Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Two Stories About Mountains

Author: Paulo Coelho

Here where I stand

After having won many archery competitions, the town champion sought out the Zen master.
“I am the best of all,” he said. “I did not learn religion, I did not look for help from the monks, and I have been considered the best archer in the whole region. I heard that some time ago you were the best archer in the area, so I ask you: did you have to become a monk to learn to shoot arrows?
“No,” answered the Zen master.
But the champion was not satisfied: he took out an arrow, placed it in his bow, fired, and hit a cherry at a considerable distance. He smiled, as if to say: “You could have saved your time and just dedicated yourself to technique.” And he said:
“I doubt if you can do the same.”
Without demonstrating the least concern, the master took his bow and began to walk towards a nearby mountain. On the way there was an abyss that could only be crossed by an old rotting rope bridge that was almost falling down: with the utmost calm, the Zen master went to the middle of the bridge, took his bow, placed an arrow, aimed at a tree on the other side of the gulch, and hit the target.
“Now it’s your turn,” he said gently to the young man as he walked back to safe ground.
In trepidation, looking at the abyss below him, the young man went to the indicated spot and fired an arrow, but it landed very far from the target.
“That’s what one gets from discipline and practicing meditation,” concluded the master when the young man re-appeared at his side. “You can be very skilled with the instrument you have chosen to earn a living, but it’s all useless if you can’t manage to master the mind that uses the instrument.”

Contemplating the desert

Three people who were passing in a small caravan saw a man contemplating the sunset in the Sahara desert from the top of a mountain.
“It must be a shepherd who has lost a sheep and is trying to find it,” said the first.
“No, I don’t think he is looking for something, especially not at sunset – that confuses your vision. I think he is waiting for a friend.”
“I bet he’s a holy man looking for enlightenment,” commented the third.
They began to discuss what the man was doing, and got so involved in the discussion that they nearly ended up fighting with one another. Finally, to find out who was right, they decided to climb the mountain and ask the man.
“Are you looking for your sheep?” asked the first.
“No, I don’t have a flock.”
“Then you must be waiting for someone,” claimed the second.
“I am a lonely man who lives in the desert,” was the answer.
“Since you live in the desert, and in solitude, then we have to believe that you are a holy man in search of God, and you are meditating!” asserted the third man, content with this conclusion.
“Does everything on Earth need to have an explanation? So let me explain: I am here just looking at the sunset: isn’t that enough to lend a meaning to our lives?”

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