Three questions – re-telling a short story by Leo Tolstoy

There was King who thought he needed the right answer to the following three questions in order to be successful. The questions were: What is the right time to begin something? Who were the most important people? What is the most important thing to do ?

He announced a hefty reward to the person who is able to give him the answers. A large group of wise men came and gave him all kinds of advice. “To know the right time requires a lot of planning ahead of time” Other said, “It is impossible to know the right time. But one must not engage in idle pastimes and do the needed work all the time” Yet others said, “In order to know the right time to begin one must consult a magician.”

Equally varied were the answers to the second question. Some said that ” A King needs his councilors the most.” Others proposed warriors, doctors and priests.

Some observed that it was most important to engage in scientific work. But opinions were varied and other answers like religion, art and warfare skills were also proposed.

Frustrated with the plethora of varied answers that he did not agree with, King rewarded no one but decided to visit the wise hermit who lived in the woods. Since the hermit received only common folk, the king dressed himself in ordinary clothes and asked his attendants to wait for him at a distance.

The King approached the hermit who was intently digging the soil. He was not very strong so the King, out of pity, offered to help him. The hermit passed him the spade. The King asked him the three questions while he was digging the soil. The hermit heard him but did not answer. Right before evening, the King was done with his work. At that point he asked him the questions again. The hermit interrupted him and brought his attention to a person who was approaching them, running. He had severe wounds from which blood was oozing out. The hermit decided to help the wounded man and started dressing his wounds. See the king also decided to help him. He bandaged the wound and changed it again and again multiple times over many hours till the blood stopped seeping out of the wound. It was late in the night by that time. The king took the man to a near by hut and laid him on the bed. He was very tired himself. So he sat at the threshold and fell into a deep sleep.

When the King woke up, he saw that the wounded man was looking at him from the bed. He smiled at the King and said, “Forgive me.” The King was surprised. “I do not know you. Why are you asking for forgiveness?”, he questioned. The wounded man explained how he had come to avenge the death of his brother that the King had defeated in a war. The man was hiding in the woods to kill the king in an ambush. But since the king did not return he came out of hiding and was spotted by the king’s guards. They shot and wounded him before he could escape and come to the hermit. Eventually the king saved his life.

The king decided to make friends with his former enemy. He still needed the answers to the three questions. So he found the hermit, again, at the same spot. This time, the hermit was planting seeds where the king dug the day before. He patiently repeated his questions waiting for an answer. The hermit replied, “Your questions were answered already.”

“What do you mean,” inquired the king puzzled.

“If you had not taken pity on me and worked on digging the beds, you would have returned early and be killed by your enemy. So the time you were digging the beds was the most important. I was the most important person to you and helping me was your most important work. Later, when the wounded man came running to us, the most important time was when you were dressing his wounds. If you had not saved his life, he could make peace with you. He was the most important person to you and helping him, your foremost job!”

The most important time for us is NOW! The most important person is the one you are with. And the most important affair is to do him good.

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