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 zazen 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. 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 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 grateful tears.
“And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”
The river is the ultimate teacher, the proverbial monk on the side of the road engaged in zazen described in this parable. Water molecules are polar- positive and negative, organized yet disorderly, heaven and hell all at the same time. The first time I tipped over in my kayak when I was just starting out, you could say I was experiencing hell. It was dark, I couldn’t breath, I was upside down and strapped into this boat without any ideas about how to right myself. At the time I thought that was hell. After learning to roll I found heaven and hell were actually in the same place at the same time, it was just my fear and then my elation that defined them. Heaven was just as present when I was out of air, in the dark and afraid as was hell. I get to choose heaven and hell every time I paddle, just as the samurai discovered that heaven and hell existed in his own definition of his experience.
By: Erik Boomer