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,
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,
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
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."