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The Thief

‘The 12th century master Geshe Ben was renowned for his goodness and integrity.

Once, while begging for alms, a family of devout Buddhists invited him to their home to be fed. He was so hungry that he found it difficult to wait while his hosts were elsewhere preparing the meal.

To his complete shock he found himself stealing food from a jar when no-one was looking.

Geshe Ben suddenly burst into loud cries of “Thief! Thief! I've caught you red-handed.”

His hosts rushed into the room to find him berating himself and threatening his hand with being cut off it ever behaved like that again.'

Tibetan teaching story

What Is the Spiritual Moral / Meaning of “The Thief” Story?

The tale of Geshe Ben offers profound insights into the nature of self-awareness and integrity. When we observe Geshe Ben's actions, we see a profound lesson in the human struggle with inner impulses and the path to overcoming them. Each moment of our lives presents an opportunity to confront our inner shadows and transform them into light.

The first spiritual lesson from Geshe Ben's story is the importance of vigilance in self-awareness. Spiritual growth demands that we remain ever watchful of our thoughts and actions. The moment Geshe Ben caught himself stealing, he demonstrated the power of self-observation. In our daily lives, being mindful of our impulses and desires is the first step towards spiritual awakening. This vigilant awareness helps us recognize when we deviate from our values and principles.

Another vital teaching is the acceptance of our humanity. Despite being a revered master, Geshe Ben found himself succumbing to a moment of weakness. This act of self-forgiveness is crucial on the spiritual path. We must accept that imperfection is a part of the human experience. Acknowledging our flaws without harsh judgment allows us to cultivate compassion for ourselves and others. It is through this acceptance that we can find the strength to change and grow.

The story also underscores the significance of integrity. Geshe Ben's loud declaration of his wrongdoing was an act of immense courage. It highlights the importance of honesty with oneself and others. In the spiritual journey, maintaining integrity means being truthful about our actions and intentions. This honesty not only cleanses our conscience but also strengthens our character. By living with integrity, we align our actions with our highest values, fostering a sense of inner peace and authenticity.

Another profound lesson is the practice of self-discipline. Geshe Ben's threat to his own hand symbolizes the discipline needed to control our impulses. Spiritual growth requires a commitment to self-discipline, enabling us to overcome temptations and remain focused on our path. This discipline is not about punishment but about creating a structure that supports our spiritual aspirations. Through consistent practice, we develop the strength to resist harmful impulses and make choices that reflect our higher purpose.

Moreover, the story teaches us about the power of humility. Geshe Ben, despite his esteemed status, did not shy away from admitting his fault publicly. This humility is a cornerstone of spiritual development. It reminds us that no matter how advanced we may become, there is always room for growth and learning. By embracing humility, we open ourselves to the wisdom and guidance that the universe offers, allowing us to evolve continually.

The concept of accountability is also deeply embedded in this story. Geshe Ben held himself accountable for his actions, setting an example for others. In our spiritual journey, taking responsibility for our actions is crucial. It empowers us to make amends and learn from our mistakes. Accountability fosters a sense of ownership over our spiritual progress, motivating us to strive for higher standards in our thoughts and behaviors.

Lastly, the story of Geshe Ben illustrates the transformative power of self-compassion. While he chastised himself, the underlying message is one of love and commitment to self-improvement. In our spiritual journey, self-compassion allows us to nurture our growth gently. It helps us to forgive our transgressions and motivates us to strive for better. By being kind to ourselves, we create a nurturing environment for our spiritual evolution.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. When was the last time you caught yourself acting against your values? How did you respond?
  2. How do you practice self-awareness in your daily life?
  3. What does integrity mean to you, and how do you uphold it in challenging situations?
  4. How do you balance self-discipline with self-compassion in your spiritual practice?
  5. In what ways do you show humility in your personal and spiritual life?
  6. How do you hold yourself accountable for your actions and decisions?
  7. What role does forgiveness play in your journey of spiritual growth?
  8. How do you cultivate self-compassion when faced with your own imperfections?
  9. What practices help you stay aligned with your highest values and principles?
  10. How do you integrate the lessons of humility, integrity, and accountability in your daily interactions?

A Poem Based on “The Thief”

In shadows cast, the light of day,
A master's heart begins to sway.
Hunger's whisper, a silent plea,
In moments weak, the soul to see.

The jar, a symbol, close at hand,
A test of will, a moral stand.
Within the stillness, voices rise,
The thief within, he must chastise.

“Thief! Thief!” the echo rings,
A cry for truth that boldly sings.
In honesty, the heart is free,
To face the dark, our destiny.

Awareness sharp, like morning dew,
To catch ourselves in acts untrue.
With humble grace, we own our flaws,
In this, we find our higher laws.

Integrity, a guiding star,
It lights the path to who we are.
Through trials faced, our spirits grow,
In honesty, our true selves show.

Discipline, a hand that guides,
Through temptations, the soul abides.
With strength of will, we shape our fate,
In moments small, we cultivate.

Humility, a gentle cloak,
In simple truths, our hearts invoke.
No matter how the journey winds,
In modest steps, the spirit finds.

Accountability, our guiding light,
To own our steps, both wrong and right.
In taking charge, we forge ahead,
With lessons learned, our spirits fed.

Self-compassion, tender grace,
To heal the wounds we dare to face.
In loving-kindness, we ascend,
To higher realms, our hearts we send.

So walk the path with mindful care,
In every breath, a silent prayer.
For in each moment, small or grand,
The spirit grows, by its own hand.