“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.”
“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
I’m always never really sure where I fit in with The Alchemist. This is my second time reading the book; the first was when I decided to pick it up with all the excited hype surrounding it when it was published here in the States. I wasn’t entirely fond of it. It was a nice read and carried an inspiring message, but I could not bring myself to proclaim it the piece of work everyone made it out to be. I think I liked it a little better on the second reading but I think I simply have a very different philosophy on realizing my dreams than Coelho does. And that’s okay.
The Alchemist is a simple tale of a young shepherd named Santiago that goes off in search of a treasure said to be buried at the pyramids; this journey and the discovery of this treasure is realizing his Personal Legend. On the way, of course, he learns many valuable lessons, meets people who will help him on his way, and falls in love. He must brave the dangers of the desert and prove that he can turn himself into wind. This book is very spiritual, with a leaning toward Coelho’s Catholic upbringing, which can feel out of place at times, since the idea of the Personal Legend seems more inspired by something a bit more Eastern.
Everyone has a Personal Legend. And to realize that legend is a person’s only obligation in life. Those who are in pursuit of their Personal Legend will have the world help them; all things conspired in favour of achieving that legend. But, far too often, people lose sight of their Personal Legends, or are lead to believe that it is irresponsible to dedicate oneself to realizing it. So most people are just content with letting their Personal Legends go, while others, like a crystal merchant that the shepherd works for, are afraid of realizing it because they do not know what happens after that goal has been realized.
I believe in Personal Legends; I have one myself, and perhaps that’s why The Alchemist, when I first read it, did not leave as big of an impact on me. I already knew what my goals were and I was already in a place in my life where I knew that it was the most important thing in my life to realize it. I can also understand why it might be pretty groundbreaking for some people to read something that suggests that you should never give up your dream, you should sacrifice everything for that dream, and you should just put faith that the dream will happen.
I think what ultimately rubs me the wrong way, though, is the fact that Santiago’s Personal Legend is finding treasure. I liked it better when he thought his goal was to travel, and so that was why he became a shepherd, so he could wander and drift and pursue that. But then he has a dream about the treasure, and everything becomes about this goal to find this material thing that may or may not be there. I understand that the fact that it may not be there ties into faith; I understand that if he didn’t pursue the treasure, he would have never understood the language and Soul of the World or meet his true love, but it seems so unfulfilled to me to have the prize be something almost rooted in greed. Granted, Santiago never really focuses on what he’d do with the treasure once he finds it; it isn’t about being rich for him so much as it is simply about finding it and the journey to do so, but I guess I simply wasn’t fully convinced that it was the shepherd’s true Personal Legend. It’s hard for me to think that something you dream about a few times and then have some mysterious old man talk to you about it is really the crux of the ultimate goal of your life.
Blah blah blah, simplified story for the purpose of a parable, I know. But I would have liked it better if it was just to see the Pyramids, rather than finding a treasure there, although I’ll note that I really love how the book ends. I won’t say anything more for those who have not read it, but the ending makes me feel a little better about my blasphemous opinion on Coelho’s big book.
So I’m going to give the story my own little spin of an ending. I’m reminded of saying that explains that sutras are like a boat: they are necessary to help you cross the river, but, once on the other side, you are better off leaving the boat there rather than carrying it with you on your back. Santiago’s treasure, then, is like a boat. It will get him to the other side, but, once there, it will only burden him.
Books Read: 17 out of 100.