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