Heaven and Hell

The great seventeenth century Japanese Rinzai Zen master Hakuin was once approached by a samurai warrior who asked Hakuin to explain heaven and hell to him. 

Hakuin looked up at the samurai and asked disdainfully, “How could a stupid, oafish ignoramus like you possibly understand such things?”  The samurai started to draw his sword and Hakuin chided, “So, you have a sword.  It’s probably as dull as your head!” 

In a rage, the proud warrior pulled out his sword, intending to cut off Hakuin’s head.  Hakuin stated calmly, “This is the gateway to hell.”

The startled samurai stopped, and with appreciation for Hakuin’s cool demeanour, sheathed his sword.  “This is the gateway to heaven,” said Hakuin softly.

Softly it is, I believe.  It’s a way of living with space around every word, thought and deed.  Room to breathe.  Often when I’m meditating, the breaths become so quiet that I don’t hear the air moving in and out.

Sometimes it’s the eyes of one meeting those of the other.  It could be for just a second, or far longer.  The moments of true contact are blessed … and they linger in the air for both of us to feel.

Softness and silence go well together.  The horizontal life of progressing towards a goal falls away before the vertical life of now.  In that precious instant, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Later there’ll be time for making progress.

The brandished sword hurts the swordsman, cuts him to the quick.  All is tight, from the creased forehead to the clenched fingers to the contracted heart.  My anger hurries me away to what’s next.  It closes my eyes from true seeing.  It leaves me alone.

I wander in the world, touching antagonism and love, deficit and abundance, a wrenching belly and hands wide open.  My soul knows what needs to be done, but the rest of me may have lost the way.  And it’s all okay.  There’s no need to be better.  There’s no need for any particular thing to occur.  May I merely embrace all that the moments send my way.

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