The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had been invited to deliver a number of lectures on various issues in another monastery, far away from ours, whose brotherhood had precepts quite different from ours. In essence, the differences brought us closer together than further apart. On that occasion, I was the disciple assigned to accompany the monk. They were all dazzled by the Old Man. A composed figure, always with a discrete smile on his face, a gaze that mirrored patience, wise words spoken in a soft voice and, particularly, attitudes that, even in minor gestures, overflowed with purest love. He would say that to be a role model is the most powerful statement one can make, it is the “living truth”. Twice on this trip the monk asked me to open the lecture of the day with brief presentations on the issue he would address, which has yielded me some compliments, more as a reflex of his lectures than merit of my own. However, I was not OK. A student of that monastery in whose room I was sleeping kept pestering me with a hail of criticisms, whether about the brief presentation I had made before the lectures or any other behavior I had he would consider unsuitable. Everything I did was filled with flaws. When the Old Man came to the room to check if I was ready for our trip back, he found me packing the suitcase the way my heart was, in total mess and disarray.
When he asked me what was going on, I told him the reasons for my annoyance. The Old Man asked me to stop packing and go walking with him for a bit. I told him we had to leave, and he said: “We must understand what we carry in our baggage in order to continue the journey.” I said that I was packing only my clothes and personal belongings. The good monk pointed to the suitcase over the bed with his chin and corrected me: “I am not talking about this suitcase.” He placed his hand over his chest and added: “I am talking about the sacred baggage, the one we carry in the heart.”
While we walked around the beautiful garden of that monastery, I told him how the other disciple pestered me. I spoke and spoke until all my complaints were exhausted. The Old Man listened to me with tremendous patience, and then said: “Buddha taught that ‘whenever I allow anger to dwell in me, I will lose the battle.’” He paused briefly to continue: “The fiercest battle is the one we fight inside ourselves. It is illuminating the shadows that dwell within us. They are many, and various. Anger, annoyance and sorrow are just a few of its many species. Social relations bring the allies, those people who help and makes us strong, so that we are able to keep the light that illuminates our steps lit. They also bring the foes, whose mission seems to be nourishing the shadows that are hidden within ourselves. The former are as important as the latter. While allies are unequivocal in their help, the foes act in an implicit way, by hampering. Antagonists operate, on a subconscious level, as hidden masters who teach us, through conflicts, the precise lesson we are ready for.” I interrupted him and said I did not understand what he meant. The Old Man explained: “When you allow your shadow to manifest itself, you become aware not only of its existence, but of how much it hampers and deceives you. But if your mind is alert, you can begin the process of perfecting this feature of your core.”
I told him I still did not understand. The Old Man was more didactic: “It is like a film. The good guy needs the bad one to exercise his abilities. Otherwise, he will live a sluggish life, devoid of charm or interest. Hence, the more sophisticated the villain is, the better the story, as the hero will have to develop powers he is not aware he is capable of, so that he can outdo himself. Do you realize it is the conflict that sets the narrative in motion? In life it is no different. Each one is the hero of their own story and, therefore, the villain of the stories of others because, one way or another, whether or not we are fair, at some point we act against someone’s expectations. In order to play the part, the hero needs the villain to understand how to react facing the hardships that come about. How to react facing adversities? This is what gauges us. Take the opportunity to learn about yourself, smooth the rough edges that cut you and others; give your best and move forward, always seeking the wholesomeness and the plenitude of being.”
I asked him if, indeed, conflict is necessary. The Old Man patiently explained: “We live on a plane of existence where conflicts are still important tools to achieve personal harmony. The greatest proof is the existence of personal shadows. While you believe that frustrations are motivated by the other, there will be conflicts and stagnation. Perceiving the shadows makes you realize the huge and essential work you must do on yourself. In relationships, regardless of type, unpleasant interlocutors have the sacred mission of making the shadows manifest themselves through adversity and setbacks. Thank them for that. This makes it possible to identify and illuminate what must be transmuted within yourself. If you pay attention and are sincere on the journey of self-knowledge, you will come to the conclusion that the adversary is never the other, but yourself. As a guardian of the threshold, he has just shown you, even if in a coarse way, where the fight to overcome the next portal of the Path will be fought.” He pointed to my chest and added: “Inside yourself.”
“Do you understand the importance of each person in your life?”, asked the Old Man. I replied that I saw no value in a lad whose only purpose in life seemed to be harassing me. I said I would like to live in peace with everyone. The monk smiled and said: “Yes! And because you have not yet achieved this you are in this station. Everyone wants to live in peace, but few are ready to take over their own evolutionary responsibility. Most prefer to blame others. Do you understand that his behavior, even though inappropriate, provides valuable lessons?” I confessed I did not see any good thing in all that annoyance. The Old Man arched his lips in a beautiful smile and reasoned: “Can you realize that maybe something in you also bothers the other disciple? It is likely a quality or a gift he admires, but because he is not able yet to manage with humility the virtues he does not command, he allows vanity or envy to be manifested through aggressive attitudes. Or it might be the opposite. He sees in you a problem he also has and, subconsciously, is unable to admit. Therefore, he reacts by harshly criticizing you, so that he can deceive himself by believing he has reached perfection when he has not.” I asked why it had to be like that. The Old Man looked at me with compassion and said: “It is like that with everyone. Since the shadows have the task of disguising the hardships of the ego, they are going to target the features of others, either by coloring their faults with strong colors or placing eventual flaws under powerful magnifying lenses. What bothers this disciple is not Yoskhaz’s mistakes, but his own difficulties, which he is not able to deal with, or evolutionary levels he has yet to reach. Do you see how tricky the shadows are? Under the disguise of protection, they prevent the best gaze. Hence, each one becomes the main victim of their shadows and, worse, without realizing it. Then the villain emerges, trying to wake the hero asleep in each and every one of us. While he does not understand himself, he will not be able to improve. Therefore, one must be very patient with the other and pay heed to oneself.”
“You, in turn, showed how difficult it is for you to handle criticism. This is the second lesson,” added the monk. I immediately rebuked, and said that the criticisms were unfair. The Old Man furrowed his brow and said in a sweet, and yet grave tone: “I did not see you question compliments, when you received them. Would these be adequate? If not all criticisms are fair, not all compliments are deserved. If, on one hand, we cannot allow any criticism to defeat us, and be just an element of reflexion and transformation, on the other wisdom dictates that the honey of compliments does not smear the ego, preventing the next steps towards evolution. Once again I recall Buddha’s teaching of treading on the Middle Path as a point of balance so that one extreme does not eliminate the other, and therefore does not prevent the wholesomeness of being from being achieved.”
I lowered my eyes and said no word. I knew what the monk was talking about, but it was difficult for me to live according to that guidance, and did not allow the lessons to turn into wisdom, as a loaf of bread that rots, forgotten in the window. The Old Man continued: “It is precisely to find inner harmony that we go back to the beginning of this conversation: learning how to pack. What we carry in our baggage defines the way we tread the Path. Lightness is necessary if you want to use your wings. Therefore, the suitcase cannot carry the heavy burden of anger, sorrow, envy, jealousy, insecurity and so many other shadows, or you won’t be able to carry it, so heavy is the weight. The winds of forgiveness, tolerance, respect and love make you soar.” He paused briefly so that I could put my ideas together, and completed: “Nothing or no one can bother us. When that happens, have no doubt, there is something wrong in your baggage. It is time to open and change its contents.”
“Don’t waste time or energy with regrets or attempts to change others. Only fools do that. Always give your best and express your beliefs in a quiet, clear way. Then move on. Each one has their own journey to cover.”
“Plenitude is the sacred art of keeping inner peace above the unavoidable external conflicts. Having allowed the other disciple to shake your peace revealed many flaws that must be improved. Don’t forget to thank him before leaving.” I remained in silence and nodded my head in agreement. Before I could say anything, the Old Man added: “It is time to go, or else we will miss the train. Go get you baggage in your room.” He blinked his eye in a roguish way and asked: “Do you know what you will pack to take home?”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.