There’s an old Zen Buddhist parable that goes something like this:
A samurai warrior, consumed with guilt for having killed so many people on the battlefield, went to see a monk and asked:
“Teach me about Heaven and Hell.”
The monk looked up at the samurai and said calmly:
“Why would I teach you anything? You’re dumb, dirty, and are a disgrace to the samurai class.”
These words enraged the samurai and he drew his sword, ready to kill the monk who had offended him. But the monk looked into the samurai’s eyes and responded gently:
“That my friend is Hell.”
When the samurai realized the monk had risked his life to show him hell, he fell to his knees and wept with compassion and gratitude. The monk smiled:
“And that is Heaven.”
This simple parable points us to a profound truth:
Heaven and hell aren’t places we go to after death. They are states we live right here on earth.
To me, hell is a state of the mind and heaven is a state of the heart.
And every day, we fluctuate along the continuous line that separates the two.
We may rarely get to a point of rage that makes us want to kill someone, but we certainly experience anger on the level of wanting to hurt someone else.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we also experience deep compassion and love for others and ourselves. Sometimes– especially during deep meditation– we can even reach states of consciousness where we experience the feeling of Oneness.
We all know what dense emotions like anger cause in us: they literally make our physical bodies and our minds feel gross. Long-term, dense emotions can actually kill us (intense anger destroys cells).
Emotions based on love make us live longer. They fill our hearts and bring us joy. They make our bodies more energized and wholesome.
So here’s the BINGO question:
If heaven and hell exist on opposite ends of a spectrum, what can we do to keep ourselves closer to the heaven side?
I use two effective strategies:
1- Be aware. Living in awareness– that is, knowing you’re not your thoughts but are the watcher– allows you to respond to life instead of reacting to it.
Awareness can play out in a powerful way. Suppose you accidentally bump into to someone on the street and they get really angry at you.
If you live unconsciously, you’ll have the tendency to react against that person with the same level of anger they’re throwing at you. In this scenario, the situation can escalate quickly and what may have started as a trivial episode can turn sour.
If you live in awareness, you’re able to let that person’s anger pass right by you and continue on with your day, unaffected.
2- Direct your attention to your heart and away from your mind. I use a simple exercise I call the Heart Light exercise.
Simply take a deep breath and visualize a light growing in your chest. Then visualize the light exploding out of your chest!
This simple exercise brings your attention to the heart center, which is the seat of your soul and where love is found.
The more connected you are with your heart, the more you’ll stay in heaven!