I had already been a member of the Order for some time. I had always heard of the Eight Portals of the Path, but never had the chance to know exactly what it referred to. Willing to understand the matter, that day I looked for the Elder, as we lovingly called the eldest monk of the Order, throughout the monastery. I found him sitting in the back of the canteen, amused with a piece of oat cake and a mug of coffee, in lively conversation with the cook. When he saw me, he motioned for me to come closer. I filled a cup of coffee and sat next to him. The cheerful cook excused himself, as he was late for dinner. Now alone, I asked the Old Man about the Eight Portals; about what they were and when I would learn about them. The good monk arched his lips in a slight smile and said: “The Path is the road to the light. To be enlightened is to find yourself so you can know yourself, and to be free from the sufferings that keep you imprisoned; sharpen the crusts that hide the true diamond: the full being. The fullness is revealed and completed in the conquest of the five fundamental states of the spirit: freedom, peace, dignity, unconditional love, and happiness. This is how a strong soul is built, able to remain calm even in the face of the storms of the world.”
“Which does not mean being oblivious to the problems of the world, an attitude that is selfish and devoid of mercy. Mercy, one of the most beautiful expressions of love. On the contrary, it is not ‘washing your hands’; it is to be deeply involved in the pains of humanity, in the exercise of offering the best you have each day, every day. Like that determined gardener who looks at the huge desert with the firm purpose of turning it into a garden. Even if he is only able to plant flowers in a small corner, he will never give up the part that is necessary for him to carry out his work. The gardener works serenely, unmoved by the enormous difficulties inherent in his enterprise; he walks without negotiating with darkness, for he knows that all light comes from his heart. It is the journey to the Highlands, as taught in the East; it is to approach God, as we learned in the West.”
I said his speech was very poetic, but impractical. I added that, to be honest, I did not know how to be enlightened, to achieve fullness, to travel to the higher spheres of the spirit or to be close to God. The Elder shook his head as if he understood my dilemmas and explained: “The most important tool we have, available to anyone, are choices. Everyone has the power and the possibility to exercise it several times in a single day, every day. At every moment we come across the fork between the wide road of perdition and the narrow door of virtues.” He paused for a moment, like a dramatic pause to highlight the scene and murmured like someone talking to himself: “The virtues…”
He sipped his coffee and continued: “The understanding and improvement of each of the virtues of being, applied to everyday choices, are the instruments for building fullness. Light is a flower of many petals; each petal is one of the virtues of being.”
He looked at me like you do when leading a lost child by the hand and said: “You have been studying the virtues since you first set foot in this monastery. How to use them to illuminate the shadows that exist in yourself, harmonize the emotions that reign in your heart and go beyond the frontiers of dominant thought. Virtues are like a warrior’s sword that will help him face the difficulties trying to prevent him from reaching the sacred goblet. The Grail is the symbol of the light shining on the wanderer. This is the Path; along it, there are eight portals. In each of them there will be a guardian who will defend it. You will only be able to cross if you show the guardian that you already have the virtues inherent in the present portal. In each portal, the warrior will require a group of different virtues, which increase in difficulty as they progress. Each portal represents an eighth of the Way; eight portals make up the entire journey. The Path of Light.” He paused again to conclude: “With wisdom you will realize that, deep down, the guardians do not want to stop you from proceeding, but they are there to improve your virtues and transform you into a better warrior every day. Until the moment that the warrior becomes a master.”
“The Path is lived in the world but traveled within oneself. The guardians manifest themselves through the shadows of the wanderer himself.”
Amazed and perplexed by the words of the Old Man, I said that I wanted to know each of the Portals. The monk surprised me: “You have been studying them since you joined the Order.” I said that he was mistaken, because no one had ever shown me anything about this. I thought maybe I had missed lectures and courses on the subject. The Old Man led me to the reasoning: “Why are we the Esoteric Order of the Mountain Monks?” I replied that the name was because the text of the Sermon on the Mount, contained in the Gospel of Matthew, was the central axis of our studies in the monastery. I added that reading this valuable text would never be done with the eyes of literalness, but always through an esoteric bias. All the writings, coming from the most diverse and beautiful philosophical traditions, always useful and precious, will be guided by the teachings of the Sermon and will complement it. However, I insisted, I did not know the Portals. I questioned where I would learn about them.
The Elder, who possessed the infinite power to surprise me, shrugged and said the obvious: “In the Sermon on the Mount.” Upon my shock he laughed and said: “The treasure is always hidden in the backyard of our house.” More seriously, he explained: “But it’s always like that, we need to explore the world so that we can recognize the value of our home and then come back. We are the reckless children.” Still not convinced, I shook my head and argued that I had read the Sermon on the Mount dozens of times. I affirmed with certainty that there was no part of it about the Eight Portals. The monk asked me a simple question: “How does the Sermon begin?” I immediately replied that I started with the Beatitudes. Then, with a mischievous smile on his face, he asked me a very easy, but disconcerting question: “And how many are there?”
I couldn’t believe it. I also didn’t answer, as a testament to the magnitude of my disbelief. Was each of the eight beatitudes one of the Portals of the Path? It was not possible. Everything right under my nose and I hadn’t been able to see it. We didn’t say a word for a while before I realized that it wasn’t really that simple. I told the Elder that I couldn’t associate the ideas, that is, how to interpret and understand each beatitude as a portal. The Elder frowned and explained: “It was no coincidence that the Bible was the first book printed on the planet after the invention of the printer. Gutemberg was an initiate. The Bible, to this day, is the most published book in the world. No book is more metaphysical, alchemical, and esoteric. The Scriptures are dormant in the collective unconscious, just waiting for those with capable eyes to awaken their deepest sense. Reading with the glasses of the ego will make no sense; it is necessary to read with the lens of the soul. This is the esoteric reading that illuminates and transmutes the being.”
I shook my head in protest as if to say that all that was nonsense. I argued that I knew the beatitudes by heart and could guarantee that there was nothing there to indicate a portal. To prove it, I quoted the first: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Then I looked at the Elder in a defiant way, as one does when checkmating the other.
The Elder offered me a sweet smile as if in front of a stubborn child and said in his serene voice: “A poor man, especially at that time, dressed in almost no clothes. Contrary to the rich, who adorned themselves with expensive fabrics, eye-catching weapons and glittering apparatuses. Being poor in spirit meant a person without masks, ornaments and tricks in his way of being. Willing to live with no pride nor vanity. They are individuals who already understand that essence is more precious than appearance and do not use this to hide that. It is the individual willing to stop swimming on the surface of the lake of existence to dive deep into the ocean of life. For these reasons, the First Portal is known as the Lucidity Portal. The lucidity allowed for those who have already managed to unveil the veil of worldly illusions and are willing to experience the immaterial reality of the sacred. The sacred is everything that transforms and perfects the being.”
These were concepts repeated constantly at the monastery, but in that moment, they gained another significance and showed their suitable grandeur. I wanted to know what virtues are necessary to cross the First Portal. The Elder didn’t make a plea: “Humility, simplicity, compassion, lightness, respect, balance, and joy.”
Then he summarized each one: “Humility is the primary virtue of the wanderer. It teaches you to be small so that one day you can be big; teaches that pride has nothing to do with self-esteem. A true nobility capable of defending and freeing the wanderer from offenses, all of them vulgar, which only reveal the shadows of those who utter them. It is the virtue of the ’empty amphora’, of those who are always emptied of themselves so that there is room for the new and for the differences. They are the eternal learners, aware of the long journey ahead and mature in their abilities and gifts. It is the lucidity of those who know who they are not yet.”
“Simplicity is the virtue of those who live without complications, without masks, without deception. Yes means yes; no means no. It is the clarity of living with transparency, of being yourself, with all the difficulties and shadows that are inherent to you. Simplicity is typical of those who know who they are and are not ashamed of it. Only with simplicity can we feel part of the whole; simplicity makes the Path welcome the wanderer. Humility and simplicity are Siamese twins.”
“There will always be people who know more than you do, and people who know less than you do. Compassion is the virtue of those who, knowing their own evolutionary stage, understand the evolutionary moment of others. It is the clarity of not demanding perfection from others that one does not have to offer oneself. They know that flowers cannot be expected from those who have a desert within them. They know that, within oneself, not all corners are flower gardens. Compassion is the inseparable companion of humility and simplicity; together they strip the individual of the armor of pride and the pomp of vanity.”
“Lightness is the virtue of detachment. It is one where the needs of light for the soul are valued more than the ego’s desires for shine. It is in those who know how to differentiate wealth from prosperity. Lightness removes the influence of envy in our choices. It is the clarity of those who already understand what they can take to the Highlands, of what fits in their sacred baggage, the heart. It is learning to travel without the heavy bags of unnecessary baggage and without the comparisons that hinder the journey. Lightness teaches me that the less I need, the freer I will be.”
“Respect is the virtue of the wanderer who no longer allows interference in his choices, as he knows that they translate and define his journey. Listen to everyone, because everyone has something to teach. However, the decision is yours alone; it has the importance of representing the values in your soul. On the other hand, it renounces interfering in the choices of others. This is the clarity of understanding the boundary between freedom and the prison of being. Jealousy decreases as respect increases.”
“Balance is the virtue of not allowing oneself to be dominated by passions, a common vehicle used by the shadows in order to manipulate our desires. When we stop being masters of our best choices, a common situation when caught up in emotions driven by hatred, hurt, fear, or selfishness, we weaken the light that enlivens and guides us. Not rarely, we neglect the route. Balance offers clarity so that we can choose out of love. Or we will choose wrong.”
“Last, joy. Like good moods, joy is a characteristic of enlightened spirits. There are no grouches in the Highlands. Joy is the virtue of those who walk well and at peace with life, despite the difficulties inherent in the existence of all people. A pure and simple joy, just because he is a wanderer. They are the ones who sow the smile wherever they go, bringing a little light to the dark alleys of the world. They know that sarcasm and irony are disguised forms of violence and have nothing to do with good humor. It is the clarity of those who can see the good in everything; the wisdom, justice, and love of the Whole everywhere.”
“These are the virtues that the wanderer needs to overcome the First Portal”. I remarked that it was not easy. He frowned and said: “Nobody said it was easy, only that this is the Path. The ‘doors are narrow’, moving forward is a choice.” He took a sip of coffee and concluded: “There is something else. As the warrior develops his skills, more will be required by the guardians in the next portals. Infinite transformations will be indispensable.”
Before I asked him to talk about the other portals, the monk emptied his mug and excused himself, as it was time for his lecture at the monastery. He asked if I wouldn’t be watching. I thanked him but said no. I needed silence and stillness to allocate each of those ideas to me. The Elder smiled, stood up, gave me a kiss on the forehead as a loving father does, and went away with his slow but firm step.
Kindly translated by Julia Reuter e Carvalho