Shortcut to Paradise
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
Shortcut to ParadiseFinding happiness in chaos.
It was a bittersweet day. We were in Japan. My crew and I arrived at the 700-year-old temple half an hour early. It was supremely peaceful. Every stone on the gravel in the front gardens had been raked to utter perfection. It was part of the meditation practice of the temple to make the monks rake the gravel for three weeks before a single word was spoken.
We were invited in to a beautiful room with a low table. Classic sliding doors opened out onto the inner gardens, which were as meticulously groomed as the gravel, with bonsai trees and a stream that was neatly guided to flow through rocks with myriad glistening patterns on their jagged faces.
Then Kanju Tanaka (a Zen master from Kouunnji, Nanzenji Zencenter in Kyoto) entered. Bald and tall, he wore immaculate gray and black robes and a cream silk scarf neatly draped across square, erect shoulders. His eyes blinked behind round-rimmed glasses, as if he had a tic. We bowed to him, and he motioned for us to sit down at the table.
We talked about all the things I’d been thinking while making my film, Oh My God. He spoke slowly in broken English, but the simple words that he chose described a profound wisdom.
We talked about both paradise and about hell, and about love and pain. He described the people who came to him for help and how even the most serious of cases—even the terminally ill—would change their thinking and leave the temple happy. It was so simple, he assured me. So simple.
In all the traveling I had done on the film thus far—in all the holy places, from churches to mosques to Hindu temples to synagogues—I had only experienced mere slivers of any spiritual feelings . . . mostly stimulated by beautiful art, the singing of a choir, or chanting and clapping in India. I’d felt a little bit of something at the standing stones; I’d felt something strongly years before, up a mountain at night in Thailand. But most of the obvious places were mostly devoid of peace, but filled with the remnants of desperate prayers, questions, pain, disappointment, and betrayal.
Yet here, with Tanaka, I experienced an extremely intense peace. Somehow, the place balanced the acidity, soothed the burning, and allowed something deeply relaxing to emerge. It was a profound feeling that made me choke back tears; not only did I feel very safe, but as I was to discover later, my meeting with Tanaka couldn’t have come at a more fortuitous moment.
When we checked into the hotel later that day, I turned on the computer and read my e-mails. I just sat there and stared, unable to believe what I was seeing. My bank had reviewed my line of credit, and because I hadn’t paid any money into my account for many months, they were now calling in the loan. The next e-mail was from my lawyer, informing me that all the changes to the contract we had submitted had been rejected. I had no deal.
No deal, no money, and I had to find almost 100 grand—like yesterday.
I curled up on the bed in a fetal position. I felt I’d let everyone down—my family, myself, and all the others who had believed in me. I was in serious trouble.
As my anxiety oddly induced an incredible wave of fatigue, my mind went back to the interview with Tanaka.
“Sir, what is God?” I asked.
“What is God? The essence of nature . . .” He paused, stock-still, before concluding his statement: “That’s all.” I was about to ask him another question when he suddenly started speaking again.
“When I attained enlightenment, I didn’t sleep for three months. I discovered a fundamental experience of emptiness—nothingness—and I recognized for the first time that there is no self, ego, subject, or object, so our fundamental being is selflessness. We have no enemy at all.
“Do you believe that paradise exists here on Earth?”
“Yes!” Tanaka nodded with great conviction. “I am living in the middle of paradise, right now, every day. Zen monks say every day is a good day; even in the midst of unhappiness, I’m living in the happiness.”
“Do you think hell exists here on Earth?”
Tanaka laughed even more heartily. “There was a famous episode. One day, master Hakuin asked a young samurai, ‘Do you think hell exists or not?’ The samurai got angry, took a sword, and was going to kill Hakuin, and Hakuin said, ‘There, that’s hell!’ The samurai stopped and said, ‘Sorry!’ Hakuin said, ‘And that’s paradise!’ Hell and paradise live in our mind.” Tanaka’s eyes blinked with utter conviction, and he nodded to emphasize his words.
“What would you say to promote peace, love, tolerance, and understanding?”
Tanaka thought deeply before answering. He was very serious. “I am feeling a lack of confidence from a lot of people who visit me—so, we need self-confidence. In other words, when we believe we are living in the midst of happiness, I’m sure we’ll be happy. If you have no self-confidence to live in happiness, and you are always living in unhappiness, I’m sure you will be unhappy. So please abandon your negative thinking. This is a shortcut to paradise.”
Recalling Tanaka’s words, I felt very humbled, and very grateful for having met him on that day, of all days.
All I wanted to do was walk out of that hotel and learn how to scrape gravel.