One day, Augustus found himself on a path that the locals told him led to a village called Elderton. The landscape now was one of open woodlands and grasslands. The ground was reasonably flat with just a few low hills and isolated rocky outcrops. Around noon he came to a small stream that meandered slowly between tall trees and green banks. Across the other side he could hear songs from unseen birds in the tall trees. The stream was so inviting he stopped and drank and finding a grassy area under a tall shade tree sat and opened a small parcel of food that some kindly peasants at the previous village had given him. He had walked briskly and was grateful for the opportunity to rest, drink and satisfy his hunger. Before eating, he took his sandals off and hoisting up his robes strode into the cool water. He bent down and washed his face and splashed the water liberally over his shaven head. Refreshed he waded back to the bank and sat alongside his backpack and the food parcel. He was pleased to see that the provisions that had been given him consisted of bread, cheese and some dates. He tore off a small portion of bread and was just about to place it in his mouth when some movement on the other side of the stream attracted his attention.
He stopped and looked across to the other side of the small valley. There seemed to be nothing there other than the trees and the grass. But strangely the bird songs had stopped. He shrugged his shoulders and was again about to eat when he heard a crack of a twig being broken and again fancied that there had been some movement. He returned to his bread and deliberately did not look up even though he again sensed some movement. He was sure a creature had flitted from behind one tree trunk to another. Who or what could this be trying to approach him with stealth? Augustus looked down again and once more the figure scuttled from one tree to another closer to him. By now Augustus had discerned that the figure was a man who was perhaps now forty metres away on the other side of the stream and hiding behind the wide trunk of an imposing tree.
Augustus was not afraid but curious. In a disarming way he called out, “Hoy, you over there! Would you like to come and share some lunch with me?”
Augustus made as if to look down at his lunch laid out on the ground. The stranger cautiously emerged from his hiding place and, looking furtively left and right, sidled down to the stream side. At the stream’s edge he took off his shoes and rolled up his trousers and walked across the shin-deep stream. He stopped to put his shoes back on and restored his trousers.
“Welcome, friend,” greeted Augustus.
The man walked slowly up and stood over the seated Buddhist. Suddenly the stranger reached behind his back and pulled out a long bladed knife that he had in a sheath on his belt pushed around behind him so that it was not visible from the front.
Augustus was startled, but quickly regaining his composure he asked, “What do you want?”
The man smiled wickedly and snarled, “I want your money?”
“My money? Well of course – but this will not be a very profitable venture for you because I have very little.”
Augustus scrabbled among the contents of his rucksack and produced a small leather bag with a drawstring. He opened it and poured into his hand a dozen or so coins. “Here, this is my money,” he responded. And he held out the coins and placed them in the hand of the stranger. “Now let’s have some lunch.”
The robber was unconvinced. He rummaged through Augustus’s effects but could find nothing more. Augustus watched on, a little amused, and chewed on a few dates.
“You must have more than this!” exclaimed the stranger.
“No,” said Augustus, “I have little use for money. And what I have you are welcome to.”
Exasperated, the stranger sat down and broke off a little bread. “What is it with you? I can’t understand you. I have just stolen your money and now you ask me to share your food!”
Augustus laughed. “Why not?” he said. “My money was of little interest to me and you look like you are hungry.”
“How can you give up your money so easily? It is hard to come by. And I have so many needs that it can fulfill. How can it not be so with you also?”
Augustus looked earnestly at the robber. “Well, you are wrong friend. There is nothing that I need that money provides, except a few incidental conveniences that have little value to me. You see, we humans are seduced by our possessions. When we cannot give them away, we don’t own our possessions, they own us! Anyone who is seeking freedom must first sever their dependence on material possessions. What do I need but a little food, some company and my own sense of well-being. And when push comes to shove, the earth has always provided for me. My needs have been largely met without any recourse to worldly wealth. What I have is of no great moment to me. It is more important to pay attention to who I am. People like you can easily take away what I have, but you can never take away who I am.” Augustus laughed. “If it should make you happy take anything I have. But let me warn you that in the end it will contribute little to your own sense of well-being.”
The robber broke off a little cheese and chewed thoughtfully. “Do you have any provisions other than this?” he said pointing to the meagre repast laid out on the ground in front of them.
Augustus smiled. “What need is there for any more than this? I was hungry and what I had sufficed.”
“But what about tomorrow? What will you eat then?”
“Tomorrow will look after itself. Live in the moment, the eternal present – then you will not be deceived by clinging and spurious concerns about things that may never occur.”
The robber shook his head. “I cannot understand you,” he said in exasperation.
“No matter,” said Augustus, “It is more important that you should work on understanding yourself. Well, my friend, I have eaten and am now satisfied. It is time I moved on.”
Augustus stood and gathered up his belongings. “Which way are you headed?” asked the interloper.
“Well, I must continue on the path across the stream and onto the next village,” Augustus responded.
“Then let me walk with you a while,” the robber said.
Together they moved off on the path. They waded the stream and walked briskly up the rise on the other side. They chatted amicably for a time. Eventually they came to a fork in the path. Augustus’s companion said, “I must go this way.”
Augustus replied, “And I must go the other way. Thank you for your company my friend.”
Augustus could see that the robber was ill at ease. “I hope things go well for you,” the Buddhist ventured.
The robber looked up suddenly at Augustus. “I am sorry,” he said. He drew the leather bag from his pocket and dropped it on the ground in front of Augustus and quickly moved off down the track.
“Are you sure you don’t need some of this?” Augustus called after. There was no reply, but Augustus fancied he heard a sob.
Augustus picked up his money and shaking his head marched off down the track. He walked for a further half hour or so when he heard voices approaching. Soon he could see three figures walking towards him. They were chattering incessantly. Finally when they were almost upon him, they noticed him. They drew to a halt and watched him carefully as he drew near.
“Good day, friends,” Augustus ventured cheerfully.
The group of three looked at him suspiciously but quickly seemed to surmise that Augustus posed no threat. “Hello, pilgrim,” one of them responded. “You are foolhardy, travelling by yourself in this part of the country.”
Augustus was surprised. “Why, my friend? What is it I should be afraid of?”
“Well,” the other answered, “a dangerous robber lurks in these woods. He has attacked many poor souls who have travelled on this road and robbed them of their valuables. Have you not seen him?”
“The only person I have met in these woods is a man I shared my lunch with. He seemed in need of sustenance. I gave him some money, but he returned it to me.”
“That can’t have been the robber,” one of the strangers said to the others. “He is quite ruthless. He would slit your throat for your money, and I can’t believe he would ever give it back. Maybe he is no longer here.”
The others murmured their agreement and with a cursory acknowledgement to Augustus went by him on their way. Augustus smiled and continued on.