How to Find the Grail
It Is Within You
“What the undeveloped man seeks is outside, what the advanced man seeks is within himself.”
“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
–Christianity, Luke 17:20—21
“He is seated in the hearts of all.”
–Hinduism, Bhagavad Gita
“On God’s own nature has been molded man’s.”
“God created man in His own image, in the
image of God created He him.”
–Judaism, Genesis 1:27
“His light is in every heart.”
–Sikhism, Guru Nanak
In Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code
the protagonists, Harvard symbologist Robert
Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu, find themselves caught up in a
whirlwind of intrigue and danger as they seek to track down the Holy Grail and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. While evading Paris’s top police detective and a fanatical, murderous albino sent by Opus Dei, they follow clues written in blood and invisible ink provided by Sophie’s murdered grandfather, who
served dual roles as curator at the Louvre and grand master of the Priory of Sion.
After decoding an anagram that guides them to clues hidden behind the Mona Lisa, they are eventually led to a vault in a private bank, where they find the special cipher box–supposedly designed by none other than Leonardo da Vinci–that holds the secret of the Grail. But as Joseph Campbell writes in The Power of Myth
, “The Grail . . . is that which is attained and realized by people who have lived their own lives. The Grail represents the fulfillment of the highest spiritual potentialities of the human consciousness.”
Leonardo may actually have designed a cryptex, or cipher box, like the one described in The Da Vinci Code
, although there is no concrete evidence to support this idea. But in any case, as Leonardo knew very well, to find the secrets of the Grail you must look outside the box and inside yourself. This is the meaning of Paulo Coelho’s enchanting fable The Alchemist
, in which a young shepherd sets out on a perilous pilgrimage through Egypt to seek a magnificent treasure, only to discover that it was hidden in his own backyard. Coelho’s fable echoes the classic Buddhist story of a young prince who sets out on a journey to find a precious jewel beyond any price, only to realize that it was sewn into the lining of his coat from the beginning.
In other words, the treasure, the jewel, the Grail, are all within. This is universal wisdom, echoed in every tradition.
In the following pages, we’ll explore how you can use Leonardo’s inspiration and example to “reach out to heaven,” to awaken and nurture your spiritual growth. We’ll seek to open ourselves to the same Source that Leonardo drew upon to liberate his remarkable gifts. And we’ll be guided in the search for the Grail within each of us by Leonardo’s seven principles.
The seven principles that I first described in How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci
emerged from an intensive study of the Maestro’s life and work. In addition to studying his words, I consulted with and read the writings of many distinguished scholars. I attempted to walk in his footsteps and see the world through his eyes. I went to his birthplace in Anchiano and to the place he died in Amboise, and I contemplated his original works in galleries around the world. I started dreaming about him, and from those dreams, and careful thought based on the research, the seven principles emerged with great clarity.
Seven is a powerful, special number. In addition to being the limit (plus or minus two) of short-term memory, as defined in a famous study done at Harvard, it is also the number of:
Days of the week
Notes in the Western musical scale
Innings to wait before stretching in baseball
Days for God (including His day of rest) to create the world
Pillars of wisdom in Proverbs
Branches of the Tree of Life in the Kabbalah
Years the Buddha sought enlightenment
Times the Buddha circled the bodhi tree
Steps in spiritual evolution according to Sufism
Chakras, or wheels of energy, from the Hindu tradition
Sacraments in Catholicism
Trumpets sounding on Judgment Day
Stars Christ held in his hand in the Book of Revelation
In the quest to understand Leonardo’s approach, after discovering seven principles I tried to find an eighth principle, and also attempted to consolidate down to six. But it couldn’t be done. There are seven principles, irreducible and complete. I describe them below, summarizing how Leonardo embodied each one in his life and offering their “translation” into spiritual terms.
1. Seek the truth (curiosità). An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. Curiosità is the wellspring of lifelong learning and creativity, so it is fitting that Leonardo may have been the most curious person who ever lived. Curiosità is also the expression of our yearning for connection with the Divine.
2. Take responsibility (dimostrazione). A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. By rejecting dogma and superstition, Leonardo took responsibility for his own search. The spiritual journey requires us to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions, and ultimately for all of creation.
3. Sharpen awareness (sensazione). The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience. Leonardo noted that “the five senses are the ministers of the soul.” He penetrated into the depths of creation by honing his awareness.
4. Engage the shadow (sfumato). A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty. Leonardo’s search for light led him beyond the embrace of ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty. His quest led him, literally and figuratively, to engage and understand darkness. This is often the missing link in the spiritual path.
5. Cultivate balance (arte/scienza). The balancing of left and right-brain thinking, culminating in whole-brain thinking. Leonardo’s persona and work express more than just a balance between logic and imagination, science and art; they represent the essential balance of the masculine and feminine principles in creation.
6. Nurture integration (corporalità). The integration of mind and body through the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise. Leonardo’s outstanding physical gifts and remarkable insights into anatomy, healing, and wellness were an expression of his integration of body, energy, and spirit.
7. Practice love (connessione). A recognition and appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena; systems thinking. Leonardo knew that “everything connects to everything else.” He was pointing toward an understanding that all of creation is linked and that the universe is an expression of divine love.
In Part Two, we’ll explore the seven principles as they apply to your spiritual development. Each principle will be introduced with a single image created by Leonardo and elaborated through powerful words drawn from the world’s great wisdom traditions. We’ll consider how each principle manifested in Leonardo’s work and how it links to timeless, universal spiritual understanding. Then you’ll have the opportunity to contemplate a simple self-assessment designed to help you deepen your understanding of the presence of the principle in your life now, followed by some practices to help you become more susceptible to grace. Each chapter will conclude with another Leonardo image to inspire you while doing the practices.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Da Vinci Decoded by Michael J. Gelb. Copyright © 2004 by Michael J. Gelb. Excerpted by permission of Delta, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.