Tolstoy for the Young : Part 5 : Three Questions

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(1828 - 1910) ~ Father of Christian Anarchism : In 1861, during the second of his European tours, Tolstoy met with Proudhon, with whom he exchanged ideas. Inspired by the encounter, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana to found thirteen schools that were the first attempt to implement a practical model of libertarian education. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "The Government and all those of the upper classes near the Government who live by other people's work, need some means of dominating the workers, and find this means in the control of the army. Defense against foreign enemies is only an excuse. The German Government frightens its subjects about the Russians and the French; the French Government, frightens its people about the Germans; the Russian Government frightens its people about the French and the Germans; and that is the way with all Governments. But neither Germans nor Russians nor Frenchmen desire to fight their neighbors or other people; but, living in peace, they dread war more than anything else in the world." (From : "Letter to a Non-Commissioned Officer," by Leo Tol....)
• "If, in former times, Governments were necessary to defend their people from other people's attacks, now, on the contrary, Governments artificially disturb the peace that exists between the nations, and provoke enmity among them." (From : "Patriotism and Government," by Leo Tolstoy, May 1....)
• "There are people (we ourselves are such) who realize that our Government is very bad, and who struggle against it." (From : "A Letter to Russian Liberals," by Leo Tolstoy, Au....)


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Part 5

It once occurred to a King that if he knew the right moment when to begin on any work and the right kind of people to have or not to have dealings with and the thing to do that was more important than any other thing, he would always be successful.

And he proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to any one who could tell him what was the right moment for any action, and who were the most essential of all people, and what was the most essential thing of all to do.

Many learned men came to the King and answered his questions in different ways.

In answer to the first question some said that to know the right time for any action, one must draw up a time-table of all the days, months and years and observe it strictly, then one could do everything at the proper time. Others said that it was impossible to decide beforehand the proper time for any action; the only thing one could do was to waste no time in vain amusements, but to pay attention to what was going on around one, and to do the thing that came to hand. A third said that however attentive the King might be to what went on around him, one man alone could not decide the proper time for every action and that he needed a council of wise men to advise him. Still a fourth maintained that as certain action had to be decided at once and could not wait a council the proper thing to do was to find out beforehand what was going to happen so as to be always prepared. But as only magicians knew what was going to happen, then it followed that in order to find out the proper time for any action one must consult the magicians.

The second question, too, was answered in various ways. Some said that the most essential people to the King were his helpers and ministers; others said priests; still others that the most essential people to the King were doctors; a fourth party said that the most essential people to the King were soldiers.

To the third question about the most important occupation, some declared it was science, others, the art of war, and others, divine worship.

The answers being different, the King agreed with none of them and gave no man the promised reward. But still wishing to find out the answers to his questions, he resolved to consult a hermit who was famous throughout the land for his wisdom.

The hermit lived in a wood which he never left, and received none but common folk. For this reason the King put on simple garments, and, dismissing his bodyguard before he reached the hermit’s cell, he climbed down from his horse and went the rest of the way alone and on foot.

He found the hermit digging a bed in front of the hermitage. When the hermit saw the King, he greeted him and went on with his digging. He was frail and thin and each time he dug his spade into the ground and turned over a little soil, he gasped for breath.

The King approached him and said, “I have come, oh, wise hermit, to ask you to give me the answers to these three questions—what hour must one remember and not allow to slip by, so as not to regret it afterwards? What people are the most essential and with whom should one or should one not have dealings? What things are the most essential to do and which of those things must one do first of all?”

The hermit heard what the King had to say, but made no reply. He spat on his hand and went on with his digging.

“You are tired,” the King said; “give me the spade and I will do the digging for you.”

The King took the spade and began to dig, but after a while he stopped and repeated his question. The hermit made no reply, but stretched out his hand for the spade.

“You rest now,” he said, “and I will work.”

But the King would not give up the spade and went on with the digging. One hour passed and another; the sun began to set behind the trees when the King stuck his spade into the ground and said, “I came to you, wise man, to find the answers to my three questions. If you cannot answer them, then tell me and I will go my way home.”

“Some one is running hither,” the hermit said. “Let us see who it is.”

The King turned and saw a bearded man running towards them. The man’s hands were clasped over his stomach and the blood flowed from beneath them. He fell at the King’s feet and lay motionless, rolling his eyes and moaning faintly.

The King and the hermit unfastened the man’s clothes. He had a large wound in his stomach. The King bathed it as well as he could with his handkerchief and bandaged it with the hermit’s towel. The blood did not cease to flow, and several times the King had to remove the bandages, soaked with warm blood, and rebathe and rebandage the wound.

When the blood ceased to flow, the wounded man came to himself and asked for some water. The King brought some fresh water and raised it to the wounded man’s lips.

The sun had quite set meanwhile and it began to get cold. The King, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the cell and put him on the bed. The wounded man shut his eyes and went to sleep. The King was so tired with the walk and the work that he curled up by the door and fell into a sound sleep. He slept through the whole mild summer night, and when he awoke in the morning he could not make out where he was and who was the strange bearded man staring at him from the bed with glistening eyes.

“Forgive me,” the bearded man said in a faint voice, when he saw that the King was awake and observing him.

“I don’t know you and have nothing to forgive you for,” the King said.

“You don’t know me, but I know you. I am your enemy who vowed to be revenged on you for having executed my brother and taken away my property: I knew that you went alone to the hermit and resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day passed and you did not come. I lost patience and came out to find you, when I stumbled upon your bodyguard. They recognized me and wounded me. I escaped from them, but would have died from loss of blood had you not bound my wound. I wanted to kill you and you saved my life. If I continue to live I will serve you as your most faithful slave should you desire it, and I will order my sons to do likewise. Forgive me.”

The King was very glad that he had been able to make peace with his enemy so easily, and not only forgave him but promised to return his property and to send him his own servants and physician.

Taking leave of the wounded man the King came out of the cell and sought for the hermit with his eyes. Before going away he wanted to ask him for the last time to answer his three questions. The hermit was on his knees by the beds they had dug yesterday, sowing vegetable seeds.

The King approached him and said, “For the last time, wise man, I ask you to answer my questions.”

“But they are answered already,” the hermit said, squatting on his emaciated legs and looking at up the King, who stood before him.

“How?” the King asked.

“Don’t you see?” the hermit began; “had you not pitied my weakness yesterday and dug these beds for me and gone back alone, the man would have attacked you and you would have regretted that you had not stayed with me. The important hour at the time was when you dug these beds, and I was the most essential person to you, and the most essential act was to do me a kindness. And later, when the man ran up, the most important hour was when you looked after him, for, had you not bandaged his wound, he would have died without making his peace with you. He was the most essential man to you at that time, and what you did for him was the most essential thing to be done. Always bear in mind that the most important time is now, for it is the only time we have any power over ourselves; the most essential man is the one with whom you happen to be at the moment, because you can never be sure whether you will ever have relations with any one else, and the most essential thing to do is a kindness to that man, for it was for this purpose we were sent into the world.”

From :


November 30, 1915 :
Part 5 -- Publication.

June 08, 2021 17:43:43 :
Part 5 -- Added to

June 09, 2021 16:55:54 :
Part 5 -- Last Updated on


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