One man declared to the emperor of China, ”Now you have to announce it and recognize me as the greatest archer in China. I am ready for any challenge.” And he was absolutely perfect, one hundred percent successful.
But the king said, ”Have you heard about an old archer who lives deep in the mountains?”
He said, ”I have heard about him, but I am ready to contest.”
The king laughed. He said, ”You should go and meet that old man. If he recognizes you, I will recognize you, because I don’t know archery…. But he is a great archer, perhaps the greatest, so you should go. Bring his recognition, and my recognition is available. But without asking him I cannot do it. It is not a question of a challenge.”
So the man had to travel to the high mountains, where he found a very old man whose back was bent, who could not stand straight. He asked, ”Are you the archer?”
The man said, ”I used to be. But perhaps half a century has passed, and when I became a perfect archer, according to my master, I had to throw away my bows and arrows. You think you are a perfect master; have you come for recognition?” The king had sent information to him that he was sending somebody.
The man said, ”Yes.”
The old man said, ”Then why are you carrying the bow and the arrows?”
The man said, ”Strange… That’s what my mastery is.”
The old man laughed. He brought him out of his small cottage to a mountain cliff. The old man was so old, maybe one hundred and forty years old, and the cliff went so deep underneath, thousands of feet into the valley. If you just missed a single step or trembled or hesitated, you were gone. The old man walked to the very edge of the cliff, half his feet hanging off the cliff, half his feet on the cliff.
The young man could not believe his eyes. The old man said, ”Now you also come. There is enough space here for one more!” The young man tried just two steps and sat down, trembling, seeing the situation.
The old man laughed and he said, ”What kind of archer are you? How many birds can you kill with a single arrow?”
The young man said, ”Of course one bird.”
The old man said, ”You have to learn under a Zen master. It is a sheer wastage of one arrow, just one bird. My master never allowed anybody the certificate unless he was able with one arrow to bring down the whole flock.”
The young man said, ”How many can you bring down?”
He said, ”You say the number.”
Just then a flock of birds flew over. The old man just looked, and seven birds fell down.
The young man said, ”My God!”
The old man said, ”When you can look with totality, your very eyes become arrows. But you are a novice; you could not come to the edge of the cliff. If you are trembling inside, then your archery cannot be perfect. You may manage to hit the targets, but that is not the point. The point is that you have an untrembling total presence. Then your total presence becomes as sharp as any arrow.
The master said, ”You go back and learn from this point. The target is not the target; you are the target. Become total – and if I am alive, I will visit you after five years to see whether I can give you the recognition. Or if I am gone, my son will come after five years. He is as great an adept as I am, and you will be able to recognize him, because whatever I can do with my eyes, he can also do.”
After five years the old man came. These five years the archer tried his best to be total, and he succeeded. The old man asked, ”Where are your bows and arrows?”
He said, ”It must be two years by now, but it seems like centuries have passed and I have not seen the arrows and the bow. Now I can do what you were able to do.”
The old man did not ask for a test, he simply gave the recognition. He said, ”I can see in your eyes the unwavering totality. I can see in your body the spontaneous relaxedness. You can go to the king and tell him that the old man gives the recognition, and just for your recognition I have come down from the hills.”