The Gates of Paradise

I read a Koan yesterday named The Gates of Paradise and it influenced this post. It also took me in a direction I wasn’t expecting. This was meant to be a post about how we choose to react in a particular moment can influence whether we perceive ourselves to be in hell or Paradise, but this has turned out to be a post
to help support those going through hell. 

The Gates of Paradise

A soldier named Nobushige came to Hakuin, and asked: “Is there really a paradise and a hell?”

“Who are you?” inquired Hakuin.

“I am a samurai,” the warrior replied.

“You, a soldier!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar.”

Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: “So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head.”

As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: “Here open the gates of hell!”

At these words the samurai, perceiving the master’s discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.

“Here open the gates of paradise,” said Hakuin.


This particular Koan got me to thinking (and it’s argued whether this is a true Koan or not, but life isn’t all about particularities), how in one moment and with one action life becomes hell or Paradise.

To me, hell is subjective and individual to us all, and no persons hell is ever insignificant. I know it sounds obvious, but sometimes a reminder is always necessary; if not for ourselves then at least for other people. We each have a different perspective and we are all wired differently, and so each hell is truly unique. What a cheery thought…

Each day – and continuously throughout our lives – we will react to particular situations, and these reactions will determine which gate will stand before us and which we choose to enter. Because ultimately, that’s what each one of us has in that moment: a choice.

A moment of unbridled anger can cause you a lifetime of hell if you choose not to change that. In every moment and with every reaction we have a choice. And if we do enter hell – very likely we have all entered our own hell at some point given this is life – it will make paradise all the more sweeter (ah, to paint a cliched picture).

Sometimes, it may seem as though we’ve been dropped into hell with no recollection of which choice gave way to it, and we may feel as though no choice of ours landed us there. If this is the case for you and life seems like hell at the moment and you feel as though you don’t know how to react or what to do, go and have a good cry. Phone someone – be it a friend or a helpline and spill it all out. Punch something, scream, shout, dance it out, go to one of those places where you can pay to smash up rooms (I’ve never been to one, but they sound brilliant for tension relief!). Whatever works for you (unless of course it involves hurting yourselves and other people). And please know this: you are not alone. Never ever are you alone, which is why it’s important for you to speak up, and if you need to – ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support. Each of us are usually in some kind of hell, we just don’t let anyone see us in there. We wear an invisibility cloak and a silencer for fear of discovery and judgment. If you feel that is you, I urge you to open up to someone.

Remember: it’s your happiness at stake. Do you really want to give someone/something else the power to take that away? You have the power to claim your happiness back. It’s yours. It’s there waiting for you.

Do you really think your feelings are worthless? Do you really think you don’t matter? Let me tell you: your feelings are not worthless and you do matter, and that’s what will push you forward to seek your own version of Paradise – whatever it may be. It could be something like being able to have a coffee in peace, perhaps it’s taking a walk, painting a picture, reading that book you bought so long ago; maybe it’s being able to laugh and smile and not feel guilty about it. The point is that Paradise doesn’t have to be attributed to ‘the big stuff’. It’s made up of all the tiny moments throughout the day, and throughout life that give you pause to think “ah, this is it.”

Hell will usually be in the background hovering like a bad smell, threatening its way back, but you have survived before and you will survive again.

I know this is probably information you have read many times over (and also slightly cliched!), but please let it be known that there is someone who loves and cares about you, and without your presence in their life, it would be a little less brighter.

And if you’re currently in paradise, be a shoulder to anyone struggling through their hell and reassure them that they’re not alone.


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