The Three questions – Leo Tolstoy
A king was seeking answers to three questions: (1) When is the most important time to do something? (2) Who are the important people? (3) What is the most important thing to do? After the futile enlistment of all his apparent ‘wise men,’ he decided to consult a hermit.
The king found the hermit digging in his garden and begged for his enlightenment. The hermit received the king and his questions with little fanfare and just went on digging. While waiting, the king took pity on the old man and said, “Here, you are tired and in need of rest, let me dig for awhile.”
He took the shovel and began to work. After several hours had passed, the king became agitated as it seemed no answers to his questions were forthcoming. As he began to object, a man, bleeding profusely from a terrible wound, came stumbling out of the nearby woods and fainted. The king, acting with great compassion, comforted the man for many hours and attended to his wounds until his survival seemed assured.
When the man could finally speak, it turned out he was the king’s sworn enemy! The man tearfully confessed that he was laying in wait for the king when he was discovered by the king’s soldiers and seriously wounded. The man begged the king’s forgiveness and swore to serve him all his life now that he knew what a good man the king truly was.
The king was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so he forgave him and sent for his personal servants to attend to his former enemy in his convalescence. This done, the king approached the hermit and said, “Now, for the last time, I pray you to answer my questions.”
To his amazement the hermit replied, “They have already been answered. If you had gone your own way and not pitied my weakness, nor dug my garden, that man would surely have attacked you. So, the most important time was when you were digging my garden. I was the most important person at that time, and to do good for me was the most important thing.
“Remember, then,” the wise hermit instructed, “there is only one time that is the most important – Now! Now is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most important person is the person you are with now, for we never can be sure of ever having dealings with anyone else in this life. And, the most important thing is to do that person good because we were sent into this life for that purpose alone.”