I am reminded of one of the most beautiful stories that I have come across in my life. A king in Japan sends his son to a mystic, to a master, to learn awareness. The king was old. And he said to the son, “Put your total energy into it because unless you are aware, you are not going to succeed me. I will not give this kingdom to a man who is asleep and unconscious. It is not a question of father and son. My father has given it to me only when I attained awareness. I was not the right person, because I was not his eldest son, I was his youngest son. But my other two brothers, who were older than me, could not attain.
“The same is going to happen to you. And the problem is even more complicated because I have only one son: if you do not attain to awareness, the kingdom is going into somebody else’s hands. You will be a beggar on the streets. So it is a question of life and death for you. Go to this man; he has been my master. Now he is very old, but I know that if anybody can teach you, he is the man. Tell him, `My father is sick, old, can die any day. Time is short, and I have to become fully aware before he dies; otherwise I lose the kingdom.'”
A very symbolic story too: If you are not aware, you lose the kingdom.
The king’s son went to the old master in the mountains. He said to the master, “I have been sent by your disciple, the king.”
The master was very old, older than his father. He said, “I remember that man. He was really an authentic seeker. I hope you will prove to be of the same quality, of the same genius, of the same totality, of the same intensity.”
The young prince said, “I will do everything.”
The master said, “Then start cleaning in the commune. And remember one thing — that I will be hitting you at any time. You may be cleaning the floor and I may come from the back and hit you with my stick, so be alert.”
He said, “But I have come to learn about awareness….”
The master said, “This is how you will learn.”
One year passed. In the beginning he was getting so many hits every day, but slowly slowly he started becoming aware. Even the footsteps of the old man… he might be doing anything — howsoever absorbed in the work, he would become immediately aware that the master was around. The prince would be ready. After one year the master hit him from the back while he was deeply involved in talking with another inmate of the ashram. But the prince continued to talk, and still he caught hold of the stick before the stick could reach his body.
The master said, “That’s right. Now this is the end of the first lesson. The second lesson begins tonight.”
The prince said, “I used to think that this was all. This is only the first lesson? How many lessons are there?”
The old man said, “It depends on you. The second lesson is that now I will be hitting you while you are asleep, and you have to be alert in your sleep.”
He said, “My God. How can one be alert in sleep?”
The old man said, “Don’t be worried. Thousands of my disciples have passed through the test. Your father has passed through the test. It is not impossible. It is difficult, but it is a challenge.”
And from that night he was getting hit six times, eight times, twelve times in the night. Sleep was difficult. But within six months he started feeling inside himself a certain awareness. And one day when the master was just going to hit him, with closed eyes he said — “Don’t bother. You are too old. It hurts me; you are taking so much trouble. I am young, I can survive these hits.”
The master said, “You are blessed. You have passed the second lesson. But up to now I have been hitting with my wooden staff. The third lesson is that now I will start hitting, from tomorrow morning, with a real sword. Be alert! Just a moment of unconsciousness and you are finished.”
Early in the morning the master used to sit in the garden, just listening to the birds singing… the flowers opening, the sun rising. The prince thought, “Now it is becoming dangerous! A wooden stick was hard, difficult, but it was not going to kill me. A real sword….” He was a swordsman but he was not given any chance to protect himself; only awareness was going to be his protection.
An idea came to his mind: “This old man is really dangerous. Before he starts his third lesson, I would like to check whether he himself can pass the third test or not. If he is putting my life at risk, I cannot allow him to do it without checking whether he is worthy of it or not.” And these were only thoughts that he was thinking lying down in his bed; it was a cold morning.
And the master said, “Come out of your blanket, you idiot! Do you want to hit your own master with a sword? Feel ashamed! I can hear the footsteps of your thoughts… drop the idea.” He had heard. Nothing was said to him, nothing was done to him.
Thoughts are also things. Thoughts also, while moving, make sounds, and those who are fully alert can read your thoughts. Even before you have become aware of them, they can become aware of them.
The prince was really ashamed. He fell at the feet of the master and he said, “Just forgive me. I am really stupid.”
But because it was a question of a sword, a real sword, he became aware of everything around him, even his own breathing, his heartbeat. Just a small breeze passing through the leaves, a dead leaf moving in the wind, and he was aware. And the master tried a few times but found him always ready. He could not hit him with the sword because he could not find him unconscious, unalert. He was just alertness. It was a question of death — you cannot afford to be anything but alert.
In three days’ time the master could not find a single moment, a single loophole. And after the third day he called him and told him, “Now you can go and tell your father — and this is the letter from me — that the kingdom is yours.”
Awareness is a process of being more and more awake.