Dalai Lama with Young MonksNegative of a 1998 photograph of the Dalai Lama standing among young monks. (Photo by Richard Avedon / U.C.L.A. Fowler Museum and the Avedon Foundation)

A big, tough samurai once went to see a little monk.


He barked, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience.

"Teach me about heaven and hell!"

The monk looked up at the mighty warrior and replied with utter disdain,

"Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn't teach you about anything. You're dumb. You're dirty. You're a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can't stand you."

The samurai got furious. He shook, red in the face, speechless with rage. He pulled out his sword, and prepared to slay the monk.

Looking straight into the samurai's eyes, the monk said softly,

"That's hell."

The samurai froze, realizing the compassion of the monk who had risked his life to show him hell! He put down his sword and fell to his knees, filled with gratitude.

The monk said softly,

"And that's heaven."

Excerpted from Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values.

Share Your Reflection



As always, Krista Tippett says, in a few words, what so many need books to articulate. Thank you, Krista. You continue to be my prime contact with my view of reality.

OH MY! So much truth there! I wish I could remember this as I am bringing about my own hell, or my own heaven! Thank you Trent and Krista - you rock my world - and that's a good thing!

If it is a Zen parable, why did you use a Tibetan Buddhist picture? Just curious.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Good question, Jeff. I did some searching for images I could use of Zen Buddhist monks but came up short. I also focused more on the monk aspect than the tradition of the story — plus, it's such a beautiful photo that I felt evoked some of the themes of the parable. And, to be quite honest, I was reading this book in my off-hours when this parable appeared. I wanted to share it, and so tried to publish something sooner rather than let it slip away. So, a bit of editorial license and an excuse all wrapped up into one explanation! ;)

And that is why you are wonderful at what you do.

what is the difference between Zen and Tibetan Buddhism? You must know.

An amazing story. Incredible how a few lines of text can say so much.

Thanks! I have been a fan since Speaking of Faith was on NPR.

so simple, and so touching. . . . . so zen

Wonderful - both are within

Wow!!!! Just wow!

Very good story, thanks for posting. Also a great photo. Please add the photo credit! Thank you.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Thanks for the kick, RexRay. A coding error prevented the photo credit from displaying, but now it's showing up. Cheers.

Aphorisms like this one show why I aspire to become a better Buddhist.

That is Beautiful!

A favorite story to share with high school students as an introduction to nonviolence and reconciliation.

Wisdom, Remarkable!

I love this. Such stunning simplicity, just beautiful.

That's beautiful!

Resist the devil and he will flee thee, draw near to the Lord and He will draw near to you. James 4:7-8

soooo beautiful!!!

Wiser words were never spoken.

Experience is the best teacher...

Much food for thought.......thank you.

Perhaps there would be no wars nor prisons if we could learn this parable from very young and internalize it throughout our lives.

They say that " beauty is in the eye of the beholder ", so thank you for the beauty of the tears in my eyes at this moment

There's a great illustrated version of this in "Zen Speaks: Shouts of Nothingness" by Tsai Chih Chung. Sort of a goofy manga style I've used in my Sunday school class on Buddhism and Christianity...

Many answers are within reach and can be obtained almost without effort.

Not what I expected. I really need to think hard about this.

That story will last a life time for me - just what I need when when I think about Republicans in Congress.



Hell negative energies and heaven positive energies are created within our being, be still..

...made a grown man cry!

Grace: moving beyond "an attitude of gratitude" to fully occupy its space.

moving my thoughts to the right palce

How profound, may peace prevail. Om ma ni pad me hum.

Wonderfu. I'm dealing with a bully in my life.

Reminds me of the story of the monk who traveled an arduous two days and two nights to visit his brother, sister-in-law and nephew. The wise monk had been invited to reason with the boy who refused to chop wood or carry water. After spending an uneventful weekend with the family, the monk prepared to depart. As the boy was lacing his uncle's sandals for the trip home he felt a tear fall on his head. He looked up and saw the monk looking down at him. the monk's eyes were filled with tears. The boy began to chop wood and carry water again.

This reminds me of another similar parable but I can't remember it word for word, I hope someone can help me out. It goes: a monk met a samuri and the warrior said, "Monk, I could run my sword through you and not blink and eye." and the monk said "I could let you run your sword through me and not blink an eye."

They were both equal.

A wonderful combination of intellect and emotion

This is wonderful!

Those who demand without consideration receive nothing and get angry quickly. Those who are humble, look beyond instant demands and consider everyone, cannot fail to remain in a constant state of serenity...

Short story with a powerful message. Hope I can carry this with me.

A very nice story! Except, a true samurai would never lose control like that. Samurais are trained in self discipline since childhood. Regardless, it gives a nice life lesson. Be in control of oneself no matter how bad the situation is.

Hmm right, I have seen that monk has invited the boy to carry the water who have refused to cut wood. After that the monk prepared to depart.

This zen story has led me to reflect on my anger, and how futile it is. Instead I am starting to think internal peace, and to give up useless anger and resentments. I have the rest of my life, like the samurai, to conquer that inner warrior...

I just wish the monk had asked for the correct path instead of heaven or hell.

The first words of condemnation which the monk spoke were completely believed by the warrior....even though they were lies...because no soul is incapable of growth or is a hopeless case...
The lesson for me is that rooting out internalized lies about my inherent value as a human being...means escaping from hell...