The Bandit and the Pandit
By Matthew Joyce
There once was a bandit who lived in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in India. From the rocky crags and deep forests that cloaked the mountainous slopes he would prey upon hapless travelers, stealing their money or killing them if they resisted.
When a rich merchant wandered up the wooded path near his lair, the bandit leapt from behind a boulder brandishing his sword. “Your money or your life,” he yelled in his meanest, most intimidating voice.
The merchant fell to the ground shaking in fear. “Don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me!” he quaked.
The bandit closed in menacingly.
“Here. Take my money. Take it all,” pleaded the merchant, fumbling with his coin purse.
“Your parcels too,” demanded the bandit.
“Yes. Of course. Take them too,” said the merchant. “Just let me live.”
“Then be gone,” ordered the bandit, kicking the man in rear end and sending him scurrying back down the path.
It was all too easy to rob a man like the merchant.
But not everyone was so easy.
One time when the bandit was lying in wait, a lone cloaked traveler came wandering down out of the mountains. As usual the bandit sprang his ambush, shouting “Get on the ground! You’re money or your life!”
But his victim didn’t drop face down in the dirt as most of them did. Instead, he threw back his cloak to reveal a soldier’s armor. “I’ll kill you before I give you my money,” said the soldier as he drew his sword.
“We’ll see,” countered the bandit as he leapt forward.
Their swords clanged as they thrust and parried, their clashing blows sending echoes bouncing off the canyon walls.
The soldier was brave, but he was no match for the well-armed, highly skilled bandit. And soon the soldier was lying face down dead in the dirt.
The bandit took the soldier’s money, his sword, and armor. Then he hid the body since he didn’t want the army out looking for him.
So it went for the bandit as he robbed or killed his victims one after another. He continued this money-or-your-life pattern, year after year, day after day.
Until one day a pandit (a Hindu religious scholar) came walking up the path.
The bandit thought twice about robbing the pandit since he was a holy man. But the fact was that the area was now well known for his banditry and it was no longer frequently traveled. The bandit never knew how long it might be before another victim came his way. So that meant he considered everyone equally as a target.
As the holy pandit approached, the bandit sprang from his hiding place and knocked the pandit to the ground, holding him there with the sword pointed at his throat.
“Give me all your money,” demanded the bandit.
“I have no money,” said the pandit.
“I’ve heard that before,” said the bandit, searching his victim.
When it turned out to be true that the old man had no money, the bandit said, “Since you have no money, I will hold you for ransom and your friends will pay.”
“I will not let them pay,” said the pandit.
“Then I will kill you,” yelled the bandit, pressing the sword tip to the pandit’s throat.
But rather than tremble with fear, the pandit laughed.
“You think death is funny?”
“No,” said the pandit. “It’s funny that you think you can get what you want with a sword.”
“I can,” said the bandit. “I control your life in this moment.”
“Yes you do,” said the pandit. “But you don’t control my experience.”
The bandit paused in thought. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“You do indeed control my life. If you press your sword into me, then I will die. But you do not control my choice to be happy. Only I control that. In this moment I choose to be happy. Whether you bring me life or death is your choice. My choice is how I feel in this moment.”
The bandit stood speechless as his unarmed victim’s words pierced his heart. In all his years it had never occurred to him that external circumstances need not determine the choices in life.
For several moments the two men stood in silence. Then as the dust around them began to settle, the bandit dropped his sword. And with an open hand he helped the pandit up from the ground.
“No one has ever spoken to me that way before,” said the bandit. It had never occurred to him before that there was another way to find happiness or personal power than by controlling people or events.
“I want to become your student,” he said.
In that moment the bandit chose a new path. One in which he began to control his life experiences from the inside instead of the outside.
So many times in life we act like bandits, reacting to life’s circumstances out of habit or out of a sense of limited choices because we fail to recognize that no matter what happens in any given moment, we hold the final power to determine our own experiences.
Here’s wishing you the insight to live your life as the pandit does— with a clear understanding of the power of choice you hold in every moment.
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