I was in a residential compound, similar to a monastery or a school or a university campus.The weather was fine and people stood or sat around in groups here and there, but not where I was walking, which was along a properly surfaced road — the kind you get in such places, with just room for one or two car-widths, so vehicles can come through slowly.
The road surface ended with untidy edges at the foot of low banks where oak trees grew, lining the track, their roots forming a gnarled network in the mossy earth, pocketed with places where small rodents had made homes or the earth merely collapsed into hollows.
On the edge of the bank, catching the sunlight, I spotted a pound coin, and stopped to pick it up. As I bent down, I noticed that tucked unobtrusively into the uneven ground, partly hidden by leaves, there was a whole stash of coin keepers.
I picked them all up! Then I noticed another such collection a few yards further on — and a third one a few yard after that.
I concluded they had been left there on purpose for three different people to find, and that the solitary pound coin had been left as a sign.
On top of the second and third stash I saw a spectacles case, and also a couple of hard pouches — similar to the exterior case of an old-fashioned travel alarm clock.
I concluded (don't ask me why, you know what dreams are like) that in these pouches were drugs, and these stashes were left by drug dealers as part of their trading.
I wanted the money but I was frightened of being intercepted by drug dealers, who I thought could be violent and unscrupulous.
So I filled my hands and my pockets with as many of the coin keepers as I could hold, and began to hurry on my way. I thought the hollows in the ground could be concealing more, but I also thought it more prudent to get clear away with what I'd found than to hang about where I could be found and risk losing what I had already gathered.
As I moved away from the place, I started to reflect on my decisions — and carried my reflections on into waking up.
I felt worried that the money was not mine to take, and that taking someone else's stuff would be bad karma. I considered taking what I'd found to the police — and maybe taking the suspect pouches I thought had drugs in as well — to report possible drug trading. But I didn't want to, in case the police took the money away from me and I never got it back.
Then I began to wonder if it was in fact okay to take what was merely left lying around on the ground in a public place, under the oak trees like a squirrel gathering acorns — the natural gleaning of an animal.
I also wondered if ill-gotten gains were in any case morally forfeit, and all right to take away.
I thought about Judgement Day and what the consequences of my actions might have been — perhaps someone who had left money for a drugs dealer would have been brutally attacked and tortured when the dealer found no money, and it would be all my fault. Maybe they would be killed, and what I had done would contribute to that.
I thought about the eighth Commandment, "Thou shalt not steal", and debated with myself whether taking something I'd found lying at the roadside was — or was not — stealing.
My final reflection, as I broke the surface into full consciousness, was of the corresponding precept from the world of Buddhism: "Do not take what is not given."
I was glad to wake up, and leave behind the money and the anxiety and the moral dilemmas of the dream. But it left me thinking about the two precepts — "Thou shalt not steal" and "Do not take what is not given" — and turning over in my mind the crucial difference between them, as made clear in my dream.
To steal something, I think, means to sneak away something that you know belongs to another person. It implies active theft. It retains the possibility that if something is everybody's, or is just lying about, or belongs to nobody in particular, it's fair game; lucky me if I find it.
The Buddhist precept is quite different. It implies waiting until life by some means or other offers something clearly intended for you, before helping yourself to it.
Putting the two together gives, I think, a more nuanced and helpful insight into possible moral approaches to property, than just the Jewish one by itself.
Something that's consistently puzzled me in the Christian faith community is the tendency to regard other faiths with hostility and suspicion. It depends a bit what branch of the Church you're in — in general the Catholic end is more tolerant and open-minded about this than the low Protestant (Evangelical) end. But there is a pronounced tendency to regard spiritual wisdom in a very competitive light — if it's Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Taoist or (especially) New Age, it's inadmissible and deeply suspect.
Surely, either something is true or not, wise or not, helpful or not.
My own take on the religions of the world is that they each offer their unique insights and perspectives, and that we are enriched by them all. They don't seem to me to be in competition. For example, we have the teaching at the heart of the Christian faith of the act of healing reconciliation achieved by the cross of Jesus. As the Koran puts it, Jesus is "the healer of man and nature". No other religion says anything of the kind. And then there is the Christian teaching about God's grace, which may have equivalence in other paths, but is essentially also unique to Christianity — but on the other hand I have learned a lot from all the others (especially Buddhism and Taoism) that my own religion seems to have completely missed out.
I belong to Jesus; I am his property, he is my Master. That's non-negotiable. But as I go along, I find the religions of the world all shed light on my path and help me find my way.
That Buddhist precept, "You shall not take what is not given," is, in my opinion, immensely helpful in establishing a moral approach to personal property; and we do not have any such precept in the Christian church.