Heaven and Hell: A Zen Parable

If we truly understood how much damage negative emotions cause – for ourselves and others – we wouldn’t indulge in them for a moment.  This Zen parable perfectly illustrates the potential dangers that occur when we fall prey to negative emotions.

A belligerent samurai, an old Japanese tale goes, once challenged a Zen master to explain the concept of heaven and hell. But the monk replied with scorn, “You’re nothing but a lout—I can’t waste my time with the likes of you!”

His very honor attacked, the samurai flew into a rage and, pulling his sword from its scabbard, yelled, “I could kill you for your impertinence.”

“That,” the monk calmly replied, “is hell.”

Startled at seeing the truth in what the master pointed out about the fury that had him in its grip, the samurai calmed down, sheathed his sword, and bowed, thanking the monk for the insight.

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

The sudden awakening of the samurai to his own agitated state illustrates the crucial difference between being caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are being swept away by it. Socrates’s injunction “Know thyself” speaks to this keystone of emotional intelligence: awareness of one’s own feelings as they occur.

From Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

The first step is to be aware of the thoughts and emotions that are occurring in your mind.  Then, encourage the positive emotions – like love, kindness, empathy, and forgiveness – and practice letting go of negative ones.  This is how to discover true happiness and freedom.   Yes, it takes diligence, but heaven can be yours any moment.

Thank you for reading and sharing!  With love, Sandra

Comments

  1. says

    I was surprised when I figured out that a family members reacts to my negative emotions and feelings very strongly.

    Nothing is directed towards her. But when I get upset about business matters and I say something regarding my frustration, I notice that she tends to tremble a bit.

    I asked her about it and she said that my negative emotions affect her strongly.

    I was shocked, I never thought that if I react negatively to an event that it would affect someone else nearby.

    I see that it does. Interesting that I came upon this post shortly after that event.

    • Sandra Pawula says

      So true! They can just sweep us away! Thanks for your thoughts. Be well.

  2. says

    Hi Sandra,

    I love Zen and Samurai stories. I always admired the discipline, awareness and perseverance of Japanese culture.

    When I began my spiritual journey, I found the most peace through such Japanese tales. I knew then I had to be more aware of myself and it has made all the difference in my life. I won’t say I experience heaven all the time, but there has been very much less hell in my life thanks to my greater awareness of my emotions and thoughts.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • Sandra Pawula says

      I truly appreciate Zen stories myself! It’s inspiring to see how you’ve found more heaven and less hell in your life thanks to working with your mind and emotion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. says

    So often we feel like wanting to be the belligerent samurai but don’t worry Sandra, I leave my sword in the closet most of the time. But even without the sword, our mind and emotions become belligerent and want to strike out at the situation or others.

    Heaven can be ours at any moment but it looks like it takes catching ourselves for a minute, reflecting on the situation and actively choosing the positive emotions in our lives. Which sometimes takes all of our strength, patience and ability.

    Completely kidding about the samurai sword in my closet. (Not ready to reveal where I store that publicly.)

    • Sandra Pawula says

      You are so right, Vishnu! It takes quite a bit of training to put the negative emotions at bay. But in any moment that we are able to do this, we have heaven! I’ll be on the lookout for your sword from now on!

    • Sandra Pawula says

      So nice to hear your enthusiasm! I hadn’t thought about the connection to Memorial Day. Thanks for mentioning that.

  4. says

    I believe that self-knowledge is the key to living a fulfilled life, Sandra. For example, I have chosen to cut someone out of my life because of the negativity that they were bringing in to it. But it took me a while to become aware of how this person affected me. For a while, I continued to have a lot of negative feelings about this person. But once I became aware of that, I let it go and now I’m free from the relationship and in my mind as well.

  5. Sandra Pawula says

    It’s all about awareness, isn’t it. I’m glad you’ve gone to the heart of self-knowledge and are are mastering distressing emotions. It’s huge to be able to let go negative emotions. Yet life presents us the perfect practice! Many thanks for sharing your experience with us.