According to Swedenborg’s description, there are two gates that people open. One leads to hell and the other to heaven. Evil and falsehood flow from one direction, and good and truth from the other. Evil people open wide the gate to hell and wantonly accept its flow. As for the gate to heaven, several rays of light barely thrust through a crack above. The fact that evil people also possess the faculties of thought, philosophical reasoning, and linguistic expression is due to the power of this light. However, they do not recognize that these [faculties] are from heaven, thinking them only to be [the properties] of their own reasonable minds. Because of this, the true nature of these reasonable minds is love for the infernal. All of their thoughts are stained by this love and are in darkness. However, they imagine they are in the light. Swedenborg entered into and observed the interior of these sorts of people. Standing at the entrance to the gate of hell, they smell the foul stench that spills out—a stench that induces nausea and dizziness—and laughing merrily, take pleasure in it. If, by any chance, they feel the breath of heaven, these people cannot endure the internal suffering, and with one loud voice cry, “What pain!”
From the viewpoint of human beings, this is a manifestation of free nature; but the divine will, which has granted to humans the sensation of freedom, tries, based on this freedom, to build the salvation of people through their volition. In truth, the desire of people to go to heaven is an act of the divine will, or other-power. Again, to have this intention, to be reborn in heaven, is impossible without the other-power of the divine will; but from the perspective of freedom, everything seems to be the result of the self-power of human beings. The reason that people must perceive the reasoning of an autonomous will is that, if they do not, they will not be able to think about and intend evil and falsehood. A thinking consciousness is a condition for this freedom, which allows for the manifestation of an internal that tends toward good and truth. Despite the teaching of salvation through other-power, if we first do not recognize the consequences of karma and the depth of our evil passions, other-power can do nothing to help. The possibility of listening stems from free consciousness.
Through the freedom and reason that are granted by other-power, a Buddhist recognizes his or her sins and achieves rebirth in paradise, while a Christian gains repentance and resurrection. The need to repent comes from the fact that we are originally in a state of degeneration. Our life is nourished by the heat and light of heaven on the one hand, but fueled by self-love and worldly love on the other. Through these two loves, divine good and divine wisdom are suppressed; stopped by various falsehoods and evils, we forget to advance. We are awakened from this by the words of the Bible, or in Buddhism, by the name of Amida, the name that sounds throughout the ten directions. When freedom and reason are not guided by infernal love, but instead turn toward the sun in heaven—that is, the chief direction of the Divine—the love and light of the Divine flood that person’s interior to the point of overflowing, and in this is the reality of regeneration. This regeneration is accompanied by a heavenly joy. At first, we think this joy is something natural and do not recognize its origin in the Divine; but the moment of recognition finally comes, and this moment is perfect enlightenment. We realize that various goods and truths stem from the other-power of the Divine and that the consciousness of autonomous self-power comes from a blind thought, marked with traces of self-love. Without the truth of this enlightenment, there is no real regeneration. The perfect union of this truth with divine love allows us to lead a spiritual life. This is said to be the moment when we live the life of the internal.
Evil people too are able to discern through reason what is good. Yet, because that good has not entered into their lives, their interiors are not illuminated by the light of regeneration, and they turn their backs to the Divine. Because Swedenborg witnessed this in the spiritual world, it must be true. Imagine here a conversation between two people. It appears very intimate, and when you listen to them, it feels as if you can discern their internal love. However, viewed with Swedenborg’s insight, these two people are standing back to back, and the waves of love arising from their inner hearts are dark in color. It looks as if they are crashing into each other. The internal and external of this world are separated in this way, so that the activity of spiritual reason is not clear. But when we enter the world of the internal, everything is unconcealed and naked. The Bible says, “For there is nothing hidden that will not become public, nothing under cover that will not be made known” [Luke 8:17]. When we recall this, everything is a self-evident truth, says Swedenborg. This is again the force of other-power.
There is a great deal I wish to write concerning Swedenborg, but that remains for another day. He was a Swede who died in England in 1772, that is, 155 years ago. He was a man of science until age 55, and his works on theology, more than most could write in a lifetime, span the next [twenty-nine] years. When he was 84 years old, he predicted the time of his death and accordingly returned to heaven.
from Swedenborg, Buddha of the North by D. T. Suzuki