After Kishinev

by Mark Chmiel

I’ve shared this story with hundreds of friends and students over the years.

After a pogrom in Russia in 1903, the author was invited to contribute to a literary collection to be circulated to aid those Jews who suffered attacks. The man who issued the invitation was Sholem Aleichem.

The man who contributed three stories was Leo Tolstoy. Sholem Aleichem translated the stories from Russian into Yiddish. This one is “Three Questions,” which I first read in Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Being Awake in 1982.

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?

After the story, Nhat Hanh offered this thought:

“Tolstoy is a saint—what we Buddhists would call a Bodhisattva. But was the emperor himself able to see the meaning and direction of life? How can we live in the present moment, live right now with the people around us, helping to lessen their suffering and making their lives happier? How? The answer is this: We must practice mindfulness. The principle that Tolstoy gives appears easy. But if we want to put it into practice we must use the methods of mindfulness in order to seek and find the way.”