The Three Questions

drawing of a kings throne room

By Leo Tolstoy

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.

And this thought having occurred to him, 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.

In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right time for every action, one must draw up in advance a table of days, months, and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time. Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action, but that, not letting oneself be absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was going on, and then do what was most needful. Others, again, said that however attentive the king might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a council of wise men who would help him to fix the proper time for everything.

But then again others said there were some things which could not wait to be laid before a council, but about which one had at once to decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only magicians who know that; and, therefore, in order to know the right time for every action, one must consult magicians.

Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said the people the king most needed were his councilors; others, the priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the most necessary.

To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation, some replied that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was religious worship.

All the answers being different, 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 which he never quitted, and he received none but common folk. So the king put on simple clothes and, before reaching the hermit’s cell, dismounted from his horse. Leaving his bodyguard behind, he 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 hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily.

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?”

drawing of a man working in garden

The hermit listened to the king, but answered nothing. He just spat on his hand and recommenced digging.

“You are tired,” said the king, “let me take the spade and work awhile for you.”

“Thanks!” said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the king, he sat down on the ground.

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. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the king, he fell fainting on the ground, moaning feebly. The king and the hermit unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. The king washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood would not stop flowing, and the king again and again removed the bandage soaked with warm blood, and washed and re-bandaged the wound. 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 from his walk and from the work he had done that he crouched down on the threshold, and also fell asleep – so soundly that he slept all through the short summer night.

drawing of a man caring for sick person

When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.

“Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw that the king was awake and was looking at him.

“I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the king.

“You do not know me, but I know you. 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 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 to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him, but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend him, and promised to restore his property.

Having taken leave of the wounded man, the king went out into the porch and looked around for the hermit. Before going away he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put. 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, still crouching on his thin legs, and looking up at the king, who stood before him.

“How answered? What do you mean?” asked the king.

“Do you not see?” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these 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 person is the one 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 that person good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life.”

This story reminded me of something that Henry Shukman, an English Spiritual Director Emeritus and a Zen Buddhism practitioner, once said: ‘Now… is always and ever the most important thing… there is only one place that fulfillment can happen: here and now.’

The Three Questions


#LeoTolstoy #Hermit#Spiritual #HenryShukman #King #ZenBuddhism#MoralStory


Step Toward Inner Peace

Step Toward Inner Peace

Peace Pilgrim

About 20 years ago, I participated in a retreat that focused on organic farming, nutrition, and spirituality, at Santa Barbara CA. While much of what I learned during the retreat has since slipped from my memory, one aspect of the experience has remained with me: my encounter with the beautiful soul known as Peace Pilgrim.

I never had the opportunity to meet Peace Pilgrim in person, but I was deeply moved by her book, “Peace Pilgrim: Step toward Inner Peace,” which I read in Chinese. I couldn’t believe that such an amazing and spiritual person existed. Peace Pilgrim’s journey across America to spread the message of peace, with nothing but the clothes on her back, was truly inspiring. The book left a lasting impression on me, and it actually started my spiritual journey.

Peace Pilgrim, born Mildred Lisette Norman, was a spiritual teacher and peace activist who walked across America several times in the 1950s and 1960s to spread the message of peace. She traveled on foot, carrying only a few possessions and wearing a tunic with the words “Peace Pilgrim” written on it.

During her journey, Peace Pilgrim spoke to thousands of people about the importance of inner peace and the role it plays in creating a more peaceful world. She believed that true peace could only be achieved when individuals found inner peace within themselves, and that this inner peace would radiate outwards to create a more peaceful society.

Peace Pilgrim’s message resonated with many people, and her simple, yet powerful words inspired many to work towards peace in their own lives and in the world. She wrote several books, including “Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words,” which chronicled her journey and the lessons she learned along the way.

In a time of great turmoil and uncertainty, the message of Peace Pilgrim is more relevant than ever. Her teachings remind us that true peace begins within, and that each of us has the power to make a difference in the world by finding inner peace and living a life of compassion and kindness. Her spirit and teachings continue to inspire and guide many people, and her message of peace will continue to resonate for years to come.

In this pandemic and tough time, her message of inner peace could be a guiding light for many people. World will have true peace until each one of us find our inner peace. Her teachings and stories are an inspiration for all of us to work on peace for the whole world. May her spirit and teachings continue to guide and inspire us all to work towards a more peaceful world.

Read the full article Step Toward Inner Peace here:

Step Toward Inner Peace


#StepTowardInnerPeace #PeacePilgrim#Spiritually#Peace

Zilong Wang’s Bike Ride Across The U.S. On The White Dragon Horse

Zilong Wang’s trip connected him with strangers across the country: “It really gave me a lot of faith in not just the U.S., but also in humanity in general.” (Courtesy Zilong Wang)

Zilong Wang’s Bike Ride Across The U.S. On The White Dragon Horse

Zilong Wang grew up in Shanghai, China, and first came to the U.S. for college. After graduation he bicycled solo across the country, relying on the generosity of strangers to provide lodging. He recently gave up his job at a firm specializing in corporate environmental sustainability to undertake an around-the-world bicycle pilgrimage to help raise ecological and spiritual awareness, especially in China. Below is the story about Zilong Wang. It was written for Bicycling magazine by John Brant.

Zilong chose Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts…a non-traditional school without grades. A couple of Hampshire alumni had decided to learn about the U.S. by riding across the country by bicycle. They’d survived the adventure. Zilong liked the idea, and, after graduation, he found the bike he wanted to ride. It was a Surly Long Haul Trucker. It wasn’t fancy. But it was…right.

“And it’s a silver-white color,” he says. “And as soon as I saw that bike, I knew the exact name for it. It’s the ‘White Dragon Horse.'”

“I’ve been riding the same bicycle now for five years,” I say, “and I have yet to name it. But what made you feel it had to have a name?”

“I didn’t want to give it a name, but the journey called for a name. The White Dragon Horse is a mystical creature from the story ‘Journey to the West’ — it described a Chinese monk who walked all the way from China to India to bring back the Buddha’s teaching. And the horse that the monk rode was the White Dragon Horse. As soon as I saw the bike, I knew that the bike wanted a name.”

Zilong’s White Dragon Horse (Courtesy Zilong Wang)

Part of what attracted John Brant to the story was the audacity of the journey. Another part of the attraction was Zilong’s daily plan.

“He decided, every night, he was going to knock on the door of a stranger, knock on the door and ask if he could pitch his tent in the backyard,” Brant says.

“I had no confidence that it would work at all,” Zilong says. “So the first night, I could not work up the courage. So I stayed in an empty Boy Scout camp, but there were so many mosquitoes. I got 30 bites. And when I tried to use a hose there to shower, a whole bunch of ants poured out because it wasn’t used for so long. That first night out was just so miserable that I decided, ‘OK, whatever. I’m gonna knock on doors tomorrow.’ And from that day on, every single night that I knocked on a door, somebody said ‘yes’ and invited me in.”

“So nobody ever said, ‘No, try some other neighbor?'” I ask him.

“Oh, most people say ‘no,'” Zilong says. “One in five say ‘yes.'”

Sometimes Zilong thought about turning back. The doubts passed, and the better moments arrived.

“Those moments are when I connect with a stranger, when the next morning, when I depart, we both have tears in our eyes, when I feel this connection with nature, feel this trust in the universe — those are just worth any of the pain, the discomforts.”

Warm Encounters, Coast To Coast

Between Massachusetts and California, Zilong connected with lots of strangers. He remembers with special fondness some of the ones who most surprised him.

“The Christian Fundamentalists, the Republicans — at that time it would be Romney and now the Trump supporters. Essentially, for the majority of the trip in the middle of the country, I was staying every night with corn farmers, with people who were volunteering at the church — those who I had thought are close-minded or xenophobic or all these labels. They were the most welcoming and warm and goodhearted people.”

Wang’s route, from Massachusetts to California. (Courtesy Zilong Wang)

Would those people have been as “welcoming, warm, and goodhearted” to anyone asking for tent space and perhaps a cup of tea? Zilong wonders about that in a blog he wrote along the way.

“Just imagine: If I were Black, I would be a good target for some paranoid neighborhood watch. If I were Hispanic, people might wonder if I am in the country legally. If I were Middle Eastern, I might look like a terrorist to some. If I were a white American, I wouldn’t be as interesting as someone from China.”

And he was on a bicycle. Maybe people figured, “What harm could be in him?”

“For all the magic of his crossing, for all the cosmic connections that were forged, there was little conventional drama—no fights, no violence, no steamy love scenes. Just a young man pedaling a bicycle all day and talking quietly to people in the evening.” — John Brant

“The people’s home that I went into, they say, ‘Aren’t you afraid? Have you met any bad people?'” Zilong recalls. “For that entire 75 days, I have met exactly zero bad person — not even a harsh word or ill intention from anyone, only goodwill after goodwill. So it really gave me a lot of faith in not just the U.S. but also in humanity in general.”

True Karma

“In general, his entire journey, I think, went almost like a dream: good luck with the weather, good luck with his bicycle,” Brant explains. “Everything seemed to work really well. His health was good. He didn’t get injured, didn’t get ill. Everything went pretty well. Until he reached the end.”

“When I was riding through the U.S., I didn’t even bring a lock with me,” Zilong says. “I never locked my bike once. I’d leave it outside Walmart, at museums, outside little towns and go away for half an hour, an hour. Come back, the bike is still there — nobody touched it. Three weeks after arriving in San Francisco, the bike was stolen while locked as I went into a fruit stand to get some oranges, just within five minutes.”

Zilong called the police. He described the bike. One of the officers wrote down what he said. Zilong was not encouraged to think the White Dragon Horse would turn up.

“The loss is greater than the bike. If, as he’s always believed, the stolen bicycle he’d bought back in Shanghai was taken from him as some sort of cosmic retribution, what does it mean that he’s now also lost the White Dragon Horse—the honestly acquired engine of his transformation and his great understanding and appreciation of so much of life, knowledge, and America? Is this really, he thinks, how the Cosmic Tale of the White Dragon Horse was supposed to end? And, if so, what to make of it? What is the lesson?” — John Brant

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

Is this really, he thinks, how the Cosmic Tale of the White Dragon Horse was supposed to end? And, if so, what to make of it? What is the lesson?

The lesson took about 48 hours to reveal itself…and then, it was a beaut. It turned out that a young woman who worked for a company that made bicycle accessories and, hence, knew something about bikes, saw the man who stole the White Dragon Horse with the steed. She thought, “He doesn’t look as if he belongs on it.”

“The guy was dressed raggedly, he was not a cyclist, he was riding against traffic, and the bike was way too big for him,” Brant says. “And this woman, Vanessa, decided, ‘Well, that’s weird. That bike is probably stolen, but what am I gonna do about it?’ Something you see every day in San Francisco. But for some reason, she couldn’t let this go. She couldn’t just let the guy ride away. So she started following him, got closer to him, and the guy pulled up into a doorway of an apartment building. And Vanessa said normally she would never think about doing anything like this — she’d never done anything like this before — but something was telling her, ‘Well, I’m gonna just talk to this man.’

“Finally, she said, ‘This isn’t your bike. This is Paul’s bike!’ The name Paul just jumped into her head. But that was enough to break the ice, and the guy split. It was meant to be. The cosmos was telling her to get this bike back for this man.”

“Yeah, that’s actually the core of the story, and I’m forever grateful for her — Vanessa was her name — for restoring my faith in humanity,” Zilong says.

Continuing His Quest

Who would ask for more than to have his or her faith in humanity restored? And then there’s this question: Who, having ridden across the United States, would ever want to get on a bicycle again?

“So I worked in San Francisco for two-plus years, and one day had this calling that I should go on a journey to the East and ride my bike back to China, where I was from. So nine months ago, I embarked on this journey to the East. A pilgrimage, more or less, around the world once by bicycle in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.”

“And how’s that trip going?” I ask.

“Very well — well in the sense that a pilgrimage gives you not what I think I want but exactly what I need, including all the hardship and turmoils inside and outside.”

So, the lesson. Perhaps there is no end point to the quest for enlightenment. Maybe once one begins accumulating faith in humanity, mysteriously, the vessel never overflows.

Zilong rides on.

Zilong Wang’s Bike Ride Across The U.S. On The White Dragon Horse


#Bicycling# Bicyclingmagazine#ZilongWang#EcologicalandSpiritualAwareness#Around-the-world BicyclePilgrimage