Do you ever wish you knew
"Who, What & When" was most important?

the three answers

the three answers

One day an emperor decided that
if he knew the answers to three questions,
he would always know what to do, no matter what.
So he made an announcement throughout his kingdom
that if anyone could answer his three questions,
he would give them a big reward.

These were the questions:
are the most important people?
What is the most important thing?
When is the best time to do things?

The emperor received many answers, but none
satisfied him.  Finally, he decided to travel up the mountain to
visit a hermit who lived at the top.  Perhaps he would know the answers.
When he reached the hermit, he asked his three questions.

The hermit, who was digging in his garden, listened
attentively and then returned to his digging without saying a word.
As the hermit continued digging, the emperor noticed how tired
the old man seemed.  "Here," he said, "give me the spade.  I'll dig,
and you can rest for awhile."  So the hermit rested while the emperor dug.

After digging for 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?" asked the hermit suddenly,
pointing to the edge of the woods.  And 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 aksed 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 too, was exhausted and he soon fell asleep.

The next morning when the emperor awoke, he saw the wounded man
standing there, 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 the last war you killed my brother and
took away my lands.  And indeed, yesterday I was lying in ambush, waiting
for you to come back down the mountain so that I could kill you.
I waited a long time, but for some reason, you didn't return.

"So I left my hiding place to find you.  Instead, your attendants
found me, and recognizing me, attacked, giving me 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.  Please forgive me."

The emperor was astonished.
 "I am glad," he said, "that your hatred has ended.
 I am sorry too, now that I have heard your story, for the pain
I have clearly caused you.  War is terrible.  I forgive you, and I
restore your lands.  Let us be friends from this time on."

After instructing his attendants to take the man
safely home, the emperor turned once again to the hermit.
"I must leave now," he said.  "I shall travel everywhere seeking answers
to my three questions.  I hope someday I can find them.  Farewell."

The hermit laughed and said,
"Your questions are already answered, your majesty."
 "What do you mean?" exclaimed the emperor in surprise.
The hermit explained.  "If you had not helped me dig my garden
yesterday, delaying your return, you would have been attacked on your way home.
Therefore the most important time for you was the time you were digging in my
garden.  The most important person was myself, the person you were with,
and the most important pursuit was simply to help me.

"Later, when the wounded man came, the most important time was
the time you spent tending his wound, for otherwise he would have died,
and you would have lost forever the opportunity for forgiveness
and friendship.  At that moment he was the most important
person, and the most important pursuit was tending his wound.

"The present moment is the only moment," said the hermit.
 "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?"

The emperor bowed in gratitude to
the old hermit and left in peace.


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story as told in One Hand Clapping, Rizzoli, NY

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