi. ‘His hatred contaminated everything he did, and so God’s punishment proved even more severe.’

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