Speak out the truth fearlessly regardless of consequences

The Brahmin Thief

In classical India, one of the duties of the privileged class of Brahmin priests was, to speak out the truth fearlessly regardless of consequences, and another was, to give spiritual instruction where it was clearly needed. Some of the great priests confronted and checked the arrogance of kings, and the virtue of Dana or Giving is stressed in classics like the Bhagavad Gita.

An astute businessman, who had foreseen a famine, had collected all the available rice in his granary. He now held on to it to squeeze the highest prices out of the better off. The poor, beginning to starve, consulted a Brahmin equally poor, to plan a raid on the granary next to the businessman’s house. The carpenter had spotted a weak point in one corner, and thought he could make a hole through which a man could wriggle. Once inside he could pass out bowlfuls to the others through the hole. It would be a risky venture; in that area burglary was punished by death.

The Brahmin told them: “I will volunteer. If one of you is caught by the owner or the watchman, you will be killed. But if I am caught, I shall be disgraced and exiled, but they will not kill me. So I must be the man.”

All went well on the night, and the Brahmin was passing out bowlfuls of rice to the waiting bags outside. Then the owner, sitting in his shop looking at his accounts, began to soliloquise: “I am doing well out of this, and shall do even better after a week or so. I shall be able to extend my business.”

When the Brahmin in the granary next-door overheard these words, he forgot what he was doing, dropped the bowl, and straightened up. The owner was thunderstruck to hear a voice booming from the granary: “O deluded man, these things last for but a few moments. Repent, make your peace with God, and use your talents to serve your fellow-men, not to exploit them.”

He called the burly watchman, and together they arrested the Brahmin, and brought him before the magistrate next morning. The magistrate, however, praised the Brahmin for fearlessly doing his duty of giving spiritual instruction where it was needed. He ordered that half the remaining grain should be given to the Brahmin, to be disposed of as he wished, being the remainder of the traditional fee for such instruction. Then he stood up and made a reverent bow to the Brahmin: “May I do my own duty with the same independence of circumstances that you have done yours.”

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