Thursday, August 30, 2012

Zen: Banishing a Ghost

Roshi Jeff Albrizze (, Ron Crosthwaite, Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly
"Brown Lady" ghost (
Banishing a Ghost
The wife of a man became very sick. On her deathbed, she said to him, "I love you so much! I don't want to leave you, and I don't want you to betray me. Promise that you will not see any other women once I die, or I will return to haunt you!"

For several months after her death, the husband avoided other women. But then he met someone and fell in love. On the night that they were engaged to be married, the ghost of his former wife appeared.

She blamed him for not keeping the promise, and every night thereafter she returned to taunt him. The ghost would remind him of everything that transpired between him and his fiancee that day, even to the point of repeating, word for word, their conversations. It upset him so badly that he could no longer sleep.
Desperate, he sought the advice of a Zen master who lived near the village. "This is a very clever ghost," the master said upon hearing the man's story. "It is!" replied the man. "She remembers every detail of what I say and do. It knows everything!" 
The master smiled, "You should admire such a ghost, but I will tell you what to do the next time you see it."

That night the ghost returned. The man responded just as the master had advised: "You are such a wise ghost," the man said. "You know that I can hide nothing from you. If you can answer me one question, I will break off the engagement and remain single for the rest of my life."
"Ask your question," the ghost replied. 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."

At that moment the ghost disappeared and never returned.
Ghosts are real (
This story speaks to the way we often let past experiences and subconscious thought patterns crowd out our experience of our present day life.
  • How do we let thoughts and memories about the past “haunt” us?
  • When has a self-limiting belief, based on a past relationship, interfered with a current relationship?
  • Do we have harmful emotional survival patterns subconsciously adopted and, if so, how can mindfulness practice help us see and release them?
  • How can our Zen practice of being in the moment be related to “counting beans”? 
  • Can this mindfulness help us put painful memories in perspective and loosen our “death grip” of clinging and attachment to how we think things must be?
See the discussion live or participate. PasaDharma has chosen this old Zen story as the group reading for tonight (Thursday, 7:00 pm, Aug. 30, 2012). Roshi Albrizze explains.
When I first read "Banishing a Ghost" about 15 years ago, it didn't make much sense to me. After revisiting it this week, it really opened up for me. The way it spoke to me is that the symbolism of the "ghost wife" is really the way my mind wants to hold on to old stories and conditions as a permanent abiding sense of self. The "handful of beans" symbolizes the present moment and the liberation from the suffering of grasping at thoughts and memories that comes when we commit to being present in the moment, experiencing our everyday activity as the Buddha Way.

No comments: