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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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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My prayer for 2015


Lord, protect our doubts, because Doubt is a way of praying. It is Doubt that makes us grow because it forces us to look fearlessly at the many answers that exist to one question. And in order for this to be possible…

Lord, protect our decisions, because making Decisions is a way of praying. Give us the courage, after our doubts, to be able to choose between one road and another. May our YES always be a YES and our NO always be a NO. Once we have chosen our road, may we never look back nor allow our soul to be eaten away by remorse. And in order for this to be possible…

Lord, protect our actions, because Action is a way of praying. May our daily bread be the result of the very best that we carry within us. May we, through work and Action, share a little of the love we receive. And in order for this to be possible…

Lord, protect our dreams, because to Dream is a way of praying. Make sure that, regardless of our age or our circumstances, we are capable of keeping alight in our heart the sacred flame of hope and perseverance. And in order for this to be possible…

Lord, give us enthusiasm, because Enthusiasm is a way of praying. It is what binds us to the Heavens and to Earth, to grown-ups and to children, it is what tells us that our desires are important and deserve our best efforts. It is Enthusiasm that reaffirms to us that everything is possible, as long as we are totally committed to what we are doing. And in order for this to be possible…

Lord, protect us, because Life is the only way we have of making manifest Your miracle. May the earth continue to transform seeds into wheat, may we continue to transmute wheat into bread. And this is only possible if we have Love; therefore, do not leave us in solitude. Always give us Your company, and the company of men and women who have doubts, who act and dream and feel enthusiasm, and who live each day as if it were totally dedicated to Your glory.




Not an example

By Paulo Coelho

The Rabbi Elimelekh had delivered a wonderful sermon and now he was returning to his native land. To honour him and to show their gratitude, the faithful decided to follow Elimelekh’s carriage out of the city.

At one point, the Rabbi stopped the carriage and asked the driver to go ahead without him while he joined the people.

‘A fine example of humility,’ said one of the men beside him.

‘Humility has nothing to do with it, just a little intelligence,’ replied Elimelekh.

‘You’re all out here having a walk, singing, drinking wine, chatting with each other, making new friends, and all because of an old Rabbi who came to talk to you about the art of living. So let’s leave my theories in the carriage, I want to enjoy the party.’

Without so much as blinking

During the civil war in Korea, a certain general and his troops were advancing implacably, taking province after province, destroying everything in their path. The people in one city, hearing that the general was approaching and knowing his cruel reputation, fled to a nearby mountain.

The troops found the houses empty. After much searching, though, they found one Zen monk who had stayed behind. The general ordered that he be brought before him, but the monk refused to go.

Furious, the general went to him instead.

‘You obviously don’t know who I am!’ he bawled. ‘I am capable of stabbing you in the chest with my sword without so much as blinking.’

The Zen master turned and replied calmly:

‘You obviously don’t know who I am either. I am capable of letting myself be stabbed in the chest by a sword without so much as blinking.’

On hearing this, the general bowed low and left.

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Choosing the best road

When Abbot Antonio was asked if the road of sacrifice led to Heaven, he replied:
‘There are two such roads. The first is that of the man who mortifies his flesh and does penance because he believes that we are all damned.
‘This man feels guilty and unworthy to live a happy life.
‘He will never get anywhere because God does not inhabit guilt.
‘The second road is that of the man who knows that the world is not as perfect as we would all like it to be, but who nevertheless puts time and effort into improving the world around him.
‘In this case, the Divine Presence helps him all the time, and he will find Heaven.’

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20 SEC REading: Joy and love

A believer approached Rabbi Moche of Kobryn and asked:
‘How should I best use my days so that God will be contented with my actions?’

‘There is only one possible option: to live with love,’ replied the Rabbi.

Minutes later, another follower approached him and asked the same question.
‘There is only one possible option: try to live with joy.’

The first follower was taken aback.
‘But the advice you gave me was different!’
‘Not at all,’ said the rabbi. ‘It was exactly the same.’

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Acting on impulse

Father Zeca, from the Church of the Resurrection in Copacabana, tells of how, when he was travelling on a bus, he suddenly heard a voice telling him to get up and preach the importance of love right there and then.
Zeca started talking to the voice: ‘They’ll think I’m ridiculous, this isn’t the place for a sermon,’ he said.
But something inside him insisted that he speak.
‘I’m too shy, please don’t ask me to do this,’ he begged.
The inner impulse insisted.
Then he remembered his promise – to surrender himself to all his internal calls. He got up – dying of embarrassment – and began to talk about the Gospel.
Everyone listened in silence. He looked at each passenger in turn and very few looked away.
He said everything that was in his heart, ended his sermon and sat down again.
He still does not know what task he fulfilled that day, but he is absolutely certain that he did fulfil a task.

10 SEC READ: The muddy road


Tanzan and Ekido were once travelling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once.
Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself.

“We monks can’t be near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”

“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

In a bar in Buenos Aires

By Paulo Coelho

Dear readers,
Today is the last story of this book of mine called “Fathers, Sons and Grandsons”.
As promised here’s the illustration made by Christina Oiticica for you to download.
Fathers, Sons and Grandsons ( image version)
fathers-sons-and-grandsons.pdf ( pdf version )

In a bar in Buenos Aires

I am with the Venezuelan writer Dulce Rojas, drinking coffee in Buenos Aires; we are discussing the idea of peace and how removed it has become from the human heart. Dulce then tells me the following story.

A king offered a large prize to the artist who could best represent the idea of peace. A lot of painters sent their works to the palace, depicting woods at dusk, quiet rivers, children playing on the sand, rainbows in the sky, drops of dew on a rose petal.

The king examined everything that was sent to him, but ended up choosing only two works.

The first showed a tranquil lake that perfectly mirrored the imposing mountains surrounding it and the blue sky above. The sky was dotted with small white clouds and, if you looked closely, in the left-hand corner of the lake there stood a small house with one window open and smoke rising from the chimney – the sign that a frugal but tasty supper was being prepared.

The second painting was also of mountains, but these were bleak and stony with sharp, sheer peaks. Above the mountains, the sky was implacably dark, and from the heavy clouds fell lightning, hail and torrential rain.

The painting was totally out of harmony with the other submissions. However, a closer look revealed a bird’s nest lodged in a crack in one of those inhospitable rocks. In the midst of the violent roaring of the storm, a swallow was calmly sitting on its nest.

When he gathered his court together, the king chose the second picture as the one that best expressed the idea of peace. He explained:

‘Peace is not what we find in a place that is free of noise, problems and hard work; peace is what allows us to preserve the calm in our hearts, even in the most adverse situations. That is its true and only meaning.

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Seeing yourself

By Paulo Coelho

‘When you look at your companions, try to see yourself,’ said the Japanese teacher Okakura Kakuso.

‘But isn’t that an awfully selfish attitude?’ asked a disciple. ‘If we are always concerned about ourselves, we will never see the good things that others have to offer.’

‘If only we did always see the good things in others,’ replied Kakuso. ‘But the truth is that when we look at another person, we are only looking for defects. We try to discover his wicked side because we want him to be worse than us. We never forgive him when he hurts us because we do not believe that we would ever be forgiven. We manage to wound him with harsh words, declaring that we are telling the truth, when all we are doing is trying to hide it from ourselves. We pretend that we are important so that no one else will see how fragile we are. That is why whenever you judge your brother, be aware that you are the one who is on trial.’

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The hidden face

By Paulo Coelho

Nasrudin went to the house of a rich man to ask for money for charity.

A page opened the door.

‘Tell the Mullah that Nasrudin is here and needs money to help others,’ said the wise man.

The page went back inside and returned a few minutes later.

‘My master is not at home.’

‘Allow me then to give him a piece of advice, even though he has not contributed to any charitable works. The next time he is away from home, tell him not to leave his face at the window, otherwise people might think he is lying.’

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Believing without seeing

By Paulo Coelho

An emperor said to the Rabbi Yeoschoua ben Hanania:

‘I would very much like to see your God.’

‘That is impossible,’ said the Rabbi.

‘Impossible? Then how can I entrust my life to someone whom I cannot see?’

‘Show me the pocket in which you have placed the love of your wife, and let me weigh it in order to see how large her love is.’

‘Don’t be silly; no one can keep someone’s love in their pocket.’

‘The sun is only one of the works which the Lord placed in the universe and yet you cannot look at it directly. You cannot see love either, but you know you are capable of falling in love with a woman and entrusting your life to her. Is it not clear then that there are certain things in which we trust even though we cannot see them?’

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Absolute control

By Paulo Coelho

Each person knows how best to be at peace with life; some need at least some degree of security, others launch themselves fearlessly into danger. There are no formulae for living out one’s dream: each of us, by listening to our own heart, will know how best to act.

The American writer Sherwood Anderson was always extremely undisciplined and only managed to write when fuelled by his own rebelliousness. His first publishers, concerned about the abject poverty in which Anderson lived, decided to send him a weekly cheque as an advance on his next novel.

After a month, they received a visit from the writer, who returned all the cheques.

‘I haven’t been able to write a line in weeks,’ said Anderson. ‘I just can’t write with financial security staring at me across the desk.’

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The way of the tiger

By Paulo Coelho

A man was walking through a forest when he saw a crippled fox. ‘I wonder how it manages to feed itself,’ he thought. At that moment, a tiger approached, carrying its prey in its mouth. The tiger ate its fill and left what remained for the fox.

‘If God helps the fox, he will help me too,’ the man thought. He went back home, shut himself up in his house and waited for the Heavens to bring him food.

Nothing happened. Just when he was becoming too weak to go out and work, an angel appeared.

‘Why did you decide to imitate the crippled fox?’ asked the angel. ‘Get out of bed, pick up your tools and follow the way of the tiger!’

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