How to Defeat a Thief? – a Zen Story
A compulsive thief is caught red-handed again and again. How to deal with him? Two stories give us an insight into punishment, compassion and human nature.
A man who lived in unbearable hunger and poverty resorted to small acts of theft. He landed up in prison and tried to escape many times only to be caught again. Each time, his prison sentence got further extended. Finally, after many years, he came out into the world once more.
Cold and hunger tortured him. He had no money and no means to earn even one meal. Nobody was ready to trust an ex-convict and offer him a job. He wandered to many places, but wherever he went, he was chased away. After being beaten up by people in one village, he ended up finding sanctuary in the village priest's house.
He did not expect the priest to welcome him so graciously: "This is God's house. Whether someone is a criminal or a sinner, anybody who comes here looking for shelter are God's children." So the priest consoled him and gave him food to eat, clothes to wear and a place to stay.
He ate well, slept and came awake in the middle of the night with renewed vigor. His eyes fell on some silverware in a room. Overcome with a compulsive urge to steal, he picked up the silverware and fled, not sparing even one thought about betraying the one who fed him.
Walking around the village, carrying silverware, he soon attracted the suspicion of the villagers. The police caught him and interrogated him. Because they could not get a proper answer from him, they then took him to the priest's house. "We suspect that he stole this silver from you. Could you please confirm if it is yours?" the police asked the priest.
The man trembled, fearing that his theft would be revealed and that he would be sent to spend many more years in prison.
But the priest's face was full of compassion. He said, "My friend, I had offered the silver candlesticks along with this silver to you. Why did you leave the candlesticks behind?" He then gave the candlesticks to him. "Our apologies. We thought this was a theft." the police said, and released the man, who was overwhelmed by the priest’s compassion, and went on their way. The above is an episode from "Les Miserables".
There is a similar story from the Zen tradition, which may have inspired western storytellers. It carries the same message:
A Zen master noticed a commotion amongst his disciples and asked them what happened.
"He has stolen again," they said and pushed a disciple forward to face the master. The master said, "Forgive him."
"No way. We have forgiven him many times for your sake. Now if you don't send him out, all of us are going to leave," the disciples threatened.
"I have no intention of sending him away even if all of you leave," said the master.
The disciple who had committed the crime fell at the master's feet and broke down into tears.
Sadhguru: A human being may have the strength to face any kind of punishment given to him, but he will be defeated by immense compassion. Punishments can make a person rock solid, but compassion beyond reason will shatter him.
As you become increasingly hard on a person, he becomes more and more capable of handling the punishments you mete out. It is only compassion that will melt him. A spiritual master or a Guru does not judge somebody based on what he is right now. Someone who plants a coconut sapling will not cut it off after the fourth week just because it did not bear nuts. Likewise, a Guru will look at what kind of inner potential each disciple carries and see how to bring it to fruition. He will not neglect anyone just because he does not have the necessary capability right now.
Whoever calls themselves his disciples should be willing to make use of every opportunity for their growth and transformation. Especially, if a situation that does not sit well with them arises, it is the best situation for them to transform themselves. Instead, if they put conditions on the Guru asking him to do this or that, it means that their only intention is in throwing their weight around. They are not really interested in any transformation. Such people are not fit to call themselves disciples. It is better to let them go than waste time with them.