A long time ago in Northern India a man called Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment. Known now as the Buddha, or the One Who is Awake, he travelled from town to town on foot answering people’s questions.
One man, a potter named Gupta, heard that the Buddha would be visiting his town and was very excited. He counted the days until the Buddha arrived and wracked his brain trying to think of the best question to ask the sage.
Every question he could think of though he feared was the wrong one. “Is there life after death?” Supposing the answer was “yes” — what if it were not worth living. “How should I live?” Supposing the answer were simply “Well!” and it was not satisfactory. “How did the universe begin?” Supposing the answer were it had never begun! “How can I get rich?” Surely such would be a foolish question to ask the Buddha — perhaps someone else would know better, and anyway what if being rich were not the best thing?
So Gupta spent every waking moment until the Buddha arrived. Everyone in town asked the Buddha a single question. Still Gupta could not think of a good question. Gupta’s little boy came runing “Gupta! Gupta! You have missed the Buddha! He is leaving town.”
Gupta ran as fast as his legs could carry him after the departing sage. The Buddha’ followers told him it was too late, but the Buddha was compassionate. He ran up, out of breath. “No, no, let him ask.” the Thus Come One said to his followers. “Come, my friend!” the Awakened One said to Gupta.
Finally, exhausted and willing to risk it all Gupta blurted out his question:
“What is the single best question for me to ask you and what is the answer?” he asked.
The Buddha looked at him, a slight smile on his face.
“That is the question, and this is the answer.”
–after Raymond Smullyan