11 March 2010
This was a favorite story of my teacher, Ajahn Chah of northeast Thailand.
A newly married couple went for a walk together in a wood, one fine summer’s evening after dinner. They were having such a wonderful time being together until they heard a sound in the distance:
“Listen,” said the wife, “That must be a chicken.”
“No, no. That was a duck,” said the husband.
“No, I’m sure that was a chicken,” she said.
“Impossible. Chickens go ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo,’ ducks go ‘Quack! Quack!’ That’s a duck, darling,” he said, with the first signs of irritation.
“Quack! Quack!” it went again.
“See! It’s a duck,” he said.
“No dear. That’s a chicken. I’m positive,” she asserted, digging in her heels.
“Listen wife! That—is—a—duck. D-u-c-k, duck! Got it?” he said angrily.
“But it’s a chicken,” she protested.
“It’s a friggin’ duck, you, you…”
And it went “Quack! Quack!” again before he said something he oughtn’t.
The wife was almost in tears. “But it’s a chicken.”
The husband saw the tears welling up in his wife’s eyes and, at last, remembered why he had married her. His face softened and he said gently, “Sorry, darling. I think you must be right. That is a chicken.”
“Thank you, darling,” she said and she squeezed his hand.
“Quack! Quack!” came the sound through the woods, as they continued their walk together in love.
The insight that the husband finally awakened to was this: Who cares whether it is a chicken or a duck? What was much more important was their harmony together, that they could enjoy their walk on such a fine summer’s evening. How many marriages are broken over unimportant matters? How many divorces cite “chicken or duck” stuff.
When we understand this story, we will remember our priorities. The marriage is more important than being right about whether it is a chicken or a duck. And besides, how many times have we been absolutely, certainly, and positively convinced we are right—only to find out later we were, in fact, totally wrong? Who knows? That could have been a genetically modified chicken made to sound like a duck!
(For the sake of gender equality and a peaceful life as a monk, each time I tell the story I usually switch around the one who says it’s a chicken and the one who says it’s a duck.)