Getting rid of ghosts

By Paulo Coelho

For years, Hitoshi tried in vain to awaken the love of the woman he believed to be the love of his life. But fate is ironic: on the very day that she finally accepted him as her future husband, she learned that she had an incurable disease and would not live for very much longer.

Six months later, when she was about to die, she said to him:

‘Promise me one thing: never fall in love with anyone else. If you do, I will come every night to haunt you.’

And then she closed her eyes for ever. For many months, Hitoshi avoided other women, but fate continued to be ironic, and he discovered a new love. When he was preparing to remarry, the ghost of his ex-beloved kept her promise and appeared to him.

‘You are betraying me,’ the ghost said.

‘For years, I offered you my heart and you rejected me,’ replied Hitoshi. ‘Don’t you think I deserve a second chance of happiness?’

But the ghost of his ex-beloved was not interested in excuses and came every night to frighten him. It described in detail what had happened during the day, the words of love that he had spoken to his fiancée, the kisses and embraces they had exchanged.

Hitoshi could no longer sleep and so he went to consult the Zen master Basho.

‘It’s certainly a very intelligent ghost,’ said Basho.

‘It knows everything down to the last detail! And now it’s ruining my relationship because I can’t sleep and during intimate moments with my fiancée, I feel somehow constrained.’

‘Don’t worry, we’ll get rid of the ghost,’ said Basho.

That night, when the ghost returned, Hitoshi spoke first, before the ghost could say a word.

‘You’re such a clever ghost, I’d like to make a deal with you. Since you watch me all the time, I’m going to ask you about something I did today. If you answer correctly, I will give up my fiancée and never take another wife. If you answer wrongly, you must promise never to appear again, or else be condemned by the gods to wander for ever in the darkness.’

‘Agreed,’ replied the ghost confidently.

‘This afternoon, when I was in the grocer’s shop, at one point, I picked up a handful of grain from a sack.’

‘Yes, I saw you,’ said the ghost.

‘My question is the following: how many grains of wheat did I have in my hand?’

The ghost realised that it would never be able to answer that question and, in order to avoid being pursued by the gods into eternal darkness, it decided to disappear for ever.

Two days later, Hitoshi went to Basho’s house.

‘I came to thank you.’

‘Be sure to learn the lessons your experience has taught you,’ said Basho. ‘First: the spirit kept coming back because you were afraid. If you want to rid yourself of a curse, simply ignore it. Second: the ghost took advantage of your feelings of guilt. Whenever we feel guilty, we always unconsciously long to be punished. And finally, no one who truly loved you, would force you to make such a promise. If you want to understand love, first learn about freedom.’

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