Khadgapa, the Master Thief

from “Masters of Enchantment – Live and Legends of the Mahasiddhas” (Translation by Keith Dowman)

Persevere as he will,
The warrior without weapons
Will always be defeated.
But, armed with the sword of Undying Awareness,
I vanquish my enemies the demons
Of the three Realms, without regrets.


Khadgapa, the Master Thief (illustration by Robert Beer)

When a son was born into a low-caste family of farmers in the kingdom of Magadha, everyone rejoiced. But as the boy grew older, the family’s joy turned to sorrow. Day by day it grew more apparent that Khadgapa had no use for the industrious ways of his forefathers. All his talents were devoted to thievery.
And, it must be said, those talents were prodigious. He could steal an egg a chicken had yet to lay. While he certainly enjoyed the benefits of his profession, it was the thrill and danger of it all that gave him the most pleasure.
As he honed his craft, his exploits became more and more daring. One day he decided to pilfer a legendary ruby from the richest man in Magadha. All went well until, just as he was about to make a getaway with his prize, he trod on the tail of a sleeping cat. The ensuing noise brought the entire household in pursuit of Khadgapa who dropped the ruby as he fled for his life.
As luck would have it, a funeral cortege happened to be passing through the neighborhood, and our master thief slipped In among the mourners, beating his breast and wailing with the rest. Try as they might, his pursuers could not distinguish him from the others and it would have been indelicate to disturb the mourners.
Khadgapa followed the bereaved family all the way to the cremation ground, giving heartfelt thanks to the departed for saving his life. He decided to lie low in the cremation ground for several days for safety’s sake, and while he was there he chanced to meet the yogin Carpati, practicing his sadhana.
“Who are you hiding from?” the thief asked the yogin.
“I’m trying to dodge the repetitive cycle of birth and death on the Wheel of Existence,” replied Carpati. “So I’m meditating.”
“I don’t get it,” said the thief. “Where’s the payoff?”
“There’s a big payoff,” said the yogis. “I will attain a higher state of existence, and on top of that, I will gain the happiness that is the fruit of absolute certainty.”
“Well and good for you,” said the thief.
“You can have it too,” said Carpati, “if you practice the Buddha’s teaching.”
“I respect the Buddha’s teaching” said Khadgapa. “But I certainly haven’t got time to sit around on my rump all day meditating in a cremation ground. I don’t suppose you’d happen to know a siddhi of invincibility that would protect me when I’m pulling a caper—even if I steal from the king?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” said the guru. Whereupon he gave the master thief initiation and empowerment. And then he instructed him in this manner:
“In a city in Magadha there is an old temple called Gaurisankar. It looks like a stupa from the outside, but it’s actually a shrine containing a statue of Avalokitesvara. When you enter you will sense that it is highly charged with the Bodhisattva’s grace.
“Your sadhana,” the guru continued, “is to walk in circles around the statue day and night for twenty-one days. You must stop for nothing. Even when you eat you must continue to walk around the statue. After you have done this faithfully for twenty-one days, be on the lookout for a large snake that will glide out between the feet of the statue. The moment you see it, you must seize it by the head. If you show any fear or hesitation, all is lost. But If you do as I say, you will gain the siddhi you desire.”
The thief soon learned which city contained this temple, and he journeyed there as fast as he dared. Since he was still a hunted man, he could only move safely in the dead of night. Finally, he arrived at the temple door.
When he entered, he was suffused with the presence of the Bodhisattva, just as his guru had said. Encouraged by this, Khadgapa began walking around the statue. Day and night, night and day, for twenty-one days, he followed his guru’s instructions to the letter. Around and around and around the statue of Avalokitesvara he walked until his pain and fatigue evaporated like morning mist.
On the evening of the twenty-first day of his sadhana, a large black snake uncoiled itself from the Bodhisattva’s feet and began to glide slowly across the floor. In a trice, the fearless thief seized it by the head.
No sooner was the serpent in his hand, then there came a ferocious thunderclap and a blinding flash of light. And there, held firmly in Khadgapa’s fist, was the most beautiful sword he had ever beheld. The longer he held it, the more radiantly it glowed. In this clear light all shadows were dispelled. Suddenly, all the defiling delusions of Khadgapa’s mind were made as palpable, as visible to him as the snake he had grasped.
And as he beheld these shadows of the mind, the cutting edge of the light severed them from his being. In one and the same moment he was free of defilement and gained the siddhi of the sword, one of the eight great magical powers. Forever after he was called Khadgapa, which means “The Swordsman.”
For the next twenty-one days, the former thief taught the Buddha’s message to all the people of Magadha. He then expressed his realization and was assumed into the Paradise of the Dakinis.