I had been in the monastery for a few days. I had gone for a brief visit to the Elder, the oldest monk of the Order, and I extended my stay because of the invitation to attend the symposium on the Book of Thomas, one of the apocryphal gospels. Denomination used for ancient manuscripts with a Christian content about the messages or passages of the life of Jesus, but classified as inadequate to the canons of the Church. Also considered Gnostic because they are considered sacred by the adepts of this religious segment, known for their high level of spirituality and searchers of cosmic truth beyond the standards set as the only ones for personal evolution. Not by chance, I had met Frederico, a monk of the Order, director of a multinational company who had terminated the contract with my advertising agency because I had taken a holiday during the preparation phase of a new campaign, which until then had been carried out by the creative team, which I trusted and followed, even from afar. The termination of contract had been well overcome by me, as it was a conscious choice not to give in to Frederico’s wishes, which I considered unreasonable and unacceptable. I had to walk according to the light of my understanding, never to the wishes of others. A right decision accompanied by a mistake, also made by me, in trying to judge Frederico when talking about him to the Elder. I was advised not to do this any more and was offered valuable and fair motives to avoid such a common vice.
I’m used to, since I was a boy, waking up very early, still at dawn, with a sky sprinkled with stars. That day was no different. I got up and went to the monastery canteen. It was empty and the stimulating silence of the night, only lulled by the pleasant sounds of the nocturnal mountain animals, encouraged me to reflect. I prepared a pot of fresh coffee, filled a mug and sat down at a table in the corner. I had learned from Starry Song that darkness has the magic to show more clearly where the light source is. That day, it didn’t need to. Just as I had begun to think about the disagreement with Frederico, I heard a serene voice behind me, “May I join you in your coffee and thoughts?” It was the Elder.
We both were used to being up before daybreak. I rejoiced at the opportunity for conversation. Face to face, with two steaming cups on the table, he joked, “I offer a piece of oatmeal cake for your thoughts.” We laughed. I said that I reflected on the vice of judging others all the time. In an attempt to show that I had learned the lesson contained in that episode, I said: “Judging someone carries an inevitable burden of injustice for several reasons. We know little about other people, even those we know well. Therefore, it is very difficult to understand all the motivations of other people’s decisions. As would-be judges, we must understand our own limitations to the exact perception of all the circumstances surrounding any fact. We must be humble to accept in our analysis the inappropriate influences of our frustrations, grief, fears and selfishness. This robs us of the clarity to think and robs us of the perfect sense of justice. Furthermore, when we judge the isolated fact, without considering the whole content that moves an individual, we will analyse the part without taking the whole thing into account. It will always be a mistake. We must not forget that there is more life inside any person than our imagination can reach.”
The Elder frowned and said, “That last sentence you spoke is very important: There is more life inside any person than our imagination can reach. Yes, it is true. The personal microcosms are vast. This is the reason why you should admire Frederico”. I immediately disagreed. I explained my astonishment: “I have forgiven him. This is enough. Something quite different from nurturing admiration for a guy who is undeniably arrogant and vain.” The monk took a sip of coffee, said a brief silence as if choosing the right words, and then pondered: “Notice two things with this attitude. You have returned to making the same judgement as before. And, contrary to what you believe, you have not forgiven. Your declaration of forgiveness does not go beyond an act of pretended superiority, that is, moved by equal pride to the one you repudiate. You have understood the issue, but you have not yet overcome it.” I disagreed again. I argued that I had only given the reasons why I did not hold Frederico in high regard. I admired great masters such as Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Luther King, Lao Tse, Francis of Assisi, Confucius, Epictetus, Socrates, all consecrated sages, besides some unknown to the world, such as himself, Li Tzu, Starry Song and Loureiro.
I added: “It is impossible to admire a difficult, complicated and shadowy person like Frederico”. The monk was about to explain his point of view, when we were interrupted by the cooks who arrived to prepare the monastery’s breakfast. Then other monks also entered and came to greet us. Some had unfinished business to settle with the Elder about the daily tasks. The conversation was interrupted. Or not. Perhaps the matter was closed, I thought. For the first time I was convinced that my arguments were clearer and wiser than those of the Elder. I finished my coffee without haste, savouring the enormous intellectual satisfaction I felt. Then I went to the auditorium for another lecture on the Gospel of Thomas.
The Gnostic aphorism discussed that day was the eighty-eighth: “The heralds and prophets shall come to you and give you what is yours. You also shall give them what is theirs”.
Faced with absolute silence after hearing Jesus’ sentence noted down by Thomas, the Elder began the explanation: “Heralds were the ancient people in charge of solemn proclamations, news and official notifications in the public square. In the text they have the connotation of heavenly messengers. The prophets, among various possible interpretations, appear in the aphorism as the decoders of the cosmic laws, those who we commonly call masters because they teach something essential to the Way”.
“For those who await the descent of the angels, at the sound of trumpets, to announce the divine messages or await the revelation of a stunning prophecy for the planetary transformation to take place, a belated news: not only the prophets have been among us for a long time, we also are them as well. The messages are everywhere, available all day long”. He paused for a moment to explain himself better: “Heralds and prophets can speak to us through the lips of anyone and the messages are everywhere. Just as, at times, they are us and are in us.”
“Communications between the visible and invisible planes is incessant and has infinite channels to take place.”
“Universal truth is manifested in the details of every situation. It’s possible to find the beauty and truth of life everywhere. In the song of the birds, in the bucolic buzz of the stream, in the charm of the rising sun and in the music that touches our hearts. The same truth can also be found in the sad eyes of a child, in the broken body of an Elder, in the sweaty face of a worker. In the hopeful prayer of a mother, in the strong arms of a father, in the joyful laughter of all children. In the tears of all men, at first apparently brutes, and in the unbreakable strength of women, supposedly fragile. At the table of a family and on the plate on it, sometimes full, sometimes empty”.
“Truth is also in the deafening noise of engines, in the polluted air of metropolises, in dank alleys, in dark rooms, in dangerous streets, in the silent cry for help from those who reject us, in the fear that leads to the desire to dominate the will of others, in the ignorance of those who think they will find happiness in practising wickedness. In war and in peace. In any situation it is necessary to find reasons for admiration, even if it is the opposite of what is considered the traditional path, full of virtues. It is essential to notice where the light is hidden in any situation. We should never stop at what it looks like in the surface, in general this is a hasty message sent by the brain with neural ramifications formed by ancestral fears and prejudices. A conditioning so ingrained that it takes us a while to understand”.
The Elder spoke without looking at me, but it was impossible not to notice the continuity of our conversation that morning. He continued: “To admire beauty and purity, when exposed to ordinary eyes, requires no greater difficulty. The reason they are there is so that no one doubts their existence. Loving those who love us, though wonderful, does not make anyone virtuous. Even the weak and brutal can do this with ease. Love as virtue is in the gesture of lighting a lamp in the darkness of the terrifying night. One must find where beauty lies dormant amidst the thick, opaque walls of the shadows.”
“Before we rebel at the foolishness of others, here goes a valuable reminder: have no doubt, there is much suffering and incomprehension in the heart of those who make a mistake. Even if unconsciously”.
“The trumpets of the angels that humanity has so long awaited have been sounding for centuries. In us, among us and through us. The beauty of the message and the truth of universal laws are present every day and contained in small gestures and simple words.”
Faced with the evident embarrassment of the audience, common every time that, as in the children’s story, we refuse to accept that all kings are naked, he continued his reasoning: “Admiration is an indispensable presupposition for love. We cannot love without admiration.”
“If the highest point of the higher law consists in you shall love your neighbour as yourself, one must find in all people some admirable attributes. Even if they are hidden virtues, hidden qualities, embryonic characteristics capable of motivating the beginning of the evolution process. Often, they are only waiting for recognition as a form of incentive for transformation. Admiring others reveals an enormous personal talent. The inability to perceive the light existing in another person shows the degree of darkness in which a heart is found.”
“It is worth emphasising that this does not mean ignoring wrongdoing or being permissive to evil. On the contrary, evil needs to remain stagnant, just as error needs guidance. Limits in interpersonal relationships are essential for the preservation of individuation and personality, without which no healthy relationship will exist.
Believe me, setting limits is a delicate but indispensable art. If, on the one hand, permissiveness is harmful, on the other, excessive rigour is not welcome in the light either. We need fair relationships. For this, love is indispensable. Otherwise, it will only be an act against our own evolution manifested as abominable revenge. Every decision must have an educational character, without which there will be no justice.”
“As there will be no evolution without expanding the capacity to love, any advance will be impossible without understanding the true importance of admiration. In it lies the art contained in the papyruses of the heralds and the trumpets of the prophets.”
“However, be careful not to confuse brilliance with light, that is, idolatry with admiration. To admire is the ability to find the virtues of others, even those still in potency. To idolise is to let oneself be led by the mistakes and shadows of another person. This is very common when we are caught up in fear or ignorance. Whether because of trauma or sociocultural reasons, we allow terrible emotional abuse to perpetuate. To escape choices, that are essential evolutionary tools, we allow ourselves to be led. Through the adoration it provokes, idolatry is an instrument of domination. The inevitable consequence will be the continuity of suffering until the oppressed is able to understand the permission he himself has consented to, and then free himself from the yoke. In extreme cases, one idolises oneself, at the height of pride. A serious existential illness that leads the ego to suppress or annul almost totally the soul, the Christic and sacred part of the same being. In these cases, due to the impossibility of sustaining the position for a long time, the individual will be taken to abyssal extremes, either of aggressiveness or of sadness”.
“Just as it is necessary to foster virtues in order to manifest the light in oneself and for it to be perceived in others, it is indispensable to broaden the consciousness in order to understand both the light hidden in the shadows and the darkness disguised as light. Otherwise, as the same master of this gospel taught, a blind man will lead another blind man to the precipice. We will be blind guided by other blind people every time we avoid the exercise of thinking outside the patterns, or of walking outside the cave to meet the sun, as Plato wrote in his famous allegory. Always question, dismantle conditioning, deconstruct prejudices. Study, dismantle and recreate in your own way. Seek your own truth, find the master within yourself and align yourself with virtues. Live well with this, but do not become limited to it. Every day, without haste, expand the frontiers of consciousness. This is free thinking. When this is applied to your choices, you can build a complete way of life”
“Finally, remain attentive and sensitive. Not all that glitters is light. On the other hand, in the depths of all darkness there is a candle waiting for the flame to light it. Although it is up to each person to light his or her own candle, we can show how to use matches, by revealing the sincere admiration that we notice in all people.”
Then he concluded his reasoning to close the class: “We hinder our own existence when we refuse to recognize the beauty in someone. Without admiration there is no love. Without love no forgiveness is true. Without forgiveness we will never be complete, because there will be no peace, happiness, freedom or dignity in refusing to recognise in others the light that helps to illuminate the world in which we also live. We will continue inside the box we were once placed in, believing that the walls that limit us are the final frontiers of the universe. Sweet cave, bitter prison”.
In many monks who attended the lecture, an uneasiness remained. It was Federico who expressed it by saying that admiration was connected to a life above the average, deserved by those who stand out in society for their extraordinary deeds, that is, those who lead an existence in a memorable way, beyond the level that an ordinary person usually reaches. Yes, he was right. This had been the same conclusion I had reached that morning in the canteen. The Elder arched his lips in an almost imperceptible smile, as if he had expected such a questioning. He explained: “To admire a courageous fireman who faces the danger of flames to save someone, a psychoanalyst who manages to open the doors of the unconscious that imprisons a patient, a neurosurgeon who rescues the movements of an accident victim condemned to paralysis, a filmmaker who takes the spectator on an unimaginable journey to understand the depths of emotions, a poet who has the gift of speaking with words that touch the heart, these are some of the most talked-about cases, undoubtedly worthy of applause. However, there are many more. Remember the street sweeper who offers a clean city, the policeman who allows a peaceful night’s sleep, the teacher who presents the charms of knowledge for the education of the students, the baker who started working at dawn so that we have fresh bread when we wake up, the bricklayer who raised the roof that shelters us, the bus driver who safely carries those we love.”
“The world is full of men and women worthy of everyone’s admiration. You only have to look around to find them. Admiration should not be restricted to extraordinary achievements, otherwise we risk having very few people to admire. Thus, to love. Sadder still will be to realize the restriction we impose on ourselves by establishing such strict criteria. We narrow the reasons to be admired and loved. Paradoxically, we are the ones who prevent the love that does us so much good. We create the abysses that distance us from the world by demanding from others the perfection that we can’t manifest. Abandonment is a self-creation, the result of the exercise of intolerance and inertia”.
“You shall give them what is theirs, teaches the final part of the sentence of the apocryphal gospel. Out of absurdity, we demand a perfection that we do not have to offer. By denying admiration, we make ourselves poorer. We complain about the lack of love, but we close the doors to love. Far from me, far from the world”.
“In the simplicity of all things lies the truth of life. The capacity to admire the ordinary enables one to perceive the beauty that lies behind things that appear as being not important. The greatness existing in small gestures teaches us about the richness of humbleness. Royalty is expressed through the noble virtues typical of ordinary people. The admiration extracted from everyday situations allows us to reverse the process of personal isolation, by building the bridges that will take us across the abysses of existence. Through them we will reach others; through them, they will also come to us. More importantly, as this coming and going intensifies, the chances increase for each one to find him or herself, increasing the possibilities of a beautiful communion”. He paused and explained: “The word communion has the exact meaning of this fantastic existential experience: to be common in one. Be able to see yourself in the other and also see him or her in you. Conflicts are born from differences. Differences exist only to show the parts we are missing and do not yet understand.”
“That is a dimensional portal. Every day, without exception, it opens. To go through it is our choice.”
He then concluded: “To admire a beautiful leafy tree, full of fruit and coloured by its flowers, is to be enchanted by the finished work. Although of undeniable beauty and indispensable reverence, because it has succeeded in overcoming the storms of the climate and the attack of weeds, it is an admiration that requires no greater difficulty. The sacred, that is, the mystery of life, is in the capacity to see this enormous tree when it is still dormant within the shell of a tiny seed”.
Frederico raised his arm to ask a question. I also wanted to put forward an idea. There was no time. We heard the refectory bell calling for lunch. I watched all the monks leave the room, among them the Elder. He went with his slow but firm steps.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.