The three questions by Leo Tolstoy – 1885

It once occurred to a king, that if he always knew the right answer to three questions, he would never fail in anything;

What the right time to do something?

Who are the most important people be with?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?

He announced throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to any one who would teach the answer to the three questions.

Many people tried to provide the answers, but they all answered his questions differently. So still looking for the right answers to his questions, the King disguised himself as a simple peasant and decided to consult a hermit, widely known for his wisdom.

The hermit lived in a wood and when the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and carried on digging.
The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into the ground he breathed heavily.

The King went up to the hermit and said: “I have come to ask your help with these three questions;

What the right time to do something?

Who are the most important people be with?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?

The hermit listened to the King, but didn’t answer the questions. He just carried on digging. “You are tired,” said the King, “let me take the spade and give you a hand.”

The hermit gave the spade to the hermit and sat down. Every now and then the King stopped digging and asked

“What the right time to do something?

Who are the most important people be with?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?”

The hermit finally spoke, “Here comes someone running, let’s see who it is.”

The King turned round, and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the King, he fell fainting on the ground moaning weakly. The King and the hermit unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood would not stop flowing, and again and again the King  removed the bandage soaked with warm blood, and washed and rebandaged the wound.
When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man recovered a little and asked for something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to himand then with the hermit’s help, he carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes and slept; but the King was so tired with all the work he had done, that he also fell asleep, so soundly that he slept all through the night.

In the morning the bearded man said to the King in a weak voice “Please forgive me!”

“I do not know you, what should I forgive you for?” said the King.

“You do not know me, but I know you. I am your enemy. I swore to take revenge on you because you killed my brother and seized his property. When I knew you had travelled alone to see the hermit, I decided to kill you on your way back. When you didn’t return for some time I came out from hiding to find you and kill you, but your bodyguards found me first and did this to me. I nearly bled to death but you have saved my life! If I live, I will be your most faithful slave. Please forgive me!”

The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily and not only forgave him but said he would send his servants and his own physician to assist the man until he was completely healed.

The King left the wounded man and returned to look for the hermit. The hermit
was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before.

The King approached him, and said:

“For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man.”

“Your questions have already been answered!” said the hermit.

“How?” asked the King.

“If you had not not dug those beds for me, but had gone on your way, that man would have attacked you on your way home and then you would have been deeply sorry that you hadn’t stayed longer with me. So, the most important time was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important man; and to do help me was your most important business. Afterwards when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were helping him, as he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important person, and what you did for him was your most important business.

Remember then: there is only one time that is important and that is now.

It 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 and the most important thing is to have compassion for the person you are with…”

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