One day, a samurai named Nobushige set out to find Hakuin, an old Zen monk who was known to be very wise. When he arrived at the monastery, he flung open the door and demanded of the old man, "Tell me, you are learned in these matters. What is heaven and what is hell?"
Hakuin sat still for a moment on the tatami-matted floor. Then he turned and looked up at the warrior. "You call yourself a samurai warrior," he said. "Why, look at you. You're nothing but a mere sliver of a man! I doubt you could cut off the head of a fly with your sword."
For a moment, Nobushige stood gaping. No one talked to a samurai like that! Then, as if someone had waved a red cloth in front of a bull, his face contorted in rage. He bellowed, "How dare you! I won't let you get away with such an insult." Pulling his huge sword from its sheath, he raised it high above his head, ready to kill the old monk.
Unperturbed, Hakuin looked directly into the eyes of the furious warrior and said, "You asked what hell is. *This* is hell."
Nobushige froze, his sword still raised, as the hatred and anger that had consumed him drained away. He looked at the old monk in amazement, realizing that this small, stooped man had risked his life to answer his question.
Lowering his weapon, Nobushige bowed to the monk, as tears appeared in his eyes. "Thank you for your teaching," the samurai said humbly, his heart filled with gratitude for the monk's gift.
Hakuin smiled at the samurai and said, "And this, my friend, is heaven.