I’ve been thinking deeply about a story I once heard about a prominent Zen Buddhist. It’s a story that has touched me, and I have often reflected on it. I’ll retell it here:
A Zen Master (I think it was Suzuki, but I don’t recall) was coming to the United States for the first time. He was travelling to a number of cities in order to give lectures, and as part of his presentations, he solicited questions from the audience on a wide variety of matters.
One of the questions most commonly asked was, “Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?” The question was somewhat confusing the the monk, because heaven and hell don’t mean exactly the same thing in Buddhism as they do in Christianity. So, the monk would simply pass on the question each time it was asked, never truly giving a full response.
Finally, in his last lecture, after delivering his presentation, the question was asked one final time: “Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?” The monk paused for a moment before speaking.
“I have been asked this question nearly every day while in the United States,” he said. “And I am finally ready to answer.”
The audience went into that hushed silence, waiting expectantly for the wise man’s answer.
“If there is a hell,” the monk said, “I think we should all go there.”
No one knew what to say. Go to Hell? All of us? But the monk continued.
“I think we should all go to hell, because the people who are there need our help the most.”
It’s a wonderful story, I think. I doubt it’s true (in a historical sense), but I do think it expresses a very beautiful sentiment. Just as we should care for those who are materially suffering in the worst ways, we should also care for those who are spiritually suffering in the worst ways.
That having been said, I’ve been thinking about the story more. God’s the ultimate Judge, and He alone decides who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. Maybe I will end up in Hell someday, and maybe not (hopefully not!).
But the point is, He knows best. It is up to His infinite wisdom to make the decision. If that is so, does desiring to help souls lost to Hell also mean that we desire to place our own feelings of compassion and mercy (however admirable) above the wisdom of God? And is that a sinful desire?
Looking forward to your thoughts!