Three Questions

For this blog, allow me to just simply share a story I lifted from a book I recently read (‘The Resilient Spirit”).

Once upon a time an emperor decided that if he knew the answers to three questions, he would always know what to do, no matter what. The questions were these:

When is the best time to do things?

Who are the most important people?

What is the most important thing?

The emperor offered a big reward for the right answers to these questions, and he received many, but none satisfied him.

Finally, he decided to travel to the top of the mountain to visit an old hermit who would perhaps know the right answers. When he reached the hermit, the emperor asked his three questions. The hermit, digging in his garden, listened attentively and said nothing. He returned to his digging. As the emperor watched him, he noticed how tired the old man seemed.

“Here,” he said, “give me the spade and I’ll dig while you rest.” So the hermit rested and the emperor dug.

After several hours, the emperor was very tired. He put down the spade and said: “If you can’t answer my questions, that’s all right. Just tell me and I’ll take my leave.”

“Do you hear someone running?” the hermit asked suddenly, pointing to the edge of the woods.

Sure enough, a man came tumbling out of the woods, clutching his stomach. He collapsed as the hermit and the emperor reached him. Opening the man’s shirt, they saw that he had a deep cut.  The emperor cleaned the wound, using his own shirt to bind it. Regaining consciousness, the man asked for water. The emperor hurried to a nearby stream and brought him some. The man drank gratefully, then slept.

The hermit and the emperor carried the man into the hut and lay him on the hermit’s bed. By this time the emperor was exhausted, too, and he fell asleep.

The next morning when the emperor awoke, he saw the wounded man staring down at him.

“Forgive me,” the man whispered.

“Forgive you?” said the emperor, sitting up, wide awake. “What have you done that needs my forgiveness?”

“You do not know me, your majesty, but I have thought of you as my sworn enemy. During that last war, you killed my brother and took away my lands.”

The man went on to explain that he had been lying in ambush, waiting for the emperor to come back down the mountain when one of the emperor’s attendants recognized him as an enemy and gave him a painful wound.

“I fled, but if you hadn’t helped me when you did, I surely would have died. I had planned to kill you. Instead, you saved my life! I am ashamed and very grateful.”

The emperor was glad to hear the story and restored the man’s land.

After the man left, the emperor looked at the hermit and said: “I must leave now. I shall travel everywhere looking for the answers to my questions.”

The hermit laughed and said, “Your questions are already answered your majesty.”

The hermit explained that if the emperor had not helped to dig in the garden but had simply hurried off in search of his answers, he would have been killed on the way down the mountain.

“The most important time for you was the time you were digging in the garden. The most important person was myself, the person you were with, and the most important thing was simply to help me,” added the hermit.

“And later, when we met the wounded man who came up the mountain, the most important time was that spent tending his wound, for otherwise, he would have died – and you would not have become friends. And he was at that moment the most important person in the world, and the most important pursuit was tending his wound.

“The present moment is the only moment,” the hermit continued. “The most important person is always the person you are with and the most important pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy. What could be simpler or more important?”