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Heaven, Now What?

Posted on November 6, 2020 at 3:00 PM by Guest Writer

University Museums reached out to the community at Iowa State and beyond to tell their stories or interpretations of objects in the permanent collection for Who Am I?  the current exhibition at the Christian Petersen Art Museum.

Here is the interpretation of Terry Allen's The Public Perception: Heaven, Now What from Douglas A. Gentile, Ph.D, Professor, Psychology and Zen monk:

Hakuin, the Japanese Zen master who lived in the 1700s, was once met on the road by a samurai warrior.

The samurai bowed deeply to the master, and said, "Please Great Teacher, I want to know about heaven and hell. Do they really exist?"

Hakuin looked at him and asked, "Who are you?"

"I am a samurai," announced the proud warrior.

"Ha!” exclaimed Hakuin. "What makes you think you can understand such deep teachings? You don’t look like a Samurai; you look like a beggar. You have no honor, and I refuse to waste my time with your foolish questions," Hakuin said, waving his hand in dismissal.

These insults enraged the samurai so much that he drew his sword and raised it to strike, when Hakuin pointed at him and said calmly, "That is hell."

The soldier was startled and paused. His rage fell away. Humbled by the wisdom of Hakuin, he put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master.

"And this is heaven," Hakuin stated, just as calmly.

We can enter heaven in any moment, if we give up our need for things to look a certain way, for others to behave how we want, or for things to be different from how they are. We spend so much energy worrying about the future and obsessing over the past. We lose our agency because we waste our energy where it cannot make a difference. Once we realize that everything is as it is in this moment because of millions (literally!) of past actions, causes, and conditions, we also realize that nothing could possibly be different from how it is right now. Everything is exactly how it must be. Another way of saying this is that we realize that everything is perfect in this moment.

This doesn’t mean you’re enjoying the moment. It just means that it cannot be otherwise. Once we give up fighting what is, was, or might be, we regain all of that energy. We regain our full agency and can put that energy to good use to take an action that can affect the next moment. Because everything is interconnected, any small action we take will have ripples that extend far beyond it. This means that you can, and do, change the world. But first we have to stop fighting our experience. Once we do, we enter heaven in that moment.

Once we realize our heaven, however, now what? How do we know what to do?

How may I help you?


IMAGES: Maquette for "A Public Perception: Heaven Now What," 2011 by Terry Allen (American, b. 1943). Neon and glass. Commissioned by University Museums. In the Art on Campus Model and Maquette Collection, Christian Petersen Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2011.284

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