Is the author and spiritual seeker Paulo Coelho Jewish?

No Paulo Coelho is not a Jew. He was brought up Catholic and attended a Jesuit school in Brazil. Coelho is not a big fan of any organized religion. He speaks with lyrical disdain and disparagement in his books about the wisdom and ritual of religions.

His current publication, Manuscript Found in Accra, is set in Jerusalem before a battle. The people in the book gather to ask about life so that they can learn enough to save "the soul of Jerusalem." The publisher tells us:
July 14, 1099. Jerusalem awaits the invasion of the crusaders who have surrounded the city’s gates. There, inside the ancient city’s walls, men and women of every age and every faith have gathered to hear the wise words of a mysterious man known only as the Copt. He has summoned the townspeople to address their fears with truth:

“Tomorrow, harmony will become discord. Joy will be replaced by grief. Peace will give way to war. . . . None of us can know what tomorrow will hold, because each day has its good and its bad moments. So, when you ask your questions, forget about the troops outside and the fear inside. Our task is not to leave a record of what happened on this date for those who will inherit the Earth; history will take care of that. Therefore, we will speak about our daily lives, about the difficulties we have had to face.”

The people begin with questions about defeat, struggle, and the nature of their enemies; they contemplate the will to change and the virtues of loyalty and solitude; and they ultimately turn to questions of beauty, love, wisdom, sex, elegance, and what the future holds. “What is success?” poses the Copt. “It is being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace.” ...

Now, these many centuries later, the wise man’s answers are a record of the human values that have endured throughout time. And, in Paulo Coelho’s hands, The Manuscript Found in Accra reveals that who we are, what we fear, and what we hope for the future come from the knowledge and belief that can be found within us, and not from the adversity that surrounds us.
This book is new age in every respect that we can think of especially in the way that it wanders through spiritual landscapes and themes without a care for a conventional framework of organization or presentation.

One passage struck us because it sounded like the utter opposite of the philosophy of life and values that we heard espoused at Yeshiva University by our teacher the Rav, Rabbi Soloveitchik and by his followers.

We will cite Coelho's passage and leave it without explanation; and we wish that understanding will flow to those who understand:
Beauty is present in all creation, but the dangerous fact is that, because we human beings are often cut off from the Divine Energy, we allow ourselves to be influenced by what other people think... And we become ugly and embittered.

At that moment, we can draw comfort from so-called wisdom, an accumulation of ideas put together by people wishing to define the world instead of respecting the mystery of life. This "wisdom" consists of all the unnecessary rules, regulation, and measurements intended to establish a standard of behavior. 
According to that false wisdom, we should not be concerned about beauty because it is superficial and ephemeral. 
That isn't true. All the beings created under the sun, from birds to mountains, from flowers to rivers, reflect the miracle of creation. 
If we resist the temptation to allow other people to define who we are, then we will gradually be able to let the sun inside our own soul shine forth... (pp. 60-61)
Back in 2011 we wrote about his previous book Aleph saying that the book... will greatly entertain the spiritual seeker. By that we mean if you are open to the concepts of past lives and the mystical energies of the universe, this book will speak to you. But even if you are such a seeker, you may feel, as we do, that at times the book overdoes some of its themes.

Within the story Coelho provides some gems of writing. We identified with his metaphor of the Chinese bamboo plant since we had spent several years putting down the roots of our latest book. And now, that book (God's Favorite Prayers) has sprouted up boldly after its publication.

Coelho explains that the Chinese Bamboo first, “...spends 5 years as a little shoot, using that time to develop its complex root system. And then from one moment to the next, it puts on a spurt and grows up to 25 meters high.”

Within the narrative Coelho casts in what can be wonderful observations, if they resonate for you. On the life-value of mistakes he tells us, “...only mediocrity is sure of itself, so take risk and do what you really want to do. Seek out people who aren’t afraid of making mistakes and who, therefore, do make mistakes. Because of that, their work often isn’t recognized, but they are precisely the kind of people who change the world and, after many mistakes, do something that will transform their own community completely”.

He does get this inspiring exhortation partly right. We'd say to seek out people who are afraid to make mistakes -- that is a human trait -- but who nevertheless go ahead and make them. And he does need to differentiate and specify what he means by "mistakes". He surely means the worthy and meaty and bold and creative mistakes, not the foolish ones. And then of course, we all need to know some definition of the notion of "transform" -- but we never do get that from most of those who throw out the idea. We just know that they mean that transformation is something good and different and fresh and original.

It's all in a narrative that is highly intuitive and new age. And we get it and we like it. We also like the title.

1 comment:

Paheliyan said...

I love every bit written by Paulo Coelho but I am really disappointed with this book. Its is a complete re-write of Kahlil Gibran's masterpiece 'The Prophet' which is one of the few works of the master originally written in English and was published in 1923. There is no doubt that Paulo is a very good writer and visionary. Those who haven't read 'The Prophet' will like this book and this will definitely bring some thoughts long forgotten in the daily hustle of life to our attention. but I was left wanting as even the basic plot is too similar.