Beating A Thief With The Triple Gem

close up shot of a person wearing a robber mask
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As the Buddha is the invincible teacher
of the infallible Dharma
to the inspiring Sangha,
the Triple Gem is the indispensable refuge.

— Stonepeace

A lama in Eastern Tibet lived beside the Dzachu River. He received many offerings from the faithful, but having renounced all worldly concerns, he just left them scattered, wherever he happened to be. One day a thief came to steal the ritual objects from his altar, but the lama intuitively sensed evil forces. Vigilant, he caught the thief red-handed. Aware of the thief’s negative karma, he decided to dispel the darkness gripping him. Holding the thief by the neck, the lama hit him on the head with a prayer book, repeating the refuge prayer, “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha; I take refuge in the Triple Gem.” Without another word, he let the thief go. “I have relinquished all possessions; may you relinquish unwholesome activities,” the lama chanted after the retreating figure.

The thief huddled under a bridge that night, nursing his wounded pride. Waking after midnight from a troubled sleep, he saw the fearsome forms of evil forces all about him. He was terrifies. Suddenly into his head leapt the refuge prayer that the lama had beaten into him earlier that day, and the thief unconsciously repeated to himself, “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha; I take refuge in the Triple Gem,” again and again. While doing so, he could actually see the ghosts and demons fleeing before the power of prayer.

As a result, the thief said the refuge prayer constantly and became a disciple of that lama by the Dzachu River. As everyone knows, taking refuge is the door to the Dharma, the gateway to the path. The refuge prayer, coupled with confidence in the Triple Gem, inevitably pacifies negative influences, purifies unwholesomeness, and brings purity of heart and mind. Turning away from illusion, seeking the ineffable peace of Nirvana, the thief eventually became a teacher himself and led others to freedom and enlightenment.

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  • There is a similar story about the famous Thai monk Somdet To in McDaniel’s “The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magic Monk.” In the Somdet To version, he helps the thief grab all the gifts from laymen and royalty in his kuti and then helps the thief push his heavily loaded boat into the river. He tells the thief “If you need anything come and ask.” The thief sees the error of his ways and becomes a follower.

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