"The Difference Between Happiness and Suffering"(Two Dining Rooms)


      Long ago there lived a boy who learned about heaven and hell while working hard at learning the Buddha's teachings. He meditated in the front of his Buddha image, wondering "What is hell like? What is heaven like? I want to know more about the difference!"

     That night, he dreamed of a Buddha. "Hello, little boy," the Buddha said to him. "You asked to know more about heaven and hell. First, I will show you hell."

           In his dream, the boy was taken to a blue door. As he got closer, it opened without a sound. He carefully stepped through the door, and inside was a dining room. He saw a beautiful table with delicious-looking dishes of meat and fish and piles of fruit spread all over it. It was the most wonderful feast he had ever seen.

          "How could this place be hell?" the boy wondered.

          Then, suddenly, appearing out of nowhere, ghosts began to gather. Restless and impatient, they were unhappy and scary-looking. The boy had never seen anything like them before.

           When all the ghosts were finally seated, they picked up their chopsticks. The chopsticks started to grow, becoming longer and longer and longer, until they were all a yard (a meter) long. The ghosts tried to eat with their long chopsticks, but they couldn't. Even when they could pick something up, they couldn't put it into their mouths. They tried again and again, but it was no use. Frustrated, they started getting upset and fighting with each other.

          Suddenly, the back doors of the dining room opened, and a large gaping black hole appeared. Mealtime was over. The ghosts were still very hungry, but they disappeared into the dark hole.

          The Buddha turned to the boy and said, "You look so sad. Now let me show you the dining room in heaven."

          Quietly, another door opened to a dining room that looked exactly like the room in hell.

          "What's the difference?" he wondered. Just then, happy-looking people started to quietly gather around the table. "But how are they going to eat with those same long chopsticks?" the boy asked.

      After sitting down, the people began picking up food with their very long chopsticks and, instead of trying to feed themselves, they began putting the food into the mouths of the people sitting on the other side of the table. They took turns feeding each other, giving the other person whatever they wanted to eat. They enjoyed the meal so much!

     "You see," said the Buddha gently, "the rooms are the same. It all depends on your heart. Your kindness makes heaven."

          The boy nodded and said, "Thank you so much for showing me the two worlds. Now I understand. The difference between heaven and hell is in the hearts of people themselves!"

          The Buddha smiled and said good-bye to the boy, just as he awoke from the dream. But he never forgot the teaching, and helped many other people to find the difference between heaven and hell.