I want to be an angel

By Paulo Coelho



Abbot Joí£o Pequeno thought: ‘I’m tired of being a mere man, I should be like the angels who do nothing but contemplate the glory of God.’ That night, he left the monastery of Sceta and set off into the desert.

A week later, he came back to the monastery. Brother Gatekeeper heard him knocking and asked who it was.

‘It’s Abbot Joí£o,’ he replied. ‘I’m hungry.’

‘That’s not possible,’ said Brother Gatekeeper. ‘Abbot Joí£o is in the desert, transforming himself into an angel. He no longer feels hunger and has no need to work for his food.’

‘Forgive my arrogance,’ replied Abbot Joí£o. ‘The angels help humanity, that is their job; that is why they do not need to eat, but merely to contemplate. But I am a man, and the only way in which I can contemplate that same glory is by doing what the angels do and help my fellow human beings. Fasting won’t get me anywhere.’

Hearing this humble explanation, Brother Gatekeeper opened the gate of the monastery.

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The smiling couple (London, 1977)

By Paulo Coelho

I was married to Cecí­lia MacDowell and – at a period in my life when I had decided to give up everything for which I no longer felt any enthusiasm – we went to live in London. We stayed in a small, second-floor flat in Palace Street and we were having great difficulty making new friends. However, every night, a young couple would leave the pub next door and walk past our window waving and calling to us to come down.

I was extremely worried about bothering the neighbours, and so I never went down, pretending, instead, that it had nothing to do with me. But the couple kept calling up to us, even when there was no one at the window.

One night, I did go down to complain about the noise. Their laughter immediately turned to sadness; they apologised and went away. That night, I realised that, although we very much wanted to make new friends, I was far more concerned about ‘what the neighbours would say’.

I decided that the next time, I would invite the couple up to have a drink with us. I waited all week at the window, at the time they usually passed, but they never came back. I started going to the pub in the hope of seeing them, but the owner of the pub claimed not to know them.

I placed a notice in the window saying: ‘Call again’. All this achieved was that, one night, a group of drunks began hurling every swearword under the sun at our window, and our neighbour – the one I had been so worried about – ended up complaining to the landlord.

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A fairy tale

By Paulo Coelho



In ancient China, around the year 250 B.C., a certain prince of the region of Thing-Zda was about to be crowned emperor; however, according to the law, he first had to get married.

Since this meant choosing the future empress, the prince needed to find a young woman whom he could trust absolutely. On the advice of a wise man, he decided to summon all the young women of the region in order to find the most worthy candidate.

An old lady, who had served in the palace for many years, heard about the preparations for this gathering and felt very sad, for her daughter nurtured a secret love for the prince.

When the old lady got home, she told her daughter and was horrified to learn that her daughter intended going to the palace.

The old lady was desperate.

‘But, daughter, what on earth will you do there? All the richest and most beautiful girls from the court will be present. It’s a ridiculous idea! I know you must be suffering, but don’t turn that suffering into madness.’

And the daughter replied:

‘My dear mother, I am not suffering and I certainly haven’t gone mad. I know that I won’t be chosen, but it’s my one chance to spend at least a few moments close to the prince, and that makes me happy, even though I know that a quite different fate awaits me.’

That night, when the young woman reached the palace, all the most beautiful girls were indeed there, wearing the most beautiful clothes and the most beautiful jewellery, and prepared to do anything to seize the opportunity on offer.

Surrounded by the members of his court, the prince announced a challenge.

‘I will give each of you a seed. In six months’ time, the young woman who brings me the loveliest flower will be the future empress of China.’

The girl took her seed and planted it in a pot, and since she was not very skilled in the art of gardening, she prepared the soil with great patience and tenderness, for she believed that if the flowers grew as large as her love, then she need not worry about the results.

Three months passed and no shoots had appeared. The young woman tried everything; she consulted farmers and peasants, who showed her the most varied methods of cultivation, but all to no avail. Each day she felt that her dream had moved farther off, although her love was as alive as ever.

At last, the six months were up, and still nothing had grown in her pot. Even though she had nothing to show, she knew how much effort and dedication she had put in during that time, and so she told her mother that she would go back to the palace on the agreed date and at the agreed hour. Inside she knew that this would be her last meeting with her true love and she would not have missed it for the world.

The day of the audience arrived. The girl appeared with her plantless pot, and saw that all the other candidates had achieved wonderful results: each girl bore a flower lovelier than the last, in the most varied forms and colours.

Finally, the longed-for moment came. The prince entered and he studied each of the candidates with great care and attention. Having inspected them all, he announced the result and chose the servant’s daughter as his new wife.

All the other girls present began to protest, saying that he had chosen the only one of them who had not managed to grow anything at all.

Then the prince calmly explained the reasoning behind the challenge:

‘This young woman was the only one who cultivated the flower that made her worthy of becoming the empress: the flower of honesty. All the seeds I handed out were sterile, and nothing could ever have grown from them.’

(Adapted from a story sent in by Maria Emilia Voss)

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The most dangerous part

By Paulo Coelho

A king gathered together a group of wise men to decide which was the most important part of the body. The endocrinologist declared that it was the glands because they regulated all the bodily functions; the neurologist said it was the heart because, without it, the glands would not work. The nutritionists assured him it was the stomach because, without food, the heart would not have the strength to beat.

The wisest of all the wise men listened in silence. Since they could not reach an agreement, they asked his opinion.

‘All those parts are essential for life,’ he said. ‘If one of them is lacking, then the body dies. But the most important part does not actually exist: that is the imaginary channel that links the ear and the tongue. If there are any problems with this channel, the man starts saying things he did not hear and then, not only the body dies, but the soul is condemned for ever.’

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Call another kind of doctor

By Paulo Coelho



A powerful monarch summoned a holy father – who was said by everyone to have healing powers – to help him with the pains in his back.

‘God will help us,’ said the holy man. ‘But first let us understand the reasons for these pains. I would suggest that Your Majesty make your confession now, for confession forces a man to confront his problems and frees him from many feelings of guilt.’

Annoyed at being asked to think about his problems, the king said:

‘I don’t want to talk about such things; I need someone who can cure me without asking so many questions.’

The priest left and returned half an hour later with another man.

‘I believe that words can relieve pain and help me discover the correct path to a cure,’ he said. ‘Since you do not wish to talk, however, I cannot help you. But I have here just the man you need: my friend is a veterinary surgeon and is accustomed to not talking to his patients.’

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Ancestral bones

By Paulo Coelho



There was once a king of Spain who was very proud of his ancestors, and who was known for his cruelty towards those weaker than himself.

One day, he was travelling with his entourage through a field in Aragon where, years before, his father had died in battle; there he met a holy man rummaging around in a huge pile of bones.

‘What are you doing?’ asked the king.

‘All honour to Your Majesty!’ said the holy man. ‘When I learned that the king of Spain was coming here, I decided to collect together the bones of your late father and give them to you. But however hard I look, I cannot find them, for they are exactly the same as the bones of peasants, poor men, beggars and slaves.’

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The kingdom of this world

By Paulo Coelho

An old hermit was once invited to go to the court of the most powerful king of the age.

‘I envy a holy man like you, who contents himself with so little,’ remarked the king.

‘I envy Your Majesty, who contents himself with even less than me,’ replied the hermit.

‘How can you say that when the whole of this country belongs to me?’ said the king, offended.

‘For precisely that reason. I have the music of the celestial spheres, I have the rivers and the mountains of the entire world, I have the moon and the sun, because I have God in my heart. All Your Majesty has, on the other hand, is this kingdom.’

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Heaven and hell

By Paulo Coelho


 
A violent samurai warrior with a reputation for provoking fights for no reason arrived at the gates of a Zen monastery and asked to speak to the master.
 
Without hesitating, Ryokan went to meet him.
 
‘They say that intelligence is more powerful than brute force,’ said the samurai. ‘Can you explain to me what heaven and hell are?’
 
Ryokan said nothing.
 
‘You see?’ bellowed the samurai. ‘I could explain quite easily: to show someone what hell is, you just have to punch them. To show them what heaven is, you just have threaten them with terrible violence and then let them go.’
 
‘I don’t talk to stupid people like you,’ said the Zen master.
 
The blood rushed to the samurai’s head. His brain became thick with hatred.
 
‘That is hell,’ said Ryokan, smiling. ‘Allowing yourself to be upset by silly remarks.’
 
Taken aback by the monk’s courage, the samurai warrior softened.
 
‘And that is heaven,’ said Ryokan, inviting him in. ‘Not reacting to foolish provocations.’

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The missing stone

By Paulo Coelho

One of the great monuments in the city of Kyoto is a Zen garden consisting of an area of sand and fifteen rocks.
 
The original garden had sixteen rocks. The story goes that as soon as the gardener had finished his work, he called the emperor to see it.
 
‘Magnificent,’ said the emperor. ‘It is the loveliest garden in Japan. And this is the most beautiful rock in the garden.’
 
The gardener immediately removed the rock that the emperor had so admired and threw it away.
 
‘Now the garden is perfect,’ he said to the emperor. ‘There is nothing in particular that stands out, and it can be seen now in all its harmony. A garden, like life, needs to be seen in its totality. If we linger over the beauty of one detail, the rest will seem ugly.’

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How the path was made

By Paulo Coelho

In issue 106 of Jornalinho (Portugal), I found a story that has a lot to teach us about the unthinking choices we make.
 
One day, a calf needed to cross an area of virgin forest in order to return to its field. Being an irrational animal, it forged a tortuous, curving path, going up hill and down dale.
 
The following day, a dog passed that way and used the same path to cross the forest. Then it was the turn of a ram, the leader of a flock, who, seeing the path already opened, led his companions along it.
 
Later, men began to use the path too: they came and went, turning to right and left, having to crouch down and to avoid obstacles, all the while complaining and cursing – and quite rightly too. But they did nothing about creating an alternative.
 
After all this intensive use, the path became a small road along which laboured poor, heavily-laden animals, obliged to spend three hours covering a distance which, had they not followed the path forged by the calf, could easily have been covered in thirty minutes.
 
Many years passed, and the little road became the main street of a small town, and later the principal avenue of a city. Everyone complained about the traffic, because the road followed the worst possible route.
 
Throughout all this, the wise old forest laughed to see how blindly men follow the path already made, never asking themselves if that is indeed the best choice.

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The cracked pitcher

By Paulo Coelho

An Indian legend tells of a man who used to carry water every day to his village, using two large pitchers tied on either end of a piece of wood, which he placed across his shoulders.
 
One of the pitchers was older than the other and was full of small cracks; every time the man came back along the path to his house, half of the water was lost.
 
For two years, the man made the same journey. The younger pitcher was always very proud of the way it did its work and was sure that it was up to the task for which it had been created, while the other pitcher was mortally ashamed that it could carry out only half its task, even though it knew that the cracks were the result of long years of work.
 
So ashamed was the old pitcher that, one day, while the man was preparing to fill it up with water from the well, it decided to speak to him.
 
‘I wish to apologise because, due to my age, you only manage to take home half the water you fill me with, and thus quench only half the thirst awaiting you in your house.’
 
The man smiled and said:
 
‘When we go back, be sure to take a careful look at the path.’
 
The pitcher did as the man asked and noticed many flowers and plants growing along one side of the path.
 
‘Do you see how much more beautiful nature is on your side of the road?’ the man remarked. ‘I knew you had cracks, but I decided to take advantage of them. I sowed vegetables and flowers there, and you always watered them. I’ve picked dozens of roses to decorate my house, and my children have had lettuce, cabbage and onions to eat. If you were not the way you are, I could never have done this. We all, at some point, grow old and acquire other qualities which can always be turned to good advantage.’

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Everything will come to dust

By Paulo Coelho

The fiestas in the Spanish city of Valencia involve a curious ritual, which has its origins in the ancient community of carpenters there.
 
During the year, artisans and artists make gigantic wooden sculptures. In the week of the fiesta, these sculptures are placed in the middle of the main square. People look, pass comment, and feel amazed and moved at such creativity. Then on St Joseph’s day, all these works of art – apart from one – are burned on a huge bonfire, before thousands of onlookers.
 
‘All that work for nothing!’ said an Englishwoman at my side, while the vast flames rose up to the skies.
 
‘You too will come to an end one day,’ replied a Spanish woman. ‘Just imagine if an angel were to say to God then: "All that work for nothing."’

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On rhythm and the road

By Paulo Coelho

‘There was something you didn’t mention in your talk about the Road to Santiago,’ said a pilgrim as we were leaving the Casa de Galicia, in Madrid, where I had given a lecture only minutes before.
 
I’m sure there were many things I didn’t mention, since my intention had been merely to share something of my own experience. Nevertheless, I invited her for a cup of coffee, intrigued to know what this important omission was.
 
And Begoña – for that is her name – said:
 
‘I’ve noticed that most pilgrims, whether on the Road to Santiago or on any of life’s paths, always try to follow the rhythm set by others.
 
At the start of my pilgrimage, I tried to keep up with my group, but I got tired. I was demanding too much of my body. I was tense all the time and I ended up straining the tendons in my left foot. I couldn’t walk for two days, and I realised that I would only reach Santiago if I obeyed my own rhythm.
 
I took longer than the others to get there, and for long stretches I often had to walk alone, but it was only by respecting my own rhythm that I managed to complete the journey. Ever since then, I have applied this to everything I do in life: I follow my own rhythm.’

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A traditional Sufi story

By Paulo Coelho

Many years ago, in a poor Chinese village, there lived a farmer and his son. His only material possession, apart from the land and a small hut, was a horse he had inherited from his father.
 
One day, the horse ran away, leaving the man with no animal with which to work the land. His neighbours, who respected him for his honesty and diligence, went to his house to say how much they regretted his loss. He thanked them for their visit, but asked:
 
‘How do you know that what happened was a misfortune in my life?’
 
Someone muttered to a friend: ‘He obviously doesn’t want to face facts, but let him think what he likes, after all, it’s better than being sad about it.’
 
And the neighbours went away again, pretending to agree with what he had said.
 
A week later, the horse returned to its stable, but it was not alone; it brought with it a beautiful mare for company. The inhabitants of the village were thrilled when they heard the news, for only then did they understand the reply the man had given them, and they went back to the farmer’s house to congratulate him on his good fortune.
 
‘Instead of one horse, you’ve got two. Congratulations!’ they said.
 
‘Many thanks for your visit and for your solidarity,’ replied the farmer. ‘But how do you know that what happened was a blessing in my life?’
 
The neighbours were rather put out and decided that the man must be going mad, and, as they left, they said: ‘Doesn’t the man realise that the horse is a gift from God?’
 
A month later, the farmer’s son decided to break the mare in. However, the animal bucked wildly and threw the boy off; the boy fell awkwardly and broke his leg.
 
The neighbours returned to the farmer’s house, bringing presents for the injured boy. The mayor of the village solemnly presented his condolences to the father, saying how sad they all were about what had occurred.
 
The man thanked them for their visit and for their kindness, but he asked:
 
‘How do you know that what happened was a misfortune in my life?’
 
These words left everyone dumbstruck, because they were all quite sure that the son’s accident was a real tragedy. As they left the farmer’s house, they said to each other: ‘Now he really has gone mad; his only son could be left permanently crippled, and he’s not sure whether the accident was a misfortune or not!’
 
A few months went by, and Japan declared war on China. The emperor’s emissaries scoured the country for healthy young men to be sent to the front. When they reached the village, they recruited all the young men, except the farmer’s son, whose leg had not yet mended.
 
None of the young men came back alive. The son recovered, and the two horses produced foals that were all sold for a good price. The farmer went to visit his neighbours to console and to help them, since they had always shown him such solidarity. Whenever any of them complained, the farmer would say: ‘How do you know that what happened was a misfortune?’ If someone was overjoyed about something, he would ask: ‘How do you know that what happened was a blessing?’ And the people of the village came to understand that life has other meanings that go beyond mere appearance.

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The price of the question

By Paulo Coelho

A rabbi spent his whole life teaching that all the answers to our questions are in ourselves, but his congregation insisted on consulting him about everything they did.
 
One day, the rabbi had an idea. He placed a notice on the door of his house, saying:
 
‘Answers to questions – 100 moedas per answer.’
 
A shopkeeper decided to pay the one hundred moedas. He gave the rabbi the money and said:
 
‘Don’t you think that’s rather a lot to charge for a question?’
 
‘Yes, I do,’ said the rabbi. ‘And I have just answered your question. If you want to know anything else, you’ll have to pay another one hundred moedas, or else look for the answer inside yourself, which is far cheaper and much more efficient.’
 
From then on, no one bothered him.

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Isaac dies

By Paulo Coelho


 
A certain rabbi was adored by everyone in his community, who were all enchanted with everything he said.
 
Apart from Isaac, that is, who never missed an opportunity to contradict the rabbi’s interpretations and point out errors in his teaching. The others were disgusted by Isaac’s behaviour, but could do nothing about it.
 
One day, Isaac died. During the funeral, the community noticed that the rabbi was looking very sad.
 
‘Why so sad?’ asked someone. ‘He found fault with everything you did!’
 
‘I’m not sad for my friend, who is now in heaven,’ replied the rabbi. ‘I am sad for myself. While you all revered me, he challenged me, and so I was forced to improve. Now that he’s gone, I’m afraid I might stop growing.’

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An Arab creation myth

By Paulo Coelho


 
In The Book of the Ghost, Alejandro Dolina links the history of sand with one of the creation myths of the Arab people.
 
According to this myth, as soon as the world had been made, one of the angels pointed out to the Almighty that he had forgotten to put any sand on Earth, a grave omission, given that human beings would be deprived for ever of being able to walk along the seashore, massaging their weary feet and being in direct contact with the ground.
 
Worse, river beds would always be rough and rocky, architects would be unable to make use of this indispensable material, and the footprints of lovers would be invisible. Eager to remedy this oversight, God despatched the Archangel Gabriel with a huge bag of sand so that he could spread it wherever it was needed.
 
Gabriel created the beaches and the riverbeds, then made his way back to Heaven, carrying with him the surplus sand, but the Enemy – always watchful, always keen to spoil the Almighty’s work – made a hole in the bag, which burst, spilling all its contents. This happened in a place now known as Arabia, and nearly the whole region was transformed into a vast desert.
 
Distraught, Gabriel went to ask the Lord’s forgiveness for having allowed the Enemy to creep up on him unawares. And God, in His infinite wisdom, decided to recompense the Arab people for his messenger’s unwitting mistake.
 
He created for them a heaven full of stars, such as exists nowhere else in the world, so that they would always be gazing skywards.
 
He created the turban which, beneath the desert sun, is of far more value than a crown.
 
He created the tent, so that people could move from place to place and thus always have new landscapes around them, without any of the irritating duties involved in the upkeep of a palace.
 
He taught the people to forge the best steel for swords. He created the camel. He developed the finest breed of horses.
 
And he gave them something more precious than all these things together, he gave them the word, the true gold of the Arabs. While other peoples were shaping metals and gemstones, the Arab people were learning to shape the word.
 
There the poet became priest, judge, doctor and chief of the Bedouin. His verses have the power to provoke joy, sadness, yearning. They can unleash vengeance and war, bring together lovers or reproduce the songs of the birds.
 
And Alejandro Dolina concludes:
 
‘God’s mistakes, like those of great artists or of true lovers, unleash so many happy compensations that sometimes it is almost worth wishing they would happen.’

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