Sunday, May 08, 2011

Book Review: Manual of The Warrior of Light - Paulo Coelho


Paulo Coehlo
As a book lover there is a veritable ocean of possibilities from which to choose.  I always seem to come across a gem of a book quite regularly, and Paulo Coelho's Manual of The Warrior of Light (Harper, 2002, Brazil, 1997) is a lustrous and sparkling one indeed.  I read it recently on holidays in Calabria and finished it in a couple of hours as it is a very light but inspiring read.  In essence, like all Coelho's books, it is a spiritual manual which could be read as a course in leadership or an inspiring manual for living life as authentically as possible.

The Power of Story

To tell a story, to listen to a story, to share a story is such a profoundly human thing. To listen to the real life story of another human being is a privilege. To tell your story to another human being is to reach out to the other, to say this is me, this is what I am about, this is where I came from, these are the ways I got here and there is where I am going.  Another marvellous book I read on holidays some four years back was On Stories by Richard Kearney (Routledge, 2002) who is Professor of Philosophy at Boston College and U.C.D.  As Kearney puts it therein, when you tell your story: “you interpret where you are now in terms of where you have come from and where you are going to. And so doing you give a sense of yourself as a narrative identity that perdures and coheres over a lifetime. That is what the German philosopher Dilthey called the coming-together-of-life …meaning the act of coordinating an existence which would otherwise be scattered over time. In this way storytelling may be said to humanise time by transforming it from an impersonal passing of fragmented moments into a pattern, a plot, a mythos.” (p. 4)  Our first woman president Mary Robinson pledged herself to listening to the stories of others in her inauguration speech way back in 1990 on December 3rd:

I want this Presidency to promote the telling of stories — stories of celebration through the arts and stories of conscience and of social justice. As a woman, I want women who have felt themselves outside history to be written back into history, in the words of Eavan Boland, “finding a voice where they found a vision.”  (See this link here: MR: Inaugural Speech
Coelho's Opening Story

Coehlo, like any good author tells a wonderful story in the Manual of The Warrior of Light  by way of an introduction to his book.  The story is really a very simple one, like all good stories.  It tells us about a small impressionable boy who is bewitched by the sea and by the wonderful stories of the local fishermen.  One day while walking on the beach he meets a beautiful woman who tells him about an mysterious island that was literally swallowed by an earthquake.  On the island there was a splendid temple with a wonderful bell which always rang out magical peals.  Then the sailors and fishermen tell him bewitching stories that if one listens long enough one can hear the peals of the temple bell from the drowned city.  The young boy becomes so obsessed with hearing the bells from the drowned temple that he forgets about his family and friends and often sits awe-struck down on the beach waiting in vain to hear the bells.  He begins to lose his friends who begin to see him as somewhat weird, and his parents begin to worry about him.

The boy becomes bewildered that both the inspiring words of the beautiful lady and the bewitching words of the sailors and fishermen are proving to be so untrue.  Finally, he gives up and turns away from the sea and decides to go back and play with his friends and be more open to his family.  Then as he turned back to the world he hears the wonderful peal of bells.

L. Carracci, The Transfiguration, 1594
A brilliant and wonderful story.  There is a similar one in the Gospels - I refer here to the transfiguration of Jesus the Christ on Mount Tabor (though other mountains have been suggested).  According to the Gospels, Peter, James, son of Zebedee and John the Apostle were with Jesus upon the mountain.  Now, the story is somewhat similar to Coehlo's as the apostles wish to build a booth or tent upon the mountain and stay there because the experience of the mystical encounter with God/Truth/The Father has been so enchanting.  But Jesus tells them that they cannot stay there on the mountain, that they have to go back down to the world and live real lives there in the very heart of the fray, as it were.  Coehlo's story is somewhat similar.  The little boy cannot survive by dreamily looking into the ocean of mystery, waiting to hear the elusive peal of bells.  Rather he has to go back to his family and friends, and no sooner does he decide to do so than he begins to hear the bells.  As a friend of mine says: "The mystic cannot stay on the mountaintop all the time!"  In fact, if he does he will lose all contact with reality and indeed with the very Truth that he has encountered on the mountaintop! 

And so the boy begins to hear the bells of the lost temple when he is fully involved in life, but is at the same time open to its enchantment, its wonder, its mystery and its enlightenment.  He meets the beautiful woman once again who directs him to write the manual in question which is this small but wonderfully wise book. 

Some Words of Wisdom

I will briefly outline here some of the words of wisdom I picked up from Coehlo's small book.

  • The Warrior of Light (WL) values a child's eyes because they are able to look at the world without bitterness.
  • The WL discovers that enthusiasm and training are not enough to win: what counts is experience.
  • A WL is never taken in by appearances, and makes a point of remaining silent when people try to impress him.
  • The moment he begins to walk along it the WL recognizes the path.
  • The WL realises that risk requires a touch of madness.
  • The WL continues to encourage others because that is a way of encouraging himself.
  • A WL knows that he has his faults.  But he knows, too, that he cannot do his growing alone and thus distance himself from his companions.
  • A WL knows that the battle is not the same as the quarrel.
  • Meditation: the WL knows that in the silence of his heart he will hear an order that will guide him.
  • A WL knows that discipline must always be linked with compassion.
  • A WL is like water because he learns to flow around obstacles.
  • A WL knows that diplomacy is very important because it is never war/battle at all costs.
  • A WL never picks fruit while it is still green.  This is the Shakespearean idea: "Ripeness is all" (King Lear, I think!)
  • The WL is as free as the clouds in the sky.
  • The WL is thoroughly committed to his dream.
  • The WL listens.
  • The WL is transparent in his actions, but secretive in his plans.
  • The WL rests but is alert.
  • The WL needs to play like a child.
  • The WL uses fear as an engine not as a brake.
  • The WL never forces things.  He is patient and he takes stock.
  • The WL never accepts what is unacceptable.
  • A WL always questions his motivations.
  • The WL listens to Lao Tzu when he says that we should let go of days and hours in order to pay mopre attention to the now.
  • A WL has no certainties.
  • A WL disposes of his emotional rubbish.
  • A WL knows that the fool who gives advice about someone else's garden is not attending to his own.
  • The WL does not try to be coherent because he has learned to live with his own contradictions.


rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read Warrior of the Light: A Manual by Paulo Coelho. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by "to read" list.

the struggler said...

hey there beautiful review.ive read the book and absolutely loved it but i still dont understand what does the woman here signify?every character in paulo's book has some meaning and i usually understand them.i don't understand this woman and i find myself asking everytime the same que as the boy in the book who is she?do you understand the symbolism behind this woman's character?