Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

About masters and teachers

Author: Paulo Coelho

By Paulo Coelho

In one of his Family Conversations, Confucius sets down an interesting dialogue on the subject of learning.

Confucius sat down to rest, and his students immediately started asking him questions. On that day, he was in a good mood and so decided to answer. Someone asked him:

‘You are capable of explaining everything you feel. Why don’t you go to the Emperor and talk to him?’

‘The Emperor himself makes beautiful speeches,’ said Confucius, ‘but beautiful speeches are merely a question of technique, they do not of themselves contain Virtue.’

‘Well, send him your book of poems, then.’

‘Those three hundred poems could be summed up in two words: think correctly. That is the secret.’

‘What does thinking correctly involve?’

‘It’s knowing how to use mind and heart, discipline and emotion. When we want something, life will guide us there, but by unexpected paths. We often feel confused because we are surprised by those paths and think we must be going in the wrong direction. That is why I said, allow yourself to be carried away by emotion, but have enough discipline to follow it through.’

‘Is that what you do?’

‘When I was fifteen, I began to learn. When I was thirty, I knew what I wanted. When I was forty, my doubts resurfaced. When I was fifty, I discovered that Heaven has a plan for me and for each man on the face of the Earth. When I was sixty, I understood that plan and found the serenity to follow it. Now that I’m seventy, I can listen to my heart, but without letting it distract me from the path.’

‘So what makes you different from other men who have also accepted the will of Heaven?’

‘I try to share it with you. And anyone wanting to discuss an ancient truth with a new generation has to use his capacity to teach. That is my one quality, being a good teacher.’

‘And what is a good teacher?’

‘Someone who questions everything he teaches. Old ideas cannot enslave a man, because they change and take on new forms. So let us use the philosophical riches of the past, but without forgetting the challenges that the present world sets before us.’

‘And what is a good student?’

‘Someone who listens to what I say, but adapts my teachings to his life and never follows them blindly. Someone who looks not just for employment, but for a job that brings him dignity. Someone who does not seek to be noticed, but to do something notable.’

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