When the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, entered the cozy library of the monastery, I was immersed in reflecting on an excerpt from a book of Rumi’s parables. The monk took a book from a shelf and sat comfortably on an armchair next to mine. I noticed he had picked Laozi’s ancient Tao Te Ching or Book of the Path of Virtue. Because there were just the two of us in the library, I dared to start a conversation. I said that, by chance, I was reading a book that also addressed the value of virtues and, in addition to exalting courage as one of them, also stated that “love is for the strong’’. The monk, with his typical smooth voice, was laconic in his remark: “Yes, this is true”. I disagreed, reasoning that love, because of its utmost importance, was available to everyone, no exceptions made. The Old Man looked at me with tremendous patience and said: “Yes, this is also true.” I shook my head and moved my hands, as if these motions could enhance my reasons, and said he was not making sense: was love for everyone or only for the strong ones? I asked him to make a decision. The monk arched his lips in a mild smile and started to explain: “You are mixing things up, Yoskhaz. Don’t you realize we are dealing with different things? Or rather, of situations in which love presents itself in different ways?”
“Yes, love is available to each individual because, since it is the force that regulates the universe, it lies in the core of everyone. Love is the path and destination. It is the greatest virtue because it is present in all other virtues, or else they cease to exist. However, to experience love, at least in its full extent, we need the other virtues as tools to disseminate good. Hence, we allow not only the development of being, but also the propagation of the light it emanates to the farthest star. The universe gives thanks and reciprocates, also in light, for gratitude and justice.” He paused briefly and continued: “Love is the indispensable virtue for transformation; therefore, without it there is no evolution. However, the love that lies dormant within each one of us needs to be worked on, to rise and grow in adversities. To love those who love us is easy; to love under favorable conditions, many are able; to love in distressing conditions, only the strong can.”
I told him I had not understood. The monk closed his eyes as if looking for the best words, and said: “Love is the nourishment of the soul; it is the sacred that dwells within ourselves. Each one is, in essence, just the sparkle of love that makes them move. Nothing else. However, the love that exists in each one of us is like a seed that needs to sprout to show its beauty and fructify to nourish the world.” He paused, then added: “Bear in mind that you will know a tree by its fruits,” he recalled an important passage of the Sermon of the Mount.
I said that as each one can give only what they have, the person loves in the precise measure of his capability for loving. The Old Man agreed: “There is no doubt about that. This is why the development of virtues is so important, they are the tools of love. We evolve in the precise measure that we learn how to use these tools. The virtues develop and settle in the being according not only to its level of awareness, but also to its capability of loving.”
I immediately asked him to go further in his explanation of the virtues. The Old Man said: “The virtues are many, and the walker must hone all of them in him. Love, wisdom and courage; justice, honesty, compassion, mercy, dignity and sincerity; freedom, humility, simplicity and purity; patience, respect, sweetness, kindness and joy are some of the indispensable tools in the fields of evolution. If you pay attention, you will realize that the virtues need one another to gain strength and power, closing life’s circle of healing cycle. Even though each one seems to be independent, they complete one another in a system of indispensable solidarity.”
I wanted to know some more about the system of exchange under which virtues operate. The Old Man obliged: “The basic principle teaches that love is the force that should drive our choices. This means that either we move out of love or we will be going in the wrong direction. Consider this instance: it is not uncommon to see wisdom being used to deceive, manipulate and obtain undue advantages. In turn, courage is present in the spirit of wrongdoers when committing many of their absurd crimes. We tend to associate heroes with acts of bravery and intelligence in movie pictures, oftentimes forgetting that criminals also use these features to execute their terrible plans. What is the difference between them? It is that heroes use their wisdom and courage to do good. Only when coated with love wisdom and courage are virtues; without love, wisdom and courage fall in the lane of cunningness and brutality.”
I told him I was finding love too complicated. The monk laughed heartily and didactically explained: “In order to live love we must understand what love is. It is indispensable to deconstruct many of the ideas we have about this feeling, and see it as it actually is. It is necessary that we have already developed some virtues, like wisdom, respect, generosity, harmony and freedom.” I asked him to go further in his explanation. The Old Man, then, added: “You must understand once and for all that love is not an exchange; that no one suffers for love; that no one belongs to anyone; that no one has the obligation to make you happy. These are some of the attitudes that prevent you from experiencing love to its fullest. To do so, it is essential to remove the veil of mistakes placed by the shadows of fear, ignorance and hopelessness. But just realizing that is not enough, one must face and outdo oneself. Furthermore, one must experience and feel all that was learned, or the lessons are not complete. One must get rid of obsolete ideas and automatic reactions that are no good any longer; be exposed to rejection and criticism from those who are yet to understand what is already clear for them. One must leave behind much of what was believed to be important but now weigh heavily out of uselessness. One must face the mirror to see the wounds that bleed in the soul and have the steadfast purpose of healing oneself. Then, give their best to everyone and move on.”
I asked what the most sublime form of love was. The Old Man immediately answered: “Forgiveness. Love is for everyone, but only the strong are capable of forgiving those who have offended them. To lay a gaze of sincere compassion on your aggressor and understand he was not able to do differently and better. This is not easy. One should also bear in mind that forgiveness is an act of sincere humility, because we have our own hardships and imperfections; they are perhaps different from those of our opponent, but nonetheless they are hardships and imperfections. Next, we must wrap the offender around a cloak of divine mercy, understanding that every aggressor is deeply unhappy as he is distanced from good and all other love-derived energies. This is even harder. It is required that you have already fought battles against your own shadows, transmuting part of them into light. This is the cornerstone for the transformation of being. This makes forgiveness sacred and liberating. Those who are weak are still serving gloomy ideas of revenge and suffering, vengeance and pain, imprisoned next to those who have hurt them, in a dark corner within themselves.” Then he asked, closing the cycle by returning the beginning of the conversation: “Can you understand now why love is for the strong ones? Can you realize that in order to be able to forgive, other virtues are necessary, such as compassion, humility and mercy? In addition to love, or course.” I just nodded my head, in response.
We remained a long time without uttering a word. I broke the silence to thank him, and say that I was beginning to understand the importance and the power of virtues as tools for evolution. The Old Man said: “The virtues are weapons used by the warrior of love in the great battle of the universe, the one he fights everyday within himself. This is his commitment; to overcome himself is the greatest victory. The transmutation of one’s shadows is translated into pure light.” He winked as he would do whenever he told a secret, and completed: “All virtues lay dormant within you. Wake them up and feel the magic of life in your hands through infinite transformations!”
Kindly translation by Carlos André Oighenstein.