No one changes destiny

By Paulo Coelho

Before a decisive battle, the Japanese general decided to take the initiative and attack, knowing that the enemy was greater in number. Although he was sure of his strategy, his men were fearful.

On the way to the confrontation, they decided to stop at a temple. After praying, the general turned to his soldiers:

– I will toss this coin. If it is heads, we return to camp. If it is tails, that means that the gods will protect us, and we shall defeat the enemy. Now, our future will be revealed.

He threw the coin high up, and the eyes of his anxious soldiers saw the result: tails. They all rejoiced, and as they attacked were filled with confidence and vigor, and were able to celebrate victory later that afternoon.

His chief officer said proudly:
– The gods are always right. No one can change the destiny they reveal.

– You are right, no one can change destiny when we are resolved to follow it. The gods help us, but at times we must help them too. – he replied, handing the officer the coin.

Both sides were tails.

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The master is like bell

By Paulo Coelho

A student who had recently arrived at the monastery, went to master Nokami and asked him how he should prepare for the exercise of meditation.

“Do not be afraid to ask” – was the reply.

“And how can I learn to ask?”

“A master is like a bell. If you strike it lightly, all you will heard is a gentle vibration. But if you bang it freely, it will resonate loudly and shake you to the depths of your soul. Ask with courage, and only stop when you obtain the answer you sought.”

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The prayer of the flock

By Paulo Coelho

Jewish tradition tells the story of a shepherd who always said to the Lord: “Master of the Universe, if You have a flock, I shall look after it for free, for I love You.”

One day a wise man heard this strange prayer. Worried that it might offend God, he taught the shepherd the prayers he knew. But as soon as they were parted, the shepherd forgot the prayers; however, fearful of offending God by offering to tend to his flocks, he decided to abandon completely all conversations with Him.

That same night the wise man had a dream: “Who guards the Lord’s flocks?” said an angel. “The shepherd prayed with his heart, and you taught him to pray with his mouth.”

The following day the wise man returned, asked the shepherd to forgive him, and included the Prayer of the Flock in his book of psalms.

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The sealed lip

By Paulo Coelho

The disciple of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov went to him:

“I cannot talk to God.”

“This often happens,” said Nachman. “We feel that our lips are sealed, or that the words do not come. However, the simple fact that effort is needed to overcome the situation, is a beneficial attitude.”

“But it is not enough,” insisted the disciple.

“You are right. At such times, what you must do is look up and say: “My God, I am far from You and cannot believe in my voice.”

“For, in truth, God listens and always answers. It is only we who cannot speak, fearful that He is not paying attention.”

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When angels talk

By Paulo Coelho

When angels talk

Nobody is courageous all the time. The unknown is a constant challenge, and being afraid is part of the journey.

What to do? Talk to yourself. Talk alone. Talk to yourself even if others think you have gone crazy. As we talk, an inner force gives us the security to overcome the obstacles that need to be surmounted. We learn lessons from the defeats that we are bound to suffer. And we prepare ourselves for the many victories that will be part of our life.

And just between you and me, those who have this habit (and I’m one of them) know that they never talk alone: the guardian angel is there, listening and helping us to reflect. What follows are some stories about angels.

Conversation in heaven

Abd Mubarak was on his way to Mecca when one night he dreamed that he was in heaven and heard two angels having a conversation.

“How many pilgrims came to the holy city this year?” one of them asked.

“Six hundred thousand”, answered the other.

“And how many of them had their pilgrimage accepted?”

“None of them. However, in Baghdad there is a shoemaker called Ali Mufiq who did not make the pilgrimage, but did have his pilgrimage accepted, and his graces benefited the 600,000 pilgrims”.

When he woke up, Abd Mubarak went to Mufiq’s shoe shop and told him his dream.

“At great cost and much sacrifice, I finally managed to get 350 coins together”, the shoemaker said in tears. “But then, when I was ready to go to Mecca I discovered that my neighbors were hungry, so I distributed the money among them and gave up my pilgrimage”.

The beggar and the monk

A monk was meditating in the desert when a beggar came up to him and said:

“I need to eat”.

The monk – who was almost reaching the point of perfect harmony with the spiritual world – did not answer.

“I need to eat”, insisted the beggar.

“Go to the town and ask someone else. Can’t you see that you are bothering me? I am trying to communicate with the angels”.

“God placed himself lower than men, washed their feet, gave His life, and no-one recognized Him”, the beggar replied. “He who says he loves God – who does not see – and forgets his brother – who does – is lying”.

And the beggar turned into an angel.

“What a pity, you almost made it”, he remarked before leaving.

Condemning one’s brother

Abbot Isaac of Thebes was in the patio of the monastery praying when he saw one of the monks commit a sin. Furious, he interrupted his prayers and condemned the sinner.

That night he was prevented from returning to his cell by an angel who said to him: “you condemned your brother, but you did not say what punishment we should inflict: the pains of hell? Some terrible disease in this life? Some torment in his family?”

Isaac knelt down and asked for pardon: “I tossed the words in the air, and an angel heard them. I sinned by being irresponsible for what I said. Forget my ire, Lord, and make me take greater care in judging my neighbor”.

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What makes me suffer

By Paulo Coelho

Rabbi Moshe de Sassov gathered his disciples in order to tell them that he had finally learned to love his neighbor. They all thought that he had had a divine revelation, but Moshe denied this.

– In fact – he said – this morning when I went out to do some shopping, I saw my neighbor, Esther, talking to her son. She asked him:

“Do you love me?”

The son said yes. So Esther went on:

“Do you know what makes me suffer?”

“I’ve no idea,” replied the son.

“How can you love me, if you do not know what makes me suffer? Try to quickly find out all the things which make me unhappy, for only then will your love be impeccable.”

And Rabbi Moshe de Sassov concluded:

– True love is that which manages to avoid unnecessary suffering.

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Two African Proverbs

By Paulo Coelho

“When someone is biting your hand, you should not strike his head.”

“He who saw the lion does not run in the same way as he who heard the lion.”

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Zen Buddhism

By Paulo Coelho

WARRIOR OF THE LIGHT ONLINE has often transcribed classic texts of the Zen school. But what does it mean, exactly? As Ming Zhen Shakya explains, Zen is to Buddhism what the Kabbalah is to Judaism, contemplation is to Christianity, Sufi dancing is to Islam: in other words, it is the mystical practice of philosophical or spiritual teaching.

The Zen school began in China as a mixture of the Buddhism from Nepal with the local Taoist traditions (which we shall discuss later). Between the years 700 and 1200, monks traveled to Japan and there developed two types of meditation based on physical posture: the Rinzai style says that all human beings can achieve illumination if they live their existence with respect and sobriety, while the Soto style preaches the importance of lengthy training in order to reach this objective.

According to most religions, an illuminated man is someone who manages to free himself from his own egotism, understands that he his merely a small – but important – part in God’s Great plan, and does everything possible to concentrate on the good working of this part. As he moves in this direction, superfluous things lose their importance, and with this his suffering recedes.

According to the Zen masters, we all have an intuitive knowledge of the reason for our existence. But most philosophical or religious teachings are nothing but ways of provoking, deep down inside us, the contact with the wisdom which is already there – buried deep in layers of prejudice, guilt, mental confusion and false ideas about our own importance.

Zen Buddhism – especially that which was elaborated from the Soto style – developed a series of techniques to enable man to reach this inner peace and comprehension. To us, with our Western vision of our inner search, these techniques are deeply related to the words of Jesus, in the Gospel according to Matthew: “when thou prayest, enter thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to the Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

Someone practicing Zen finds a calm place, and sits in a position in which he can keep his balance for a long time, but without support for his spine; therefore the best-known posture is with the legs crossed, the hands linked in front over his pelvis. At some monasteries I visited in Japan they use a type of leather cushion in order to raise the body slightly, and allow for better blood circulation in the legs.

Now one must try to remain motionless for as long as possible, while obeying a few simples rules. The head must lean forward, the eyes focused on nothing, but not closed, because that can cause sleepiness. One observes one’s breathing, trying not influence its rhythm – it should be as natural as possible, for as the zazen (the name for this posture) is held, one’s inhalation and exhalation tend to become more paused and slower.

Although many who claim to know the techniques of meditation think that one must “empty one’s mind”, we all – and all the great Zen masters – know that this is impossible. The main idea is not to try and control our thoughts and emotions, nor seek spiritual contact with God; all this will come in its own time, as we become more and more calm.

Since the practice of Zen is extremely simple, without any religious or philosophical connotations, it helps us – paradoxically – to connect to God and to answer our doubts in an unconscious way. The next time you are at home with nothing to do, and think everything around you is annoying and repetitive, try to sit down in a quiet place, remain still, and let the world go on around you.

You will see that, in order to do the important things in life, at times one must allow oneself to do nothing.

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The town and the two streets

By Paulo Coelho

The following story is told by Sheikh Qalandar Shah in his book Asrar-i-Khilwatia (Secrets of the Recluses):

In eastern Armenia there was a little village with two parallel streets, called North Way and South Way, respectively. A traveler from afar walked down South Way, and soon resolved to visit the other street; however, as soon as he entered it, the merchants noticed that his eyes were filled with tears.

“Someone must have died on South Way,” said the butcher to the textile salesman. “That poor stranger, who just came from there, look how he cries!”

A child heard the comment, and as he knew what a sad thing someone dying is, he began to cry hysterically. Before long, all the children in that street were crying.

Startled, the traveler decided to leave immediately. He threw away the onions he was peeling in order to eat them – that being the reason his eyes were filled with tears – and went off.

However, the mothers, worried by their children’s weeping, soon went to find out what had happened, and discovered that the butcher, the textile salesman and – by this time – several other merchants, were all deeply concerned about the tragedy which had occurred on South Way.

More rumors began to spread; and since the town hadn’t many inhabitants, everyone on both streets knew that a terrible thing had happened. The adults began to fear the worst; but, since they were worried about the gravity of the tragedy, they decided not to ask anything, so as not to make matters worse.

A blind man who lived on South Way and didn’t understand what was going on, decided to speak up:

“Why such sadness in this town, which as always been such a happy place?”

“Something terrible happened on North Way,” answered one of the inhabitants. “The children are crying, the men frown, mothers send their sons home, and the only traveler to pass through town for many years, left with his eyes filled with tears. Perhaps the plague has hit the other street.”

Before long, rumors of an unknown deadly disease spread through the town. And since all the weeping had begun when the traveler visited South Way, the inhabitants of North Way were sure that that was where it had begun. Before nightfall, people from both streets abandoned their houses and left for the mountains of the East.

Centuries later, that ancient village where a traveler passed peeling onions continues abandoned to this day. Not far away, two settlements emerged, called East Way and West Way. Their inhabitants, the descendents of the former inhabitants of the village, still do not speak to each other, for time and legends placed a great barrier of fear between them.

Sheikh Qalandar Shah says: “all in life is a question of attitude towards things, and not the actual things themselves. It is always possible to discover the origin of a problem, or choose to enlarge it in such a way that I no longer know where it began, its true size, how it can affect my existence, and how it is capable of distancing people I used to love.”

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Living according to the truth

By Paulo Coelho

Mahatma Gandhi fought all his life, and succeeded in freeing India from English rule. When he was told that he was one of the greatest names in all Universal History, he replied:

“I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is practice them on a far vaster scale that seemed possible to me. In doing so, I made some mistakes and learned from my mistakes.

“Those who believed in the simple truths I proclaimed, can only spread them if they live in accordance with them. I am absolutely convinced that any man or woman can achieve what I did, if he makes the same effort and nurtures the same hope and faith.

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Conversations with the master – Work

By Paulo Coelho

(I continue to transcribe notes from my conversations with J. between 1982 and 1990:)
– You have tried to make me understand that one must pay attention to life, people, and everything around us. I have the impression that all you ever do is work (at that time, J. was an executive at a Dutch multinational company).
– Instead of answering your question directly I shall quote from the Indian poet Tagore: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy/ I awoke and saw that life was service/I acted and behold, service was joy.” In fact, through my work I discover life, people, and everything which happens around us.
“The only trap I must beware not to fall into, is to think that each day is the same as the next. In fact, each morning brings with it a hidden miracle, and we must pay attention to this miracle.”
– What is duty?
– A mysterious word which can have two opposite meanings: the absence of enthusiasm, or the understanding that we must share our love with more than one person. In the first case, we are always making excuses for not accepting our responsibilities; in the second case, duty becomes a form of devotion, of unrestricted love for the human condition, and we begin to fight for that which we want to happen.
“I seek to do this through my work: to share my love. Love is also a mysterious thing: the more we share it, the more it multiplies.”
– But in the Bible, work is considered a type of curse which God has forced on men. When Adam commits the original sin, he hears the Almighty say: “in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”
– At that moment, God is putting the Universe into motion. Up until that time, all is beautiful, idyllic – but nothing has evolved and, as we mentioned, Adam starts thinking that each day is like another. From then on, he loses the sense of the miracle of his own existence; then the Lord, seeing His creation, understands that he must help him again conquer this sense.
“This sentence must be read in a positive way: weariness will turn into nourishment, sweat will be the bread’s seasoning. In this way, everything will converge perfectly, but first, Adam and all human beings must go down the path of mutual understanding.”
– Why is it that one of man’s great dreams is to one day stop having to work?
– Because he does not know what it is to spend months and years doing nothing. Either because he does not love what he does; no one wishes to be separated from the woman he loves, no one wants to stop doing that which he loves. Or it is because there is no dignity in his going about his work – he has forgotten that work was created to help man, not humiliate him.
“There is an interesting story about this in “The Thousand and One Nights”: caliph Alrum Al-Rachid decided to build a palace in order to demonstrate the greatness of his kingdom. He gathered together the greatest works of art, designed gardens, personally selected the marbles and carpets.
Beside the grounds which had been chosen, was a dwelling. Al-Rachid asked his minister to convince the owner – an old weaver – to sell it so that it might be demolished.
The minister tried in vain; the old man said he did not wish to part with it.
Upon hearing of the old man’s decision, the Court Council suggested he be simply thrown out.
– No – responded Al-Rachid. – He will become part of my legacy to my people. When they come to the palace, they will say: he was a man who worked in order to show the beauty of our culture.
“And when they see the dwelling, they will say: he was just, for he respected the work of other men.”
“The world seems threatening to cowards. They seek the false security of a life void of great challenges, and arm themselves heavily in order to defend that which they think they possess. Cowards are victims of their own egos, and in the end erect the bars of their own prison.”

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Discovering true fear

By Paulo Coelho

A sultan decided to travel by sea with some of his favorite courtiers. They joined the ship in Dubai and sailed out into the open sea.

However, as soon as the ship moved away from land, one of his subjects – who had never seen the sea before, having spent most of his life in the mountains – began to be overcome with panic.

Sitting in the ship’s hold, he cried, shouted and refused to eat or sleep. Everyone tried to calm him down, saying that the journey wasn’t as dangerous as all that, but although he heard their words, they had no influence on his heart. The sultan did not know what to do, and the fine journey upon calm seas and under blue skies, became a torment for the passengers and crew alike.

Two days passed without anyone being able to sleep because of the man’s cries. The sultan was about to order the ship to return to port, when one of his ministers, who was known for his wisdom, came over:

– Your Highness, with your permission, I will be able to calm him.

Without a moment’s hesitation, the sultan said that not only would he allow it, but that he should reward him if he succeeded in solving the problem.

The wise man asked that the man be thrown into the sea. Right away, content because their nightmare was about to end, several crew members grabbed the man struggling in the hold, and cast him into the ocean.

The courtier thrashed about, sank, swallowed plenty of seawater, returned to the surface, screamed louder than ever, sank again, and managed to surface once again. Just then, the minister ordered for him to dragged back on board.

From then on, no one heard so much as a single complaint from the man, who spent the rest of the journey in silence, and even commented to one of the passengers that he had never seen anything so beautiful as the sky and sea touching on the horizon. The journey – which had before been a torment to all those on board the ship – became a pleasurable, peaceful experience.

A short time before they returned to port, the Sultan went to see the minister:

– How did you guess that, by throwing that poor man into the sea, he would calm down?

– Because of my marriage – replied the minister. – I was always terrified of losing my wife, and was so jealous that I never stopped shouting and screaming like that man.

“One day she could take no more, and left me – and I tasted the terrible experience of living without her. She only returned when I promised never again to torment her with my fears.

“In the same way, that man had never tasted salt water, and had never known the agony of a drowning man. When he felt that, he understood only too well how marvelous it can be to feel the planks of a ship under his feet.

– Wise counsel – commented the sultan.

– In the Bible, a holy book of the Christians, it says: “all I most feared, came to pass.”

“Some people can only value what they have, when they endure the experience of loss.”

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Quote of the Day

By Paulo Coelho

Stop being who you were and become who you are.

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Reflections of the Warrior of the Light – Knowing when to say “no”

By Paulo Coelho

“Hitler may have lost the war on the battlefield, but in the end he gained something,” says M. Halter. “For in the 20th century man created the concentration camp and revived torture, and taught his fellow men that it is possible to turn a blind eye to the misfortune of others.”
Perhaps he is right: there are homeless children, innocent men in prison, lonely old people, drunks in the gutters, madmen in power.
But perhaps he is not right at all: there are warriors of the light.
And warriors of light never accept that which is unacceptable.

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In search of signs

By Paulo Coelho

We may think at times that the only thing life offers us tomorrow, is to repeat everything we did today. But if we pay close attention, we will see that no two days are alike.
Each morning brings a hidden blessing; a blessing which is unique to that day, and which cannot be kept or re-used. If we do not use this miracle today, it will be lost.
This miracle is in the small things of daily life; we must live in the understanding that at every moment there is a way out of each problem, the way of finding that which is missing, the right clue to the decision which must be taken in order to change our entire future.
But how to find the courage for this? As I see it, God speaks to us through signs. It is an individual language which requires faith and discipline in order to be fully absorbed.
For example, Saint Augustine was converted in this way. For years he sought – in various philosophical schools – an answer to the meaning of life, until one afternoon, in the garden of his house in Milan, as he reflected on the failure of his search, he heard a child in the street: “Take up and read! Take up and read!”
Although he had always been governed by logic, he decided – in an impulse – to open the first book which came to hand. It was the Bible, and he read part of St. Paul which contained the answers he sought. From then on, Augustine’s logic made way for faith to take part in his life, and he went on to become one of the Church’s greatest theologians.
The monks of the desert used to say it was important to allow angels to act. Because of this, they occasionally did absurd things – such as talk to flowers or laugh without a reason. The alchemists followed the “signs of God”; clues which often made no sense, but which always lead somewhere.
“Modern man tried to eliminate life’s uncertainties and doubts. And in doing so he left his soul dying of hunger; the soul feeds off mysteries” – says the dean of Saint Francis Cathedral.
There is a meditation exercise which consists of adding – generally for ten minutes a day – the reasons for each of our actions. For example: “I now read the newspaper to keep myself informed. I now think of such-and-such a person, because the subject I read about lead me to do so. I walked to the door, because I am going out”. And so forth.
Buddha called this “conscious attention”. When we see ourselves repeating our ordinary routine, we realize how much wealth surrounds our life. We understand each step, each attitude. We discover important things, and useless thoughts.
At the end of a week – discipline is always fundamental – we are more conscious of our faults and distractions, but we also understand that, at times, there was no reason to act the way we did, that we followed our impulses, our intuition; and now we begin to understand this silent language which God uses in order to show us the true path. Call it intuition, signs, instinct, coincidence, any name will do – what matters is that through “conscious attention” we realize that we are often guided to the right decision.
And this makes us stronger and more confident.

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Reflections on Life – Past mistakes

By Paulo Coelho

During a journey, Buddha came across a yogi with only one leg.
“I burn all my past mistakes”, explained the man.
“And how many mistakes have you burned?
“I have no idea.”
“And how many are left to burn?” inquired Buddha.
“I have no idea.”
“Then it is time to stop. Stop asking God for forgiveness, and go and ask those you wounded for forgiveness.”

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Reflections on Life – What will they say of you?

By Paulo Coelho

As a boy, Abin-Alsar overheard a conversation between his father and a dervish.

“Careful with your work”, said the dervish. “Think of what future generations will say about you.”

“So what?”, replied his father, “When I die, everything shall end, and it will not matter what they say.”

Abin-Alsar never forgot that conversation. His whole life, he made an effort to do good, to help people and go about his work with enthusiasm. He became well-known for his concern for others; when he died, he left behind a great number of things which improved the quality of life in his town.

On his tombstone, he had the following epitaph engraved:

“A life which ends with death, is a life not well spent.”

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