Three Important Questions

Here’s a beautiful story to put things in perspective and to help you build mindfulness.

Once upon a time, a king got up in the morning with three questions on his mind.

Who is the most important person? What is the most important time? What is the most important karma?

In the royal court, he asked his ministers and other courtiers. Some said the king was the most important person, the time of one’s death was the most important time, and serving one’s religion was the most worthwhile karma. Many others had different answers like one’s child or one’s parent was the most important person, the time of birth was the most important time and charity was the most important karma. Some said God was the most important person, many said it was the farmer, some replied it was the soldier and so on and so forth.

The king wasn’t satisfied with the responses. The three questions were put to his subjects too but no one could provide a satisfactory answer. Finally, his chief minister suggested that the king should visit a sage who lived on the top of a certain mountain. Promptly, the arrangements were made and the king was on his way with his entourage. It was a steep climb and a few hours later he found himself outside the cave of the yogi. As was the custom, he left his sword outside the door, prostrated before the sage and posed his questions. In response, the sage took him to the edge of a cliff, a nearby high point overlooking the entire kingdom. The king was looking at his vast dominion and feeling good about his life thus far when he was interrupted by a voice behind him.

“Turn around,” it said.
The king turned back and saw the sage pointing the sword at king’s heart, just a few millimeters away.
“O King!” the sage continued, “do you know now, who’s the most important person, what’s the most important time and what’s the most important karma?”

The king was startled. After his heart skipped a beat, a calm feeling swept over his entire being and his eyes twinkled. He bowed as much in reverence as affirmation. The sage handed back the sword. The king expressed his gratitude and went back to his palace.
His courtiers asked him the next day if he got a satisfactory answer and if so, they were quite eager to know as well, they said.

“Yes,” said the king. “The sage answered all three questions in an instant. Just when I was in awe looking at my colossal kingdom from the edge, I realized the most worthwhile karma for me was to continue to love my subjects, to care for them was the most important karma, indeed. I was a king because of my subjects, I realized. And then the sage appeared with my sword in his hand. I was a few moments away from death. I realized the most important time was ‘now’. At that moment my past didn’t matter and I had no future. Now was the only moment I had. Now is the only time I have. Now will be the only time I’ll ever have.”
The king went quiet in reflection. A minute ticked by.
“And, Your Majesty,” the minister said, “who is the most important person?”
“Yes, you. But not you.”
“Your wisdom is beyond my grasp, Your Grace.”
“The most important person is the person you are with,” the king clarified. “Therefore, you are the most important person right now.”

When I first came across this story by Leo Tolstoy, I thought only if one could remember these answers, major aspects of their life would undergo an automatic transformation. The person you are with ‘now’ is the most important person. When you give your sole attention to the person you are dealing with, you boost their self-esteem, you make them feel important, they feel cared, they feel respected. All the other positive emotions sprout naturally. And undoubtedly, ‘now’ is the most important time, the most important moment. This is the only moment we can act in. In essence, this is the principle of mindfulness — to give your attention to the present moment. To be able to love, to be able to care is the most important karma, it’s the most worthwhile thing you can do with yourself, with others, with your time, with your life. When you are with yourself, be with yourself, love yourself; when you are with someone else, give them your undivided attention. You’ll accomplish lot more in lot less.

And, what is the most important feeling? Is it success? Is it feeling in control? Being in love? To be loved? Is it to feel important? No, not in my world. The most important feeling, in my view, is to feel contented. Contentment is the most important feeling. When you are contented, you feel strong, you feel peaceful, you overflow with love and compassion, you sleep in peace, you wake up happy, all struggle disappears and everything looks in place. To quote Shakespeare:

When you are with yourself, you are the most important person; don’t devote your thoughts and energy to meaningless grudges of the past. Negative thoughts have never propelled anyone into positivity. Go on now! Be with the person you are with, doing the most important karma.


This article first appeared on

A simple monk in a complex world. Author of ten bestsellers.

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