This book is familiar to many Western seekers of Truth, for it is a bestseller of spiritual literature. I first read it with 20, just in the middle of my spiritual seeking and was stunned by its power and deepness. I could identify myself with the main character to 1000%, by now it is the most accurate description of my life journey… Recently I came across the film based on this book and was stunned again – after the long spiritual way over these years I could find myself in the main character even more intensely…
I am sure most of my readers not only know the book/film but also can identify themselves with it as much as I do. For the book is truly a brilliant of spiritual literature: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. It is a fable in novella form about a seagull learning about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection. First published in 1970 it soon became a bestseller.
The idea is not new, it exemplifies the four commonalities of a stoic and/or ascetic spiritual path- the themes repeat and are in sequence: The outcast-the journey- the mentor-and the return to teach others:
The book tells the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull who is bored with the daily squabbles over food. Seized by a passion for flight, he pushes himself, learning everything he can about flying, until finally his unwillingness to conform results in his expulsion from his flock. An outcast, he continues to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities as he leads an idyllic life.
One day, Jonathan is met by two gulls who take him to a “higher plane of existence” (reminiscent of the beliefs of Chinese, in that there is no heaven but a better world found through perfection of knowledge), where he meets other gulls who love to fly. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him “pretty well a one-in-a-million bird.” Jonathan befriends the wisest gull in this new place, named Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the Universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to “begin by knowing that you have already arrived…”
Not satisfied with his new life, Jonathan returns to Earth to find others like him, to bring them his learning and to spread his love for flight. His mission is successful, gathering around him others who have been outlawed for not conforming. Ultimately, the very first of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, becomes a teacher in his own right and Jonathan leaves to continue his learning.
For those who have only read the book, I recommend to watch the film – it is not only breathtakingly beautiful but also very meditative. A short note: the novella inspired the production of a motion picture of the same title, with a soundtrack by Neil Diamond. The film was made by Hall Bartlett many years before computer-generated effects were available. In order to make seagulls act on cue and perform aerobatics, Mark Smith of Escondido, California built radio-controlled gliders that looked remarkably like real seagulls from a few feet away – awesome!
(image by me)