There was once a lay Buddhist practitioner who was very pious and diligent in his spiritual cultivation. Every day, after he had completed his work, he would spend some time meditating to settle his mind, and this routine was never interrupted.
One day at noon, while preparing to cook lunch, he discovered that his salt container was empty. So he decided to borrow some salt from his next door neighbour, as it would take a lot of time to walk the long distance required just to buy salt.
He walked over to his neighbour’s house and discovered that the door was not locked. As no one answered his repeated calls, he thought that it would not matter if he helped himself to some salt, since it was such a cheap commodity anyway. So he entered the kitchen and scooped a small spoonful of salt for himself. Returning to his own home, he soon forgot about the matter.
A few years later, while meditating, he always noticed that there was an expanse of white stuff before his eyes, and was puzzled about it. One day, he was struck by a sudden realisation ─ he remembered the spoonful of salt he had taken from his neighbour’s house without the latter’s knowledge.
As the saying goes, “When one wrongfully takes a tael[W1] from someone, one has to pay back a thousand pounds.” So he quickly purchased a thousand pounds of salt and sent it to his neighbour’s house.
Seeing so much salt stacked outside his house, the neighbour exclaimed in surprise: “What is this all about?” The lay practitioner replied, “My apologies, please accept the salt which I’m now returning to you.”
“When have you ever owed me so much salt?”
“A few years ago, I took a spoonful of salt from your house and soon forgot about the matter until recently, while meditating, I kept perceiving an obstacle in front of me ─ it was a pile of white salt. This made me realise the frightening karmic consequence of my wrongdoing. If I do not quickly return the salt I owe you now, I may not be able to afford the cost of what I owe you in future. Though I stole less than a tael of salt from you, I am willing to return a thousand pounds of it to compensate for what I did.”
Hearing this, his neighbour doubtfully questioned him if the minor misdemeanour could indeed bring about such a frightening karmic consequence, and if the taking of something so small could be considered an act of stealing. The lay practitioner replied that as long as one had not sought the permission of the owner before taking an item for use, one would have committed theft.
In dealing with people and matters, what is most important is that we have a sincere heart, and we must exercise self-vigilance and be mindful. Whether rich or poor, we must understand the law of karma, be content with our lot in life and conduct ourselves honestly. If we allow thoughts of greed to arise, wrongfully claiming another’s possession as our own or stealing from others, however small the amount, we will reap the karmic consequences. Therefore, we must never commit a wrong because it seems small, thinking that it has no impact.
In our daily lives, we may sometimes make small mistakes, but it would not be right to brush them off lightly. Small wrongs never corrected may one day become major transgressions. Therefore, we must constantly remind ourselves to be mindful of our conduct so that we can reduce the wrongdoings of our body, speech and mind and grow in moral character day by day. Otherwise, our wrongs will increase over time, which causes vexation to others and become our karmic obstacles.
Extracted from Tzu Chi Monthly, Vol. 373
Translated by the Tzu Chi Singapore translation team