We Have Keys to Both Heaven and Hell

We Have Keys Both to Hell and Heaven

This story is from Japan and it dates back to the time when a soldier’s deadliest weapon was a sword. It has been told in many forms and in many countries. I know you have heard it for in India we have this story in many versions. But I think it is worth retelling.

A young man went to a Zen teacher and said, “Sir, I wish to learn about the nature of hell and heaven. And I must learn fast for I very little time to spare.”

The teacher looked at him from head to foot and offered him a seat close to himself. He then asked, “Young man what do you do for a living?”

“ I am a Samurai, a soldier.”

“ But you look like a beggar. What kind of a fool has given you a soldier’s job?”

The young man felt offended. He turned red in the face and fumed. His hand went to the handle of his sword. He pulls it out of its scabbard.

“Oh, so you want to chop my head off. But as I can see this sword of yours will not cut even a pencil.”

He was about to swing his weapon when he heard the teacher say, “Brave man, you have just opened the gate of hell with a key you were given at birth.”

The young man was smart enough to know that his first lecture had been delivered. He admitted his mistake and returned the sword into its container.

The teacher then taught: “Now if you wish to go to heaven you can do that also right now, for all of us are born not with one but two keys one to hell and the other to the gate of heaven. Anger, lust, greed, injustice, senseless violence, denying other beings their birth right to equal respect make up the key to hell. The key with which we can open the gate of heaven every moment is made up of love, kindness, peace, contentment with the daily bread, willingness to share, and to respect others as our equals.”

The young Samurai was satisfied with the crash course given by the learned teacher. He bowed low to thank the Guru and left quietly as he had come.

May 17, 2008