The Chess Game – A Spiritual Story by Paulo Coelho

A young man said to the abbot from the monastery:

“I'd actually like to be a monk, but I haven't learned anything in life. All my father taught me was to play chess, which does not lead to enlightenment. Apart from that, I learned that all games are a sin.”

“They may be a sin but they can also be a diversion, and who knows, this monastery needs a little of both,” was the reply.

The abbot asked for a chess board, sent for a monk and told him to play the young man. But before the game began, he added:

“Although we need diversion, we cannot allow everyone to play chess the whole time. So, we only have the best players here; if our monk loses, he will leave the monastery and his place will be yours.”

The abbot was serious. The young man knew he was playing for his life, and broke into a cold sweat; the chess board became the center of the world.

The monk began badly. The young man attacked, but then saw the saintly look on the monk's face; at that moment, he began playing badly on purpose. After all, he would rather lose; a monk is far more useful to the world.

Suddenly, the abbot threw the chess board to the floor.

“You have learned far more than was taught you,” he said. “You concentrated yourself enough to win, were capable of fighting for that which you desire. Then, you had compassion, and were willing to make a sacrifice in the name of a noble cause.

Welcome to the monastery, because you know how to balance discipline with compassion.”

Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian author who has sold more than 100 million books, which include 14 short story collections and the novel “The Alchemist.”

What is the Spiritual Moral / Meaning of “The Chess Game” by Paulo Coelho?

In the quiet corridors of spiritual seeking, we often find ourselves faced with the paradox of discipline versus compassion. The story of the young man and the monk illustrates this delicate balance, showing us that while discipline is essential on the path to enlightenment, it must always be tempered with compassion. Through the interplay of these two virtues, we learn to navigate life's challenges with grace and wisdom, embodying the true essence of spiritual growth.

At the heart of the story lies the theme of purposeful action. The young man's desire to become a monk reflects his longing for a deeper meaning in life, yet he feels ill-prepared due to his limited experiences. However, as the game of chess unfolds, he discovers that even seemingly mundane skills can serve a higher purpose when infused with intention and mindfulness. This teaches us that every action, no matter how trivial it may seem, has the potential to lead us closer to our spiritual goals if approached with awareness and purpose.

The abbot's decision to test the young man's resolve through a game of chess symbolizes the trials and tribulations we encounter on our spiritual journey. Just as the young man faced the challenge of winning the game to secure his place in the monastery, we too are often called to overcome obstacles and adversities in pursuit of our spiritual aspirations. These challenges serve as opportunities for growth and self-discovery, allowing us to cultivate resilience and inner strength.

As the game progresses, the young man experiences a profound shift in consciousness. Initially driven by fear and self-preservation, he realizes the true essence of compassion when he chooses to intentionally play poorly to spare the monk from losing his place in the monastery. This pivotal moment reminds us that true compassion arises from a place of selflessness and empathy, transcending personal gain and egoic desires.

The abbot's ultimate revelation highlights the transformative power of compassion in spiritual practice. By recognizing the young man's ability to balance discipline with compassion, the abbot welcomes him into the monastery, affirming that the young man has indeed learned far more than what was taught to him. This profound insight speaks to the inherent wisdom that resides within each of us, waiting to be awakened through acts of kindness, empathy, and compassion.

In essence, the story of the young man and the monk serves as a timeless reminder of the interconnectedness of discipline and compassion on the path to enlightenment. As we navigate the complexities of life, may we strive to cultivate a harmonious balance between discipline and compassion, recognizing that it is through this delicate dance that we uncover the true essence of our spiritual nature.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. How does the young man's initial perception of his own abilities and limitations reflect our own self-perceptions and beliefs about what we can achieve in life?
  2. Reflect on the significance of the abbot's decision to use a game of chess as a test for the young man. What does this choice symbolize about the nature of challenges and obstacles on the spiritual path?
  3. Consider the young man's inner turmoil as he realizes the gravity of the situation he is in. Have you ever experienced a similar moment of intense pressure or uncertainty? How did you respond?
  4. Explore the young man's shift from self-interest to compassion as he intentionally plays poorly to spare the monk from losing his place in the monastery. What does this reveal about the transformative power of empathy and selflessness?
  5. Reflect on the abbot's response to the young man's actions. How does his recognition of the young man's ability to balance discipline with compassion speak to the importance of inner qualities on the spiritual journey?
  6. Consider the role of intentionality in the young man's actions throughout the story. How does his conscious choice to act with purpose and mindfulness influence the outcome of the situation?
  7. Reflect on the significance of the chess board becoming the center of the world for the young man. What does this imagery suggest about the nature of focus and concentration in the pursuit of spiritual growth?
  8. Explore the theme of sacrifice as portrayed in the story. How does the young man's willingness to sacrifice his own desires for the greater good resonate with your own understanding of spiritual values?
  9. Consider the parallels between the young man's journey and your own quest for enlightenment. What lessons can be gleaned from his experiences that may apply to your own spiritual path?
  10. Reflect on the abbot's final words to the young man and their significance in the context of the story. How does his affirmation of the young man's ability to balance discipline with compassion offer guidance for your own spiritual journey?