A sure King once asked himself, “When is the right time to begin anything? Whose advice should I seek? What is the most important thing to do?” He thought he would never fail if he always knew the right time, the right man and the right thing to do. He proclaimed all over his kingdom that he would give great gifts to anyone who answered his questions.
Having heard the proclamation, many wise men went to the King. But they answered his questions each differently.
Regarding the right time for starting anything, some said that the almanack should be consulted; others noted that the right time was different for different things, yet others suggested that something should be undertaken according to their importance.
Regarding the right person to consult or engage, some suggested the ministers; some, the good Brahmans; and some, the vassals who would always help in case of war.
The best duty was acquiring scientific knowledge, according to some; doing good works, according to others; and making war, according to others.
Among the various answers, not one impressed the King. A holy man was living in the woods adjoining the capital. The King thought he would put the questions to the sacred man and get his replies.
But the holy man never left his hermitage. Only ordinary people could go to the sanctuary and see him. So the King rode in simple clothes towards the cover, accompanied by his entourage. At the outskirts of the hermitage grounds, he got down from his horse, told his men to wait for him, and went on foot towards the cottage of the holy man.
The King saw the holy man digging in the garden in front of the cottage. He received the greetings of the King and went on searching without a word.
“Sir,” said the King to the holy man, “I’ve come to know your answers to three questions. What is the right time to start any work? Who is the right person to deal with regarding the work? And what is one’s duty ?”
The holy man stopped digging while the King spoke, but he resumed digging without saying anything as soon as the King stopped. The righteous man was significantly older. He was frail on account of frequent fastings and meagre eating. “Sir, you rest awhile, and let me do the digging,” the King said to him. The holy man handed the crowbar to the King and squatted on the ground.
After digging for some time, the King repeated his questions. Instead of answering the King, the holy man stood up and made to take the crowbar from the King. But the King did not yield it to him. Till sunset, the King went on digging. The King laid the crowbar aside when the work was finished and said, “Sir, I came to see you because you are a wise man. I thought you could give correct answers to my questions. If you cannot answer me, tell me so, and I shall go away.”
“Someone is coming!” the holy man said. “Let us find out who he is.” The King turned and saw a man running. He pressed his stomach with one hand, and blood was gushing between his fingers. Coming near, the man uttered a groan and fell unconscious. The King and the holy man undressed him and found a wound in his stomach. The King washed the damage until it stopped bleeding. Then the man regained consciousness and asked for a drink. The King went into the cottage, brought some water, and gave it to the man.
Now it was dark. The King and the holy man carried the wounded man into the cottage and laid him on a bed. The man closed his eyes and slept. The King, too, was quite tired after the digging; he leaned against the wall and fell asleep. When he woke up the following day, he did not know, for a time, where he was. He found the man in the bed staring at him steadily.
Seeing that the King was awake, the man got off his bed, approached the King, and said, “O King, forgive me!”
“I know not who you are,” the King said. “Why should I forgive you?”
“You don’t know me, but I know you. Sometime back, you got my brother hanged and confiscated his property. Since then, I bore a grudge against you and swore to kill you. I was your enemy. I learnt you went to see the holy man and hid in a thicket to kill you when you returned. I waited a long time, but you didn’t come back. Then I came out of the thicket and searched for you, and your guards saw me and attacked me. I escaped from them with a wound, but I should have died of bleeding had you not washed the wound. I wanted to kill you, but you saved my life. If you wish I could live, I shall serve you faithfully all my life and my sons.”
The King was glad that he made friends with a foe so quickly. He told the man that he would get him treated by the royal physician and restore his brother’s property to him.
The King came out of the cottage and saw the holy man planting seeds in the beds that had been dug the previous day. The King greeted the righteous man and said, “Sir, you’ve not answered my questions.”
“They were already answered for you,” said the holy man smiling. “If you did not stay away digging the beds because of pity for me, you’d have gone away and got killed by that man. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds; I was the most important man for you, and doing me good was the most important duty for you. Later, the man came running, wounded. Then the most important time was when you attended to his wound; he was the most important person, and doing him good was the most important duty. Remember, the most important time is now! Because that is the time you have command over, you never know what happens later. The most important man is he who is with you. You never know whether you’ll have dealings with another or not. And the most important duty is going to his help. For that alone, we are given this life!”
The King was delighted with these answers, took leave of the holy man and returned home.