Written by one of the most philosophical writers of all time, Leo Tolstoy's short story "Three Questions" offers an interesting perspective on human life and its quest for knowledge.
Once, an emperor wished to know the answers to three questions so that he does not fail in any aspect of life. The three questions that he wanted answers to were:
- What 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?
To know the correct answers to his question, the emperor issued a decree throughout his kingdom, stating that whosoever would offer the right answer to his question would win a special reward. Reading the decree, many people arrived at the king's court with different answers.
After contemplating all the answers for a long time, the emperor took the disguise of a peasant to meet an enlightened hermit living in the mountains. Upon meeting, he saw the old hermit digging the ground quietly. After listening to the emperor's three questions, the hermit did not say anything and continued digging, patting the king's shoulder. So, the king took the spade and started digging the ground on the hermit's behalf to help him.
After digging two rows, the emperor repeated his questions but unable to get an answer, he continued digging. Finally, after sunset, the emperor expressed that if the hermit was unable to answer his three questions, he would leave for home.
Suddenly, they found a wounded man in the woods, and the king used his shirt to bandage the wound until the blood flow stopped. After the man recovered consciousness, he expressed that he had come to take revenge on the king for murdering his brother and seizing his property. However, the king's attendants attacked him; if the king had not saved him, he would have died by now. Grateful to the king for his new life, the person vowed to be his servant for the rest of his life and ensured that his children and grandchildren would do the same.
Before returning to his palace, the king repeated his questions as a last-ditch attempt to get an answer out of the hermit, but the hermit said that he had already found answers to his questions.
- Referring to the incidents of digging the ground and helping the wounded man, the hermit said that the most important time is "Now" as it is the only time we can control.
- The most important person is always your present companion because there is no surety whether you will meet anybody to be with later.
- The most important pursuit is making your present companion happy.
In this way, the hermit gave answers to the three questions of the emperor with reference to real-life experiences.