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Heaven and Hell

From Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents. Collected and adapted by Sarah Conover (Cheney and Spokane, WA: Eastern Washington University Press, 2001);used with permission.

Long ago in Japan, a samurai—a warrior of those ancient times—went to visit a monk named Hakuin. The samurai was elaborately dressed in armor, and by his side swung a gleaming, sharp sword. He was a big, proud fellow, used to getting whatever he wanted.

"Hakuin!" The samurai bellowed at the temple door, "I want to have a word with you right now!"

Unruffled, the monk ended his meditation with a slow bow. He rose from his meditation bench and took some time to stretch his legs before turning toward his visitor. The large figure of the impatient samurai blocked the temple entrance.

"Well, monk," grunted the samurai, "If you know so much and are so wise, tell me all you know about heaven and hell!"

Hakuin inspected the fierce-looking samurai closely. Finally he replied, "You disrupted my meditation to ask something every fool knows? What kind of second-rate soldier are you? You look like a tramp in that outfit! Did you steal that sword from a child? It wouldn't slice a cucumber! Leave this temple and never bother me again!"

If you can picture the reddest plum you've ever seen in your life, you can picture the color of the insulted samurai's face. He was furious! No one ever dared to speak to a samurai rudely—they would surely lose their life before they had time to apologize! In a flash the samurai unsheathed his sword and raised it high over Hakuin's head. "You will die for those words little monk!" he roared.

Hakuin looked directly at the warrior. "This is what hell feels like," said the monk calmly. The samurai froze, his sword poised in mid-air. In an instant he understood that his anger did feel like fire—the fires of a terrible place! The samurai slowly lowered his sword to his side and resheathed it. By the time his gaze met the monk's, his anger had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He felt as if cool water had extinguished the fire: he was grateful and calm.

"And this is what heaven feels like," said Hakuin, looking at the samurai's peaceful face.

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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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