Relax, close your eyes and picture yourself deep in a jungle in Thailand, far from the nearest village. This story is about a clever boy called Aloka, who was sent away from his village to study in the great temple of Golden City. One day he was walking home to his village for the holidays when he met a band of robbers! Would you like to find out what happened? Listen carefully to his story.
Night was drawing in as Aloka made his way along the jungle trail. Ferns and palm trees lined the path and vines climbed into the sky. He was preparing to camp for the night when he met a family of merchants returning from market.
“Why don’t you camp with us tonight?” said Taai, the father of the family.
“Yes, come and share our meal,” said Rajini, his wife.
Aloka smiled gratefully. He had been walking for several days on his own and was very glad to have some company. He joined the family around a blazing camp fire and shared a delicious meal with them.
After they’d all eaten their fill, Taai put more logs on the fire. Then his six children gathered around to listen to him tell a story.
“Once upon a time there was a young Prince called Siddartha,” began Taai. “Although he was very rich and handsome, he was not happy. Siddartha could see that many people in his kingdom suffered. He wanted to help them but he didn’t know how, until one day he found the secret. Now children, do you know what that secret was?”
The youngest child, little Mai, spoke up. “The power to be happy is in your own mind,” she said.
“Very good, Mai,” said her father. “That’s exactly what the prince learned. Once he could control his mind through meditation, nothing had the power to frighten or upset him. He could help people, because he was at peace. And he taught people how they could help themselves.”
The children listened to Prince Siddartha’s adventures. They'd all heard the story many times before, but they loved it just the same. A large silver moon climbed into the night's sky and Taai’s gentle voice lulled the family into sleep. Then Taai himself closed his eyes and began to snore softly.
But young Aloka was wide awake. He was very excited by Prince Siddartha’s story. Now everything he’d learned at school about controlling his mind seemed to make sense.
Aloka wrapped himself in a blanket and walked over to a nearby fig tree where he would not disturb the family. He wanted to think about the ideas calmly and walked slowly back and forth in the cool night air. As he let his attention focus on his breathing, his mind began to settle. Aloka's teacher at the temple had taught him to do this whenever he got over-excited. Now he felt calm and at peace.
What Aloka did not know was that he and the family were in terrible danger. A band of robbers had spied the family’s camp fire from afar and quietly made their way through the jungle. Now they were hiding behind a boulder, watching Aloka and the sleeping family.
“Look at that family all fast asleep,’’ whispered their leader, Cha. “It'd be easy to steal from them.’’
“Yes, and they’re just back from market from the looks of it,’’ said his deputy Jao. “Look at all those bundles of cloth.’’
The family all slept on peacefully. Now Aloka spied the robbers but he decided to remain calm, as he’d been taught. “It’ll do no good if I panic,’’ he thought to himself.
“I’ll try to control my fear.” He continued to walk slowly back and forth under the tree, practising concentration.
“That man pacing there must be on guard,” said Bahn, the third robber. “Let’s wait until he falls asleep.”
“And then we can tie up the adults and take everything they own!” said Jao. “I’ve the ropes ready.”
The robbers waited for Aloka to go to sleep. They waited and they waited, but Aloka continued to walk back and forth under the tree. One by one, Cha, Jao and Bahn fell into fitful sleep. Every now and then, one of them would stir and open his eyes. But when he saw that Aloka was still awake, each robber would fall asleep once more. Finally, when the sun rose in the sky, all three robbers woke up.
“That guard is still awake!” growled Cha. “And now it’s daylight. It’s too risky for us to try to rob them now. They’ll wake up before we have a chance to tie them up.”
The angry robbers fled through the jungle as the morning light flooded into the valley. Jao was so annoyed he forgot to take his ropes with him. The leader, Cha, couldn’t resist calling out, “Hey, you lot, sleeping there without a care in the world! You were lucky this time. Your guard who never sleeps saved you! You should reward him well.”
Aloka watched them leave and at last stopped walking. He stretched his arms and legs and smiled quietly to himself. Soon everyone was up and bustling about preparing breakfast. Taai began gathering wood for a fire and found the trampled-down patch of ferns where the robbers had hidden. And then he discovered the ropes.
“Aloka, do you know how these got here?” asked Taai. He was concerned and confused.
“Oh yes, they belonged to the robbers who were watching our camp during the night. They left this morning” replied Aloka calmly.
“Robbers!” cried Taai. “Weren't you scared?”
“No,” said Aloka. “I felt very peaceful as I walked. I realized that robbers are only interested in rich people. I’d only my blanket and a calm mind and neither would be of interest to robbers. So why should I be afraid?”
“You’re very brave,” said Taai. “Because you remained calm in the face of danger, danger passed us all by.”
The family walked with Aloka back to his village. When they reached Aloka’s home, Taai met Aloka’s father and bowed to him. He told him the story of the robbers. “Your son is the wisest young man I know,” Taai said. “You should be very proud.”
Aloka’s father smiled and nodded. “I am,” he said. Right concentration or meditation is about training your heart and mind. Once you’re calm and at peace, bravery and wisdom will come naturally to you.