INSTANT WISDOM > SPECIAL > WISDOM
08/31/00

The Secret of Heaven and Hell 

The old monk sat by the side of the road. With his eyes closed, his
legs crossed and his hands folded in his lap, he sat. In deep
meditation, he sat. Suddenly his zazen was interrupted by the harsh
and demanding voice of a samurai warrior. "Old man! Teach me about
heaven and hell!"

At first, as though he had not heard, there was no perceptible
response from the monk. But gradually he began to open his eyes, the
faintest hint of a smile playing around the corners of his mouth as
the samurai stood there, waiting impatiently, growing more and more
agitated with each passing second. "You wish to know the secrets of
heaven and hell?" replied the monk at last. "You who are so unkempt.
You whose hands and feet are covered with dirt. You whose hair is
uncombed, whose breath is foul, whose sword is all rusty and
neglected. You who are ugly and whose mother dresses you funny. You
would ask me of heaven and hell?" 

The samurai uttered a vile curse. He drew his sword and raised it high
above his head. His face turned to crimson and the veins on his neck
stood out in bold relief as he prepared to sever the monk's head from
its shoulders.

"That is hell," said the old monk gently, just as the sword began its
descent.

In that fraction of a second, the samurai was overcome with amazement,
awe, compassion and love for this gentle being who had dared to risk
his very life to give him such a teaching. He stopped his sword in
mid-flight and his eyes filled with grateful tears.

"And that," said the monk, "is heaven."

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