The Samurai’s Lesson

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” ~ Albert Schweitzer


One morning, as the little monk Jamyang sat in meditation, he spotted something on the horizon– a figure, marching determinedly towards the monastery. He squinted, frowning as it continued to grow larger on the desert vista. It appeared to be a warrior of some sort, a samurai possibly— he could see the two long swords hanging low and the armour flapping stiffly in the wind.

This was a long way for a samurai to travel. Interesting.

He watched as the swordsman drew closer. From what he could determine, it appeared to be a ronin— a rogue with no master. It was a very large, brutish looking man with a long stride and a scowl on his face that was visible even from this distance. Jamyang waited calmly.

Finally the warrior arrived, stopping mere feet in front of the old monk and kicking up dust, his hands resting on the butts of his weapons. “Monk,” he hissed, “I have come to learn what you know about heaven and hell. Tell me everything.”

Jamyang did not reply. He waited until the ronin was about to speak again and said: “I will tell you nothing. You are a samurai with no master. You come uninvited, fail to introduce yourself and demand knowledge that you have not earned.”

The ronin’s face flushed with rage. He opened his mouth to speak.

“Plus,” Jamyang said, “you smell like a thousand rancid cows. No one as putrid as you deserves any knowledge, let alone knowledge of the sacred.”

At this the warrior’s expression contorted with pain and he cried out, pulling his swords from their scabbards and raising them above his head, readying himself to issue the death-blow to this small, smug monk.

“That is hell,” Jamyang whispered.

The ronin froze, the swords trembling in the desert air. Slowly, realization dawned on him, his face beginning to drain of its colour. There could be no clearer explanation. This wise old monk had risked his life to show him, through his own emotions, exactly what hell was. Overcome with gratitude he fell to his knees, tears welling in his eyes.

Jamyang said softly, “and that is heaven.”