Banishing a Ghost

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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 come back to haunt you.”

For several months after her death, the husband did avoid 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 to him. 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 couldn’t sleep at all.

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.

The Most Important Teaching

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A renowned Zen master said that his greatest teaching was this: Buddha is your own mind. So impressed by how profound this idea was, one monk decided to leave the monastery and retreat to the wilderness to meditate on this insight. There he spent 20 years as a hermit probing the great teaching.

One day he met another monk who was traveling through the forest. Quickly the hermit monk learned that the traveler also had studied under the same Zen master. “Please, tell me what you know of the master’s greatest teaching.” The traveler’s eyes lit up, “Ah, the master has been very clear about this. He says that his greatest teaching is this: Buddha is NOT your own mind.”

Wanting God

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A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him. “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man. “Why?” replied the hermit. The young man thought for a moment. “Because I want to find God.”

The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath. When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke. “Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water.”

“Air!” answered the man.

“Very well,” said the master. “Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”

This Too Shall Pass

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One morning, the boy Solomon saw the goldsmith who works for King David’s Palace walk out of the palace very desperate and sad. Salomon asked the goldsmith with curiosity, what makes you feel so sad and desperate? The goldsmith answered, I have to provide a solution to the King within seven days. If not I will be taken out of my job. I am really confused because there is no solution for what the King has asked.

What is the solution that the King is looking for? Solomon was curious. The goldsmith presented the demand of the King to Solomon as follows: I need to make a gold ring for the king with an inscription on it which should help the king not to be very happy and forget the divine truth at his happy moments. At the same time the inscriptions on it should help him not to lose his heart when he is facing failures and desperations. Immediately Solomon gave what he needs to inscribe on it:

He said write as follows “This too shall pass.”

Without Fear

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During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived – everyone except the Zen master. Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was.

When he wasn’t treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger. “You fool,” he shouted as he reached for his sword, “don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!” But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved.

“And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”

Spider

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While meditating, a student believed he saw a spider descending in front of him. Each day the menacing creature returned, growing larger and larger each time. So frightened was the student, that he went to his teacher to report his dilemma.

He said he planned to place a knife in his lap during meditation, so when the spider appeared he would kill it. The teacher advised him against this plan. Instead, he suggested, bring a piece of chalk to meditation, and when the spider appeared, mark an “X” on its belly. Then report back.

The student returned to his meditation. When the spider again appeared, he resisted the urge to attack it, and instead did just what the master suggested. When he later reported back to the master, the teacher told him to lift up his shirt and look at his own belly. There was the “X”.

A Buddha is Among You

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The abbot of a once famous Buddhist monastery that had fallen into decline was deeply troubled. Monks were lax in their practice, novices were leaving and lay supporters deserting to other centers. He traveled far to a sage and recounted his tale of woe, of how much he desired to transform his monastery to the flourishing haven it had been in days of yore.

The sage looked him in the eye and said, “The reason your monastery has languished is that the Buddha is living among you in disguise, and you have not honored Him.” The abbot hurried back, his mind in turmoil

The Selfless One was at his monastery! Who could He be? Brother Hua?…No, he was full of sloth. Brother Po?…No, he was too dull. But then the Tathagata was in disguise. What better disguise than sloth or dull- wittedness? He called his monks to him and revealed the sage’s words. They, too, were taken aback and looked at each other with suspicion and awe.

Which one of them was the Chosen One?

The disguise was perfect. Not knowing who He was they took to treating everyone with the respect due to a Buddha. Their faces started shining with an inner radiance that attracted novices and then lay supporters.

In no time at all the monastery far surpassed its previous glory.

Concentration

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After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull’s eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot. “There,” he said to the old man, “see if you can match that!”

Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain. Curious about the old fellow’s intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit.

“Now it is your turn,” he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground. Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.

“You have much skill with your bow,” the master said, sensing his challenger’s predicament, “but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot.”

~ Paulo Coelho

Destiny

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During a momentous battle, a Japanese general decided to attack even though his army was greatly outnumbered. He was confident they would win, but his men were filled with doubt. On the way to battle, they stopped at a religious shrine.

After praying with the men, the general took out a coin and said, “I shall now toss this coin. If it is heads, we shall win. If tails, we shall lose. Destiny will now reveal itself.”

He threw the coin into the air and all watched intently as it landed. It was heads! The soldiers were so overjoyed and filled with confidence that they vigorously attacked the enemy and were victorious. After the battle, a lieutenant remarked to the general, “No one can change destiny.”

“Quite right,” the general replied as he showed the lieutenant the coin, which had heads on both sides.

Gift of Insults

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There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”

“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”

Tying the Cat to the Bed

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There was a Zen Master who used to invite his disciples to his house in order to meditate. The meditation was very soulful but unfortunately the Master owned a cat who used to come in and disturb the meditation.

Therefore, before each meditation, the Master would tie up the cat to his bed; this would enable the master and his disciples to meditate in peace downstairs. After the Master’s passing, his students still used to come to the house to meditate and tie up the cat to the bed.

Now one seeker had to travel to another country and he didn’t return for another 5 years time. When he returned he was shocked to see that there were many more people coming to the Master’s house.

However, they didn’t come to meditate, they only came to tie up cats to the bed!

Heaven and Hell

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A violent samurai who was known for picking fights for no reason at all arrived at the door of a Zen monastery and asked to speak to the master.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Ryokan came out to meet him.

“They say that intelligence is more powerful than strength,” said the samurai. “I wonder if you could explain to me the meaning of heaven and hell.”

Riokan remained silent.

“You see” roared the samurai. “I could explain that very easily: to show what hell is, all I need to do is beat someone up. To show what heaven is, just let a person go free after menacing him a lot.”

“I don’t argue with stupid people like you,” said the Zen master.

This made the samurai’s blood boil. His mind was filled with hatred.

“Now, that is hell,” said Ryokan, smiling. “Letting yourself be angered by silly things.”

The monk’s courage disconcerted the warrior, and he relaxed.

“And that is heaven,” added Ryokan, inviting him in. “Not reacting to silly provocations.”

~ Paulo Coelho

Nonoko and The Thief

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There was an old Zen master called Nonoko who lived alone in a hut at the foot of a mountain. One night while Nonoko was sitting in meditation, a stranger broke into the hut and, brandishing a sword, demanded Nonoko’s money.

Nonoko did not interrupt his meditation while he addressed the man:

“All my money is in a bowl on the shelf up there. Take all you need, but leave me five yen. I have to pay my taxes next week.”

The stranger emptied the bowl of all the money it held and threw five yen back into it. He also helped himself to a precious vase he found on the shelf.

“Carry that vase with care,” said Nonoko. “It will crack easily.”

The stranger looked around the small barren room once more and was going to leave.

“You haven’t said thank you,” said Nonoko.

The man said thank you and left. The next day the whole village was in turmoil. Many people claimed they had been robbed. Someone noticed the vase missing from the shelf in Nonoko’s hut and asked if he, too, had been the victim of the burglar.

“Oh, no,” said Nonoko. “I gave the vase to a stranger, along with some money. He thanked me and left. He was a pleasant enough sort of fellow, but a bit careless with his sword!”

~ From “The Heart of the Enlightened”, a book of spiritual stories by Anthony de Mello.

Each to His Own Destiny

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A Samurai who was known for his nobility and honesty, went to visit a Zen monk to ask advice. However, the moment he entered the temple where the master was praying, he felt inferior and concluded that, in spite of having fought for justice and peace all his life, he hadn’t even come near the state of grace achieved by the man before him.

“Why do I feel so inferior?” he asked, as soon as the monk finished his prayers. “I have faced death many times, have defended those who are weak, I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. Nevertheless, upon seeing you meditating, I felt that my life had absolutely no importance whatsoever.”

“Wait. Once I have attended to all those who come to see me today, I shall answer you.”

The samurai spent the whole day sitting in the temple gardens, watching the people go in and out in search of advice. He saw how the monk received them all with the same patience and the same illuminated smile on his face. But his enthusiasm soon began to wane, since he had been born to act, and not to wait.

At nightfall, when everyone had gone, he demanded: “Now can you teach me?”

The master invited him in and lead him to his room. The full moon shone in the sky, and the atmosphere was one of profound tranquility.

“Do you see the moon, how beautiful it is? It will cross the entire firmament, and tomorrow the sun will shine once again. But sunlight is much brighter, and can show the details of the landscape around us: trees, mountains, clouds. I have contemplated the two for years, and have never heard the moon say: why do I not shine like the sun? Is it because I am inferior?”

“Of course not – answered the samurai. – The moon and the sun are different things, each has its own beauty. You cannot compare the two.”

“So you know the answer. We are two different people, each fighting in his own way for that which he believes, and making it possible to make the world a better place; the rest are mere appearances.”

~ Paulo Coelho

Circle of Joy

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One day, a countryman knocked hard on a monastery door. When the monk tending the gates opened up, he was given a magnificent bunch of grapes.

“Brother, these are the finest my vineyard has produced. I’ve come to bear them as a gift.”

“Thank you! I will take them to the Abbot immediately, he’ll be delighted with this offering.”

“No! I brought them for you.”

“For me?” The monk blushed, for he didn’t think he deserved such a fine gift of nature.

“Yes!” insisted the man. “For whenever I knock on the door, it is you opens it. When I needed help because the crop was destroyed by drought, you gave me a piece of bread and a cup of wine every day. I hope this bunch of grapes will bring you a little of the sun’s love, the rain’s beauty and the miracle of God, for it is he made it grow so fine.”

The monk held the grapes and spent the entire morning admiring it: it really was beautiful. Because of this, he decided to deliver the gift to the Abbot, who had always encouraged him with words of wisdom.

The Abbot was very pleased with the grapes, but he recalled that there was a sick brother in the monastery, and thought:

“I’ll give him the grapes. Who knows, they may bring some joy to his life.”

And that is what he did. But the grapes didn’t stay in the sick monk’s room for long, for he reflected:

“The cook has looked after me for so long, feeding me only the best meals. I’m sure he will enjoy these.”

When the cook appeared at lunch, to bring him his meal, he presented him with the grapes:

“They’re for you,” said the sick monk. “Since you are always coming into contact with that which nature produces, you will know what to do with this work of God.”

The cook was amazed at the beauty of the grapes, and showed his assistant how perfect they were. So perfect, he thought to himself, that no one would appreciate them more than the sexton; since he was responsible for the Holy Sacrament, and many at the monastery considered him a holy man, he would be best qualified to value this marvel of nature.

The sexton, in turn, gave the grapes as a gift to the youngest novice, that he might understand that the work of God is in the smallest details of Creation. When the novice received them, his heart was filled with the Glory of the Lord, for he had never seen such beautiful grapes.

Just then, he remembered the first time he came to the monastery, and of the person who had opened the gates for him; it was that gesture which allowed him to be among this community of people who knew how to value the wonders of life.

And so, just before nightfall, he took the grapes to the monk at the gates.

“Eat and enjoy them,” he said. “For you spend most of your time alone here, and these grapes will make you very happy.”