The thought came to a certain king that
he would never fail if he knew three
things. These three things were: What is the right
time to begin something? Which people should
he listen to? What is the most important thing for
him to do?
The king, therefore, sent messengers
throughout his kingdom, promising a large sum
of money to anyone who would answer these
Many wise men came to the king, but they all
answered his questions differently.
In reply to the first question, some said the
king must prepare a timetable and then follow it
strictly. Only in this way, they said, could he do
everything at its proper time. Others said that it
was impossible to decide in advance the right time
for doing something. The king should notice all
that was going on, avoid foolish pleasures and
always do whatever seemed necessary at that
time. Yet others said that the king needed a
council of wise men who would help him act at
the proper time. This was because one man
would find it impossible to decide correctly,
without help from others, the right time for
But then others said that there were some
things which could be urgent. These things could
not wait for the decision of the council. In order
to decide the right time for doing something, it is
necessary to look into the future. And only
magicians could do that. The king, therefore,
would have to go to magicians.
In their answers to the second question, some
said that the people most necessary to the king
were his councillors; others said, the priests. A
few others chose the doctors. And yet others said
that his soldiers were the most necessary.
To the third question, some said science.
Others chose fighting, and yet others religious
As the answers to his questions were so different,
the king was not satisfied and gave no reward.
Instead, he decided to seek the advice of a certain
hermit, who was widely known for his wisdom.
The hermit lived in a wood which he never
left. He saw no one but simple people and so the
king put on ordinary clothes. Before he reached
the hermit’s hut the king left his horse with his
bodyguard and went on alone.
As the king came near the hermit’s hut, he
saw the hermit digging the ground in front of his
hut. He greeted the king and continued digging.
The hermit was old and weak and as he worked,
he breathed heavily.
The king went up to the hermit and said, “I
have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you to
answer three questions: How can I learn to do
the right thing at the right time? Who are the
people I need most? And what affairs are the
The hermit listened to the king, but did not
speak. He went on digging. “You are tired," said
the king. “Let me take the spade and work in your
“Thanks," said the hermit, giving the king his
spade. Then he sat down on the ground.
When the king had dug two beds, he stopped
and repeated his questions. The hermit gave no
answer, but stood up, stretching out his hand for
the spade and said, “Now you rest and let me work."
But the king did not give him the spade and
continued to dig.
One hour passed, then another. The sun went
down behind the trees and at last the king stuck
the spade into the ground and said, “I came to
you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If
you can give me no answer, tell me so and I will
“Here comes someone running," said the hermit.
The king turned round and saw a bearded man
running towards them. His hands were pressed
against his stomach from which blood was
flowing. When he reached the king he fainted and
fell to the ground. The king and the hermit
removed the man’s clothing and found a large
wound in his stomach. The king washed and
covered it with his handkerchief, but the blood
would not stop flowing. The king re-dressed the
wound until at last the bleeding stopped.
The man felt better and asked for something
to drink. The king brought fresh water and gave
it to him. By this time the sun had set and the
air was cool. The king with the hermit’s help
carried the wounded man into the hut and laid
him on the bed. The man closed his eyes and
lay quiet. The king, tired by his walk and the
work he had done, lay down on the floor and
slept through the night. When he awoke, it was
several minutes before he could remember
where he was or who the strange bearded man
lying on the bed was.
“Forgive me!" said the bearded man in a weak
voice, when he saw that the king was awake.
“I do not know you and have nothing to forgive
you for," said the king.
“You do not know me, but 1 know you. 1 am
that enemy of yours who swore revenge on you,
because you put my brother to death and seized
my property. I knew you had gone alone to see that
hermit and I made up my mind to kill you on your
way home. But the day passed and you did not
return. So I left my hiding-place and I came upon
your bodyguard who recognised me and wounded
me. I escaped from him but I should have died if
you had not dressed my wounds. I wished to kill
you and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, I will
serve you as your most faithful servant and will order
my sons to do the same. Forgive me!"
The king was very happy to have made peace
with his enemy so easily and to have won him
over as a friend. He not only forgave him but said
he would send his servants and his own doctor
to look after him and he promised to give back
the man his property.
Leaving the wounded man, the king went out
of the hut and looked round for the hermit. Before
going away he wished once more to get answers
to his questions. The hermit was on his knees
sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the
day before. The king went up to the hermit and
said, “For the last time I beg you to answer my
questions, wise man."
“You have already been answered!" said the
hermit still bending down to the ground and
looking up at the king as he stood before him.
“How have I been answered? What do
“Do you not see?" replied the hermit. “If you
had not pitied my weakness yesterday and had
not dug these beds for me, you would have gone
away. Then that man would have attacked you
and you would have wished you had stayed with
me. So the most important time was when you
were digging the beds. And I was the most
important man and to do me good was your most
important business. Afterwards, when the man
ran to us, the most important time was when you
were caring for him, because if you had not
dressed his wounds he would have died without
having made peace with you. So he was the most
important man and what you did for him was
your most important business.
“Remember then, there is only one time that is
important and that time is Now. It is the most
important time because it is the only time we have
any power to act.
“The most necessary person is the person you
are with at a particular moment for no one knows
what will happen in the future and whether we
will meet anyone else. The most important
business is to do that person good because we
were sent into this world for that purpose alone."