Written by Ruth Howard – founder of The Joy Story. Artwork by Ian Grant, Australian artist.
This is a beautiful story about how a Zen Master’s love and wisdom changed the life of one very angry samurai.
Heaven and hell.
There was once a samurai who wanted to learn the difference between heaven and hell. He sought until he found a Master from whom he thought he could learn. He stood before the Master and asked him what was the difference between heaven and hell. The Master took the samurai’s sword and, turning it to the flat of the blade, struck the samurai on the head. The samurai was very surprised at this but chose to ignore it. He thought that the Master had failed to hear or understand his question. He once again asked the Master about the difference between heaven and hell. Again the Master struck the samurai on the head.
The samurai staggered back and puzzled over this. He approached with his question for a third time and, before he could utter a word, the Master struck him a third time. The samurai was now so angry at this behaviour that he grabbed his sword from the Master, raised it over his head and was about to bring it down on the Master’s head when the Master raised one finger and the samurai paused.
“That is hell,” said the Master, looking him in the eye.
The samurai was instantly so overcome by the courage of this frail old man – to have risked his life for the sake of a stranger’s question – that he fell to his knees and bowed before the Master.
“And that is heaven,” said the Master gently.
The samurai understood his experience of his anger and wanting to strike the Master was his own hell.
He understood his experience of his alert consciousness of bowing before the Master was his own heaven.
The only thing that made the difference were his thoughts that changed in just a few seconds.
NB. I have never seen this story attributed to anyone and does not seem to have any copyright attached to it. Many variations of it can be found on the internet.