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Heaven and Hell

Retold by M.A. Nystrom
August 1, 2005

We stood in an empty white room, facing two doors. The Master explained to me that while the initial conditions behind the two doors were the same, it was the thinking, attitudes and actions of the people inside that made all the difference. The doors were labeled "Heaven" and "Hell."

The Master pushed open the door marked "Hell" and invited me to look. My first sight was one of abundance: There were tables piled high with fruits, vegetables and the finest meats. It was a feast of the finest delicacies of the world.

But then I saw the multitudes of miserable people, huddled in darkness. They were starving, gaunt, with permanent frowns of misery affixed to their ashen faces. In spite of the bounty that surrounded them, they were frustrated, angry and malnourished. I asked the Master why. He only pointed, instructing me silently to observe carefully. I saw that in spite of the abundance, the people had only seven-foot long chopsticks with which to eat their food. It was like a cruel joke. Try as they might, they could not manage to get the food from the plates into their own mouths. I saw them clumsily trying to guide morsels of food into their mouths, only to be frustrated by the impossible task, then lash out in anger at their fellow companions who pointed and snickered at their failures. In spite of the overflow wealth in the room, it was filled with shouting, anger, violence and tears.

When I had seen enough, the Master closed the door. I shuddered at the tragedy of it. Before I could ask a single question, The Master put his finger to his lips and directed me to look behind the second door.

My first sight behind the door marked "Heaven" was the same as before: There were tables piled high with fruits, vegetables and the finest meats. It was a feast of the finest delicacies of the world.

But the population of people in this world were happy, filled with mirth and laughter. Young children ran and played among the tables, and adults were healthy with ruddy skin and strong, robust figures. The master had told me that the initial conditions behind each of the doors were the same. Sure enough, I saw the seven-foot long chopsticks that the people behind the first door had so clumsily tried to use to feed themselves.

When I spotted the difference between this world and the other, I immediately burst out laughing. The Master, satisfied with my insight, silently closed the door.

The Difference
Can you imagine what it is I saw? Instead of trying to manage everything on their own without thinking of others, the people behind the second door marked "Heaven" used the long chopsticks to feed one another.

They had learned perfectly the art of selflessness and cooperation, and came to see that the generosity they gave all came back to them in the end. It was then that I realized that Heaven is a place where people help one another, while Hell is a place where people think only of themselves - and get nothing from it in the end.

When I relayed this story to a friend, my friend brushed it aside impatiently saying, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that story. I've heard it before."

The Master was most impressed, for it was very rare to meet a person so knowledgeable in the art of selflessness and cooperation. "Yes," my friend reiterated. "I know it quite well."

"Do you practice the art of selflessness and cooperation in your own life?" the Master asked.

"Er. . . well, no. . .not always. . . "

"Then you do not know it," said the Master.

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