Three Questions – Pre-Intermediate Level

A certain king once had the idea that he would never fail in anything he might want to do if knew the answer to just three questions. The first was to know the right time to begin every action. The second was to know who were the best people to listen to. The third was to always know what was the most important thing to spend his time doing.

After this thought came to him, he sent a message throughout his kingdom. He promised a great reward to anyone who could tell him the answer to the three questions. Many highly educated men came to the King, but they all answered the questions differently.

To the first question, some said that one must first draw up a list of all the things to be done by day, month and year. Only by doing this, and following the list without fail, could everything be done at the right time.

Others said that it was impossible to decide the right time for every action before it happened. They said that he needed to work hard all day, never resting, to make sure he knew all that was going on in the kingdom. Then, by doing the most important things as they came up, he would always be sure that to do everything at the right time.

Others, again, said that however much he tried to know what was going on, it was impossible. One man could never decide correctly the right time for every action. He should have a Council of wise men, who would help him to fix the best time for everything.

But then again others said there were some things which could not wait to be laid before a Council. He would need to decide at once whether to do them or not. But in order to decide that, he must know what was going to happen before it happened. It is only magicians who know that. Therefore, in order to know the right time for every action, he must ask magicians.

There were just as many answers to the second question. Some said the people the king most needed were his Council; others priests; others doctors; others soldiers.

To the third question, as to what was the most important thing to spend time on in life, some answered that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was to be good at war; and others, again, that it was worship of God.

All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them, and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to go to ask a hermit, widely known as being very wise.

The hermit lived in a small hut deep in a forest. He never left his home, and would talk only with common people. The King and his men rode into the forest but stopped before reaching the hermit’s hut. The King then put on simple clothes, left his guards behind, and walked on alone.

When came upon the hermit, he was digging the ground to prepare garden beds in front of his hut. The hermit said hello in a friendly way, but went on digging. He was an old man, and the King could see that he was very tired.

The King went up to him and said, “I have come to you, wise man, to ask you to answer three questions. First, how can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Second, who are the people I most need, and to whom should I, therefore, listen to more than the rest? And finally, which of the many things I must do are the most important, and need to be taken care of first?”

The old man listened to the King, but answered nothing and continued digging.

“You are tired,” said the King, “let me work a while for you.”

“Thank you!” said the old man, and, giving his spade to the King, he sat down on the ground.

When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and asked his questions again. The old man gave no answer, but got up, put out out his hand for the spade. “Now you rest a while,” he said, “and let me work a bit.”

But the King did not give him the spade, and continued to dig. One hour passed, and another. Then the sun began to sink behind the trees. The King at last stopped digging. “I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions,” he said. “If you can give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.”

“Here comes someone running,” said the old man, “let us see who it is.”

The King turned round, and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands hard against his stomach, and blood was coming from under them. When he reached the King, he fell on the ground asking weakly for help.

The King and the hermit took off the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. The King washed it as best he could. He then covered it with his handkerchief, and tied a towel that the hermit gave him around the man’s body to try to stop the bleeding. But the blood would not stop. The King again and again had to take the handkerchief from the wound as it became wet with blood, wash it and put it back. When at last the bleeding stopped, the man opened his eyes and asked for something to drink. The King brought some cool water and gave it to him.

By this time the sun had gone down, and it had become cool. So the King, with the hermit’s help, carried the man into the hut and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed, the man closed his eyes and was quiet. The King was so tired from his walking and the work he had done during the day that he sat down by the door and also fell asleep. He slept all through the short summer night. When he woke up in the morning, it was long before he could remember where he was. And who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and looking carefully at him with shining eyes?

“Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw that the King looking at him.

“I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the King.

“You do not know me, but I know you. I am an enemy of yours who promised to kill you, because you had my brother killed and took his land. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I decided to kill you on your way back. But the day passed and you did not return. So I came out from where I was hiding to find you. I came upon your guards and they knew me. They attacked me and gave me this wound. I escaped from them and ran here, but would have bled to death had you not helped me. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will be your most faithful slave, and will ask 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 as a friend. He not only agreed to forgive him, but said he would send his own doctor and servants to take care of him. He also promised to give him back his brother’s land.

Having taken leave of the bearded man, the King went outside and looked around for the hermit. Before going away he wished once more to see if he could get an answer to the three questions. The old man was outside, on his knees, putting seeds in the garden beds that they had dug the day before.

The King went up to him. “For the last time,” he said, “I ask you to answer my questions, wise man.”

“You have already been answered!” said the old man, still sitting on his thin legs, and looking up at the King, who stood before him.

“How answered? What do you mean?” asked the King.

“Do you not see?” he answered. “You felt sad for me because of my age and weakness yesterday, and dug those beds for me. If you had not done this but had gone on your way, that man would have attacked you. You would then have been sorry for not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds. I was the most important man. And to do me good was your most important business.”

“Afterwards, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were helping him. For if you had not treated his wound, 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 this,” said the wise man. “There is only one time that is important… Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power to begin or do something. The most needed man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever meet with any one else. The most important thing is to do him good, because for that reason alone was man sent into this life!”