My first stage as a disciple of the Order involved many questions about the mysteries of life. I always thought that positive, as it prompted me into reflection and also taught me a lot about patience and serenity, as we only find responses once we are ready to understand them. It is as if they were under a cloak of invisibility, until there was a change in our eyes. I had just finished sweeping the garden and, before heading to the monastery’s library, I stopped at the refectory to grab a cup of coffee. Books and coffee is a combination I have always enjoyed. I found the Old Man before a piece of oat cake, with a distant gaze. I asked permission to interrupt his thoughts and sit next to him, to chat for a bit. He consented with a sweet smile. I told him I had read a poem attributed to an ancient Persian alchemist that reported a conversation between a caravanner and a grain of sand. There was a part that intrigued me:
“Grain of sand: I am the desert.
Caravanner: No, you are just part of the desert. Without you, the desert will continue to be the desert.
Grain of sand: You are mistaken. If I go missing, the desert will be incomplete, and will travel in my search.
Caravanner: Your mind wanders between hubris and madness.
Grain of sand: I understand your judgment. Each one makes theirs with the eyes they have at the time. Trust me, seeing is an art.
Caravanner: So, tell me what I am missing.
Grain of sand: The source where I drink from. There is not the whole without a part.
Caravanner: As simple as that?
Grain of sand: The part brings the whole in itself; I carry the desert within me. In order to know the desert, one must unveil the grain. This is the power and the revelation.”
At the end, under the attentive eyes of the monk, I asked what was the revelation the poem referred to. The Old Man shrugged his shoulders and said: “I can explain a mathematical equation, never a poem. Differently from the exactness of science, art speaks the language of those who appreciate it: it can say a lot or nothing at all.” I sulked. I became sullen. I said he was not really helping me. As I was about to leave, I was stopped by his composed voice: “I do the best I can, have no doubt. However, the Path demands that each one walks with their own legs. This is the reason why it exists.” I disagreed. I said things would be much simpler if all “truths” and “revelations” were given to us properly decoded, with no mystery, like a multiplication table. It would make people’s lives easier. The Old Man smiled and said: “Truth lies in the eyes of all, gushing in abundance. But what to do if the eyes are inattentive or refuse to see? Mystery is but truth we are yet to understand.” I interrupted him and asked what I had yet to learn for the mysteries to reveal themselves. The monk, with the tremendous patience that was typical of him, said: “To understand is just the initial step.” I asked him to further explain it, and he obliged: “There is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is academic truth; wisdom is truth felt and experienced. I love books and worship teachers, they are essential. But they are not enough. Information, in order to turn from bread in the display case into nourishing food must go from the eyes to the mouth. Or else a life that could be whole, will be nothing. This is the share of the student. This is what turns him into a walker.”
I asked him to show me the famous “truth”, because I was having difficulties in finding it. The Old Man looked at me in the eyes and said: “Just like the grain of sand brings in itself the entire desert, the entire universe dwells in you.” I insisted that he was not helping me. I argued that I was filled with doubts and did not know how to satisfy them. The monk smiled and said: “Each one has the answers for one’s questions. Suffice love and courage to seek them. You are part of the whole; the whole dwells in you.” I shook my head in denial, and said that was a joke in bad taste. The Old Man took a small bite of the cake and asked me to serve him a cup of coffee. Then, he explained: “The entire philosophy of Socrates is based on a sentence carved on the rock portal of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: ‘Know thyself and thou shall know all the mysteries of the gods and of the universe.’”
“The wise Greek stated that when we embark on a journey to self-knowledge, we will find all the faults of the world that bother us so much, hidden in dark corners of our core. In a mirrored room we will see unspeakable flaws of others bleeding on out skin. We will understand that we criticize others out of ignorance about who we are. Only one’s understanding of oneself allows understanding the other, the world and life itself. The changes that we long for about everything and everyone around us will only be perfected according to the personal transformations we are capable of undergoing. To realize one’s own imperfections makes possible not only the necessary changes of one’s own being, but also allows a loving gaze onto the hardships of others. To understand who we actually are teaches us the beauty of forgiveness, the art of patience and, particularly, the wisdom of love; all virtues merge in a wonderful explosion of light.”
I shrugged my shoulders and said that I could simply refuse to seek truth and the revelation of mysteries.
The monk repeated the same shrugging of shoulders, and said: “Of course you can. We are absolutely free to exercise our choices. This is the infinite generosity of the universe. Just do not forget that there is an unwritten code that regulates life in all planes of existence. The law of action and reaction is one of them, so that perfect justice is in effect and each one is allowed to define their own destiny, with its pains and pleasures, merits and accountabilities. Therefore, if something is not good, do not regret, transform yourself.”
“Denying the journey is insisting on stagnation. All that stands still tends to rot. When one talks about the soul, one talks about the agony from lack of understanding of the world around, translated in one’s ignorance of oneself. We color the world as we change our eyes; planetary transformations follow the steps of individual metamorphoses. When suffering transcends the spirit due to a delay in healing, the physical body and mind get disrupted. Each imbalance is a call from the Path. To accept the invitation is a choice.”
“‘Know thyself and thou shalt know the truth’ is Socrates’ philosophical principle that influences us to date. If it weren’t enough, some thousand years later a great master known as Jesus, on Mount Kurun Hattin, delivers the most important speech humankind has known. Among the many valuable lessons, he adds on the ancient principle: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’”
I wanted to know what type of freedom he was talking about. The monk immediately replied: “The jails without bars, those in which we do not realize we are imprisoned. This makes them even worse, as they make permanent the suffering that frays and mistreats. The poison, even though it is perceived in the fruits, originates in the root. It is there the antidote should be scattered. Hence, the need for a deep dive to the core of being to heal, in essence, the bleeding wound. This is liberating, as not only it heals, it awakes awareness and expands the loving capability; it allows the best within us to blossom; it modifies the gaze so that life offers itself with bright, and up to that moment unknown, colors.”
“Truth is its best part; embrace it, its masterpiece. It is the hidden side of being that waits for this encounter to reveal itself.”
“The encounter with oneself is the reconciliation with the forgotten face, the face that will be awakened and will reconcile you with the whole. It is the power of the universe in your hands.” He paused briefly and asked: “Can you gauge such power?”
For a little while we did not utter a word. I needed to connect the ideas in my mind. Still disconcerted, I said that from what I had understood, liberating myself from all suffering was a personal decision everyone could make. The Old Man shook his head in agreement, cracked a beautiful smile and said: “Can you realize the infinite love that surrounds us? The perfect justice? The dimension of freedom? The universe gives to each one of us its power, because if we are the grain of sand, we are the desert. Its power dwells in us. Just listen to the rhythm of the drums to vibrate in the same tune. Suffice that you do it.”
Kindly translation by Carlos André Oighenstein.