A fable that answers life’s important questions

If you asked yourself these questions, you might start living your life a bit differently

Man holding question mark,life questions

Once upon a time, a king woke 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 repeated the questions to 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.

Meeting with the yogi

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 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 towards the voice and saw the sage pointing the sword at the king’s heart, just a few millimetres away. “O king!” the sage continued, “do you know now, who is the most important person, what is the most important time and what is 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 returned to his palace.

The sage’s answers

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 the three questions in an instant. Just when I was in awe looking at my colossal kingdom from the edge, I realised the most worthwhile karma for me was to continue to love and care for my subjects. I am a king because of my subjects, I realised. And then the sage appeared with my sword in his hand. I was a few moments away from death. I realised the most important time is “now”. At that moment, past didn’t matter and I had no future. Now was the only moment I had, it is the only time I have, and it 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, the 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 for and 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, love yourself; when you are with someone else, give them your undivided attention. You will accomplish lot more in lot less.

The most important feeling

Lastly, 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. 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 your struggles disappear and everything looks in place. To quote Shakespeare:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

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.

Excerpted with permission from A Fistful of Love by Om Swami, published by Jaico Publishing House.

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