The Thief and The Zen Master

“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth.” ~ James Allen

One evening the Zen master Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras in the privacy of his home, when a thief suddenly entered, pulling a sword and demanding Shichiri’s money or his life.

The Zen master was not afraid — only annoyed. “You are disturbing me!” he snapped, “The money is in that drawer, over there.” He pointed distractedly at a counter in the far corner of the room. “Help yourself,” he said, resuming his recitation.

The thief ambled over to the counter, opened the drawer and began taking the money. Suddenly the master called out, “Don’t take all of it! Leave some for me to pay my taxes tomorrow.”

This gave the burglar pause. It was a bold demand. Nevertheless, he did as requested and left some money behind, closing the drawer and heading for the door. Just as he was about to cross through the archway, the monk’s voice came again, even louder: “Hey! You took my money and you didn’t even thank me? That’s very impolite.”

At this, the burglar turned, eyeing the old adept with a mixture of wariness and bewilderment. The wind passed around him, rustling his hair and clothes as he stood on the threshold between the inside and outside worlds. His grip tightened on his sword.

Shichiri stared back at him from his spot on the floor, his look overly dramatic, his posture sharp.  

After a moment, the intruder replied dryly: “Thank you,” and left without waiting for a response. Later, in recalling the tale for his friends, he joked that he had been more afraid of the old Zen master than the other way around.

Within the week, however, the burglar was caught in the midst of another break-in. He was taken to the nearest kōban and pressured into revealing the details of his crimes. Among them was the house of Shichiri Kojun. After a lengthy period in holding, he was presented to the court and tried.

When Shichiri was called as a witness, and asked to recount the incident, he said: “Actually, this man did not steal anything from me — I gave him the money.” He looked directly at the thief, a certain glint in his eye. “He even thanked me for it.”

While this did not keep the crook from going to jail, it did help reduce the sentencing, and he found himself thinking often of the old master during his time in prison. A day did not go by, in fact, that Shichiri wasn’t on his mind.

Years later, a knock came at the old monk’s door. He opened it to find the thief standing before him, freshly out of prison, a bag slung over his shoulder, his face noticeably aged.

“Ah, I thought you might turn up,” Shichiri chuckled. He stood back and opened the door, welcoming the criminal who had pulled a sword on him into his own home once again. “Please, come in.”