An old monk was sitting in deep meditation by the side of the road with his eyes half closed, his legs crossed and his hands folded in his lap.
Suddenly his meditation was interrupted by the gruff and strident voice of a samurai warrior. “Old man! Can you teach me about heaven and hell!”
At first, the monk appeared unmoved but gradually his eyes opened fully displaying a twinkle. The faintest hint of a smile played around the corners of his mouth. the samurai stood there in a threatening stance, becoming increasingly agitated.
“You wish to know the secrets of heaven and hell?” the monk eventually replied in a kind and gentle voice. “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 did’t hear the kindness in the monk’s voice. He only heard the mocking words and so as he 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 samurai was beginning the lethal blow.
Instantly, the samurai was overcome with amazement, awe, recognition and compassion for this gentle being who had dared to risk his very life to give him such a teaching. His arms went limp and in mid-flight the sword fell to a harmless position and the samurai’s eyes filled with grateful tears.
“And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”