The rich man said, “I cannot believe my ears. My money is being stolen and I am being punished? – the same punishment as you are giving to the thief?”
Lao Tzu said, “You are the first criminal – the thief is number two. It is just my compassion that I am giving you only six months; you should be given a longer time in jail than the thief. You have gathered all the money of the capital, you have made thousands of people hungry, starving, dying – and they are the people who produce. You are the greatest exploiter. The money belongs to them. He was not stealing, he was simply taking the money to where it belongs. You have been the thief, the greatest thief in the capital. So feel grateful that I am not sending you for six years.”
His reasoning was so absolutely correct: if people go on gathering money on one side, then who is creating the thieves? And if somebody out of hunger, starvation, disease, old age, finds no other way to survive and if he becomes a thief, who is responsible for it?
The whole court was silent. The rich man said, “Perhaps you are right, but before you send me to jail I want to see the emperor.” And to the emperor he said, “You have put a madman as the chief judge of your Supreme Court. And remember: if I am a thief, you are a greater thief. And if today I am going to jail, just wait for your moment. We shall meet in jail. You have exploited the whole country, and if you want to save your skin, remove this man immediately and cancel his judgment.”
But the emperor was very insistent because he had heard so much about the wisdom of this man. He said, “I have decided. And you cannot refuse it.”
On the first day when Lao Tzu was in the seat of the chief justice, the first case was about a man who was found red-handed, stealing from the house of the richest man in the capital. In fact there was no case – he was caught red-handed. There were eye witnesses, and he himself confessed, “Whatever they are saying is true.”
Lao Tzu gave his famous judgment – so unique and so full of understanding that it has never been given by anyone before or after. The judgment was that the thief had to go to jail for six months and, with him, the rich man also had to go to jail for six months! The whole court, the whole bench of judges, could not believe what he was saying. They were thinking his judgment would show his wisdom: “It shows that he is mad! What wrong has the rich man done?”