Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Being merciless

Author: Paulo Coelho

I am wearing a strange green outfit, full of zips and made from a very tough fabric.

I have gloves on too in order to avoid cuts and scratches. I’m carrying a kind of spear, almost as tall as I am: the metal end has three prongs on one side and a sharp point on the other.

And before me lies the object of my attack: the garden. With the object in my hand, I start to remove the weeds growing among the grass. I do this for quite a while knowing that each plant I dig up will die within two days.
The soul is like a landscaped garden. Save it from the weeds

The soul is like a landscaped garden. Save it from the weeds

Suddenly, I ask myself: ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ What we call a ‘weed’ is, in fact, an attempt at survival by a particular species which took Nature millions of years to create and develop.

The flower was fertilised at the expense of innumerable insects, it was transformed into seed, the wind scattered it over the fields round about, and so, because it was not planted in just one place but in many, its chances of surviving until next spring are that much greater.

If it was concentrated in just one place, it would be vulnerable to being eaten, to flood, fire and drought. But all that effort to survive is brought up short by the point of a spear, which mercilessly plucks the plant from the soil.

Why am I doing this? Someone created this garden. I don’t know who, because when I bought the house, the garden was already here, in harmony with the surrounding mountains and trees.

But its creator must have thought long and hard about what he or she was doing, must have carefully planted and planned (for example, there is an avenue of trees that conceals the hut where we keep the firewood) and tended it through countless winters and springs.

When I moved into the old mill where I spend a few months of each year, the lawn was immaculate. Now it is up to me to continue that work, although the philosophical question remains: Should I respect the work of the creator, of the gardener, or should I accept the survival instinct with which nature endowed this plant that I now call a ‘weed’?

I continue digging up unwanted plants and placing them on a pile that will soon be burned. Perhaps I am giving too much thought to things that have less to do with thought and more to do with action.

But then, every gesture made by a human being is sacred and full of consequences, and that makes me think even more about what I am doing.

On one hand, these plants have the right to broadcast themselves everywhere. On the other, if I don’t destroy them now, they will end up choking the grass. In the New Testament, Jesus talks about separating the wheat from the tares.

But, with or without the support of the Bible, I am faced by a concrete problem always faced by humanity: How far should we interfere with Nature? Is such interference always negative, or can it occasionally be positive?

I set aside my weapon also known as a hoe. Each blow means the end of a life, the death of a flower that would have bloomed in the spring – such is the arrogance of the human being constantly trying to shape the landscape around him.

I need to give the matter more thought because I am, at this moment, wielding the power of life and death. The grass seems to be saying: ‘If you don’t protect me, that weed will destroy me.’

The weed also speaks to me: ‘I travelled so far to reach your garden; why do you want to kill me?’ In the end, the Bhagavad Gita comes to my aid. I remember the answer that Krishna gives to the warrior Arjuna, when the latter loses heart before a decisive battle, throws down his arms, and says it is not right to take part in a battle that will culminate in the death of his brothers.

Krishna says, more or less: ‘Do you really think you can kill anyone? Your hand is My hand, and it was already written that everything you are doing would be done. No one kills and no one dies.’

Encouraged by this recollection, I pick up my spear again, attack the weeds I did not invite to grow in my garden, and am left with this morning’s one lesson: When something undesirable grows in my soul, I ask God to give me the same courage mercilessly to tear it out

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