Zen Story of The Ghost
I work with people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. They are besieged by ways of thinking that destroy peace. Working in drug rehab is very rewarding. I get to comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comforted. Using a variety of techniques I challenge our guests to look at things in new ways. I love to tell them, change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change. To illustrate and illumine some new angles, stories can be powerful and non-threatening tools. Here is one Zen story I use – Zen doesn’t work for everyone – but when it does – watch out! Zen koans are powerful.
The Bean Counter
Takashi’s jealous wife was very ill. Before the woman died, she made her husband promise that he would remain ever faithful to her even after death. “If you betray me, I will come back to haunt you!”
Takashi kept his promise for one year. Then he met, fell in love, and proposed to another woman. On the very night of the engagement, the ghost of his former wife appeared. The spirit angrily berated Takashi, and told him she would show up every night if he did not cancel the upcoming wedding. The grim spirit showed up night after night and mockingly told Takashi of every thing he and his fiancé had done during their day together. The ghost even knew what they had eaten and talked about. Takashi became afraid to go to bed. He was falling apart.
In despair, Takashi went to a Zen master for help. The master listened to the story very seriously. He said, “This is a very cunning ghost!” “Yes!” cried the man, “she knows everything I do, she watches me all day long, and taunts me with the details”. The master replied, “I will tell you what to do to break the spell and let your jealous dead wife’s spirit rest in peace.”
That night when the ghost reappeared, Takashi followed the master’s instructions. He told the ghost, “Cruel Spirit! You follow me around all day, and know everything I do. If you are so smart, then answer my one question. If you know the answer, I will remain a bereaved and lonely widower for the rest of my life.” The ghost answered, “What is your question?” The man scooped up a handful of beans from a large bag on the floor. “Tell me exactly how many beans there are in my hand.”
In that moment, the ghost disappeared and never returned.
I often get blank stares, and that is great! A zen story is meant to disrupt engrained patterns of though and belief, to invite open mindedness and cause contemplation and reflection. I tell our guests if they think they understand these Zen stories, (or koans), they most likely don’t. I encourage ponderment. But sometimes, in the twinkling of an eye, a guest will release their own ghost to rest in peace. I challenge you now, whose cruel spirit is haunting you?