This is an ancient Sanskrit tale told by Vedic rishis (sages) translated, retold and illustrated by U. Mahesh Prabhu
Bhoja Raja, also known as Raja Bhoj, was one of greatest kings hailed by ancient Indian (read Vedic) legends. He was a powerful and accomplished warrior-king – yet, his love for knowledge and wisdom was significant. After a great deal of contemplation on leadership, politics and diplomacy – he was convinced that if he could find satisfying answers to three quintessential questions he could be a truly successful king deserving of his people. They were:
- When is the right time to begin anything?
- Who is the most important person?
- What is the most important thing to do?
He made a royal proclamation all over his kingdom that he would dearly reward anyone who could provide most satisfactory answer to these three questions.
Having heard the proclamation, many men – who considered themselves to be wise – went to the king. While some prescribed astrologers for finding the “right time”, other suggested looking for omens. With respect to the “important person” – some suggested the minister, some Brahmins and others the vassals whose help was crucial during the time of war. The “important thing to do” according to some was acquiring “scientific knowledge”, doing “good works” for some others and “making wars” according to the rest. The wise king was unconvinced to say the least.
For a long time, the king had heard a great deal about a sage person – Rishi – living in the woods adjoining the capital. The king decided to seek his interest in answering those three quintessential questions looming over his head. But that wasn’t an easy task.
The rishi never left his hermitage – so he could seldom be summoned to royal palace. He stayed away from those who were egoistic and made conversation with only those who came to see him with utmost humility. So, the king Bhoja Raja put on simple robes and approached the hermitage accompanied by his retinue. At the outskirts of the hermitage, he dismounted his horse, commanded his men to wait for him there and went on foot to see the rishi.
He found the rishi digging in his garden. Even after receiving greetings of the king – he continued his errand uninterrupted. The rishi was a very old man. He was very weak owing to his austere practices and modest consumption of food.
“Sire, you rest a while, and let me do the digging,” the king said to rishi. The rishi handed the crowbar to the king and squatted on the ground.
After digging for some time, the king repeated his questions. Instead of answering the king, the holy man stood up and tried to take the crowbar from the king. But the king did not yield. Till sunset the king went on digging, when the work was finished the king laid the crowbar aside and said, “Sire, I came to see you because I’ve heard a great many things about your wisdom. I thought you could answer three subtle questions that have been bothering me for a while now. Let me know if you’d care to answer them – if not I’ll quietly leave.”
“Someone is coming” the rishi said, adding “let’s find out who he is.” The king turned and saw a man approaching. He was pressing his stomach with both his hands. As he came closer it he could see blood gushing between his fingers. Coming near the man uttered a groan and fell unconscious. The king and the rishi undressed him and found a wound in his belly. The king applied a few herbs available in the vicinity and pressed on it till the bleeding stopped. A while late the man regained his consciousness and asked for water. The king gave him just that.
Now it was dark. The king and the rishi carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him down on the rishi’s bed made of straws. The man closed his eyes and slept. The king too was quite tired after the digging, he leaned against the wall and fell asleep. When he woke up next morning, he found the man in the bed staring at him steadily.
Seeing that the Bhoja Raja was awake, the man got off his bed, approached him and said, “O King, please forgive me!”
“I don’t even know you,” Bhoja Raja replied, “Why, then, do you ask for forgiveness?”
“You don’t know me. Your Highness, but I know you. A few years back you got my brother hanged, and confiscated his property owing to his treason. Since then I bore a grudge against you, and swore to kill you. I was your enemy. I learnt that you were to see the rishi, and hid in a thicket outside the hermitage to find the right moment to kill you as you returned. I waited a long while, but you didn’t return. Then I came out of the thicket searching for you, and your guarded spotted and attacked me. I escaped from them somehow with this wound. Had you not cared for the wound, I would have died of bloodloss. I wanted to kill you, but you saved my life instead! If you wish that I should live I shall serve you faithfully all my life, along with my sons.”
The king was glad that he made a friend of a foe so effortlessly. He told the man that he would get him treated by the royal physicians, and restore him his brother’s property.
The king came out of the hut and saw the rishi planting seeds in the holes that were dug the previous day. The king greeted the rishi and said, “Sire, you’ve not answered my questions.”
“They are already answered.” said the rishi, smilingly. “Had you not digged the holes out of pity of me, you’d have gone away only to be killed by that man. So, the most important time was when you were digging, I was the most important man for you, and doing me good was the most important thing for you. Later, the man came running, wounded. Then the most important time was when you attended to his wound, he was the most important person, and doing him good was the most important thing. Remember, the most important time is Now! Because that is the time over which you have command, and you never know what happens later. The most important man is he who is with you. You never know whether you’ll have dealings with another or not. And the most important thing is helping him/her. Being use to one and all is for which we’ve this life!”
The king was immensely satisfied with these answers. Grateful to the wisdom of the rishi, he touched his feet in absolute humility and reverence before returning to his capital.