Sunday, August 21, 2011

Entry 146 8.18.11

Entry 146, August 18th, 2011, 10:50pm (GMT +2)

In one of Paulo Coelho's books (I think it is “The Valkyries,”) he writes:

Love and peace are mutually exclusive.”

Are they?

Coelho has certainly chosen the path of love rather than the path of peace. He's had a turbulent private life, with at least three failed marriages. Another of his books (“The Zahir”) details his search for the love his of his life – she vanishes when their marriage begins to fall into mediocrity. Coelho's life has been a series of soaring successes and crushing defeats – full, rich, and interesting, perhaps, but not peaceful.

So I'm going to tackle this question from two different directions. First, does the search for peace exclude love from one's life? And second, does the search for love do the same in reverse?

Regarding the second question, Buddhists would say no. In fact, peace must be attained to make true love possible. Peace is the absence of all suffering, and suffering is caused by attachment. Attachment comes between us and love, because when we are attached to someone we fear what will happen to us if they leave or change. We're not really loving them, because we're too busy loving what they do for us. Only by letting that attachment dissolve can we truly love them.

This is all very well and good, but how many people do you know that have totally let go of attachment in their personal lives? I don't know any. The vast majority of people will be hurt when a loved one leaves, whether due to conflict, chance, or death. Unless we have achieved total detachment from all of our relationships, to seek love means to seek eventual suffering. And so I argue that Coelho is correct from this angle.

So what about the other direction? At first, it seems to be that the reverse would be equally true. Nothing has really changed in the equation. Except . . .

How can someone seek peace without having first known love? No one can avoid the hype that love gets in our society – wouldn't you wonder if you were missing out on something if you decided to avoid love altogether?

And let's take a look at the great philosophical figures of human history. The Buddha preached the middle path of moderation, but he only achieved enlightenment after experiencing both opulent luxury in his childhood and harsh austerity as an acetic. He even abandoned a wife and child to seek enlightenment! And there's a fair bit of Jesus's life that's undocumented between his childhood and the beginning of his ministry – one can only imagine a young, intelligent carpenter with great personal charisma doing fairly well for himself in the holy land. One can only wonder why the acolytes of the world's religions insist on lifestyles that the great masters themselves didn't necessarily follow.

Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse's fictional protagonist in the book by the same name, says this after living several years in miserable opulence:

“ “It is good,” he thought, “to get a taste of everything for oneself, which one needs to know. That lust for the world and riches do not belong to the good things, I have already learned as a child. I have known it for a long time, but I have experienced only now. And now I know it, don’t just know it in my memory, but in my eyes, in my heart, in my stomach. Good for me, to know this!”

Maybe it is the same with love. To reject love because it causes suffering may make logical sense, but to reject something without really knowing it first is not much of a gesture!

So is Coelho right? I don't know. In the short term, yes – the search for love is a turbulent and painful one (even as it is wonderful at the same time). But if I had to guess, I would say that the path to peace lies through that turbulence somewhere – in learning to accept the good along with the bad, and in learning to come to peace with the pain that life brings.


  1. Interestingly enough, the protagonist in Coelho's Brida comes to a similar conclusion regarding Jesus, again taking into consideration those "undocumented" parts of his life, she proposes that he must have known the love of a woman at some point to have that kind of peace and strong empathy for people (and women in particular). In this book especially, Coelho focuses largely on the sacred nature of love and sex, suggesting that the latter is the most common way of attaining a state of nirvana-like peace. So I'm not sure he really sees them as mutually exclusive, unless by love he is referring to desire, or by peace he means complacency. There's another character in the book which does learn to set aside his impatient desires for the sake of love and in so doing finds peace, oddly enough.


  2. You mean the Magus, right? He sets them aside for a bit, yes, but he does get with Brida eventually . . . and then they can't be together in the end. He is at peace with that, yes, but it does hurt him to let her go I think. So perhaps the definition of peace needs to be looked at here, because he is at peace and suffering.

    But I don't know if Coelho really thinks they are exclusive in the long run either. I think that he puts those words in his own mouth in the Valkyries, but he came out of that book a much wiser person than going in.

    Maybe the point of it all is coming to peace with the pain that love (and life) brings? What do you think?