Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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The Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho, wrote a book called “The Alchemist” in 1988. For some inexplicable reason, it was relatively unknown until recently, as was its author. I was fortunate to procure a copy, and found the book to be refreshing and original. It a fascinating example of creative effort and one story in it is particularly interesting and thought provoking.


“A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world. The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.


“Rather than finding a saintly man, though, our hero, on entering the main  room of the castle, saw a hive of activity, tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world. The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man’s attention.


“The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn’t have time just then to explain the secret of happiness. He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours.


“Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do something, said the wise man, handing the boy a tea spoon that held two drops of oil. “As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.”


“The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was.


“Well asked the wise man, did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”


“The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.


“Then go back and observe the marvels of my world, said the wise man. You cannot trust a man if you do not know his house.


“Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.


“But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” asked the wise man.


“Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.


“Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you, said the wisest of wise men.” The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.”


The wisdom contained in the aforesaid fable is profound. Often, we forget that while it is necessary to be focused on the task at hand, and concentration is necessary if one is to aspire to achieve any acceptable measure of success in human endeavour, the intensity must not lead to what is actually a diversion.


There are innumerable occasions in day-to-day life when an average person remembers some little domestic errand that he should have attended to, but neglected. By itself, the thought is natural. However, if it creeps in while he is working, his efficiency vis-à-vis his commitment to his job will definitely suffer. Equally distressing is the deleterious effect that thoughts about one’s work can have, if they nag when the individual is indulging in well-deserved leisure. To think of pleasure while working is reprehensible, as are the thoughts of professional requirements during moments of relaxation.


The famous story about how the archer could only see the eye of the fish, which was his intended target, is oft quoted as the epitome of a level of concentration that is desirable, and expected from a human being, whenever he approaches any given task. The practical difficulty in implementing this is that it is virtually impossible for a normal human being to acquire the will of iron discipline that is the prerogative of sages.


The need for balance is the basis of many accepted philosophies, and Buddhism is based on moderation. Whenever an average human being attempts what is beyond his capability, he is bound to falter. The fable in Paulo Coelho’s story is reflective of the need to realize that there are a fascinating multitude of facets that comprise a human being’s world. While it is laudable to be attentive to the immediate needs of any given moment, the world contains too many fascinations that would be sinful to ignore.


The elusive sense of happiness can surely be found if one can appreciate the smaller blessings of day-to-day life without losing the wider peripheral view of God’s Creation. To be able to sit under a tree with a good book, imbibing its contents, and yet thankfully to hear the twittering of the birds as they frolic, would enable man fully to realize himself. 





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