A spiritual man was leading a very simple life in the forest. He had a small hut and he used to pray day in and day out. One evening he was meditating near his hut when two thieves saw him. According to their own standard, they thought he was not a good person. They wanted to teach him a lesson. So they entered into his little hut. There they did not find any material object except a plate. They said to one another, “How can someone live with only a plate? There is no food, no furniture, nothing — only a plate. That means he is doing something undivine. He goes somewhere else to eat at night and during the day he pretends that he can live without food. Here is the proof that he is not a sincere seeker.”
One of the thieves grabbed the plate and put it inside his bag. The other one felt a little sorry for the spiritual man. He said, “Who knows, perhaps this man is sincere after all. Here in this forest there are some fruits. Perhaps he lives on fruits or during the day perhaps he goes to the neighbouring village and begs for food. I do not want to be involved in stealing this plate.”
The other thief was adamant. He said, “No, I strongly suspect that this so-called seeker is up to no good.” So he stole the small plate and the two thieves left the vicinity. Meanwhile the seeker did not have the slightest idea of what was going on.
After covering a long distance, the culprit saw that his friend (the one who was not in favour of stealing) was very, very happy. He asked his friend, “Why are you so happy?”
The friend replied, “I am happy because I know that seeker is a sincere person. We are not. We are both bad people. We make our living by stealing from others. But today is an exception. Today I feel that I have not done a bad thing. But you have done something wrong. You took his plate. If somebody is very prosperous, we can steal from that person. But that hermit is so poor. He is leading such a simple life. His only possession was that plate. So I am happy that today I am not the culprit.”
Then the other thief said, “I also want to be happy like you. Let me return the plate.” So the second thief went back to the hermit’s hut to return the plate. When he arrived, he saw that the hermit was once again meditating right in front of his doorway.
The thief approached him and said, “I have come to return this to you.”
The hermit looked at the plate and said, “Whose is this? Give it to the owner.”
The thief was puzzled. He said to himself, “This is the same hut. It was from here that I took the plate. Now why is the hermit saying, ‘Give it to the owner’? What does he mean?”
The thief tried to make the situation very clear. He said, “I stole this plate from your hut. Are you not the owner?”
The hermit said, “No, I am not the owner.”
“Who is the owner then?” asked the thief.
“The actual owner is either you or God. It is between you and God,” said the hermit.
Still the thief did not understand. He asked, “What do you mean by ‘between me and God’?”
The hermit replied, “Today I am the happiest person. Why? Previously I had only one possession — a plate. I used to feel miserable because of that plate. I wanted to renounce everything, but I could not give up that plate. I used to take it with me when I went to nearby villages to beg for food. Today at long last I can say that I am a true renunciate. I have given up everything. I do not have anything. So kindly take the plate. It is yours, since you have taken the trouble of stealing it. And if you do not want it, give it to God.”
The thief asked, “Where can I find God?”
The hermit replied, “God is everywhere. If you throw it away, God will make sure that somebody will find it, and that person will be the right person. He will be the rightful owner of the plate. I am no longer the owner of this plate.”
This story shows us that if you deal with a good person, you immediately learn something good.