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(Posted by) Tammy Williams (Founder of Yoga NRG + Mindfulness Training Australia)
The Miracles of Mindfulness : Three Wondrous Answers by Thich Nhat Hanh

After delivering the Level 1 Mindfulness Coaching Program recently and shortly after forgoing teaching some yoga classes so myself and my husband could travel north to visit a friend in a coma, I thought sharing this story was timely.  Those who requested for me to share this who have been on the training courses its a great reminder of how to keep our practice and our teaching of mindfulness in perspective – start modestly !



Enjoy the story of:


by Thich Nhat Hanh (From The Miracle of Mindfulness) 

One day it occurred to a certain emperor that if he only knew the answers to three questions, he would never stray in any matter.

What is the best time to do each thing?

Who are the most important people to work with ?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?

The emperor issued a decree throughout his kingdom announcing that whoever could answer the questions would receive a great reward. Many who read the decree made their way to the palace at once, each person with a different answer.

In reply to the first question:

What is the best time to do each thing?

One person advised the emperor make up a thorough time schedule , consecrating every hour , day , month , and yes for certain tasks and then follow the schedule to the letter. Only then could he hope to do every task at the right time.

Another person replied that it was impossible to plan in advance and that the emperor should put all vain amusements aside and remain attentive to everything in order to know what to do at what time.

Someone else insisted that, by himself, the emperor  could never hope to have all the foresight and competence necessary to decide when to do each and every task and what he really needed was to set up a Council of the Wise and then to act according to their advice.

Someone else said that certain matters required immediate decision and could not wait for consultation , but if he wanted to know in advance what was going to happen he should consult magicians and soothsayers.

The responses to the second question also lacked accord.

Who are the most important people to work with ?

One press said the emperor needed to place all his trust in administrators, another urged reliance on priests and monks, while others recommended physicians.  Still others put their faith in warriors.

The third question drew a similar variety of answers.

What is the most important thing to do at tall times 

Some said science was the most important pursuit. Others insisted on religion.  Yet others claimed the most important things was military skill.

The emperor was not pleased with any of the answers, and no reward was given .

After several nights of reflection, the emperor resolved to visit a hermit who lived up on the mountain and was said to be an enlightened man.  The emperor wished to find the hermit to ask him the three questions, though he knew the hermit never left the mountains and was known to receive only the poor, refusing to have anything to do t with persons of wealth or power.  So the emperor disguised himself as a simple peasant and ordered his attendants to wait for him at the foot of the mountain while he climbed the slope alone to seek the hermit.

Reaching the oily man’s dwelling place, the emperor found the hermit digging a garden in front of his hut . When the hermit saw the stranger, he indeed his head in greeting and continued to dig.  The labor was obviously hard on him.  He was an old man, and each time he thrust his spade into the ground to turn the earth , he heaved heavily.

The emperor approached him and said:

“I have come to ask your help with three questions”:

What is the best time to do each thing?

Who are the most important people to work with ?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?

The hermit listened attentively but only patted the emperor on the shoulder and continued digging.  The emperor said, “You must be tired.  Here, let me give you a hand with that”

The hermit thanked him, handed the spade, and then sat down o the ground to rest.

After he had dug two rows, the emperor stopped and turned to the hermit and repeated his three questions

What is the best time to do each thing?

Who are the most important people to work with ?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?

The hermit still did not know the answer but stood up and pointed to the spade and said, Why don’t you rest now? I can take over again” But the emperor continued to dig.  One hour passed, then two. Finally the sun began to set behind the mountain .  The emperor put down the spade and said to the hermit, “I came here to ask if you could answer my three question.  But if you can’t give me any answer , please let me know so that I can get on my way home.

The hermit lifted his head and asked the emperor, “Do you hear someone running over there?”  The emperor turned his head.  They both saw a man with a long white beard emerge from the woods.  He ran wildly , pressing his hands against the bloody wound in his stomach.  The man ran toward the emperor before falling unconscious to the ground where he lay groaning .  Opening the mans clothing, the emperor and the hermit saw that the man had received a deep gash. The emperor cleaned the wound thoroughly and then used his own shirt to bandage it in minutes.  He rinsed the shirt out and bandaged the wound a second time and continued to do so until the flow of blood had stopped.

At last the wounded man regained consciousness and asked for a drink of water.   The emperor ran down to the stream and brought back a jug of fresh water.  Meanwhile, the sun had disappeared and the night air had begun to turn cold.  The hermit gave the emperor a hand and laid him down on the hermit’s bed.  The man closed his eyes and lay quietly.  Leaning against the doorway, he fell asleep.  When he rose, the sun had already risen over the mountain.  For a moment he forgot where he was and what he had come here for.  He looked over to the ed and saw the wounded man also looking around him in confusion.  When he saw the emperor , he stared at him intently and then said in a faint whisper ,

“Please forgive me”

“But what have you done that I should forgive you?” the emperor asked.

“You do not know me, hour majesty , but I know you.  I was your sworn enemy , and I had vowed to take vengeance on you, for during the last war you killed my brother and seized my property.  When I learned that you were coming alone to the mountain to meet the hermit , I resolved to surprise you on your way and kill you.  But after waiting a long time there was still no sigh of you, and so I left my ambush in order to seek you out.  But instead of finding you, I came across your attendants, who recognised me , giving me this wound.  Luckily I escaped and ran here.  I f I hadn’t met you I would surely be dead by now.   I had intended to kill you, but instead you saved my life!

I am ashamed and grateful beyond words.  If I live, I vow to be your servant for the rest of my life, and I will bid my children and grandchildren to do the same.  Please grant me your forgiveness.”

The emperor was overjoyed to see that he was so easily reconciled with a former enemy.  He not only forgave the man but promised to return all the man’s property and to send his own physician and servants to wait not eh man until he was completely healed.  After ordering his attendants to take the man home, the emperor returned to see the hermit.  Before repeating his three questions:

What is the best time to do each thing?

Who are the most important people to work with ?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?

The hermit stood up and looked at the emperor.

“But your questions have already been answered.”

“How’s that?”  the emperor asked, puzzled.

“Yesterday, if you had not taken pity on my age and given me a hand with digging these beds, you would have been attacked by that man on your way home.  Then you would have deeply regretted not staying with me.  Therefore the most important time was the time you were digging in the beds, the most important person was myself, and the most important pursuit was to help me.

Later when the wounded man ran up here, the most important time was the time you spent dressing his wound, for if you had not cared for him he would have died and you would have lost the chance to have reconciled with him.  Likewise, he was the most important person , and the most important pursuit was taking care of his wound.

Remember there is only one important time and that is NOW

The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion.

The most important person is ALWAYS THE PERSON YOU ARE WITH , who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future?


We often forget it is the very people around us that we must live for first of all

If you cannot serve your wife/husband children or family how can you serve society ?

Today lets return to a more modest scale our families, our classmates, our friends our own community.

The beautiful poem shared in my blog on – Non Striving – The Pillar of Mindfulness that lets us off the hook and learning how to ‘make space for grace’

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