The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, had just delivered a lecture at a prestigious university. I had been assigned to accompany him on the trip. On our way out to hail a cab, to take us to the train station, we were approached by a professor of the university. Politely, she told us that she had attended the lecture and was intrigued. She invited us for lunch at the university’s cafeteria, because she would like to talk to the monk. The invitation was accepted. The woman got straight to the point. She said she had enjoyed the presentation, but something the monk said made her thoughtful. From what she had understood, the Old Man said that the only purpose we all had was to evolve. Period. The monk nodded in agreement. Always very kindly, she said she disagreed. She claimed she did not believe there was life after death. In her point of view, the ideas about reincarnation or any type of god were the product of less developed or superstitious minds that were afraid of facing the reality that death was the end. Therefore, she argued, the meaning of life was just a quest for happiness.
The Old Man cracked a beautiful smile and, as composedly as he always was, said: “I agree with you.” The professor was surprised with his answer. He explained: “Believing or not in God or in any of the ideas about the immortality of the spirit should not change one iota the values that guide the life of an individual. No one must believe in the existence of another dimension to follow the most important spiritual law, which is ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Some of the most remarkable people I know are atheists, some are religious. They are all wonderful people who strive to do their best each day, and have tremendous respect for everyone. They know they do not live alone on the planet. Therefore, even though the quest for happiness is a lonely one, it intertwines the lives of everybody, because it is in the network of relationships that it is taught and practiced.” He paused briefly, and added: “Not only do I agree that everyone should seek happiness, I even believe people already do that. However, I see that it is hard for some people to understand the process.”
The professor said she thought the monk a good and intelligent man, but also naive. She added she believed in science, and only in what scientists could prove. The Old Man thanked her for the compliment and said: “Yes, maybe I am naive and believe in things science cannot yet prove mathematically. For instance, I believe in love and its infinite capacity to transform the life of a person, even though I have not seen any scientific study about this powerful force that moves us. Since time immemorial, humankind has always known that if they threw a rock up, they had better watch their head, even though it was only few centuries ago that Isaac Newton explained the existence of gravity. What if, until then, the stones remained in the air?” We all laugh. He paused briefly and continued: “I have the uttermost respect for science, and I believe it is a powerful ally of spirituality. One does not deny or nullify the other. Quite the opposite, they explain one another. However, I believe spirituality is a bit ahead of science. Therefore, I choose to believe in what is philosophically more interesting to me, even if it takes time for numbers to confirm my feelings. It took Albert Einstein more than ten years to prove to the academic community the relativity of time and space; only his faith in his perception made him continue with the studies and experiments that would prove his formulas. Institutions are in the forefront of knowledge. For thousands of years esotericists have claimed that everything in the universe is energy. Absolutely everything. Recently, Quantum Physics has shown that matter does not exist. What one thought was matter is but condensed energy. This is an important step, albeit at an early stage, for the understanding of spirit by science. So I ask you, what was then is no longer?” He paused again and completed “But all that I said is of no importance, these are only the paints with which I embellish my life with colors. I can understand this may not be useful to anyone else, and I respect when people do not accompany me in my opinions. But what matters in fact is that each one invites the ego to dance with the soul in the great hall of life. Each one will find the perfect rhythm and step in the music of existence.”
The professor said there was not much to think about: life is simple. She had a job she loved and that allowed her a comfortable life. She liked to travel, read good books, go to shows, meet friends to talk and have fun. She loved family reunions. These were the pleasures that gave her happiness. As simple as that. The Old Man arched his lips in a mild smile and said: “Basically, I am also pleased with all of this, and do not give any of them up.” Seeing her bewilderment, the monk continued: “But these are not where I find happiness; these are the moments I share. To believe that happiness lies in pleasures is a simplification of life, not its being simple.” The professor asked him to go further in his reasoning. The Old Man obliged: “Simplification means to swim in life’s shallow waters. Simplicity implies diving in its depths knowing that each one is granted the precise conditions to emerge in the ocean of existence.” The woman said she had not understood. The monk was more didactic: “In order to find happiness you must undertake a sincere trip within yourself. The journey for self-knowledge is essential for one to find happiness. Just the courage of looking yourself in the mirror can show the conditionings that oppress the true will, the shadows that cunningly manipulate to imprison you, and the wounds that bleed sorrows trying to heal themselves. This is the road to freedom and the plenitude of being. There is no other. It is simple as it depends only on you. It is simple because you do not depend on outside factors. It is simple because the most important encounter of your life is with yourself. This is when soul and ego have consonant intents. Then happiness blossoms.” He made a dramatic pause and completed: “This is evolution.”
The professor asked if the monk advocated the idea that happiness was not in the world but within each one. The Old Man furrowed his brow and answered: “Yes. Happiness goes along the being in the precise measure of his or her personal or spiritual evolution, whatever you want to call it. This growth is closely connected to their ability to identify the roots of their suffering. Then, to transmute feelings and illuminate ideas that drive and define the being. What was once pain will turn into stardust.”
The woman was outraged. She claimed that from what the monk had reasoned, suffering would be a choice. The Old Man arched his lips in a mild smile and said: “Precisely so!” The professor said it was ludicrous to imagine one would choose to suffer. The monk explained: “They choose to suffer because they don’t understand healing is in transformation and evolution; for sticking to the heavy burden of obsolete values that make them stuck in stagnation; for stubbornly sticking to what they are, not changing and bettering themselves. To refuse to do your part is to deny your own wings. This is a choice.”
They remained some time without uttering a word. The Old Man broke the silence: “To be happy it is necessary to understand what happiness is. If you pay attention, you will realize that evil is practiced when one simplifies the quest for happiness. For instance, the thief believes the product of his theft will facilitate his finding happiness. The same goes for the politician who is corrupt or the murderer who deceives himself that the elimination of the other will be enough for him to be happy. Of course these are radical examples, but to a lesser degree, the same goes for each one of us. This means, without proper understanding we run the risk of straying away from the light, even if we wish for something as good and valuable as happiness. Yes, we often align ourselves with evil mistakenly believing we are doing good.”
“There is never the need to force anyone to do anything for their happiness. This is the beauty of its simplicity. Whenever you blame someone for your misery you are transferring the axis of your life out of yourself, and relinquishing the power of being free and whole. You will show that happiness is a lesson yet to be learned.”
“I believe the pleasures are important and necessary. However, happiness is essential; it goes beyond pleasure because it transcends time. Pleasure is something that exhausts itself, it is finite. At best it will leave you with the recollection of a good time. Happiness is a state of mind sewn in the web of life, little by little, as the being learns and becomes stronger. It is as if, in the beginning, we were in pieces, like parts of a mosaic, and happiness was ephemeral, evanescent because it was not supported by the divided being, the person who cannot see or feel his or herself as a whole. It is a stage in which happiness comes in waves, broken as ourselves. It is like a visitor who enjoys the visit but leaves quickly for not feeling comfortable at that home. We feel like something is missing; there is this sense of incompleteness and we do not know why. In fact, we are torn into pieces like broken china. Gluing the loose, and until that moment lost, pieces is what we must do to achieve wholeness of being. Therefore, as a complete being, happiness will find its place for good, and be present in the most menial daily chores. We will be its infinite dwelling place, and will perceive the miracle of life manifest itself in all things. We will find the sacred in the detail of the mundane. Then we realize that happiness is no longer transient, but permanent.”
The Old Man looked at the professor with sweetness and said with a soft voice: “So, we are back to the beginning of our conversation. It does not matter if you are religious, spiritualist or atheist; happiness is the destiny for us all. Evolution is the only road.”
A tear dropped on the professor’s face. She said that at that moment the monk had given her the key to a door that seemed impenetrable. Then she looked the Old Man in the eyes and thanked him with the most beautiful smile I can remember.
Kindly translation by Carlos André Oighenstein.