The young man was at the end of his training, soon he would go on to be a teacher. Like all good pupils, he needed to challenge his teacher and to develop his own way of thinking. He caught a bird, placed it in one hand and went to see his teacher.
‘Teacher, is this bird alive or dead?’
His plan was the following: if his teacher said ‘dead’, he would open his hand and the bird would fly away. If the answer was ‘alive’, he would crush the bird between his fingers; that way the teacher would be wrong whichever answer he gave.
‘Teacher, is the bird alive or dead?’ he asked again.
‘My dear student, that depends on you,’ was the teacher’s reply.
The unwanted apprentice
‘We have no doors in our monastery,’ Shanti said to the visitor, who had come in search of knowledge.
‘And what about troublesome people who come to disturb your peace?’
‘We ignore them, and they go away,’ said Shanti.
‘I am a learned man who has come in search of knowledge,’ insisted the foreigner. ‘But what do you do about stupid people? Do you just ignore them as well until they go away? Does that work?’
Shanti did not reply. The visitor repeated his question a few times, but seeing that he got no response, he decided to go and find a teacher who was more focused on what he was doing.
‘You see how well it works?’ said Shanti to himself, smiling.
The yogi and the wise fool
Nasrudin, the wise fool of Sufi tradition, passes in front of a cave, sees a yogi in deep meditation, and asks him what he is seeking.
- I am contemplating the animals, and I learn many lessons from them which can transform a man’s life – says the yogi.
- Teach me what you know. And I will teach you what I have learned, because a fish has already saved my life – answers Nasrudin.
The yogi is surprised: only a saint can have his life saved by a fish. He decides to teach everything he knows.
When he finishes, Nasrudin says:
- Now I have taught you everything, I would be proud to know how a fish saved your life.
- It is simple. I was almost dying of hunger when I caught it, and thanks to it I was able to survive three days.
Enlightenment in seven days
Buddha told his disciples: whoever makes an effort can attain enlightenment in seven days. If he can’t manage it, certainly he will attain it in seven months, or in seven years. The young man decided that he would attain it in one week, and he wanted to know what he should do: “concentration” was the reply.
The young man began to practice, but in ten minutes he was already distracted. Little by little, he began paying attention to everything that distracted him, and thought that he was not wasting time, but was getting used to himself.
One fine day he decided it was not necessary to arrive at his goal so fast, because the path was teaching him many things.
It was at that moment that he became an Enlightened one.
Nasrudin appeared at court wearing a magnificent turban and asking for money for charity.
‘You come here asking for money, yet you are wearing an extremely expensive turban on your head. How much did that extraordinary thing cost?’ asked the sultan.
‘Five hundred gold coins,’ replied the wise Sufi.
The minister muttered: ‘That’s impossible. No turban could cost such a fortune.’
‘I did not come here only to beg, I also came to do business. I paid all that money for the turban because I knew that, in all the world, only a sultan would be capable of buying it for six hundred gold coins, so that I could give the surplus to the poor.’
The sultan was flattered and paid what Nasrudin asked. On the way out, the wise man said to the minister:
‘You may know the value of a turban, but I know how far a man’s vanity can take him.’
Just like marriage
Nadia spent the whole autumn sowing and preparing his garden. In the spring, the flowers opened, and Nadia noticed a few dandelions that he had not planted.
Nadia pulled them up. But the seeds had already spread, and others grew. He tried to find a poison that would kill only dandelions. An expert told him that any poison would end up killing all the other flowers too. In despair, Nadia sought help from a gardener.
‘It’s just like marriage,’ said the gardener. ‘Along with the good things, there are always a few inconveniences.’
‘What should I do, then?
‘Nothing. They may not be the flowers you intended to have, but they are still part of the garden.’
‘How can we purify the world?’ asked a disciple.
Ibn al-Husayn replied:
‘There was once a sheik in Damascus called Abu Musa al-Qumasi. Everyone respected him because of his wisdom, but no one knew for certain that he was a good man.
One evening, the house where the sheik and his wife lived collapsed, apparently because of some fault in the construction. The neighbours began desperately digging amongst the rubble. At one point, they managed to find the sheik’s wife.
She said: “Don’t bother about me. Save my husband first, he was sitting more or less over there.”
The neighbours shifted the rubble in the place she had indicated and found the sheik. He said: “Don’t worry about me. Save my wife first, she was lying more or less over there.”
When people act as that couple did, they are purifying the whole world.
What is treason?
Walking down the street, the prophet asked: “aren’t we all children of the same Eternal Father?”
The multitude agreed. And the prophet went on: “and if that is so, why do we betray our brother?”
A boy who was watching asked his father: “what does betray mean?”
“It means to trick your companion in order to gain a certain advantage.”
“And why do we betray our companion?” insisted the boy.
“Because in the past somebody began all that. Ever since then, nobody knows how to stop the wheel. We are always betraying or being betrayed.”
“Then I won’t betray anyone,” said the boy.
And so he did. He grew up and suffered a lot during his life, but kept his promise.
His children suffered less and endured fewer hardships.
His grandchildren did not suffer at all.
When she was eleven years old, Anita went to her mother to complain. “I can’t manage to have friends. They all stay away from me because I’m so jealous.”
Her mother was taking care of newly-born chickens, and Anita held up one of them, which immediately tried to escape. The more the girl squeezed it in her hands, the more the chicken struggled.
Her mother said: “try holding it gently.”
Anita obeyed her. She opened her hands and the chicken stopped struggling. She began to stroke it and the chicken cuddled up between her fingers.
“Human beings are like that too,” said her mother. “If you want to hold onto them by any means, they escape. But if you are kind to them, they will remain for ever by your side.”
The three things
Chen Ziqin asked Confucius’s son: “does your father teach you something that we don’t know?”
The other answered: “No. Once, when I was alone, he asked if I read poetry. I said no, and he told me to read some, because poetry opens the soul to the path of divine inspiration.
“On another occasion he asked whether I practiced the rituals of adoration of God. I said no, and he told me to do so, because the act of adoring would make me understand myself. But he never kept an eye on me to see if I was obeying him.”
When Chen Ziqin left, he said to himself:
“I asked one question and was given three answers. I learned something about poetry. I learned something about the rituals of adoration. And I learned that an honest man never spies on the honesty of others.”
In search of rain
After four years of drought in the little village, the parish priest gathered everybody to make a pilgrimage to the mountain; there they would join in communal prayer to ask for rain.
In the middle of the group the priest noticed a boy all wrapped up in warm clothes and covered by a raincoat.
“Are you crazy?” he asked. “It hasn’t rained in this region for five years and you’ll die of the heat climbing the mountain!”
“I’ve got a cold, father. If we are going to pray to God for rain, can you imagine the climb back down? The downpour is going to be so heavy that it’s better to be prepared.”
At that very moment a loud roar was heard in the sky and the first drops began to fall. The faith of a boy was enough to work a miracle that thousands of men were praying for.
The risky climb
In the middle of a storm, a pilgrim reaches an inn and the owner asks where he is going.
“I’m going to the mountains,” he answers.
“Forget it,” says the innkeeper, “it’s a risky climb, and the weather is awful.”
“But I’m going up,” answers the pilgrim, “if my heart gets there first, it will be easy to follow it with my body.”
What’s the price?
“Is the price of living a dream much higher than the price of living without daring to dream?” asked the disciple.
The master took him to a clothes store. There, he asked him to try on a suit in exactly his size. The disciple obeyed, and was very amazed at the quality of the clothes.
Then the master asked him to try on the same suit – but this time a size much bigger than his own. The disciple did as he was asked.
“This one is no use. It’s too big.”
“How much are these suits?” the master asked the shop attendant.
“They both cost the same price. It’s just the size that is different.”
When leaving the store, the master told his disciple, “Living your dream or giving it up also costs the same price, which is usually very high. But the first lets us share the miracle of life, and the second is of no use to us.”
The Search of the Path
“I am willing to leave everything. Please, take me as a disciple.”
“How does a man choose his Path?”
“Through sacrifice. A path that demands sacrifice is a true path.”
The abbot bumped into a bookcase. A very rare vase fell down and the young man threw himself to the floor to pick it up. He fell the wrong way and broke his arm. But he was able to save the vase.
“Which sacrifice is greater, to see the vase breaking down our breaking an arm to save it?”
“I don’t know.”
“So then, do not try to guide your choice through sacrifice. The path is chosen by our capacity of compromising with each step we make while we walk.”
The Drunkard Disciple
A Zen master had hundreds of disciples. They all prayed at the right time, except one, who was always drunk.
The master was growing old. Some of the more virtuous pupils began to wonder who would be the new leader of the group, the one who would receive the important secrets of the Tradition.
On the eve of his death, however, the master called the drunkard disciple and revealed the hidden secrets to him.
A veritable revolt broke out among the others.
“How shameful!” they cried in the streets, “We have sacrificed ourselves for the wrong master, one who can’t see our qualities.”
Hearing the commotion outside, the dying master remarked, “I had to pass on these secrets to a man that I knew well. All my pupils are very virtuous, and showed only their qualities. That is dangerous, for virtue often serves to hide vanity, pride and intolerance. That is why I chose the only disciple whom I know really well, since I can see his defect: drunkenness.”
Why go on fighting
Reader Gerson Luiz tells the story of a rose that longed for the company of the bees, but none would come to her.
Even so, the flower was still capable of dreaming. When she felt all alone, she would imagine a garden filled with bees that came to kiss her. And so she managed to resist until the next day, when she opened her petals again.
“Aren’t you tired?” someone must have asked her.
“No. I have to go on fighting,” answered the flower.
“Because if I don’t open up, I wither.”
Learning to see
Buddha gathered his disciples and showed them a lotus flower.
“I want you to tell me something about what I hold in my hand.”
The first gave a whole treaty on the importance of flowers. The second composed a lovely poem about its petals. The third invented a parable using the flower as an example.
Now it was Mahakashyap’s turn. He came up to Buddha, smelt the flower, and caressed his face with one of the petals.
“This is a lotus flower,” said Mahakashyap. “Simple, like everything that comes from God. And beautiful, like everything that comes from God.”
“You were the only one who saw what I hold in my hand,” was Buddha’s comment.
In search of a wise man
For days the couple traveled almost without speaking. Finally they arrived in the middle of the forest, and found the wise man.
“My companion said almost nothing to me during the whole journey,” said the young man.
“A love without silence is a love without depth,” answered the wise man.
“But she didn’t even say that she loved me!”
“Some people always claim that. And we end up wondering if their words are true.”
The three of them sat down on a rock. The wise man pointed to the field of flowers all around them.
“Nature isn’t always repeating that God loves us. But we realize that through His flowers.”
In the flower shop
The woman was strolling through a shopping mall when she noticed a poster announcing a new flower shop. When she went in, she got a shock; she saw no vases, no arrangements, and it was God in person who stood behind the counter.
“You can ask for whatever you want,” said God.
“I want to be happy. I want peace, money, the capacity to be understood. I want to go to heaven when I die. And I want all this to be granted to my friends too.”
God opened a few pots that were on the shelf behind him, removed some grains from inside, and handed them to the woman.
“Here you have the seeds,” He said. “Begin to plant them, because here we don’t sell the fruits.”
Stay in the desert
“Why do you live in the desert?”
“Because I can’t be what I want to be. When I begin to be myself, people treat me with a reverence that’s false. When I am true to my faith, then they begin to doubt. They all believe they are holier than I, but they pretend they are sinners, afraid to insult my solitude. They try all the time to show that they consider me a saint, and in this way they become emissaries of the devil, tempting me with Pride.”
“Your problem isn’t trying to be who you are, but accepting others the way they are. And acting in this way, it’s better to stay in the desert,” said the gentleman, walking off.
Forgiving your enemies
The abbot asked his favorite pupil how his spiritual progress was coming along. The pupil answered that he was managing to dedicate to God each and every moment of the day.
“Then all that’s left now is to forgive your enemies.”
The young man was shocked:
“But I’m not angry at my enemies!”
“Do you think God is angry at you?”
“Of course not!”
“And even so you ask Him to forgive you, don’t you? Do the same with your enemies, even though you don’t feel hatred for them. Those who practice forgiveness wash and perfume their own hearts.”
Why leave man to the sixth day
A group of wise men gathered to discuss the work of God; they wanted to know why he had left it to the sixth day to create man.
“He thought about first organizing the Universe well, so that we could have all the marvels available to us,” said one of them.
“First of all He wanted to run some tests on animals, so that He would not make the same mistakes with us,” argued another.
One wise Jew showed up at the meeting. They told him the theme of the discussion: “in your opinion, why did God leave it to the last day to create man?”
“Very simple,” commented the wise man. “So that when we were moved by pride, we would remember that even a simple mosquito enjoyed priority in the work of the Divine.”
The kingdom of this world
An old hermit was once invited to visit the court of the most powerful king of the day.
“I envy a holy man, who is content with so little,” commented the sovereign.
“I envy Your Majesty, who is content with less than I. I have the music of the celestial spheres, I have the rivers and mountains of the whole wide world, I have the moon and the sun, because I have God in my soul. Your Majesty, however, has only this kingdom.”
Which way is best
When they asked Abbot Antonio if the path of sacrifice led to heaven, he answered:
- There are two paths of sacrifice. The first is taken by the man who mortifies the flesh and pays penance because he believes that we are condemned. The man who follows this path feels guilty and judges himself unworthy of living happily.
- The second path is taken by the man who, even though he knows that the world is not as perfect as we would like, prays, does penance and offers up his time and toil to improve the world around him. So he understands that the word sacrifice comes from sacro ofício, holy work. In this case the Divine Presence helps him all the time and he obtains results in heaven.”
The young man crossed the desert and finally reached the Sceta monastery. There he asked – and was given permission – to attend one of the abbot’s talks.
That afternoon the abbot spoke about the importance of farm work.
When the talk came to an end, the young man commented to one of the monks:
“That really impressed me. I thought that I was going to hear an illuminated sermon on virtues and sins, but the abbot only spoke about tomatoes, irrigation and things like that. Where I come from, everyone believes that God is mercy: all you need to do is pray.”
The monk smiled and answered:
“Here we believe that God has already done His part; now it’s up to us to continue the process.”
In front of the cathedral
I was feeling very lonely when I left Mass in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral right in the heart of New York.
Suddenly I was approached by a Brazilian:
“I very much need to talk to you,” he said.
I was so enthused by this meeting that I began to talk about everything that was important to me. I spoke of magic, God’s blessings, love. He listened to everything in silence, thanked me and went away.
Instead of feeling happy, I felt lonelier than before. Later on I realized that in my enthusiasm I had not paid any attention to what that Brazilian wanted.
Talk to me.
I tossed my words to the wind, because that was not what the Universe was wanting at that moment: I would have been much more useful if I had listened to what he had to say.
Whom do we love?
Ever since we are children, we are asked: do you love daddy? Do you love auntie? Do you love your teacher?
Nobody asks: do you love yourself?
And we end up spending a good deal of our life and energy trying to please others. But what about ourselves? Jesuit Anthony Mello has a fine story on this subject.
Mother and son are at a snack-bar. After taking the mother’s order, the waitress turns to the boy:
“And what will you be wanting?”
“Nothing of the sort,” says the mother. “He wants a steak and salad.”
Ignoring the comment, the waitress asks the boy:
“Do you want that with mustard or ketchup?”
“Both,” answers the boy.
And then he turns to the mother in surprise:
“Mother! SHE THINKS THAT I’M FOR REAL!”
As tradition dictates, upon entering his Zen master’s house, the disciple left his shoes and umbrella outside.
“I saw through the window that you were arriving,” said the master. “Did you leave your shoes to the right or the left of the umbrella?”
“I haven’t the least idea. But what does that matter? I was thinking of the secret of Zen!”
“If you don’t pay attention in life, you will never learn anything. Communicate with life, pay each moment the attention it deserves – that is the only secret of Zen.”
Christianity: The Chess Game
A young man said to the abbot from the monastery, “I’d actually like to be a monk, but I haven’t learned anything in life. All my father taught me was to play chess, which does not lead to enlightenment. Apart from that, I learned that all games are a sin.
“They may be a sin but they can also be a diversion, and who knows, this monastery needs a little of both,” was the reply.
The abbot asked for a chessboard, sent for a monk, and told him to play with the young man.
But before the game began, he added, “Although we need diversion, we cannot allow everyone to play chess the whole time. So, we have the best players here; if our monk loses, he will leave the monastery and his place will be yours.”
The abbot was serious. The young man knew he was playing for his life, and broke into a cold sweat; the chessboard became the center of the world.
The monk began badly. The young man attacked, but then saw the saintly look on the other man’s face; at that moment, he began playing badly on purpose. After all, a monk is far more useful to the world.
Suddenly, the abbot threw the chessboard to the floor.
“You have learned far more than was taught you,” he said. “You concentrated yourself enough to win, were capable of fighting for your desire. Then, you had compassion, and were willing to make a sacrifice in the name of a noble cause. Welcome to the monastery, because you know how to balance discipline with compassion.”
Judaism: Forgiving in the Same Spirit
The Rabbi Nahum of Chernobyl was always being insulted by a shopkeeper. One day, the latter’s business began to go badly.
“It must be the Rabbi, who is asking for God’s revenge,” he thought. He went to ask for Nahum’s forgiveness.
“I forgive you in the same spirit you ask for forgiveness.” replied the Rabbi.
But the man’s losses just kept increasing, until he was reduced to misery. Nahum’s horrified disciples went to ask him what had happened.
“I forgave him, but he continued to hate me deep down in his heart.” said the Rabbi. “Therefore, his hatred contaminated everything he did, and God’s punishment became more and more severe.”
Islamism: Where God Is
At a small Moroccan village an imam was thinking about the only well of the entire region. Another Muslim approached him and asked:
“What is in there?”
“God is hidden in there.”
“God is hidden inside this well? That is a sin! What you may be seeing is an image left by the unfaithful!”
The imam asked him to get closer and lean out on the edge. Reflected on the water, he could see his own face.
“But that is me!”
“Right. Now you know where God is hidden.”