The thief who returned his loot

And he did so because he felt he could get something much more valuable

hand holding gold coins

There was a Buddhist saint named Nagarjuna. His only possessions in life were a loincloth and a golden begging bowl, which was gifted to him by his disciple—the King of the land.

One night, as Nagarjuna was preparing to retire for the day in the ruins of some ancient monastery, he sensed the presence of someone. Upon probing, he found a thief hiding behind one of the columns. He held out his golden begging bowl, and said to the thief, “Here take this. This is all that I have. I hope now you won’t disturb me while I’m sleeping.”

Delighted, the thief grabbed the bowl and ran away—only to come back next morning. Handing over the bowl to Nagarjuna, the thief said, “Here take this. But I want something else from you. Will you give?”

“What do you want?” asked the great saint.

The thief said, “When you gave away this bowl so freely last night, I realised how rich you were—and I was so poor. O great man, teach me how to acquire the wealth that enabled you to give so freely.”

We derive a sense of safety and self-worth from our possession

The true measure of wealth

While I don’t know what happens afterwards, I suspect that Nagarjuna must’ve freely given away the lesson that the thief wanted—that real wealth has nothing to do with how much we possess. The true measure of wealth lies in our capacity to give freely.

Ordinarily we tend to accumulate, acquire, hoard. One look into our closets, our cabinets, our store rooms and it’s amply evident that we are attached to stuff. We derive a sense of safety and self-worth from our possessions. Yes, we were conditioned to save for that rainy day, and to protect our future. But when we possess beyond all our needs and wants and yet find it difficult to give away, what does it say about our status?

Giving sans value judgements

And even when we do give, we do it sparingly and with dozens of value judgements attached. For instance, we may give only to the poor, the needy or the deserving. Or we give with an ulterior motive—because we expect the favour to be returned. Such kind of giving is transactional and does not reflect wealth.

No matter how big our bank balance and how great our net worth, if we can’t give freely, we’re poor

While giving the golden bowl, Nagarjuna didn’t care whether the man was deserving—after all, he was a thief! Neither did he bother to find out if the thief was needy. How does that matter to a giver? He gives because he can’t help giving. Pure and unadulterated giving doesn’t concern itself with anything else.

No doubt Nagarjuna was tuned into Nature’s great secret—that giving freely is the mark of true wealth. Nature doesn’t discriminate. The apple tree gives its fruit to everyone—the rich, the poor, the hungry and the well fed. The cloud that’s become heavy doesn’t concern itself with whether the land is fertile or barren, the lake is empty or full—it rains without any value judgements. And Nature operates from the position of abundance—it’s intrinsically wealthy.

Tapping into your intrinsic abundance

Those who give freely have an intrinsic sense of security that comes from trusting the universe and knowing that everything is provided for. Such people know that material wealth is transient. It’s here today, gone tomorrow and back again the day after.

No matter how big your bank balance and how great your net worth, if you can’t give freely, you are poor. Likewise, if you can give away even your last possession, you’re wealthy beyond imagination. And such wealth cannot be purchased or earned. It can only come from tuning into your intrinsic abundance.

A version of this article first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri has spent the last two decades learning, teaching and writing about wellbeing and mindful living. He has contributed over 1500 articles for several newspapers and magazines including The Times of India, The Economic Times, The Statesman, Mid-Day, Bombay Times, Femina, and more. He is a counseling therapist and the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed best-selling book on self-transformation. An award-winning editor, Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".



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