a zenmas carol, kōan for zenmas.

the banker decided to foreclose on the guru’s school. the guru pleaded, but he would not change his mind. so the guru said, “tonight, you will be visited by three ghosts!”

“ha!” the banker said.

“they will teach you the true meaning of zenmas!”

but the banker just shook his head. people had said a lot to get out of paying their debts, but never anything this ridiculous.

and that night, when he went to sleep, he chuckled when he thought of what the guru had said.

but then, in the middle of the night, he was awoken by a voice.

“hey!” the voice said. “hey!”

the banker tried to sleep through it, but the voice kept calling out.

“hey! hey!”

finally, the banker opened one sleepy eye, and he saw a sunflower, sitting in a pot on the windowsill.

“i’m a spooky ghost!” the sunflower said.

“you look like a sunflower.”

“well, i’m the ghost of zenmas past. so i’m supposed to be cute.”

“zenmas past?”

“yeah, like when you were a kid. do you remember? before you were a banker.”

yes, the banker remembered.

many, many moons ago, he did not make money. he made bread.

he baked the most delicious loaves, and the whole village came to eat them. they ate faster than he could bake, and soon, he gave them slips of paper that said he owed them a loaf.

since everyone loved his bread, these slips of paper became very valuable. and soon, villagers came not for the bread, but for the paper. one day, he stopped making bread and just printed paper, and so the baker became the banker.

but the banker missed those days. he missed the smell of the bread. the sight of the loaves in the oven. the feel of the powdery flour on his hands. the taste of the flaky crust. he missed it all, and as he thought about it, he began to cry.

and while the tears were streaming down the banker’s cheeks, the sunflower said, “wow. if that story moved you, maybe consider forgiving the guru’s loans!”

and with that, he hopped off the windowsill and into the dark of the night.

the banker squinted his eyes and looked into the window. what was going on? he decided it must have been a dream, the whole thing, and he drifted back to sleep.

the next time the banker woke up, it was because someone was biting his ear.

“ow!” he cried. he rolled over and saw the tortoise, standing on the bed next to his pillow.

“why’d you do that?” the banker cried.

“to wake you up,” the tortoise replied, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“and i suppose you’re going to tell me you’re a ghost, too? even though you bit me, which ghosts can’t do?”

the tortoise replied, “ghosts can too bite people. and i would know, because i’m a ghost. i’m the ghost of zenmas present.”

“and what are you going to show me?”

“check this out!” the tortoise said, and he walked over to the other side of the room, where he had a big head of lettuce.

“watch this!” the tortoise said, and he started to eat the lettuce. “oh man, this is delicious. this is good lettuce. this is great lettuce. oh, this is so tasty, i love it. i love this lettuce.”

“what is this supposed to prove?” the banker asked.

“i’m supposed to be showing you the joy of zenmas. and then you’ll see how you’re supposed to forgive the guru’s loans. is it working?” and when he had said that, he went back to work on the lettuce.

the banker rolled his eyes and rolled over, and he went back to sleep.

when he woke up the third time, a tyger was standing in his open door, silhouetted by the light of the moon.

the tyger’s empty face stared at the banker, and the banker’s blood ran cold.

“who are you?” the banker stammered.

“you know who i am,” the tyger said.

“the ghost of zenmas future?”

“no,” the tyger replied, “i am the tyger that stalks the night, that feasts on flesh, that sates his thirst with blood. and i have come to give you a message.”

“yes?”

“if you do not forgive the guru’s loans, you will die.”

“fine! fine! i’ll forgive his loans! i’ll forgive them!”

and the tyger left.

the banker leapt across the room and slammed the door. but then, he saw out the window that dawn was breaking. the night was over.

so the banker opened his door and ran to the guru’s school. when he got there, he saw the guru tending to his garden outside.

“guru!” the banker called. “you were right! three ghosts came to me last night! and they showed me the true meaning of zenmas. i forgive your loans!”

the guru thanked him profusely. but then, the banker noticed one of the flowers in the guru’s garden was a freshly re-planted sunflower.

and hiding behind a lettuce patch was the tortoise.

and propped up against a tree nearby was a wooden cutout of the tyger.

“wait a second…” the banker said. but when he looked at the guru, tending his modest garden, the tortoise, nibbling on a head of lettuce, and the sunflower, staring up at the cloudy zenmas skies, hoping for sun, he thought back to those days in the bakery, and he was overcome by the spirit of zenmas, the true spirit this time, and a smile crawled across his face.

“wait a second what?” the guru asked.

“nothing,” replied the banker. “but would you mind if i stayed for tea?”

what was the spirit of zenmas? gratitude that you weren’t going to be eaten by a tyger? or was it something more? tell me.