Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
When the Buddha was living in Jetavana temple, this
story was told with regard to a problem posed to the Buddha
by a certain devout layman of Sāvatthi.
This layman once journeyed along with a caravan on
some business or other. At night, when in the jungle, the
caravan leader unyoked the bullocks, and made camp. The
devout layman sat awake all night under a nearby tree.
Because of this, he prevented the caravan from being robbed,
robbers who had gathered around the caravan running away
at the break of dawn when the man never fell asleep.
When the devout layman returned, he went to see the
Buddha. He asked the Buddha, “Bhante, by guarding
oneself, does one also guard others?” The Buddha
responded, “Yes, lay brother. In guarding oneself, a man
guards others. And in guarding others, he guards himself.”
And the devout layman told the Buddha what had happened
on his journey. The Buddha then said, “In the past, too, the
wise guarded others while guarding themselves.” And at the
layman’s request, the Buddha told this story of the past:
Once upon a time, the Enlightenment Being was born
into a rich and powerful family. When he grew up he became
dissatisfied with going after the ordinary pleasures of the
world. So he gave up his former lifestyle, including his
wealth and position. He went to the foothills of the
Himalayas and became a holy man.
It just so happened that one day he ran out of salt. So he
decided to go and collect alms. He came upon a caravan and
went with it part way on its journey. In the evening they
stopped and made camp.
The holy man began walking at the foot of a big nearby
tree. He concentrated until he entered a high mental state. He
remained in that state throughout the night, while continuing
Meanwhile, 500 bandits surrounded the campsite. They
waited until after supper, when all had settled down for the
night. But before they could attack, they noticed the holy
man. They said to each other, “That man must be on guard,
for security. If he sees us, he’ll warn the rest. So let’s wait
until he falls asleep, and then do our robbing and looting!”
What the bandits didn’t know was that the holy man
was so deep in meditation that he didn’t notice them at all –
or anything else for that matter! So they kept waiting for him
to fall asleep. And he just kept walking and walking and
walking – until the light of dawn finally began to appear.
Only then was he finished meditating.
Having had no chance to rob the caravan, the bandits
threw down their weapons in frustration. They shouted,
“Hey, you in the caravan! If your security guard hadn’t
stayed up all night, walking under that tree, we would have
robbed you all! You should reward him well!” With that they
left in search of someone else to rob.
When it became light the people in the caravan saw the
clubs and stones left behind by the bandits. Trembling with
fear, they went over to the holy man. They greeted him
respectfully and asked if he had seen the bandits. “Yes, this
morning I did,” he said.
“Weren’t you scared?” they asked. “No,” said the
Enlightenment Being, “the sight of bandits is only frightening
to the rich. But I’m not a rich man. I own nothing of any
value to robbers. So why should I be afraid of them? I have
no anxiety in a village, and no fear in the forest. Possessing
only loving-kindness [mettā] and compassion [karu ā], I
follow the straight path leading to Truth [Dhamma].”
In this manner he preached the way of fearlessness to
the lucky people of the caravan. His words made them feel
peaceful, and they honored him.
After a long life developing the Four Heavenly States
of Mind [catu-brahma-vihāra-s], he died and was reborn in a
high heaven world.
The Buddha then said:
“The people in the caravan in those days are today the
Buddha’s followers. And the holy man was I who am today
The moral: “It pays to have a holy man around.”
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