The thief's gold cup

There were two thieves who were good friends and, at the same time, were very jealous of each other. That is human life. Friendship and jealousy go together.

One night, after they had gone out stealing, they met in the street. One of them had a beautiful golden cup. The other thief said, “How did you get that?”

His friend said, “I stole it from a hermit’s house.”

The first thief said, “How could a hermit have such a beautiful gold cup?”

His friend said, “That I don’t know, but the hermit has many disciples. Perhaps one of his disciples gave him this. The hermit does not care if he has a gold cup or an earthen pot. Most of the time he just stays at the foot of a tree near his small house and prays and meditates. He doesn’t care about his possessions. His disciples put expensive things in his house, but he is above all that. He is not attached to any material things.”

The first thief was very jealous that his friend had got such a beautiful gold cup. Finally he said, “Well, I have decided that I will give up stealing.”

His friend said, “What! What are you talking about?”

The first thief continued, “Stealing is not a good thing. I have decided to return all the things that I have stolen to their rightful owners. True, some things I have already sold, and those I cannot give back. But whatever I have that I know belongs to certain individuals, I am planning to return. And I shall confess that I have stolen it.

“Everybody looks down on me because they know I am a thief. Therefore, I have decided that I want to give up stealing. Then people will appreciate me and love me. I want appreciation from people, so I will become a good person. This is a new idea for me, and I am going to start tomorrow.”

The other thief was amazed and jealous that his friend had thought of this idea first. He said, “You are starting tomorrow?”

“Yes,” said the first thief.

“Then I am starting right now,” said his friend. He ran to the hermit’s hut and entered into it. Bowing down, he said, “Please give me some advice. During the day I was very busy. That is why I am coming at night to ask for your advice. Actually, it is not my problem; it is somebody else’s problem. If you can solve my friend’s problem, I will be very grateful.”

“What is his problem?” asked the hermit.

The man said, “My friend is a thief. Now he says that he is going to return the things that he has stolen and lead a new and better life. What should he do now?”

“What do you mean?” asked the hermit.

“Suppose I have stolen something from someone. If I want to give it back, am I doing the right thing by telling him that I have stolen it and making a confession?”

The hermit said, “You are doing the right thing if you make a confession and give back the things that you have taken. Then God will forgive you.”

The thief said, “In case the owner does not want to take it back, what should the person do? The owner may get disgusted and think that the object is polluted because it had been stolen by a low-class thief. A thief is impurity incarnate.”

“In that case,” said the hermit, “the thief can keep it. It is up to the owner whether he takes it back or not. If the owner does not take it back, then the thief cannot be blamed for keeping it.”

The thief then took out the cup and gave it to the hermit. The hermit asked, “Where is it from?”

The thief said, “From your house.”

The hermit was always in trance so he did not recognise it. He said, “You have taken it from my house?”

“Yes,” said the thief. “Now please take it back.”

The hermit said, “Since you have got it now, it is your possession. You need it more than I do. Otherwise, you would not have taken it. I pray to God and meditate on God. Why do I need this kind of expensive thing? Any kind of earthen cup is more than enough for me. I am not saying that you are impure. You are also God’s child. I want to see purity in everyone. But I didn’t know this cup was mine and I don’t need it. In every way it should be yours. I don’t have any claim on it.”

When the thief returned, his friend was still waiting for him. The friend was surprised to see that he still had the beautiful gold cup. The thief said, “I went back, but the saint didn’t want to take it back. He said he did not need it and that I need it more than he does.”

The friend felt miserable that the other thief still had the beautiful gold cup. He had not really been planning to turn over a new leaf and return all his stolen goods the next day. It was only out of jealousy that he had tried to trick his friend into returning the cup by making him feel that he himself was planning to become good. But his philosophy didn’t work.