else insisted that, by himself, the emperor could never
hope to have all the foresight and competence necessary to
decide when to do each and every task and what he really
needed was to set up a Council of the Wise and then to act
according to their advice.
else said that certain matters required immediate decision
and could not wait for consultation, but if he wanted to
know in advance what was going to happen he should consult
magicians and soothsayers.
responses to the second question also lacked accord.
person said that the emperor needed to place all his trust
in administrators, another urged reliance on priests and
monks, while others recommended physicians. Still
others put their faith in warriors.
third question drew a similar variety of answers.
said science was the most important pursuit. Others
insisted on religion. Yet others claimed the most
important thing was military skill.
emperor was not pleased with any of the answers, and no
reward was given.
several nights of reflection, the emperor resolved to
visit a hermit who lived up on the mountain and was said
to be an enlightened man. The emperor wished to find
the hermit to ask him the three questions, though he knew
the hermit never left the mountains and was known to
receive only the poor, refusing to have anything to do
with persons of wealth or power. So the emperor
disguised himself as a simple peasant and ordered his
attendants to wait for him at the foot of the mountain
while he climbed the slope alone to seek the hermit.
the holy man's dwelling place, the emperor found the
hermit digging a garden in front of his hut. When
the hermit saw the stranger, he nodded his head in
greeting and continued to dig. The labor was
obviously hard on him. He was an old man, and each
time he thrust his spade into the ground to turn the
earth, he heaved heavily.
emperor approached him and said, "I have come here to
ask your help with three questions: When is the best
time to do each thing? Who are the most important
people to work with? What is the most important
thing to do at all times?"
hermit listened attentively but only patted the emperor on
the shoulder and continued digging. The emperor
said, "You must be tired. Here, let me give you
a hand with that." The hermit thanked him,
handed the emperor the spade, and then sat down on the
ground to rest.
he had dug two rows, the emperor stopped and turned to the
hermit and repeated his three questions. The hermit
still did not answer, but instead stood up and pointed to
the spade and said, "Why don't you rest now? I
can take over again." But the emperor continued
to dig. One hour passed, then two. Finally the
sun began to set behind the mountain. The emperor
put down the spade and said to the hermit, "I came
here to ask if you could answer my three questions.
But if you can't give me any answer, please let me know so
that I can get on my way home."
hermit lifted his head and asked the emperor, "Do you
hear someone running over there?" The emperor
turned his head. They both saw a man with a long
white beard emerge from the woods. He ran wildly,
pressing his hands against a bloody wound in his
stomach. The man ran toward the emperor before
falling unconscious to the ground, where he lay
groaning. Opening the man's clothing, the emperor
and hermit saw that the man had received a deep
gash. The emperor cleaned the wound thoroughly and
then used his own shirt to bandage it, but the blood
completely soaked it within minutes. He rinsed the
shirt out and bandaged the wound a second time and
continued to do so until the flow of blood had
last the wounded man regained consciousness and asked for
a drink of water. The emperor ran down to the stream
and brought back a jug of fresh water. Meanwhile,
the sun had disappeared and the night air had begun to
turn cold. The hermit gave the emperor a hand in
carrying the man into the hut where they laid him down on
the hermit's bed. The man closed his eyes and lay
quietly. The emperor was worn out from a long day of
climbing the mountain and digging the garden.
Leaning against the doorway, he fell asleep. When he
rose, the sun had already risen over the mountain.
For a moment he forgot where he was and what he had come
here for. He looked over to the bed and saw
the wounded man also looking around himself in
confusion. When he saw the emperor, he stared at him
intently and then said in a faint whisper, "Please
what have you done that I should forgive you?" the
do not know me, your majesty, but I know you. I was
your sworn enemy, and I had vowed to take vengeance on
you, for during the last war you killed my brother and
seized my property. When I learned that you were
coming alone to the mountain to meet the hermit, I
resolved to surprise you on your way back and kill
you. But after waiting a long time there was still
no sign of you, and so I left my ambush in order to seek
you out. But instead of finding you, I came across
your attendants, who recognized me, giving me this
wound. Luckily, I escaped and ran here. If I
hadn't met you I would surely be dead by now. I had
intended to kill you, but instead you saved my life!
I am ashamed and grateful beyond words. If I live, I
vow to be your servant for the rest of my life, and I will
bid my children and grandchildren to do the same.
Please grant me your forgiveness."
emperor was overjoyed to see that he was so easily
reconciled with a former enemy. He not only forgave
the man but promised to return all the man's property and
to send his own physician and servants to wait on the man
until he was completely healed. After ordering his
attendants to take the man home, the emperor returned to
see the hermit. Before returning to the palace the
emperor wanted to repeat his three questions one last
time. He found the hermit sowing seeds in the earth
they had dug the day before.
hermit stood up and looked at the emperor. "But
your questions have already been answered."
that?" the emperor asked, puzzled.
if you had not taken pity on my age and given me a hand
with digging these beds, you would have been attacked by
that man on your way home . Then you would have deeply
regretted not staying with me. Therefore the most
important time was the time you were digging in the beds,
the most important person was myself and the most
important pursuit was to help me. Later, when the
wounded man ran up here, the most important time was the
time you spent dressing his wound, for if you had not
cared for him he would have died and you would have lost
the chance to be reconciled with him. Likewise, he
was the most important person, and the most important
pursuit was taking care of his wound.
that there is only one important time and that is
now. The present moment is the only time over which
we have dominion. The most important person is
always the person you are with, who is right before you,
for who knows if you will have dealings with any other
person in the future? The most important pursuit is
making the person standing at your side happy, for that
alone is the pursuit of life."
story is like a story out of scripture: it doesn't
fall short of any sacred text. We talk about social
service, service to the people, service to humanity,
service for others who are far away, helping to bring
peace to the world, but often we forget that it is the
very people around us that we must live for first of
all. If you cannot serve your wife or husband or
child or parent, how are you going to serve society?
If you cannot make your own child happy, how do you expect
to be able to make anyone else happy? If all our
friends in the peace movement or of service communities of
any kind do not love and help one another, whom can we
love and help? Are we working for other humans, or
are we just working far the name of an organization?