Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Pilgrimage

Author:       Paulo Coelho
Translator:  Alan Clarke
Published:   1995
Publisher:    Harper Collins
Paperback: 240 pages
Readers in India

One of the earliest books of  Paulo Coelho (predating his best seller The Alchemist) is a narrative of the pilgrimage he undertook in 1986 to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain where as per popular belief the remains of the apostle St. James are buried. (No idea why is book then classified as a fiction by the publisher !).
However this is not a guidebook about the Road to Santiago , as the pilgrimage route is known as, but rather about the spiritual and mystical experiences which he had during this journey. 
Coelho made this 500 mile journey on foot accompanied by his guide and mentor Petrus, who taught him several spiritual exercises on the way. All these exercises are also described in detail and some of them can be tried out, though the benefits derived out of them will largely depend upon your faith in them. This is my opinion. 
One of the exercises i.e The Buried Alive Exercise asks you to imagine all the details of your being buried alive and then finally breaking yourself free from the confines of your coffin. When I read it,  I could not help remembering how Sri Ramana Maharshi the great Indian sage, as a teenager in 1896 when confronted by the fear of death, simulated the death experience by imagining his body being cremated and in a flash realizing that "The body dies but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit". This was the moment of his  Self-realization. 
Well written and well translated, though I am somewhat skeptical about some of the supernatural experiences described in this book. On the whole I found the book interesting and liked it since I more or less agree with author's beliefs and viewpoints.
Die-hard fans of Paulo Coelho  enjoy reading this book. Not sure about the other readers.

Some Extracts from the book:
  • Everything you have learned up to now makes sense only if it is applied in real life............and in life itself, wisdom has value only if it helps us overcome some obstacle. A hammer would make no sense in the world if there were not nails to be driven. And even given the existence of nails, the hammer would be useless if it only thought, 'I can drive those nails with two blows.' The hammer has to act. To put itself into the hands of the carpenter and to be used in its proper function.
  • People do have a tendency to fantasize about things that do not even exist, while they fail to learn the lessons that are before their very eyes."
  • ...., when we want something, we have to have a clear purpose in mind for the thing we want. The only reason for seeking a reward is to know what to do with that reward.
  • ...I had compared this mystical experience with another very common experience: that of learning to ride a bicycle. You begin by mounting the bicycle, pushing on the pedals, and falling. You try and you fall, try and fall, and you cannot seem to learn how to balance yourself. Suddenly, though, you achieve perfect equilibrium, and you establish complete mastery over the vehicle. It is not a cumulative experience but a kind of "miracle" that manifests itself only when you allow the bicycle "to ride you". That is you accept the disequilibrium of the two wheels and,as you go along, begin to convert the initial force toward falling into a greater force on the pedal.
  • It is not a sin to be for happiness is a personal search and not a model we can pass on to others.
  • I have walked so many miles to discover things I already knew, things that all of us know but that are hard to accept. Is there anything harder for us, my Lord, than discovering that we can achieve the power?
  • Few can accept the burden of their own victory: most give up their dreams when they see that they can be realized. They refuse to fight the good fight because they do not know what to do with their own happiness; they are imprisoned by the things of the world.
  • And when I think about it, I guess it is true that people always arrive at the right moment at the place where someone awaits them.

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