He was a young and promising lawyer. He had taken a few says off to meet the Old Man, of whom he had heard about, to seek his advice. While I walked with him to the room where the meeting would take place, I tried to show him the beauty of our monastery, its beautifully carved columns and centuries old walls on which the peace of silence, of prayers, of studies and of philanthropic deeds was anchored. However, he was in haste. He interrupted me in the middle of the story about the monastery I was telling him, to tell me about the legal suits he was working on, and how he could bend the conviction of judges from the weight of his intelligence. He was in a hurry to meet the Old Man, because important work was waiting for him. Before we got to the room where the old monk liked to receive people to chat, we bumped into him in the monastery’s inner garden, tending some plants. The old man was, typically, sincerely happy to meet the young lawyer, even though it was the first time they met. The lawyer immediately started to talk about a lawsuit he was involved in against a powerful multinational organization, which would yield millions in fees. He said he would have to present a motion by the end of the following day, and asked to go straight to the reason of his visit. “Money is an important tool, and people can do a lot of good things with it. It is like your profession, which aims at reaching balance and understanding among people. Both should be employed wisely”, commented the monk. Next, he asked the young lawyer: “What can I do for you?”
In response, the lawyer said his problems involved anxiety and stress. Because of that, he had needed hospitalization due to a heart condition, had difficulties in managing his love life, and could not sleep without taking drugs. He believed that was the price to pay for success “Who told you to come to the monastery?” asked the monk. The lawyer said it had been an uncle of his, Jonas, a humble mason who had visited him while he was in the hospital. He let slip, with a bit of embarrassment, and the uncle’s was the only visit he had had due only to love, and no other interest. “You are Jonas’ nephew?” asked the Old Man, joyously surprised. “I have a great deal of respect and admiration for your uncle. Whenever an infant is admitted to the city’s orphanage, he builds and donates a crib for the little one. He uses his gifts and skills from his heart. I do enjoy being and talking with him, a lot”.
The young lawyer showed his displeasure, as he believed the uncle should focus his efforts on improving the simple live he led. Buying a bigger house, modernizing his workshop. He shouldn’t need to worry about problems that were not his. The Old Man arched his lips as if about to smile, and said: “It should be sad, having nothing to worry about. Jonas is a happy man”. The lawyer laughed and said his uncle was an irresponsible man.
The Old Man looked at the young lawyer with eyes filled with compassion, and asked: “Does he need that? It was a rhetorical question, and referred to the lifestyle and the acquisition of assets the nephew believed Jonas should pursue. Before the young man thought of an answer, the old monk asked him to sit by his side on a stone bench under the shadows of a huge rose tree. Next, he said: “To earn the daily bread with dignity is sacred, and the efforts towards a comfortable life are legitimate and commendable. We all have basic needs of food, housing, education and health”. The afternoon gentle breeze made the garden even more pleasant. The Old Man continued: “The problem is that mankind has never been happy and satisfied with what they have, so they carry on desperate efforts to have more and more. They cannot draw the limits, and that leads to two problems. The first is that people are forever unhappy, nourishing a fat, and yet ravenous ego, that assumes gigantic proportions in the shadows of vanity and greed. The second is that you don’t have much time left to think and ponder the primary issues of being, where true wealth is acquired”.
The young lawyer, skilled in the techniques of reasoning and rebuttal, retorted that he was familiar with that old rhetoric, but, in fact, the world only respected and revered powerful people; the wealthier they were, the more respect they would receive, and their power could contribute to a growing number of charitable causes. The monk smiled with his eyes and said: “I believe you may be mistaken in the type of people you value and deem important. There is no question money can be a powerful tool for doing good, but it can be a disaster if it is to be used to nourish pride. Like a hammer, it is you who decide if it will be used for construction or demolition”. He continued: “Contrary to what many believe, the best way to use compassion is not through money, but in knowing how to set priorities in terms of time, feelings and interests. You may heed to your art or trade with mastery, while interacting with the world with your heart. Just like Jonas.”
The young man sharply argued that people are different. Therefore, the concepts, the aims and the needs regarding comfort are different. He even questioned to what point it was legitimate to focus on one’s own goals before thinking about helping others. The monk said in a soft voice: “Yes, each person is unique and in this lies the richness of life. There is a valuable mantra that anyone can recite at such a time: ‘Do I need that?’ We must question ourselves about the actual limits of our own needs. The narrower the limits of the ego, the larger the borders of the soul. The priorities shift as the level of awareness is transformed. I question this crazy yearning for more powerful cars in traffic-jammed urban centers which, in the end, will take only the body, because the soul, often times, goes nowhere. Or more and more luxurious homes in exclusive neighborhoods, that cost a ton of cash or make you go into heavy debt as a symbol of ostentation, status and, ironically, isolation. I often see people in frantic pursue of more clothes, shoes, watches. Don’t they ever ask ‘Do I need that?’”
The lawyer shook his head in denial, and his eyes overflowed with irony. The monk did not seem to be offended, far from it, and continued with his soft voice: “How many times did you postpone a business meeting to be with your kid, who needs to spend time with you, who needs your advice pointing to the right paths of life, who needs his small heart appeased by a strong hand providing support? When was the last time you went over to your parents just to give them some affection, or cancelled a professional engagement to meet with a friend who was in trouble?” With a tender look that was unique to him, the Old Man asked once again: “What do you really need, my son? Your answer will reveal your current level of awareness and define the joys and sufferings that will accompany you along the Path”.
The young man explained one more time, as if speaking to naive older person, that he worked a lot and, to make up, felt he needed to gratify himself buying things he yearned for. The Old Man immediately replied: “Societies move unconsciously, diverting our heed from issues essential to the self. I know of people who, even to relax, come up with a bunch of places they have to go to, as a sort of an escape from a precious encounter with themselves. Have you ever thought about what prompts us to escape from ourselves?” He made a brief pause, and added: “I understand the need we have for gratification after a hard battle. However, we can make a gift to the ego or to the soul. The consequences are either a strong, short-lasting shine immediately followed by a big void, or a strange, endless light that elicits the feeling of wholesomeness”.
The young lawyer smiled, shook his head mildly, as if listening to a crazy man, and stood up. Politely he thanked the monk for his time, but regretted that the visit would be of no help to him. He confessed, with a bit of sarcasm, that he expected to hear a secret revelation about the mysteries of life. The monk stood up, held the young man close to him and said softly: “What many call a mystery is but the lessons we deny. We then get stuck in a cycle until we are able to decode it. This may cause suffering. Life, however, flourishes from the joy of the souls, and makes available the most refined wisdom for all, with no privilege or distinction. It is in the air, in quietness, in smiles and hugs. Suffice to heed and be bold enough to think differently. Nothing is more revolutionary than making choices out of sheer love, by asking yourself ‘Do I need that?’”
I wanted to show the young man to the gates of the monastery, but he dismissed me and left.
When we found ourselves alone, the Old Man said, sweetly: “One day he will be back”. I wanted to know if the lawyer would be back to the monastery. “He will be back to his own heart. He cannot run from it eternally. At some point he will have to redefine his priorities. His needs will change when he gets tired of the void, of the desert, of the abandonment”. He looked at the early stars that were already decorating the sky, and asked: “Who do you think found peace, the young, rich and educated lawyer or his uncle, a humble and merciful mason?”
I only lowered my eyes in response. Then, I offered him a cup of tea. He looked at me seriously and evoked the mantra: “Do I need this? Blinking an eye, he said roguishly: “I sure do!” We laughed and went to the refectory.