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
meditation 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.
hair is uncombed, whose breath is foul, whose sword is all rusty and
neglected. You who are ugly and whose mother dresses you funny.
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
"And that," said
the monk, "is heaven."