My quest to decode the eight gates of the Way went on. I had recently discovered that the Beatitudes, the opening part of the Sermon on the Mount, the beautiful text contained in the Book of Matthew, concealed from eager eyes the eight gates which all wanderers must pass through when traveling the Way. Each gate, protected by a guardian, allows the passage of only those who are in proper condition to continue the journey. These conditions, typical of each gate, are summarized in specific groups of virtues well-grounded in the traveller’s soul. The text has an absurd simplicity; however, a dizzying depth. The Elder, as we affectionately called the oldest monk in the Order, had been guiding me in this study. However, extracting from the text the whole idea contained in so few letters was a task in which I had great difficulty. The same happened with the two previous gates; it wasn’t different with the third one: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” the Master said when he made the discourse two thousand years ago.
Finding the Elder available for our talk in the monastery seemed an even more difficult task than decoding the text itself. I was looking for him when I was approached by another monk, as we call all members of the Order, in one of the monastery’s corridors. Richard was responsible for preparing the schedule of lectures and courses for each term, whether exclusive to members or open to the public. I had been preparing for some time, at the Elder’s request, a course in self-knowledge through the interpretation of sacred texts and I hoped to teach the classes that year; however, he informed me that the schedule was completely full.Perhaps, he purposely emphasized, it would be possible for the following year, if a fit was possible, as the schedule was intense and there were priorities.
I had been researching many texts, from Rumi’s poetry to the Tao Te Ching, passing through the Christic parables, to elaborate the importance of personal transformation, taught for millennia by the most diverse philosophical traditions as an essential process for the liberation from suffering. The disappointment with the cancellation of the course, the anxiety to understand more about the gates, added to the difficulty of meeting the Elder to satisfy my many questions, blended in the same cauldron, resulting in enormous irritation. I immediately reacted. It’s amazing how each reaction reveals where we are at that particular moment of our existence. When we still don’t have the pillars of peace properly grounded in our soul, we react badly. So I did. Impulsively I accused him of being envious. I said that I had previously realized that he didn’t like me and had been chasing me for a long time. For his part, Richard didn’t like what he heard either; the conversation turned into an argument and other monks had to approach to push us away from each other to avoid something worse. Lee, a very generous Vietnamese monk, was solicitous when talking to me. He explained that Richard and I were hurt and both felt wronged. Understanding was needed rather than outrage. At those words, I thanked and declined the conversation. I said that I preferred to be alone so as not to say what I shouldn’t. I stopped by the canteen, filled a mug of coffee and went to take refuge in one of the places I liked the most to stay in the monastery, the pleasant balcony with the beautiful view to the mountains.
To my surprise, once I got to the balcony, I found the Elder, calmly sitting in one of the armchairs, reading a book, oblivious to any confusion. I, who had been looking for him all day long, without success, found him when I most wanted to be alone. I considered turning around, but the Elder saw me and smiled at me. Then, noticing my dark features, he said: “The most terrible storms are those of the heart, for only in the heart itself we will find definitive shelter. The distance we are from our own heart defines the duration and damage of the storm.” I argued that we can always find help in another heart. He agreed, partially: “Yes, it’s true, but only for a brief moment, until we understand how we build a shelter in our hearts. Or else we will soon be vulnerable to the coming storms.” He closed the book, placed it on his lap, and explained, “You will find peace in nowhere but within yourself. Peace is different from calm; while calm is linked to external circumstances, beyond your control, peace is an impregnable mansion erected in the soul, which no one is given the power to dislodge. Not even the worst storms have such force.”
He turned to look at the mountains, as if his thoughts were traveling far away and philosophized: “History tells that Paul, the apostle of transmutation, when faced with Nero, the emperor of Rome, at the time the man with the greatest socio-political power on the planet, accused of acts he did not practice, threatened to suffer painful tortures, replied that the tyrant could not do him any harm, despite the enormous worldly power he possessed. The dictator was warned that he could only hurt the apostle’s body; the soul of that humble and enlightened man was in a place beyond the reach of the emperor. Of course, Nero did not understand Paul’s words. They say that the apostle sang a sweet melody to the executioner at the time of his beheading. As soon as the sword descended, he was welcomed beyond the door by the Master with the most beautiful smile.”
I said that it was all really beautiful, but very far from reality; at least from my reality. I was unwilling to offer myself in sacrifice. The Elder explained: “Nor did Paul, who would certainly prefer to keep traveling the world to spread the teachings of love, which he devoted himself to in the last thirty years of his life. However, faced with a brute force he could not prevent, he still chose love, as an intimate stronghold for peace. The peace that had blossomed in his heart, in absolute consonance with the words of love he spoke, wrote and, above all, lived. His soul became an impenetrable temple to any evil.”
“I know that we are far from the stage reached by Paul, but if he did it, so can we. So, a little bit each day, we make ourselves the image and likeness of Him. No wonder, the Third Gate of the Way is known as the Gate of Peace. To reach it, we have to go through two other difficult gates, the Gates of Lucidity and Goodness. Of course, peace is an even more difficult achievement for the wanderer, however, the Way will lead him to it. Inevitably.”
Surprised, I told him that by chance I had been looking for him all day long to talk about the Third Gate encoded in the Beatitudes. He smiled, shrugged, and commented, “Chance doesn’t exist. The guardian of the gate is just signalling to you, with a small example, the enormous difficulty that everyone faces in moving forward.” Then I talked about my argument with Richard and how I felt wronged by his decision. The Elder pondered: “It is common to be confused about the exact perception of justice when blended with our frustrations and dissatisfactions. At this stage, the negatives that oppose our yearnings become roots of painful sufferings instead of being seen as obstacles to improve and overcome ourselves. So, we believe we are unhappy and we blame others for our sufferings. This happens because we are far from our essence. Distant for lack of understanding about the strength of the virtues and the enormous power we have. Once again, we get lost in the streets of the world looking for something that we will only find at home, that is, inside us.”
“In frank contradiction, in the search for happiness, we resort to the primarism of instincts, ancestral methods of reactions and achievements, prior to the formation of noble feelings and awakened consciousness. Instincts, unlike virtues, lead us to the domination of the other, the adequacy beyond our will, brute force, violence in all its forms. Remember that instincts are often fuelled by illusions of our personal shadows. Lost in relation to the path of light, we abdicate meekness, as if it were possible to conquer plenitude using aggressive methods; on the absurd idea of building peace through the violent subjugation of those who oppose us. We act violently when we feel fear; we feel fear because we are ignorant about the true power we have.”
I asked if we should tolerate evil. The Elder was definitive: “There is no negotiation with evil, lies or injustice, which must be firmly fought, without forgetting the educational character essential in the construction of good. However, achievements, whether individual or collective, must be achieved through internal transformations so as not to collapse in the face of the first storm. Only the strength of a soul that has already understood the necessity of a new way of being and living can withstand the storms of transformations and the weight of the inevitable lessons of life. You must always have love.”
“It is only possible to cross the Third Gate those who have abdicated any type of violence as an instrument of conquest. Whether physical or verbal violence expressed in the aggressiveness of written letters or spoken words. There is also the moral violence present in lies and in all kinds of manipulations and frauds. Without forgetting the spiritual violence manifested through the simplest choices we make in our daily lives, moved, for example, by bad mood. There is violence even in the dark thoughts that pollute the planetary psychosphere, creating dense vibrational clouds. These are energies that end up influencing the emotional storms that shake a community so often.”
“It is a gate possible only for those who refuse to impose their will over the will of others. Those who respect the choices of others, even if they think differently. Those who expose their ideas in a clear and serene way; they listen patiently, because they know that everyone has something to learn and teach. They understand that respecting the opinion of others is a way of respecting themselves. It is a philosophical principle contained in the code of ethics of the wanderer who has reached this point on the Way. Under no circumstances do they wish anyone’s harm. The differences between cultures, views and choices do not prevent the pursue of their goals; nor to forbid the other to do it in their own way. They understand that every conquest must be peaceful to become legitimate and definitive.”
I wanted to know about the virtues needed to overcome Third Gate. The Old revealed them: “Meekness and courage.”
I said that at first it seemed like a contradiction. The monk smiled and explained, “Only for distracted eyes. Meekness is the virtue of the serene strength of Jesus, the gentle power of the Buddha, the firm steps of peaceful disobedience of Mahatma Gandhi. It is the tranquil mood dreamed of by Martin Luther King, the welcoming arms of Tereza de Calcutta. Keeping the individual magnitudes aside, they were souls who changed the course of humanity without a single trace of violence, using only the example of meekness and determination in their choices of being and living. Not a thousand armies, with all the bloodshed, had such revolutionary strength. No general had as much courage as these simple and humble people.”
“Meekness cannot be confused with resignation and inertia. On the contrary, meekness is an intense movement in the fields of the heart, through the gardens and deserts of the soul. It is the reception of the other in ourselves. Therefore, lying, manipulating ideas, self-serving discourse, imprisoning of knowledge, contempt for others’ pain and lack of forgiveness are interpreted as violent means of being and living, therefore, contrary to personal evolution because they are of mere appearance achievements.”
“Determination requires courage. We need a lot of firmness to keep us in meekness as a means of fighting and achieving. Meekness is not to be confused with cowardice, inertia, omission or disinterest. Stagnation, in fact, is insisting on any form of violence as a method of evolution. Stagnation is maintained by fear. Meekness speaks the language of love, an essential feeling to legitimize and fix the advances of fullness in the heart of being, among them, peace.”
“Ancestral conditioning, instincts with their animalized energies, illusions from shadows, primitive desires for domination over others, the ego’s hunger for luster while it is misaligned to the soul, aggressive reactions to the frustrations inherent to evolutionary experience, the desire to impose one’s own will over the choices of others, the manipulation of justice through laws, the undue exercise of power, whether in the public sphere or at home, are some of the situations and brutal influences that we all face every single day. To escape from its traps and prisons, it is necessary to choose the path of love, dignity, freedom, happiness and peace. All internal achievements that, after being settled in the soul, are shared with the world through our choices.”
“However, many will try to convince you otherwise, argue that the world is hopeless, in favour of the countless advantages that exist in the vast possibilities of selfishness. So, you must have the courage to face your fears; to change your desires, to transform and blossom fully. It will take a lot of courage to choose love, to abdicate the apparent facilities of conquest through all visible and invisible forms of violence. Meekness, like love, is a virtue allowed only to truly brave people.”
“To the meek are given the power of life and fullness.”
“This is the inheritance of the earth.”
He closed his eyes and repeated the short passage from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Then he concluded with the sweetness that was typical of him: “It is a force whose roots are born in the heart.” He shrugged his shoulders and finished: “If not, the guardian will prevent the wanderer from going through the gate and keep following the Way.”