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“One of the best works of Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist is not only philosophy, it is good philosophy. It tells us that life is not about the consequences, but about the journey.”
Coelho grew up in a middle-class family in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become an engineer but after stating his wish to be a writer, Coelho was put in and out of mental institutions for three years. Coelho is one of the world’s best-selling authors. The Alchemist, which was inspired by a tale in The Thousand and One Nights, has sold 20 million copies. It also won the Guinness world record for the most translated book by a living author.
Santiago the shepherd lives in the hills of Andalucía. His parents have always toiled for the basics in life and have extinguished their own aspirations accordingly. Andalucía is a beautiful place and also very popular tourist destination due to its unusual villages and rolling hills, but for his parents it is a place of no imagination. Santiago is very different from his parents he is educated and ambitious and wants to see the world. Although he loves his flock he couldn’t help but notice the finite nature of their reality, they sought only food and water and failed to admire the beauty of nature. One day he goes into town to sell a part of his flock, and meets a tramp-king and a gypsy woman who urge him to leave the world as he knows it and “follow him omens”. The gypsy woman reveals that the pyramids of Egypt contain the treasure he seeks and directs him there. Insanely trusting her, he trades his flock and sets sail towards Egypt. Early on in his journey he experiences a setback when a crook in Tangier loots him of his possessions. So much labor and regimen for a little feat! But shockingly, Santiago was not disheartened, as he had the security of knowing that he was on the right path. His life now was a complete contrast to his life before, with every day being new and gratifying. He always reminds himself about what he was advised in the market place before he set said: “When you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
The concept of pursuing your ambitions dreams is a great one, but is hope based on nothing? When you ponder over the time and effort you give something once you are dedicated to it, probably not. What you think is the “universe conspiring to give you what you want” is actually and more accurately a reflection of your own perseverance to make something happen. Reading “The Alchemist” we are reminded of Goethe’s demand: “’Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it – boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
The book does not fail to remind us that dreams have a price, but as Coelho has stated in many of his interviews, not living your dream also has a price. For the same money he said, “You can either buy a horrible jacket that doesn’t fit, or one that suits you and looks right.” This book tells us that there will be hardships in whatever you do in life, but it is better to have trouble that makes sense because it ultimately leads you to your goals. Otherwise, adversities just seem insidious, one horrible hindrance after another. The ones who follow their dreams and aspirations have the bigger responsibility of managing their own freedom. Although this might not seem like a big expense it does require a certain amount of alertness we may not be used to.
When Santiago meets the old man in the town square, the old man tells him not to believe “the biggest lie” that you can’t control your destiny. He tells Santiago that he can control his own destiny but to do so he must “read the omens”, which is possible only when u begin to “see the world as one”. The world can be read like a book, but we will never be able to fathom it if we live a closed type of life, satisfied with what we have and afraid to wager anything. “Destiny requires the oxygen of higher awareness”.
The Alchemist is extraordinary for being a love story that rejects the notion that romantic love must be the pivotal thing in each one’s life. It teaches us that each and every one of us has a destiny to pursue that exists independently of others. It is what you would do, or who you would become, even if u had all the love and wealth in the world. The treasure that Santiago seeks in this story is symbolic of the personal dream or destiny, but he is glad to leave his treasure when he discovers the women of his dreams in a dessert oasis. Yet the Alchemist tells him that his woman’s love would only be proven true if she is willing to support him in his search for the treasure.
Santiago’s predicament is about the battle between love and destiny, very often we are shown that the love relationship is the meaning and importance of our life, but this fixation with the romantic coupling can isolate us from a life more linked with the rest of the world. Coelho understood that our heart also has needs and so he said, “ live your life around the dream and there will be more heart in your life than you can now comprehend, no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” Although romantic love is crucial, it is not your duty as is chasing your dreams. Only through dedication to our dreams is the “Soul of the world” revealed to us, the knowledge which consumes alienation and gives strength.
The Alchemist that Santiago meet sin the desert is the real thing. He could actually convert base metals into gold, the aim of the medieval alchemists. On asking why the other alchemists never accomplished this feat Santiago gets a strange answer, “They were only looking for gold.” This means that the other alchemists were only looking for the treasure of their destiny rather than actually trying to live their destiny. Their focus on a prize reduced the essence of the present.
This is very alike to the Hindu concept of not looking for the fruit of our actions, but just acting according to our dharma or principle. There is a profound difference between living out the destiny, as you understand it, and rushing to accomplish some far away goal. “Destiny is not a prize but a state of being” and is fulfilled only when, as the camel driver counseled Santiago, “we live in the present.” Alchemy is complicated to comprehend as it is a science that mixes matter and spirit. An alchemist spends years patiently heating and purifying, but the outcome, a result of their complete concentration in the task was the purification of themselves. The moral being can make the difference between the prize and the journey.
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