Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 7: Happiness for Both Ourselves and Others [7.4]

7.4 Treasuring the People Right in Front of Us

President Ikeda introduces a story by the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy to address three crucial approaches to living wisely.

Tolstoy wrote many very accessible stories and folk tales. He composed them for ordinary people who lived off the land, and for the young boys and girls who would inherit the future.

Today, I would like to share with you one of those stories, titled “Three Questions.”

The story concerns an emperor who, in directing the affairs of state, finds himself wondering about three questions.

The first question is, When is the best time to start a task? How do I know the right time for every action, so that I have no regrets?

The second question is, What kind of person do I need most? What kind of person should I pay attention to?

The third question is, What affairs or tasks are the most important?

The emperor very much wants to know the answers to these questions, because he is sure that if he has the answers, he will be able to succeed in everything he does. He makes it known throughout the land that he will richly reward anyone who can tell him the right answers to these questions. Many learned people come to see him, and they offer many answers. But the emperor is not convinced by any of them.

The learned are not necessarily wise.

I will leave out the details of the story, but in the end the emperor gains the true answers to his questions from a sage who lives among the people.

This wise man replies that the most important time is now, this very moment; the most important person is the one in front of you right now; and the most important task is doing good to others, caring about others’ happiness.

This moment, this instant is important, not some unknown time in the future. Today, this very day, is what matters. We must put our entire beings into the present—for future victory is contained in this moment.

Likewise, we do not need to look for special people in some far-off place. People are not made important simply by virtue of their power, learning, fame, or riches. The most important people are those in our immediate environment right now. They are the people we must value. Wise individuals consider the unique characteristics of those around them and make it possible for them to bring out their full potential. This is also the way to win the trust and respect of everyone.

Whenever I travel abroad, I always endeavor to sincerely greet and connect with the very first people I meet after getting off the plane—and then do the same with all those I meet thereafter. This is how my efforts to foster friendship start.

It is not important whether you are unknown or unremarkable in the world’s eyes. What matters is that you know you have done your best, in a way that is true to yourself, for the sake of others, for your friends, and for people in society at large. Those who can declare that with confidence are champions of the human spirit, champions of life.

From a speech at an Asian commemorative general meeting, Hong Kong, May 16, 1993.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.