What is the greatest thing in the world?
Is it the huge mountains, the ocean, the sun, the moon, the planets or the innumerable stars?
Or is it any of the numerous creatures and animals that inhabit this world?
Or is it Man, who is endowed with the sixth sense?
Or more specifically, perhaps it is his intellect and ability to reason and discriminate?
No. None of this is the greatest thing in the world. There is something greater than all these!
Is it God?
Yes, God is the greatest. But is there something greater?
Yes! Faith in God is even greater!
Faith alone will suffice to achieve anything in life. Nothing else is needed. However, on the other hand, despite possessing everything, if a person lacks faith, he cannot accomplish anything.
This applies not only to worldly life but also to spiritual life. Let me narrate an incident relating to this from the life of Sri Sankara.
Padmapaada was a disciple of Sri Sankara. The name ‘Padmapaada’ (Lotus-feet) was bestowed on him as a result of an incident.
Once Sri Adi Sankara Bhagavadpaada, after having bathed in a river, stood on its banks waiting to begin his worship of the Lord. Sri Bhagavadpaada’s clothes and worship articles were with a disciple who was on the other side of the river. Sri Bhagavadpaada called out to his disciple to bring his clothes and worship articles quickly. On hearing his Guru’s words, the disciple, who did not have the heart to make his Guru wait until he crossed the river on a bridge or a boat, immediately stepped onto the river with no thought other than to take the articles quickly to his Guru. And lo! His feet did not sink into the water. Instead a lotus appeared under his foot at every step he took and he thus crossed the river safely! Hence he earned the name ‘Padma-paada’.
It was only due to his intense faith, loyalty and feeling that he should respond to his Guru’s call at once, that Padmapaada was able to walk over water.
However, there was another whose faith was far greater than that of Padmapaada! Who was that?
Sri Adi Sankara Bhagavadpaada had initiated Padmapaada into Nrisimha Mantra. Padmapaada desired to do incessant japa of the mantra. Seeking solitude he decided to move into a forest. Sitting below a tree he sat with closed eyes and incessantly chanted the mantra that his Guru had initiated him into. His body became thin due to this intense penance.
There was an old hunter in the forest. He came to the place where Padmapaada was in dhyana.
He said to Padmapaada, “Sir! What are you doing in this forest? There are wild animals like the tiger and lion and also poisonous creatures like the snake and the scorpion here. Dacoits too roam about at night. Please leave this forest. It is not safe for a young ascetic like you.”
Padmapaada thought, “How am I to explain what I am doing to this hunter? Can he understand if I speak of God, dhyana, etc.? I must speak to him in a language that he can follow.”
So he said, “I desire to catch an animal in this forest. That is why I am here.”
The hunter was surprised to hear this reply from a person who looked least like a hunter.
Curious, he asked, “An animal? What animal are you looking for?”
Padmapaada said, “It has the body of a man and the face of a lion.”
The hunter was now even more bewildered. He said, “Sir, I was born and brought up in this forest. My father and my grandfather have all lived in this forest. For generations our family has lived only in this forest. I have never seen such an animal or heard of it. Nor have my father and grandfather ever spoken to me about the existence of this kind of an animal. I know thoroughly about this forest and its inhabitants. There is no animal of the kind that you speak of.”
Padmapaada said to him, “There is certainly such an animal. I will not leave this place without finding him.”
The hunter was amazed. He laughed loudly at Padmapaada at first, when he repeatedly spoke of this kind of animal with a man’s body and a lion’s face. But slowly he began to wonder if it could be true; the young ascetic seemed to speak out of conviction.
Finally the hunter said to Padmapaada, “You do not seem to be a dishonest person. You are speaking the truth. This kind of animal that you speak of must be hiding somewhere in this forest. May be my grandfather and father had never seen it. I will catch this animal and bring it to your presence by dusk. I give you my word. If I do not, I will kill myself if I fail in my endeavor.” The hunter left the place.
Padmapaada thought that the hunter will not return to disturb him. The hunter, however, went about the forest in search of the animal mentioned by the ascetic. He spotted lions, tigers, leopards and bears, but not the animal spoken of by the ascetic.
He was a mere hunter who lived in the forest hunting down animals. But look at his steadfastness to truth. The whole day the hunter went around looking for this animal and could not find it. It was dusk and the sun was about to set.
He thought, “The animal must be here somewhere. But the sun is about to set and I have not succeeded in my mission. I should stick to my word, and now kill myself as promised.”
He picked up a poison-tipped arrow and was about to kill himself when lo, Lord Nrisimha appeared before him! His joy knew no bounds. He thought, “Oh! There is the animal that the ascetic spoke of! It has a lion’s face and a man’s body.”
He looked at the animal and said, “Where were you hiding all these days? Come here.”
He tied Nrisimha with a rope and said sternly, “Follow me! If you will not I will kill you with my arrow. What do you think of me?” He then began to pull the rope and the Lord walked gently behind the hunter!
The hunter along with Lord Nrisimha arrived at the place where Padmapaada was. The hunter ran up to him and said excitedly, “Sir, how can your words prove false? You spoke the truth. I am a fool. I argued with you needlessly. I did indeed find the animal that you described. I have dragged it to your presence. Look at it. It has a man’s body and a lion’s face! Look at its eyes! I have never seen an animal like this before!”
But wonder of wonders, Padmapaada could not see Nrisimha! The hunter could see Lord Nrisimha but not Padmapaada! Lord Nrisimha gave out a roar which was heard by Padmapaada. The Lord then said, “Padmapaada! You do not possess the faith of this hunter. The day you attain this kind of faith I will be visible to you also.”
The Lord disappeared from there.
Indeed, if there is something that greater than even God, it is certainly faith in God!