There was once a cunning thief, Bhairav, who always planned his moves carefully. One day he decided to rob the holy men who came to the local temple from far off lands for the temple’s annual festival. He calculated that all these people came from distant towns, so they must be carrying lots of money.

So Bhairav dressed up like a holy man and went to attend the festival. At the temple, he slowly made friends with one particular person who appeared to be wealthy. After spending a few days at the temple, the thief and holy man became friends. The thief was so impressed by the nature of his new friend that he did not want to rob him any more. So much so, that he confessed the original reason for his friendship to the holy man. Surprisingly, the holy man did not call the police. Instead, he gave the stunned Bhairav some of his money.

The Honest Thief
The Honest Thief [Illustrations by Amarjeet Malik]

Impressed with the man’s greatness of heart, Bhairav asked him for advice. He said, “You are such a wonderful person. Even after knowing that I had evil designs on your money, you willingly shared it with me. Please make me your disciple, and advise me on how to live my life”. The holy man replied, “Okay, but let’s start one step at a time. To begin with, I’ll ask you to do just one thing. From now on just stop saying anything untrue. Just speak honestly. That’s it. Next year when I come for this festival, then we will meet again.”

Bhairav was surprised that the holy man did not ask him to stop stealing. All he had to do was speak honestly. So he decided, he would go about his work – of stealing – without lying.

One day, Bhairav decided to rob the king’s palace. As he approached the main gate, the sentry inquired who he was and what was his purpose of visit. Remembering his promise of honesty, Bhairav told the sentry that he was a thief and wanted to rob the king’s palace. The sentry was shocked at first, but then thought to himself that this must surely be a joke, that Bhairav must be an old friend of the King. He smiled and let Bhairav into the palace.

So Bhairav went in, picked up whatever he wanted, put it in a bundle and started to walk back to the main gate. On his way out, again someone stopped him and asked who he was and what was in the bundle. Once again, he spoke honestly, “I am a thief and inside this bundle are valuables from the king’s palace.” The sentry thought, surely this is some important person who is upset at the fact that I did not recognize him and let him pass.

So Bhairav came back home with a lot of wealth without having spoken a single dishonest word. But from that day on, he decided never to steal again and started waiting for the next festival when he could meet his spiritual friend.