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December 27, 2009

Gardeners seek to emulate Parzival—the knight who followed the guidance of his divinely-inspired heart to the hiding place of the Grail.

In the epic poem Parzival, written by medieval poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, the world has fallen into ruin because of an ongoing war between the forces of good and evil. As the war rages in heaven between God and Satan, a band of neutral angels bring the Grail down from heaven and hide it on Earth to prevent it from being destroyed in the crossfire. (In this tale, the Grail is not the cup of Christ from the Last Supper, but a rock that embodies the divine quality of unconditional love and compassion.)

These neutral angels charged an earthly knight with protecting the Grail, but the newly-minted Grail King quickly fails to represent that spirit of unconditional love and compassion when he draws his sword against another knight in the name of a virtue. During the ensuing duel, both opponents are maimed. As a result—just as conflict has wreaked havoc in heaven—combat between the guardian of the Grail on Earth and his opponent renders the world into a total wasteland.

A replacement Grail King is needed who can reconcile this world split by strife, and pioneer the establishment of a new order. Into this world Wolfram introduces the hero Parzival, whose name in French perce a val means “pierce through the middle” or “one who finds the way between opposites.” Parzival’s spiritual missions in this tale are to achieve at-one-ment between warring parties, and to pioneer a new spiritual order based on the heart rather than the rules of the day about virtue and evil. These missions are those of a Gardener even though Parzival—and Wolfram, his author-creator—were both actual medieval knights.

Immediately after Parzival begins his quest for the Grail, he meets the maimed Grail King in agony on his throne in the Grail Castle. Rather than compassionately asking the Grail King why he suffers, Parzival—attempting to behave as a “proper,” quiet, obedient, respectful knight should—merely stands at attention, awaiting an order. As a result, the next morning the Grail King’s castle magically expels him, and disappears. Parzival wanders for years before realizing that he had failed spiritually with the Grail King—that holy, virtuous service means responding compassionately and without regard for one’s station in life, or the station of those who need you, rather than engaging in crusades in the name of virtue.

During his time in the wilderness, Parzival learns to follow his heart rather than the rules of his day. All other knights questing for the Grail fail because they (1) roar off the path to vanquish evil, or (2) follow orders from political and spiritual authorities to deviate. Parzival, however, follows the compass of his own divinely-inspired heart.

Along the way he falls madly in love with and marries the beautiful young queen Condwiramurs rather than agreeing to an arranged marriage. He has many other adventures until finally he faces a “heathen soldier”—a Muslim knight from the court of the Caliph of Baghdad. Parzival is duty-bound to fight, but refuses, later learning that the Muslim knight is his own half-brother.

Only after passing these three spiritual tests—that he should pursue the ways of compassion (as with the Grail King), the ways of true love (as with his wife), and the ways of at-one-ment (that he and his enemy are one) does he rediscover the location of the Grail Castle. Inside, he approaches the maimed Grail King again and asks “Why are you hurt? How can I help you?” And this signal of compassion is all that is necessary to heal the Grail King, reveal the Grail in its radiant glory, and restore the entire world to vitality.

In Galahad’s story, the world falls into ruin because it abandoned principle. In Parzival’s story, it falls because it refused to be guided by the heart.

For Gardeners, the best, truest hero is the one who pursues with single-minded devotion one’s calling from God despite impossible odds.

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