The Samurai and the Zen Master

Zen SamuraiThe old monk sat by the side of the road, with his eyes closed, his legs crossed and his hands folded in his lap in deep meditation.

Suddenly his tranquil- ity was interrupted by the harsh and demand- ing voice of a samurai warrior standing before him. “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 slowly 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 moment.

“You wish to know the secrets of heaven and hell?” replied the monk at last. “You who are so unkempt, whose hands and feet are covered with dirt. You whose hair is uncombed, whose breath is foul, whose sword is rusty and neglected. You would 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 crimson and the veins on his neck stood out pulsing wildly as he prepared to sever the monk’s head from his shoulders.

“That,” said the old monk gently, just as the sword began its descent, “is hell.” In that fraction of a second, the samurai was overcome with amazement, awe, compassion and love for this gentle being who had dared risk his very life to give him such a teaching. He stopped his sword in mid-descent and his eyes filled with grateful tears.

“And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”

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