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Melli O'Brien



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Heaven or Hell: A Zen Parable

Personalized support for learning how to integrate mindfulness into your life. Delivered fresh everyday by our world renowned experts. Choose meditation duration:

Hi, and welcome to your Daily Mindfulness.

Today I'm going to share

with you a Zen parable.

This is actually one of my favorites.

It's about how our minds can create

heaven and our minds can create hell.

So the story goes that once upon a

time, a really notorious and tough

samurai went to visit a Zen master.

And when he arrived, the

master was deep in meditation.

So the samurai used to getting

his way and being respected, spoke

forcefully to the Zen master, "Tell

me the nature of heaven and hell."

Now the Zen master just sat peacefully.

So the samurai yelled again, "Tell

me the nature of heaven and hell."

The Zen master slowly opened his eyes

and looked the samurai up and down.

And then he replied to him

with the same forceful tone,

"Why should I answer to you?

A rude shabby, worm-like you?

Why should I waste my

time telling you anything?

Get out of my sight.

I have no time for your stupid questions."

Well the samurai could

not bear these insults.

He was filled with rage and

hatred overcome by them.

So he drew his sword and raised

it ready to kill the master.

And the master then looked straight

into the amurai's eyes with

compassion and said, "That is hell."

The samurai stood stone still.

And he immediately understood

that anger had taken him over.

His mind had just created

his own hell in an instant.

One filled with anger, hatred,

aggression, and a total loss of control.

He realized he was so taken over

by anger that he was ready to kill

someone he just met a few minutes ago.

The samurai dropped his sword and

dropped to his knees and began to weep.

He knelt before the master and bowed

in gratitude for the understanding.

The Zen master gently bowed back and with

a tender smile said, "And that is heaven."

The sudden awakening of the samurai

to his own suffering and unconscious

behavior illustrates the difference

between being caught up in a thought

or feeling and being aware of a

thought or feeling as they arise.

And this is what we might

call self-awareness.

And this kind of self-awareness

means we can also self-regulate.

Self-regulation is like an

ongoing in a conversation or

interaction with ourselves.

It frees us from being a prisoner of our

own feelings and impulses, which often

creates hell in our lives, like the

samurai, and it gives us back choice.

So instead of reacting and probably

just creating more hell, we can

choose consciously to respond.

We can choose to respond with

patiencem with kindness, with

humility, or with courage.

We can respond with presencem

with awareness and therefore

create more heaven in our lives.

So now just to be clear, people with

this kind of high self awareness and

self regulation still feel bad moods and

strong impulses, just like we all do.

But they find ways to regulate them and

respond in more useful ways to life.

So today, as you go about your day, just

remembering that we can choose to step out

of suffering or in this, you know, parable

out of hell and stepping into more heaven

by being aware, when a strong impulse or

emotion is arising, letting go of reacting

and then choosing a wiser response.

And therefore creating

more heaven in our lives.

So as always thank you for your

practice and your presence here with us.

And now just inviting you to

settle in for today's meditation.

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