Tag Archives: self-realization

Review of Coelho’s The Alchemist

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that once I read it, I had to wonder–how did I overlook it? It takes me back to a whole host of other books which share the inspirational aspects as well as some elements of style. Mostly, it shares profundity. Books like Candide–to which this book’s main similarity is an innocent on a journey of discovery. Candide is a savage satirical attack on philosophical foibles of the time it was written. In the end, he dismisses “best of all possible words” view of suffering offered by Pangloss with the realistic perspective “That’s well said,” . . .”but we must cultivate our garden.”

It also reminds me of both Cervantes and Lewis Carroll. As with the Alchemist, (more so than Candide), it is quite useful for youth. Alice and Through the Looking Glass offer much in wordplay to the writer and clearer understanding for anyone in communicating–“Say what you mean,” says the March Hare to Alice. “I mean what I say,” Alice replies. Clearly she doesn’t understand. I used to read those books every several years. It’s been decades now. Perhaps it’s time again.

As for Cervantes, Don Quixote is on a quest like Santiago, the Andalusian shepherd in the Alchemist. Quixote, the dreamer is counterbalanced by his realist companion Sancho Panza. Eventually, they come to exchange perspectives. Santiago does a bit of that as well with the various people he meets. Like Candide, he too suffers losses–not quite as severe but nearly as surreal as Voltaire’s protagonist.

Finally, I found a lot of Buddhism in the Alchemist. Seeing and understanding omens for one. A capacity that anyone can acquire but few have. For the Catholic Coelho, it perhaps came from a pilgrimage he made two years before the publication of this book. He explains the realizations that Santiago comes to through his experiences and through the interaction with the various teachers, of sorts, that he encounters. It reinforces my faith and determination that following dreams is essential but happiness lies as much in the process as the result. It’s all there in the effort–remaining undeterred by the obstacles one confronts.

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A Milestone–40 Years of Buddhist Practice

The tagline of Views from Eagle Peak is “Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions.” That’s something that takes wisdom, which is something that comes from time and faith. Faith in something that works. Eagle Peak is an allegorical reference to a place where the Buddha lives and practices. In one sense it’s an actual place. More generally, anywhere one practices Buddhism is Eagle Peak. A place where one can see how and why things are the way they are. Cause and effect.

Today is the 40th anniversary of my commitment to practicing Buddhism. Looking for hope, a methodology and  a means to achieve my goals and dreams. I needed to overcome indecision and procrastination. Almost without noticing it, I did. All a part of what Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Daisaku Ikeda calls “human revolution.” An inner transformation of character. One that enabled me to overcome so much and achieve so much.  I could go on for many pages describing the good fortune and joy this practice has brought me,  but I won’t. Instead, here’s a short list.

  • I am in a happy and successful marriage, now in its 36th year, after two failed ones. In so doing, my wife and I overcame the death threat of her father, who after just a couple years welcomed me into his home and later said, “just call me Dad.”
  • After a year in Vietnam which began ten years before I encountered Buddhism, my illusions were shattered about America’s virtues and my innocence was lost. My faith and practice couldn’t bring back the innocence but it gave me the means to make the world a better place by making myself a better person.
  • From a lazy person contemptuous of authority—something three years in the Army fostered, I became a trusted employee at a local government agency. Upon my retirement, the agency director (a retired full colonel from the US Army) said this, “Whenever I wanted something done right and on time, I gave it to John.”
  • Nearly ten years ago, I recounted the experiences which led me to Buddhism and the benefits that resulted from that human revolution in a memoir, Waiting for Westmoreland.
  • Now, I am finally on the way to writing fiction, my goal from childhood. A short story collection, The Fountain, went on sale July 10th on Amazon.
  • We live in a dream house, high atop a hill in southwestern New Mexico. A house I designed on a computer. A far cry from the home I grew up in, foreclosed on when I was 11. My mother could not pay the mortgage after my father died four years before. She died five years later.
  • From the poverty of my youth, my wife and I have taken many wonderful vacations with two children—now grown and on their own. We continue to travel, now more often on our own. In the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, this financial security is called, “treasures of the storehouse.”
  • We have had a few health problems now and then, but by and large we are not inconvenienced greatly by them and have overcome them. Similarly, in our Buddhist faith, this is called “treasures of the body.”
  • Of the three treasures, “treasures of the heart” are the most valuable or important. These too, we have in abundance. The certainty that we can achieve anything, that we can overcome any adversity. That our happiness is absolute—not relative, like winning the lottery, a wonderful car or a wonderful home that could be destroyed by fire or flood.

One doesn’t need to practice Buddhism to be successful in life—to have a happy marriage or a good job. One doesn’t need to practice Buddhism to be financially secure or able to overcome illness. But it certainly helps immeasurably. If it didn’t, if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t still be doing it 40 years later. I would be happy to share more of my own experiences with you about this practice or refer you to sources of information about it—should you be interested.  But today’s post is not a paean to draw you in, it’s a commemoration of my personal anniversary.

One more important note: the path to becoming a Buddha, an enlightened human being, runs through the world of the Bodhisattva. In other words, the practice of Buddhism entails practicing for others as well as oneself. It’s not a greedy, self-realizing endeavor that you keep to yourself. Oh no, it’s a practice that involves helping others find happiness, hope, courage and more through the compassion of a Bodhisattva. An essential element of the beneficial results I’ve obtained over my 40 years of practice stems from that commitment.

Dare to Be Yourself–Who Else Can You Be

Dare to be ourselves, says  May Sarton. Well who else can you be? There are those who, watching TV or surfing the web, try on a lifestyle they find appealing only later to discard it as a poor fit. To see a movie example, consider this: Berry Gordy’s Last Dragon. It’s a funny movie from the mid-80s— a sendup of martial arts movies and Blaxploitation flicks. Coincidentally, it also features an early version of music videos. Among the funny characters are the self-proclaimed toughest kung fu master in town, who calls himself Sho-Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem. Dressed a bit like a member of P-Funk, you get the gist right there. There is a group of Korean youths who run a fortune cookie plant and aspire to be soul brothers—complete with boombox, hand gestures, clothes they expect to match the lifestyle and lingo to complete the package. The protagonist is African-American but is into martial arts; he wears black pajama-styled clothes and a coolie hat. As it turns out, he is in fact the true kung fu master. While it’s OK to become skilled at a discipline like martial arts, my opinion is that maintaining an authentic sense of self as you are is more sensible than trying to live the life of someone you are not.

Waiting for Westmoreland now on iTunes

Shameless self-promotion: you can download Waiting for Westmoreland as an epub now for $8.99. Go here if you have an iPad, etc. with which to view it and are so inclined. If you don’t know about WFW, hit the last item in the links to your right.

Also, belatedly, if you had a comment that was trashed erroneously (i.e., you are not a spammer) try submitting it again and I will review what comes in for integrity. I had to do a lot of bulk deletions to clean up this blog.

Virginia Book Festival

I am at the Book Fair today in Charlottesville, Virginia peddling my wares. Offering signed copies of Waiting for Westmoreland that is. See details in Booktour.com, link to the right. With the advent of Eckhardt Tolle and other spirtual writers, I hope you will consider reading my real life version of finding your inner purpose along with a clearly articulated methodology and vision to get you there. Oprah comes later for me.