Life Lesson: On Accepting Things “For The Sake Of”

image from http://www.google.com

an excerpt from Paulo Coelho’s story on THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CAT IN MEDITATION in the book Like A Flowing River

Having written a book about madness (Veronika decides to die) , I was forced to wonder how many things we do are imposed on us by necessity, or by the absurd. Why wear a tie? Why do clocks run “clockwise”? If we live in a decimal system, why does the day have 24 hours of 60 minutes?

The fact is, many of the rules we obey nowadays have no real foundation. Nevertheless, if we wish to act differently, we are considered “crazy” or “immature”. Meanwhile, society continues to create some systems which, in the fullness of time, lose their reason for existence, but continue to impose their rules. An interesting Japanese story illustrates what I mean by this:

A great Zen Buddhist master, who was in charge of the Mayu Kagi monastery, had a cat which was his true passion in life. So, during meditation classes, he kept the cat by his side – in order to make the most of his company.

One morning, the master – who was already quite old – passed away. His best disciple took his place.
– What shall we do with the cat? – asked the other monks.
As a tribute to the memory of their old instructor, the new master decided to allow the cat to continue attending the Zen Buddhist classes.

Some disciples from the neighboring monasteries, traveling through those parts, discovered that, in one of the region’s most renowned temples, a cat took part in the meditation sessions. The story began to spread.
Many years passed. The cat died, but as the students at the monastery were so used to its presence, they soon found another cat. Meanwhile, the other temples began introducing cats in their meditation sessions: they believed the cat was truly responsible for the fame and excellence of Mayu Kagi’s teaching.

A generation passed, and technical treatises began to appear about the importance of the cat in Zen meditation. A university professor developed a thesis – which was accepted by the academic community – that felines have the ability to increase human concentration, and eliminate negative energy.
And so, for a whole century, the cat was considered an essential part of Zen Buddhist studies in that region.

Until a master appeared who was allergic to animal hair, and decided to remove the cat from his daily exercises with the students.

There was a fierce negative reaction – but the master insisted. Since he was an excellent instructor, the students continued to make the same progress, in spite of the absence of the cat.
Little by little, the monasteries – always in search of new ideas, and already tired of having to feed so many cats – began eliminating the animals from the classes. In twenty years new revolutionary theories began to appear – with very convincing titles such as “The Importance of Meditating Without a Cat”, or “Balancing the Zen Universe by Will Power Alone, Without the Help of Animals”.

Another century passed, and the cat withdrew completely from the meditation rituals in that region. But two hundred years were necessary for everything to return to normal – because during all this time, no one asked why the cat was there.

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Life Lesson: On Death

photo from http://www.osuemed.wordpress.com

From Paulo Coelho’s Book “Like A Flowing River”  (story: My Funeral)

I know it’s not a topic anyone likes to think about, but I have a duty to my readers — to make them think about the important things in life.

And DEATH is possibly the most important thing. We are all walking towards death, but we never know when death will touch us and it is our duty, therefore, to look around us, to be grateful for each minute. But we should also be grateful to death, because it makes us think about the importance of each division we take, or fail to take; it makes us stop doing anything that keeps us stuck in the category of the ‘living dead’ and, instead, urges us to risk everything, to bet everything on those things we always dreamed of doing, because whether we like it or not, the angel of death is waiting for us.

Life Lesson: On Holding Your Anger

photo from http://www.eaglehunter.co.uk

Genghis Khan and His Falcon

an excerpt from Paulo Coelho’s story on Genghis Khan and His Falcon in the book Like A Flowing River

One morning, the Mongol warrior, Genghis Khan, and his court went out hunting. His companions carried bows and arrows, but Genghis Khan carried on his arm his favorite falcon, which was better and surer than any arrow, because it could fly up into the skies and see everything that a human being could not

However, despite the group’s enthusiastic efforts, they found nothing. Disappointed, Genghis Khan returned to the encampment and in order not to take out his frustration on his companions, he left the rest of the party and rode on alone. They had stayed in the forest for longer than expected, and Khan was desperately tired and thirsty. In the summer heat, all the streams had dried up, and he could find nothing to drink. Then, to his amazement, he saw a thread of water flowing from a rock just in front of him.

He removed the falcon from his arm, and took out the silver cup which he always carried with him. It was very slow to fill, and just when he was about to raise it to his lips, the falcon flew up, plucked the cup from his hands, and dashed it to the ground.

Genghis Khan was furious, but then the falcon was his favorite, and perhaps, it, too, was thirsty. He picked up the cup, cleaned off the dirt, and filled it again. When the cup was only half-empty this time, the falcon again attacked it, spilling the water.

Genghis Khan adored this bird, but he knew that he could not, under any circumstances, allow such disrespect; someone might be watching this scene from afar, and later on, would tell his warriors that the great conqueror was incapable of taming a mere bird.

This time, he drew his sword, picked up the cup and refilled it, keeping one eye on the stream and the other on the falcon. As soon as he had enough water in the cup and was ready to drink, the falcon again took flight and flew towards him. Khan, with one thrust, pierced the bird’s breast.

The thread of water, however, had dried up; but Khan, determined to find something to drink, climbed the rock in search of the spring. To his surprise, there really was a pool of water, and in the middle of it, dead, lay one of the most poisonous snakes in the region. If he had drink the water, he, too, would have died.

Khan returned to camp with the dead falcon in his arms. He ordered a gold figurine of the bird to be made and on one of the wings, he had engraved:

“Even when a friend does something you do not like, he continues to be your friend.”

And on the other wing, he had these words engraved:

“Any action committed in anger is an action doomed to failure.”

Life Lesson: On Gossip

image from http://www.johnjohnsaidit.com

copied from Francis Kong’s book “Just when you think you can’t do it, Do it.”

SOCRATES AND GOSSIPS

In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem.

One day, an acquaintance met the great philsopher and said, “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?”

“Hold on a minute,” Socrated said. “Before telling me anything, I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called triple filter test.”

“Triple Filter?”

“That’s right,” Socrated continued. “Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. Thats why I call it a triple filter test.”

“The first filter is truth. Have you absolutely made sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man said. “Actually, I just heard about it and…”

“All right.” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, but you’re not certain it’s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one filter left: the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really…”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell me at all?”

Life Lesson: Life is like a Pencil

image from http://www.proprofs.com

taken from Paulo Coelho’s book “Like A Flowing River”

THE STORY OF THE PENCIL

A boy was watching his grandmother write a letter. At one point, he asked:

“Are you writing a story about what we’ve done? Is it a story about me?”

His grandmother stopped writing her letter and said to her grandson:

“I am writing about you, actually. But more important than the words is the pencil I’m using. I hope you will like this pencil when you grow up.”

Intrigued, the boy looked at the pencil. It didn’t seem very special.

“But it’s just any other pencil I’ve seen.”

“That depends on how you look at things. It has five qualities, which, if you manage to hang on to them, will make you a person who is always at peace with the world.

First Quality: you are capable of great things, but you must never forget that there is a hand guiding your steps. We call that hand God, and he always guides us according to his will.

Second Quality: now and then, I have to stop writing and use a sharpener. That makes the pencil suffer a little, but afterwards, he’s much sharper. So you, too must learn to bear certain pains and sorrows, because that will make you a better person

Third Quality: the pencil always allows us to use an eraser to rub out any mistakes. This means that correcting something we did is not necessarily a bad thing; it just helps to keep us on the road to justice.”

Fourth Quality: what really matters in a pencil is not its wooden exterior, but the graphite inside. So always pay attention to what is happening inside you.

Finally, the pencil’s Fifth Quality: it should always leave a mark. In just the same way, you should know that everything you do in life will leave a mark, so try to be cautious of that in your every action.”

Life Lesson: On Our Perception of Evil

image from http://www.flickriver.com

from Paulo Coelho’s book “Like A Flowing River”

THESE ARE MY FRIENDS

“The reason the king is so powerful is because he’s made a pact with the devil.”, a very devout woman in the street told the boy, and he was intrigued.

Some time later, when he was travelling to another town, the boy heard a man beside him remark: “All this land belongs to the same man. I’d say the devil had a hand in that.”

Late one summer afternoon, a beautiful woman walked past the boy.

“That woman is in the service of Satan.” cried the preacher angrily.

From then on, the boy decided to seek the devil out, and when he found him, he said:

“They say you can make people powerful, rich, and beautiful.”

“Not really,” replied the devil. “You’ve just been listening to the views of those who are trying to promote me.”

Life Lesson: On Celebrating The Good Things

photo from http://www.hongkiat.com

taken from Paulo Coelho’s book “Like A Flowing River”

NORMA AND THE GOOD THINGS

In Madrid lives Norma, a very special Brazilian lady. The Spanish call her ‘the rocking grandma’. She is over sixty and works in various places, organizing promotions, parties and concerts.

Once, at about four in the morning, when I was so tired I could barely stand, I asked Norma where she got her energy from.

“I have a magic calendar. If you like, I can show it to you.”

The following day, I went to her house. She picked up an old, much scribbled upon calendar.

“Right, today is the day they discovered a vaccine against polio.”, she said. “We must celebrate that, because life is beautiful.”

On each day of the year, Norma had written down something good that happened on that date. For her, life was always a reason to be happy.

Life Lesson: On Honesty

image from http://www.dailyclipart.net

from Paulo Coelho’s book “Like A Flowing River” (he got this stoty from Maria Emilia Voss, a pilgrim to Santiago)

A FAIRY TALE

In ancient China, around the year 250 BC, a certain priest of the region of Thing-Zda was about to be crowned emperor; however, according to the law, he must first get married.

Since this meant choosing the future empress, the prince needed to find a young woman whom he could trust absolutely. On the advice of a wise man, he decided to summon all the young women of the region in order to find the most worthy candidate.

An old lady, who had served in the palace for many years, heard about the preparations for thie gathering and felt very sad, for he daughter nurtured a secret love for the prince.

When the old lady got home, she told her daughter and was horrified to learn that her daughter intended going to the palace.

The old lady was desperate.

“But daughter, what on earth will you do there? All the richest and most beautiful girls from the court will be present. It’s a ridiculous idea. I know you must be suffering, but don’t turn that suffering into madness!”

And the daughter replied:

“My dear mother, I am not suffering and I certainly haven’t got mad. I know I won’t be chosen but it’s my one and only chance to spend a few moments close to the prince, and that makes me happy, though I know a quite different fate awaits me.”

That night, when the young woman reached the palace, all the most beautiful girls were indeed there, wearing the most beautiful clothes and the most beautiful jewelry, and prepared to do anything to seize the opportunity an offer.

Surrounded by the members of his court, the prince announced a challenge.

“I will give each of you a seed. In six months time, the young woman who brings me the loveliest flower will be the future empress of China.”

The girl took her seed and planted it in a pot, and since she was not very skilled in the art of gardening, she prepared the soil with great patience and tenderness, for she believed that if the flowers grew as large as her love, then she need not worry about the results.

Three months passed and no shoots had appeared. The young woman tried everything; she consulted farmers and peasants, who showed her the most varied methods of cultivation; but all to no avail. Each day, she felt that her dream had moved farther off, although her love was as alive as ever.

Atlast, the six months were up, and still nothing had grown in her pot. Even though she had nothing to show, she knew how much effort and dedication she had put in during that time, and so she told her mother that she would go back to the palace on the agreed date and at the agreed hour. Inside, she knew that this would be her last meeting with her true love, and she would not have missed it for the world.

The day of the audience arrived. The girl appeared with her plantless pot, and saw all the other candidates had achieved wonderul results: each girl bore a flower lovelier than the last, in the most varied forms and colours.

Finally, the longed-for moment came. The prince entered and he studied each of the candidates with great care and attention. Having inspected them all, he announced the result and chose the servant’s daughter as his new wife.

All the other girls present began to protest, saying that he had chosen the only one of them who had failed to grow anything at all.

Then the prince calmly explained the reasoning behind the challenge.

“This young woman was the only one who cultivated the flower that made her worthy of becoming the empress: the flower of honesty. All the seeds I handed out were sterile, and nothing could ever have grown from them.”