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Chapter 9: He Died Enlightened

There is a Zen story; Zen masters have loved it tremendously. When you come across it for the first time you will feel puzzled about the story - it is about a master thief.

A man was known as a master thief in Japan; he was well-known, famous, all over the country. And of course he was a master thief, so nobody had ever been able to catch hold of him. He was never caught red-handed - although everybody knew that he was the one who had stolen - he had been stealing even from the treasury of the king. And he was always leaving marks of his, so everybody would know who had been there.

In fact, it had become the fashion to brag about it, if the master thief had thought you worthy to steal something from. It became an aristocratic bragging. People would brag, saying, “Last night the master thief has been to our house.”

But the man was getting older, and one day his young son said to him, “Now you are getting older, teach me your art.”

The father said, “Then come with me tonight - because this is not something that can be taught. You can only imbibe the spirit of me; if you are intelligent enough you can catch it. I cannot teach it to you, but you can catch it. I cannot give it to you, but you can get it. We will see. You come tonight with me.”

Naturally the son was afraid - the first time. The wall was broken, they went into the palace. Even in his old age the father’s hands were like a surgeon’s, unwavering, unshaking, although he was becoming very old - with no fear, as if he was working in his own home, breaking the wall. He did not even look here and there he was so certain of his art. And the young man was trembling - it was a cold winter night and he was perspiring. But the father was doing everything silently.

Then the father entered into the house. The son followed, his knees trembling, and he was feeling he might fall any moment. He was losing all consciousness because the fear was such.if they were caught, then?

The father was moving in the dark house as if it was his house and he knew everything about the house, and even in the dark he could move without stumbling against the furniture, against the doors. Making no noise at all, noiselessly, he reached into the innermost chamber of the palace. He opened a cupboard and told the son to go in and find whatsoever was valuable. The son entered it. The father locked the door, shouted, “A thief! A thief! Wake up!” and escaped through the hole that they had dug in the wall.

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