I was seated on the veranda of the monastery gazing at the beautiful mountains that harbor it when the Old Man, as we affectionately call the oldest monk of the Order, approached. Always with a youthful demeanor despite his advanced age, he had in his hands two cups of fresh coffee which he placed on the coffee table next to me. He sat in a comfortable armchair and asked me, teasingly, to share my thoughts with him. I thanked him for the coffee and told him I was questioning the sacred texts for saying we are made in the image and likeness of God. However, while God is perfect, we still struggle at the first stages of learning. I argued that if the origin of all evil in the world is the prevalence of personal shadows over virtuous choices each one has to make, it would have been more sensible if we were all born perfect, like God, thus avoiding all tragedies and sufferings caused by humankind against itself. Therefore, either the Maker had been mistaken when he designed the creature, or the sacred texts had erred gravely.
The Old Man looked at me with sweetness and patience, as someone who had faced that issue many times, and said: “There is no mistake, neither in the creation nor in the words. They are like a map that needs only to be correctly interpreted to take the traveler to the desired destination; a text requires a reading that goes beyond the letters that appear on it. Take into consideration that the sacred words were not written for a few, setting aside, once and for all, the idea of privileges, but for everyone without exception. They are signs that help us in the ongoing exercise of personal shaping, allowing us to overcome, little by little each stage of the many life cycles: learn the lesson suitable for that moment of existence, be transformed by the lesson, set it in motion by sharing the best that has flourished in yourself, and move on.”
“Because the levels of perception are still diverse and the texts are for everyone, there should be different levels of interpretation in accordance with the awareness and the heart of each person. This allows us to learn from and teach one another, making personal and cultural differences valuable. It also makes sacred words alive and changeable, not in form but in meaning, as one moves forward, on their evolutionary journey.”
I interrupted him because for quite some time I had had a question I wanted to have cleared up. There are many texts of different religious, philosophical or metaphysical traditions. Some are quite old, others are more recent. How can one know which texts are sacred? The Old Man had always said that true wisdom is quite simple so that all can have access to it. The water must be clear for one to see the depth of the lake. Complexity stems from the ignorance of those who troubled the water from the fear of being found swimming in the shallow side of the lake. This time it was not different. He explained: “Sacred is all that makes one a better person. The sacred lies in all corners, hidden behind the world’s ordinary things and relationships, waiting to be found. Every word or situation that is pacifying, that expands the feeling of love to everyone, that destroys the jail without bars of ideas that limit the perfect freedom of the soul, that shows that endless happiness is possible and that spreads the lightness of being through choices filled with dignity, is sacred. Every text, book, film, conversation, music or poetry that somehow, and in any variation, suggests in their core the idea that ‘one should love each person as himself’, have no doubt, is sacred. It is sacred because it is a fruit from the primordial seed. As simple as that.”
I thanked him with a sincere smile. However, I warned the monk that he was shifting the focus of the core issue of the conversation: wouldn’t be simpler to be born perfect and hence avoid so much suffering? The Old Man smiled back and explained himself: “I only laid out a preamble about the beauty and simplicity of the sacred, in addition to indicating the importance of the diversity of people for the operation of learning. These are valuable pillars to support the rationale we are about to develop.” He paused briefly, took a sip of his coffee and asked: “Would you agree that every loving father wants the best for their offspring, right?” I agreed, and the monk continued with his reasoning: “Imagine twin brothers whose father, a very powerful man, separates them at birth so they are raised differently. One will have, since childhood, access to all that money can buy, he just has to want it. The other will be raised with the typical hardships of the world ordinary people face, and he will have the means to achieve what he wants, but he must work hard to obtain it.” He looked at me intensely and added: “There is nothing wrong with and no virtue either in poverty or wealth, these are only tools of existential lessons.” Then, he asked: “Which of the children was favored by the father?” I immediately replied it was the son raised in bounty and wealth.
The Old Man smiled sweetly while shaking his head and said “The commitment to execute all stages of an achievement forces you to improve yourself, whether in performing the task or in relationships with others or with yourself. Properly done, this makes you stronger. From this process comes the need to invent yourself and all things around you, not as a gloomy escape from reality, but as an effort to expand the limits, to advance understanding that everything must be different and better for progress to occur. The will to go beyond borders, beyond oneself, is a force that cannot be stopped. It is the motivation of the soul. The work precedes the progress; without the former the latter does not exist. The journey of transformation aims towards evolution. Without the former, the latter does not exist. The characteristic of evolution is that each and every movement is directed towards light. It is the opposite of stagnation, that causes so much suffering.”
“This is how perfection comes about.”
“There is always some depth under the surface; an essence behind the appearance. It lies in the understanding and the motion towards not the world or money, but towards personal transformation that is required to continue the journey and to discover the infinite power of outdoing oneself. The beauty of perfection lies in transforming what is imperfect; the magic of plenitude is possible only when sought in the confines of incompleteness; the wisdom of the whole lies in finding plenitude in each of the parts that forms it. As progress evolves, plenitude will allow the achievement of infinite, immaterial wealth: peace, freedom, happiness, dignity and unconditional love, the love with which we embrace the other and that is the same we have towards ourselves.” He looked at me in the eyes and said: “To love someone dear to us is easy; virtue lies in loving who has hurt us. This is what separates the strong from the weak and reveals the stories worth telling. If they come ready-made, they will lose their enchantment, and the value, sense and wisdom embedded in them. What is the value of a story where you only know the last chapter? The best films are those in which the hero outdoes him or herself. One cannot forge the steel of a good sword without exposing it to the fire.”
“Back to the brothers, note that while one had to work, the other was served. Do you think both will have the same perspective, the same idea about the world? Which will have a better perception of the order of the world? Or a more attuned relationship with life? Which brother will be more capable of leaving a legacy of learning to those who come after?” Before I could say anything, he repeated the question: “Which son was privileged by the father?” I changed my answer and said it had been the one the father had made stronger through work.
The monk arched his lips in a discrete smile and said: “Wrong. The lake is a bit deeper.” Seeing I was bewildered, he explained: “There are precious lessons in both situations, suitable to the needs of each one. To think that the son who had the comfort of money was favored is a mistake. On the other hand, to believe that he was placed in disadvantage is also a mistake.” He sipped little coffee and expanded his explanation: “The son who has access to luxuries and is capable of paying for his slightest whim, differently from what many may imagine, faces a hard evolutionary challenge. He has much work ahead of him. Not the same as his brother’s, who must work to make ends meet, and from his work he extracts the lessons that are proper to him. The rich son, however, needs to make an enormous effort to find the reasons for his life not to run down the drains of existence”. He furrowed his brow, something he did when he wanted to emphasize the seriousness of what he was saying and added: “The life of a person with money must have some meaning to be, in fact, rich. And it is mandatory that such meaning be connected to spiritual evolution.”
“Struggle for survival is a valuable learning method that, if properly understood, leverages personal accomplishment and incorporates the notion of prosperity. However, it is not the only nor the most difficult method. Giving up a luxurious life that serves as curtain in face of the hardships of the world, renouncing inner comfort by one’s willingness to transform wealth into prosperity by using it to propagate light also demands major effort and is equally important.”
“Wealth or poverty are existential evolutionary challenges; therefore, they are temporary. Prosperity is walking on the sunny side of the road, regardless of the existing conditions.”
“I often hear sad stories of depression and discouragement from millionaires who did not know how to use their money as a tool for spiritual transformation. The ego became loud in precise measure with the deafening of the soul. They insisted on having a vulgar existence without relinquishing privileges or material abundance rather than endeavoring to sow good. They have passed through life as if only sensory pleasures, ostentation, luxury pride and vanity were important. It is a pity to waste such opportunity. On the other hand, I see equal waste, but with a different presentation, from people who are angry or regretful because of the material hardships life has imposed on them, spending time and energy with fruitless complaints and somber emotions about the unfairness of their fate.” He paused briefly and added: “Yes, abundance or scarcity are presents. As any present, they can be well used or end up in the garbage”.
“One way or another, work is essential to evolution. Without the former the latter will not exist. Personal evolution is the transformation without which the world will not move forward.” He paused and recalled: “Master Jesus once said, ‘you can do what I do, and even more’. This means evolution by improving personal virtues. This planet is a school that trains admirable masters. The Law of Progress is the Law of Perfection. It is unavoidable and will reach everyone; however, work is an essential condition.”
We remained silent for a while, until the new ideas settled in. Then, I broke silence to say I had understood the metaphor he had made about money. One had to understand not only the importance of achieving light, but how best to use it to improve oneself and to benefit everyone. It is another aspect of the same lesson. The Old Man smiled, nodded and added: “So we are back to the beginning of our conversation, when I said that all that makes a person better is sacred. I also said that the sacred is hidden in mundane situations. Scarcity and abundance are, both, temporary tools that serve as lessons, and can be either profane or sacred. It all depends on how the tool is used. A hammer can be used in both, demolition and construction.” He shrugged and completed: “The choice is yours and will depend on the type of work you are willing to do.”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.