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The Thief Within

"The Thief Within" is taken from Kindness, A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom by Sarah Conover and Valerie Wahl (Spokane, Eastern Washington University Press, 2001). Copyright 2001 by Sarah Conover. Used by permission, all rights reserved.

Many centuries ago, a young, novice monk traveled alone in the mountains of Tibet. He wandered about penniless, begging for a meager meal from time to time. One day, just as evening fell, he found himself on a bitterly cold mountain pass. But there, tucked in a high alpine meadow, he noticed a small home. He knocked upon the door. When it opened, a grizzled, ancient couple greeted him. They welcomed the young monk into their home, allowing him to escape the icy mountain wind. Because it is an honor to feed a monk, they cheerfully readied a wonderful supper for their guest.

At some point during the meal preparations, the old man went outside to herd his cattle into the night pasture, and the old woman went to fetch some water at the well. They left the young monk alone, tending the fire. But suddenly, shouts from the house echoed from cliff to cliff in the mountain meadow. "Thief, robber!" they heard the young monk shout. "Get out and never come back!" The monk created such a noisy tumult that the old man and woman hastened back as quickly as their old legs would run—pitchforks and hoes in hand to deal with the thief.

When they burst through the door, all they saw was the lone monk—flushed as a berry, running around the table, slapping his right hand, and cursing himself. On the table was an open tea container, with a few tea leaves scattered about. "Thief!" he admonished his right hand and held it high, "if I ever catch you trying to steal a little something again I will be rid of you!" The old couple looked at each other and chuckled at the young monk. They served him a fine supper and offered a warm place to rest for the evening. The monk bowed respectfully and thanked them for their generosity, but he wanted to resume his homeless life that very night. Before he left, however, the young monk pronounced that on that evening, in their house, he met his inner teacher from whom he would never again part. And he thanked the old couple and went on his way.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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