Stories 52: What We Really Want

The abbot woke up early one morning. Nothing unusual in that. But this morning he was awakened by the sound of something moving in the nearby shrine room. That was unusual because most of his monks would normally be practicing their morning “chanting” at this time (“Zzzzzz . . .”) so he went to investigate.

In the darkness he saw a silhouette of a hooded figure. It was a burglar.

“What do you want, my friend?” said the abbot kindly.

“Gimme the key to the donation box, punk!” said the burglar brandishing a long, sharp knife.

The abbot saw the weapon but felt no fear. He felt only compassion for the young man.

“Certainly,” he said, slowly handing over the key.

As the thief frantically emptied the box of cash, the abbot noticed the robber’s jacket was torn, his face pale and gaunt.

“When was the last time you have eaten, dear boy?”

“Shuddup!” barked the burglar.

“You’ll find some food in the cupboard next to the donation box. Help yourself.”

The thief paused a moment in confusion. He was taken aback by the abbot’s consideration for his welfare. Still, pointing the knife at the monk just in case, he hurriedly filled his pockets with cash from the donation box and food from the cupboard.

“And don’t call the cops, or else!” he shouted.

“Why should I call the police?” answered the abbot calmly. “Those donations are to help poor people like you, and I have freely given you the food. You have stolen nothing. Go in peace.”

The next day, the abbot explained what had happened to his fellow monks and to his lay committee. They were all very proud of their abbot.

A few days’ later, the abbot read in the newspaper that the burglar had been caught robbing another house. This time he was sentenced to ten years in jail.

Just over ten years later, the same abbot was woken up early in the morning by the sound of someone in the shrine room. He got up to investigate and, yes you’ve guessed it, he saw the old burglar standing next to the donation box carrying a sharp knife.

“Remember me?” shouted the burglar.

“Yes,” groaned the abbot reaching into his pocket. “Here’s the key.”

Then the burglar smiled, put down the knife, and said gently, “Sir, put away the key. I couldn’t stop thinking about you all those long days in prison. You were the only person in my entire life who was kind to me, who actually cared about me. Yes, I have come back to steal again, but I realized that last time I took the wrong thing. This time I have come to take your secret of kindness and inner peace. That is what I really wanted in the first place. Please hand over the key to compassion. Make me your disciple.”

Soon after, the thief became a monk and became rich beyond his wildest dreams. Not with money, but with a wealth of kindness and inner peace. That is what we all really want. What a steal!

Ajahn Brahm in Don’t Worry, Be Grumpy



Stories 51: The Container And The Contents

There were riots in the streets some years ago after a guard at Guantanamo Bay was accused of taking a holy book and flushing it down the toilet.

The next day, I took a call from a local journalist who told me he was writing an article about the outrage by asking leaders of all the major religions in Australia the same question he was about to ask me.

“What would you do, Ajahn Brahm, if someone took a Buddhist holy book and flushed it down your toilet?”

Without hesitation I answered, “Sir, if someone took a Buddhist holy book and flushed it down my toilet, the first thing I would do is to call a plumber!”

When the journalist finished laughing, he confided that that was the first sensible answer he had received.

Then I went further.

I explained that someone may blow up many statues of the Buddha, burn down Buddhist temples, or kill Buddhist monks and nuns; they may destroy all this, but I will never allow them to destroy Buddhism. You may flush a holy book down the toilet, but I will never let you flush forgiveness, peace, and compassion down the toilet.

The book is not the religion. Nor is the statue, the building, or the priest. These are only the “containers.”

What does the book teach us? What does the statue represent? What qualities are the priests supposed to embody? These are the “contents.”

When we recognize the difference between the container and the contents, then we will preserve the contents even when the container is being destroyed.

We can print more books, build more temples and statues, and even train more monks and nuns, but when we lose our love and respect for others and ourselves and replace it with violence, then the whole religion has gone down the toilet.

  • Ajahn Brahm in Don’t Worry, Be Grumpy

Stories 50: The Fragrance Of A Rose

The disciples were absorbed in a discussion of Lao Tzu’s dictum:

Those who know do not say;
Those who say do not know.

When the master entered, they asked him what the words meant.

Said the Master, “Which of you knows the fragrance of a rose?”

All of them knew.

Then he said, “Put it into words.”

All of them were silent.

Stories 49: The Meaning Of The Welcoming Smile Of A Lover

He opened his eyes and looked at her. She greeted him with a mocking, enigmatic smile in which was a poignant gaiety. Over his face went the reflection of the smile, he smiled, too, purely unconsciously.

That filled her with extraordinary delight, to see the smile cross his face, reflected from her face. She remembered that was how a baby smiled. It filled her with extraordinary radiant delight.

“You’ve done it,” she said.

“What?” he asked, dazed.

“Convinced me.”

And she bent down, kissing him passionately, passionately, so that he was bewildered. He did not ask her of what he had convinced her, though he meant to. He was glad she was kissing him. She seemed to be feeling for his very heart to touch the quick of him. And he wanted her to touch the quick of his being, he wanted that most of all.

-D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love

Notice how the story opens the heart and mind to experience that which cannot be described. The taste of chocolate or the scent of a rose can never be expressed in words but a story may enable a trace of recognition of what is inexpressible.

Stories 48: The Meaning Of A Story

A disciple once complained: You tell us stories, but you never reveal their meaning to us.

Said the Master: How would you like it if someone offered you fruit and chewed it up before giving it to you?

No one can find the meaning for you.

Not even the Master.

If you respect your listeners enough to tell the story, respect the enough to let them draw their own conclusions.

Stories 47: What is spirituality?

A rabbi once came to Reb Yerachmiel after a meditation workshop. “A member of my congregation, a philosopher at the state college, asked me to teach him how to meditate. How should I instruct him?”

Reb Yerachmiel replied: “Teach him the prayer for moving his bowels, and teach him to recite it every time he does so. Don’t let him read on the toilet. He must just sit and pray.”

During a presentation on spirituality a woman rose and said: ‘I have no need of these practices. I feel spiritual all the time without doing anything.’

Reb Yerachmiel looked at her for a moment and said: ‘The next time you have an urge to be spiritual, take a cold shower. Then dry off and do something kind for someone else.

Stories 46: The Coconut Story

During the early days of the kingdom of Ava, a caravan of hill men arrived with their merchandise at the market place. After selling their wares, they went from stall to stall with gold coins jingling in their pockets, looking for rare articles to be bought and taken home.

They paused before a stall selling fruit and looked in wonder at a bunch of coconuts on display.

“What are those?” asked the leader of the caravan.

“Coconuts, my friend,” replied the woman stall-keeper. “They are very expensive and only kings and great lords can afford to buy them.”

“Of course, I can afford to buy them,” the caravan leader replied somewhat testily. “Name your price.” Learning that the price was one silver coin for one coconut, he bought the whole bunch with a lordly air.

The hillmen then started on their journey homeward, and, after one or two days’ travel, the caravan leader said, “My friends, let us now taste the wondrous coconut which only kings and lords can eat.” So saying, he cut the coconut, ate the outer fiber, and then threw away the nut, thinking it was a mere seed and not dreaming at all that there was sweet milk and a rich kernel inside. His friends followed suit with the other coconuts from the bunch. The caravan leader then said, “Friends, kings and lords are foolish indeed to value this tasteless fruit.