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thief The Conscious ThiefA great master, Nagarjuna, was asked by a great thief…. The thief was well known over the whole kingdom and he was so clever, so intelligent that he had never been caught. Everybody knew — he had even stolen from the king’s treasury, many times — but they were unable to catch him. He was very elusive, a master artist.

He asked Nagarjuna, “Can you help me? Can I get rid of my stealing? Can I also become as silent and blissful as you are?” It happened in a certain context.

Nagarjuna was the greatest alchemist that the East has given birth to. He used to live naked, with just a begging bowl, a wooden begging bowl, but kings worshiped him, queens worshiped him. He came to the capital and the queen touched his feet and said, “I feel very much offended by your wooden bowl. You are a master of masters; hundreds of kings and queens are your followers. I have prepared a golden bowl for you, studded with beautiful diamonds, emeralds. Please don’t reject it — it will wound me very much, it will hurt me very much. For three years great artists have been working on it, now it is ready.”

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She was afraid that Nagarjuna might say, “I cannot touch gold, I have renounced the world.” But Nagarjuna did not say anything like that; he said, “Okay! You can keep my begging bowl, give me the golden one.”

Even the queen was a little shocked. She was thinking that Nagarjuna would say, “I cannot accept it.” She wanted him to accept it, but still, deep in her unconscious somewhere was the old Indian tradition that the awakened one has to live in poverty, in discomfort, as if discomfort and poverty have something spiritual in them. There is nothing spiritual in them.

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Nagarjuna said okay. He didn’t even look at the golden bowl. He went away. The thief saw Nagarjuna moving outside the capital, because he was staying in a ruined temple on the other bank of the river. The thief said, “Such a precious thing I have never seen — so many diamonds, so many emeralds, so much gold. I have seen many beautiful things in my life but never such a thing, and how did this naked man get hold of it, and how is he going to protect it? Anybody will be able to take it away from him, so why not me?” The thief followed Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna heard his footsteps, he knew somebody was coming behind him.

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Nagarjuna reached the temple. The temple was an absolute ruin, no roof, no doors; just a few walls were left. He went inside a room without a roof, without a door, without windows.

The thief said, “How is he going to protect such a precious thing? It is only a question of hours.” He sat outside the window, hiding behind a wall.

Nagarjuna threw the bowl outside the window. The thief was very much puzzled. The bowl fell just near his feet. He was puzzled: “What has this man done?” He could not believe his eyes, he was also shocked. He stood up — even though he was a thief, he was a master thief and he had some dignity. He thanked Nagarjuna. He said, “Sir, I have to show my gratitude. But you are a rare man — throwing out such a precious thing as if it is nothing. Can I come inside and touch your feet?”

Nagarjuna said, “Come in! In fact I have thrown the bowl out so that you could come in.”

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The thief could not understand what he was saying; he came in, he looked at Nagarjuna — his silence, his peace, his bliss — he was overwhelmed. He said, “I feel jealous of you. I have never come across a man like you. Compared to you, all others are subhuman beings. How integrated you are! How gone beyond the world! Is there any possibility for me too one day to attain such integration, such individuality, such compassion and such nonattachment to things?”

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Nagarjuna said, “It is possible. It is everybody’s potential.”

But the thief said, “Wait! Let me tell you one thing. I have been many times to many saints and they all know me and they say, ‘First you stop stealing, then anything else is possible. Without stopping stealing you cannot grow spiritually.’ So please don’t make that condition because that I cannot do. It is impossible. I have tried and I have failed many times. It seems that is my nature — I have to go on stealing, so don’t mention that. Let me tell you first so you don’t make it a condition.”

Nagarjuna said, “That simply shows you have never seen a saint before. Those must have all been ex-thieves; otherwise why should they be worried about your stealing? Go on stealing and do everything as skillfully as possible. It is good to be a master of any art.”

The thief was shocked even more: “What kind of man is this?” And he said, “Then what do you suggest? What is right, what is wrong?” He said, “I don’t say anything is right or anything is wrong. Do one thing: if you want to steal, steal — but steal consciously. Go tonight, enter into the house very alert, open the doors, the locks, but very consciously. And then if you can steal, steal, but remain conscious. And report to me after seven days.”

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After seven days the thief came, bowed down, touched Nagarjuna’s feet and said, “Now initiate me into sannyas.”

Nagarjuna said, “Why? What about your stealing?”

He said, “You are a cunning fellow! I tried my best: if I am conscious, I cannot steal; if I steal I am unconscious. I can steal only when I am unconscious. When I am conscious the whole thing seems so stupid, so meaningless. What am I doing? For what? Tomorrow I may die. And why do I go on accumulating wealth? I have more than I need; even for generations it is enough. It looks so meaningless that I stop immediately. For seven days I have entered into houses and come out empty-handed. And to be conscious is so beautiful. I have tasted it for the first time, and it is just a small taste — now I can conceive how much you must be enjoying, how much you must be celebrating. Now I know that you are the real king — naked, but you are the real king. Now I know that you have real gold and we are playing with false gold.”

The thief became a disciple of Nagarjuna and attained to buddhahood.

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The Conscious Thief – Non Fiction

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