The Old Man, as we affectionally called the oldest monk of the Order, looked at me with reproach, without uttering a word. I was in the inner garden of the monastery speaking on my mobile phone, even though we can only use it at night, in the bedroom, so that we can profit the most from the monastery experience. The EOMM – Esoteric Order of the Monks of the Mountain – is a secular brotherhood devoted to the study of philosophy and metaphysics. The monks and apprentices, as the members are called, are committed to spend at least one month a year in the monastery, for studies, discussion and reflection. After that time, they return to their homes, families, jobs and routine activities, and try to apply what they have learned. Knowledge only turns into wisdom when used in our daily relationships; otherwise, it is but a tool rusted for lack of use. I ended the call and went to apologize to the monk. I told him I was about to close an important contract at my agency and needed to take some precautions. I confessed how tense I was, as I was afraid of being hoodwinked, as had happened before, even though with a different party. The Old Man just listened to my explanations and said nothing.
As if it weren’t enough, I had been absent-minded those days. Another reason for concern was my jealousy of my new girlfriend. She was a theater actress and was currently on stage with a successful play. Many people came to her to compliment and chat, and that made me feel insecure, particularly because she was beautiful, kind and talented. I told it all to the Old Man when he asked me to have a conversation on the porch of the monastery, framed by the beautiful mountains that house it. My absent-mindedness would put to waste that year’s stay, if I did not solve the situation. I ended up going back to the call of the previous day, trying to justify my heedlessness. The Old Man patiently listened to all my complaints and, when I was done, cited an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Then, he added: “Can you see that the lack of a single virtue, in this case purity, is capable of nullifying all other virtues and stealing your peace?”
I promptly reacted. I said it was not a matter or lack of purity, but care in dealing with people. The world is no place for naive people. I should be cautious against evil or would be doomed to suffering. The Old Man looked at me with sweetness and said: “This frame of mind makes you suffer, even if your fears don’t come true. Whether in business or in love, the assumption of evil has soured the honey of life. Peace or joy are no more within you, who remains tormented with the mere possibility of evil, even if it, in fact, does not exist.” I asked him what he would do if he was duped in an agreement or in affection. The monk arched his lips in a discrete smile and was straight in his answer: “Patience and compassion with those who have wasted the opportunity of experiencing the best in me. If, notwithstanding, I had a difficult time harmonizing my feelings, I would work hard for humility to stand out, in order to keep in mind that I cannot demand from others the perfection I do not possess. Then I would move on, in peace.” He made a brief pause and continued: “Suspicion prevents people from seeing the beauty of the world, because it lies not in pretty landscapes, but within people.” He paused once again, and then added: “It is true that people may be sincere and honest with you; but if you know otherwise, turn around and move on, lightly and painlessly.”
I said he was right, but I recalled my previous experiences and I doubted he would not suffer if he found out he had been duped. The Old Man arched his lips in a discrete smile and said: “The pain will be felt, but always by the tormentor, even though it might take some time until they become aware of it, when faced with the truth and feel ashamed. Any victory with the tools of the shadows is vain and illusory. There is no good in evil, except when it fulfills its role as seed of good, germinating within the person the need to start over their entire journey, which has been wasted with the rise of awareness, when regret will serve as leverage to overcome setbacks.” I insisted to know if he would not feel bad knowing he had been cheated. The old monk reversed the logic of the aggravated self: “It is a thousand times better to be aggrieved than to swindle; I’d rather be betrayed than betray someone, hence I replace sadness with wisdom and I give thanks for being “on this side”. He looked me in the eyes and added: “Of course we must be watchful to avoid evil and stop it with the required firmness whenever it presents itself. But to assume that all is evil is like closing the drapes to prevent light from entering. At times we get lost, when we measure others according to our measures, coating the intentions of others with the evil that dwells within ourselves. On the other hand, we should bear in mind that each person is unique and will not necessarily repeat the misdeeds of third parties or even mistakes they made in the past. People change and need a new chance. Fear can make us act like weeds in the gardens of humankind”. I argued that some people’s purpose in life is to swindle others. The Old Man agreed: “Yes, beware of them, don’t let them contaminate you. I have no power over others, I cannot control their choices; I have power only over myself. I cannot deny the virtues of the world because some, or even many people do not possess them. It is impossible to be happy without trust. In yourself and the other. Or else the sun will not rise.”
He turned to me and asked: “What are your girlfriend’s features that dazzle you most?” I mentioned her beauty, gentleness and talent. He made a gesture with his hand as if I refused to see what was obvious and said: “Do you realize the features you admire in her are those that cause you pain? By wishing the virtues of your girlfriend only for you and preventing her from sharing them with the world, the self suffocates love and covers light with the clouds of jealousy.” Without giving me time to respond, a question ensued: “Why are you so concerned with the business you are about to close?” I told him I had been preparing myself for that moment. If the business came through, my agency would rise to a level I could have only dreamed of. The Old Man opened his arms and said: “Can you see that the imminent happiness is causing your troubles? Can you agree that, apparently, there is nothing wrong, and the misconception may be only in your gaze? You suffer because you foresee a possibility that may never happen.”
I argued that there was always a possibility that she would end up falling in love with an admirer, or that another agency could present better plans and propositions than mine. If that were to happen, the disappointment would really hurt me. The monk furrowed his brow and said, with seriousness: “It is impossible to live without taking risks. Life is perfect because of its imperfections, and disappointments are a wonderful gift.”
I said that he was either kidding or had gone mad. The Old Man shook his head and continued with his reasoning: “Disappointment, if well worked on, is a powerful lever for personal evolution. You suffer because of insecurity, whether your fears come true or not; you suffer because you wish the convenience of the world adjusting to your desires, rather than transforming yourself and being enchanted by the beauty that overflows over all edges of life. Your insecurity comes from the fact that it is impossible to rule the feelings of your girlfriend or to determine the choice of your client. We have the ancestral conditioning of being afraid of all we do not dominate. We must overcome that. Refusal to accept the freedom of others imprisons you and makes you suffer. It is hard for us to understand that the only choices that may harm us are those that we make, nobody else. Each one is accountable for themselves and, therefore, for their happiness. We help everyone whenever necessary, but we do not live the life of others. Each one will move on at their own pace, according to their efforts to learn, transform and share. All without guilt or weight. While it is good and pleasant, we will walk together; otherwise, each one will take their path towards people with whom they have affinity at this point of their existence. But things change; it is possible we will meet again later on, certain of the reunion the power of love promotes, and the perfect match of the parts that make up the whole in order to perfect the work.”
He blinked an eye and recalled: “Bouts of jealousy are dark and painful. The more the self is dominating and fearful, the more the person will be jealous. If you pay attention, you will realize jealousy has nothing to do with love. Give your best and enjoy the happiness that presents itself. You must accept that the other may not be ready to share that moment with you. You must realize when it is your time to leave and respect the right of the other to do the same. Lightness and freedom are the pillars of happiness.” He paused briefly and then added: “About business deals, they either work out or not. It is good that it is like that. While your work is innovative and above par, there will be jobs, clients, progress. Otherwise, pay heed to the warnings that it is time to review ideas and standards. Instead of corroding yourself with sorrow and pain, use this scenario as a window of opportunity. Chaos is a great propeller of major changes. This makes disappointment liberating!”
“Purity is an essential virtue so that other virtues are not lost. For instance, humility without purity may be a disguise for the self still filled with pride; compassion may turn into vanity when we use it to brag to ourselves of our kindness; courage loses its beauty in the window display of ostentation; love is poisoned by jealousy. These are just a few possibilities. Bear in mind that the evil of others my stem from prejudices and beware so that it does not take root in your heart. Purity is very close to simplicity, meaning that one should live with no hidden agenda, petty interests or subterfuges of any kind. Purity is assuming the others do not use such masks.”
I told him purity was too complicated a virtue. The monk shook his head and corrected me: “Purity is flimsy; it is possible only when the self is aligned with the soul, drumming in the same rhythm of love and peace, in full plenitude. To be pure is to turn on the lights of the world and the liberate others from themselves. And then, be free.”
Then, he told me he had to go. A group of monks and apprentices were waiting for him, for a discussion that would take place early that evening. Before leaving, the recalled the Sermon: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” He made a brief pause and completed: “To see the face of God, you must find Him where He waits for you, within yourself. Only then will you feel His presence in everything and everyone.”
I watched the old monk going away with his slow but steady step. I remained for I don’t know how long looking at the mountains and letting his words settle in my mind. When I least expected, I was all by myself smiling like a madman. Yes, I had a date. It was about time to get ready.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.