The disciple went to see his master.

“For years now I have sought enlightenment,” he said. “I feel I am very close now, but I want to know what my next step should be.”

“How do you earn your living?” asked the master.

“I’ve never yet had to earn my living, because my mother and father have always supported me, but that’s a mere detail.”

“Your next step is to look at the sun for half a minute,” said the master.

The disciple obeyed.

When he had done as he was told, he was asked by the master to describe the countryside around him.

“I can’t see a thing, because the sun blinded me,” said the disciple.

“A man who seeks only the light and hands all his responsibilities to others will never find enlightenment. A man who keeps his eyes fixed only on the sun will end up blind,” said the master.

A man was walking along a valley in the Pyrenees when he met an old shepherd. He shared his food with him, and they talked for a long time about life.

The man said that, if he were to believe in God, he would also have to believe that he had no free will, since God would govern his every step.

The shepherd then took him to a mountain pass, where every sound came back to them in the form of a perfectly clear echo.

“Life is like the walls of this mountain pass, and fate is the cry of each and every person,” said the shepherd. “Whatever we do will be carried up to God’s heart and returned to us in kind. God acts as the echo of our actions.”

Maktub means “it is written.” To Arabic speakers, though, this is not the best translation because, even if everything has already been written, God is merciful and only uses His pen and ink to help us.

The traveller is in New York. He wakes up late for an appointment, and when he goes out into the street, he finds that his car has been towed away by the police.

He arrives at his meeting late, lunch drags on for longer than necessary, and he’s worried about the fine. It will cost him a fortune. Suddenly, he remembers the dollar bill he found the previous day. He makes a crazy connection between the dollar bill and what happened that morning. “Perhaps I picked up the bill before it could be found by the person it was intended for. Perhaps I removed it from the path of someone who really needed it. Perhaps I interfered with what was written.”

He needs to get rid of it, and at that very moment, he sees a beggar sitting on the sidewalk.

He quickly hands him the dollar bill.

“Just a moment,” says the beggar. “I’m a poet, and I want to repay you with a poem.”

“Make it short, because I’m in a hurry,” says the traveller.

The beggar says: “If you’re still alive, that’s because you haven’t yet reached the place you’re supposed to reach.”

The disciple said to his master:

“I’ve spent much of the day thinking things I shouldn’t think, wanting things I shouldn’t want, and making plans I shouldn’t make.”

The master invited the disciple to go for a walk in the woods near his house. On the way, he pointed to a plant and asked his disciple if he knew what it was.

“Belladonna,” said his disciple. “It can kill you if you eat the leaves.”

“But it can’t kill you if you just look at it,” said his master. “In the same way, negative thoughts can’t harm you as long as you don’t allow yourself to be seduced by them.”

A chain of mountains separates France and Spain. At the foot of those mountains is a village called Argelès, and in that village is a hill that leads down into the valley.

Every afternoon, an old man goes up and down that hill.

When the traveler went to Argelès for the first time, he didn’t really notice this. The second time, he did notice that he always passed the same old man. And each time he visited the village, he picked out more details: the man’s clothes, his beret, his walking stick, his glasses. Now, whenever he thinks about that village, he also thinks about the old man, who of course is quite unaware of this.

Only once did the traveller speak to him, asking in a jokey way: “Do you think God lives in these lovely mountains all around us?”

“God,” said the old man, “lives wherever people allow Him in.”

Excerpted with permission from Maktub, Paulo Coelho, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, Thorsons.