It once occurred to a certain king that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.
So he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to anyone who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.
And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his questions differently.
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 consult a hermit widely renowned for his wisdom.
The hermit lived in a wood, and he received none but common folk. So the King put on simple clothes, and, leaving his bodyguard behind, went on alone.
When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging.
The King went up to him 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 most need, and to whom should I,therefore, pay more attention than to the rest? And, what affairs are the most important and need my first attention?"
The hermit listened to the King, but answered nothing.
You are tired, said the King, "let me take the spade and work awhile for you."
Thanks! said the hermit, giving the spade to the King.
When he had dug two beds , the King stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the spade, and said, "Now rest awhile and let me work a bit."
But the King did not give him the spade, and continued to dig. One hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees, and the King at last 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 none, tell me so, and I will return home."
Here comes someone running, said the hermit, "let us see who it is."
The King turned round, and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. When he reached the King, he fell fainting on the ground. There was a large wound in his stomach. The King washed it as best as he could,and bandaged it. When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to him. Meanwhile the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the King, with the hermit's help, carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes and was quiet; but the King was so tired that he also fell asleep - so soundly that he slept all through the short summer night. When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could remember where he was, or who the strange bearded man was, lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.
Forgive me! said the bearded man in a weak voice.
I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,said the King.
I am that enemy of yours who swore to revenge himself on you, because you executed his brother and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back.But the day passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find you and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me and wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!
The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily and promised to restore his property.
The King went out into the porch and looked around for the hermit. The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before.
The King approached him, and said, "For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man."
You have already been answered! said the hermit, looking up at the King.
How answered? What do you mean?
Do you not see, replied the hermit. "If you had not dug those beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having 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 that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up 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 - Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else; and the most important affair is to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!"