Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Between heaven and hell

Author: Paulo Coelho

The place for sinners

Rabbi Wolf happened to walk into a bar one day; some people were drinking, others were playing cards, and the whole atmosphere seemed to be a bit heavy.

The rabbi left without saying a word; a young man followed him out.

“I know you didn’t like what you saw,” said the young man.  “Only sinners live in there.”

“I liked what I saw,” said Wolf.  “Those are men learning to lose everything.  When they have nothing material left in this world, all that will remain for them to turn to is God.  And from then on, what excellent servants they will be!”

Buddha and the devil

The devil said to Buddha:

“It isn’t easy being the devil.  When I talk, I have to use enigmas so that people don’t perceive the temptation.  I always need to appear smart and intelligent, so that people can admire me.  I spend a great deal of energy convincing a few disciples that hell is more interesting.  Now I am old, I would like to send you some of my pupils.”

Buddha knew that this was a trap: if he accepted the deal, he would become the devil, and the devil would become Buddha.

“You think it’s fun to be Buddha,” he answered.  “Besides having to do the same things that you do, I also have to stand what my pupils do to me!  They put in my mouth words that I never said, hold me to my teachings, and insist that I be wise the whole time!  You would never stand a life like mine!”

The devil was convinced that changing roles was really a bad idea, and Buddha avoided the temptation.

Heaven and hell

A violent samurai who was known for picking fights for no reason at all arrived at the door of a Zen monastery and asked to speak to the master.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Ryokan came out to meet him.

“They say that intelligence is more powerful than strength,” said the samurai.  “I wonder if you could explain to me the meaning of heaven and hell.”

Riokan remained silent.

“You see?” roared the samurai.  “I could explain that very easily: to show what hell is, all I need to do is beat someone up.  To show what heaven is, just let a person go free after menacing him a lot.”

“I don’t argue with stupid people like you,” said the Zen master.

This made the samurai’s blood boil.  His mind was filled with hatred.

“Now, that is hell,” said Ryokan, smiling.  “Letting yourself be angered by silly things.”

The monk’s courage disconcerted the warrior, and he relaxed.

“And that is heaven,” added Ryokan, inviting him in.  “Not reacting to silly provocations.”

Another story about crosses

In a certain village in Umbria (Italy), there lived a man who was always bewailing his lot.  He was a Christian, and found the weight of his cross too heavy to bear.

One night, before going to sleep, he begged God to let him change his burden.

That night he had a dream; the Lord led him to a warehouse.  “Go ahead and change it,” he said.  The man saw crosses of all sizes and shapes, with the names of their owners.  He picked an average size cross – but when he saw the name of an old friend written on it, he left it aside.

Finally, as God had permitted, he chose the smallest cross he could find.

To his surprise, he saw his own name written on it.

The guru from Mesure

A famous guru lived in Mesure, in India.  He managed to gather a good number of followers, and spread his wisdom generously.

When he reached middle age, he contracted malaria, but religiously continued to fulfill his ritual: bathing in the morning, giving classes at mid-day, and praying in the temple during the afternoon.

When fever and the tremors prevented him from concentrating, he took off the upper part of his garments and tossed them in a corner.  His power was such that the clothes continued to tremble – while he, free from any contractions, was able to say his prayers in peace.

When he finished, he put on his clothes again, and the symptoms returned.

“Why don’t you give up those clothes once and for all, and get rid of the sickness?”, asked a journalist who saw the miracle.

“It is already a blessing to be able to do calmly what I have to do,” answered the man.  “The rest is part of life; it would be cowardly not to accept it.”

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