The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. He lived in the Himalayas, and one time when he went down from the mountains to get salt and vinegar, he joined a merchant’s caravan. While the workers slept one night, the Bodhisatta did walking meditation. A band of thieves surrounded their camp and waited for the Bodhisatta to go to sleep before they snuck in to plunder the wagons. But the Bodhisatta did not stop, and as dawn approached, the thieves called off their raid.
As the thieves left, they threw down their sticks and stones and shouted to the sleeping workers that they should reward the Bodhisatta since he saved their cargo. The grateful workers, in fear and shock, asked the Bodhisatta if he had seen the thieves. He had, he answered, and then they asked if he was afraid. “No,” he replied. “Only rich people fear thieves, I own nothing of value, so I have no reason to be afraid.” The workers understood his wisdom and showed him great honor.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
A layman who was deeply devoted to the Buddha was traveling with a trade caravan. One night as he did walking meditation, some thieves surrounded the camp and waited for him to go to sleep. But he didn’t, so the thieves left empty-handed.
When he next saw the Buddha, the man recounted what had happened. The Buddha said, “In guarding himself, a man guards others; in guarding others, he guards himself.” Then the Buddha told this story so the layman knew that he himself had once done the same thing.
The caravan workers were earlier births of the Buddha’s disciples.