The final week of the school year seemed to me very special.
It is not because I could expect freer life during the coming vacation, but because I wondered whether I rendered good teaching providing my students with valuable knowledge worth the tuition fees paid by them and their parents like myself. I felt mixed and indebted, in particular, to the students who graduate soon from the college. I was afraid how they could remember my lecture in their final semester at college.
I was reminded of an international bestseller, "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho, Brazilian storyteller, expecting priceless metal delivered by the teacher could become precious gold through a series of chemical reactions with the help of students' own catalyst. To my disappointment, there were a few students who read the book.
So I raised several questions about this fable for adults, and summarized its content and lessons to be learned as follows (Page numbers in ( ) is the location of the phrases quoted from the paperback published by HarperCollins):
Q1. Why did a mere shepherd of Andalucia, Santiago, embark on an adventurous travel to leave his home country for the Pyramids?
All of a sudden, did he have a dream to search "treasures in Egypt" like picking a lottery card? Or did he really want to see an extended horizon which we are always longing for?
The horizon was tinged with red, and suddenly the sun appeared. The boy . . . felt happy; he had already seen many castles and met many women. He owned a jacket, a book that he could trade for another, and a flock of sheep. But, most important, he was able every day to live out his dream. If he were to tire of the Andalusian fields, he could sell his sheep and go to sea, he would already have known other cities, other women, and other chances to be happy.(p.10)
Q2. What should we do first to fulfil our dream?
1) Santiago offered one tenth of the proceeds of sheep sold at the market to the mysterious old man, and the king of Salem told the boy some informative advice.
[T]here is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it's because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. . . [O]r even search for treasure. The Soul of the World is nourished by people's happiness. And also by unhappiness, envy, and jealousy. To realize one's destiney is a person's only real obligation. All things are one. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.(pp.22-23)
[The old man Melchizedek said with a smile] "Sometimes I appear in the for of a solution, or a good idea. At other times, at a crucial moment, I make it easier for things to happen. There are other things I do, too, but most of the time people don't realize I've done them."(p.24)
2) At last, Santiago crossed the Gibraltar Strait and went to Tangier in Africa. There a nice looking kind guy swindled all the money out of him. But he was not be frustrated by the misfortune. He was employed by a crystal shop, and worked very hard with creative ideas and extraordinary diligence. The crystal merchant trusted Santiago and suggested that Santiago could succeed him in managing the crystal shop.
[The wise man] suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours. "Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do something," said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. "As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill." The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was.
"Well," asked the wise man, "did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?" The boy was embarraseed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.
"Then go back and observe the marvels of my world," said the wise man. "You cannot trust a man if you don't know his house." Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace. . . Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen. "But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?" asked the wise man. Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.
"Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you," said the wisest of wise men. "The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon."(pp.33-34)
[A camel driver talked about the fortune telling] "When people consult me, it's not that I'm reading the future; I am guessing at the future. The future belongs to God, and it is only he who reveals it, under extraordinary circumstances. How do I guess at the future? Based on the omens of the present. The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity. . . Only when he, himself, reveals it. And God only rarely reveals the future. When he does so, it is for only one reason: it's a future that was written so as to be altered."(pp.108-09)
3) When Santiago joined the caravan crossing the Sahara Desert, there was another devoted man in the group. He was an Englishman who wanted to study alchemy in the desert.
However, the Alchemist in the desert admitted as his student not the Englishman but Santiago. The Englishman was studying alchemy to earn profit and reputation. On the contrary, Santiago saw a vision of an army invading the oasis, and stayed there to persuade the residents of the oasis. He didn't escape the scene. He dared to inform his unbelievable vision to the chieftain of the oasis at the risk of his life. The alchemist in the desert was willing to be a teacher and guide for Santiago as he rated high Santiago's mind and bravery.
[A stranger placed his sword at the boy's forehead and asked] "Why did you read the flight of the hawks? . . . Who are you to change what Allah has willed? . . . I had to test your courage. Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World. You must not let up, even after having come so far. Your must love the desert, but never trust it completely. Because the desert tests all men: it challenges every step, and kills those who become distracted."(pp.116-17)
[The alchemist poured a red wine into the boy's cup] "It's not what enters men's mouths that's evil. It's what comes out of their mouths that is. Drink and enjoy yourself. . . Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. You've got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the the way can make sense."(pp.121-22)
Q3. Isn't digging the ground beside the Pyramids futile labor?
To realize a dream deserves strong belief and indomitable patience. At that time a group of refugees approached Santiago. One of them seized the boy and yanked him back out of the hole [which he was digging]. They failed to rob him of any precious thing. Their leader scolded him. But a man with a dream was ready to appreciate the valuable advice although it was in fact an insult.
[A leader of refugees standing in front of the Pyramids scolded him] "[Y]ou'll learn that a man shouldn't be so stupid. Two years ago, right here on this spot, I had a recurrent dream, too. I dreamed that I should travel to the fields of Spain and look for a ruined church where shepherds and their sheep slept. In my dream, there was a sycamore growing out of the ruins of the sacristy, and I was told that, if I dug at the roots of the sycamore, I would find a hidden treasure. But I'm not so stupid as to cross an entire desert just because of a recurrent dream."
The boy stood up shakily, and looked once more at the Pyramids. They seemed to laugh at him, and he laughed back, his heart bursting with joy. Because now he knew where his treasure was.(pp.171-72)
Q4. What kind of lesson can we learn from this fabulous story?
I think anyone could learn something from this short fable. Or he would put this book on the table without remembering it.
But it's true hundreds of millions readers all over the world have been moved and impressed by the story.
If you aspire to realize a plan with good motivation and passion, and carry on such a plan, "ostensibly priceless metal might turn to be precious gold by the mechanism all the universe conspired to bring about." That's the core message of alchemy.
In the Korean version