Who is the highest? — a storyOnce there was a very pious Brahmin who was utterly devoted to his family deity. He worshipped this deity every day, sitting cross-legged in front of the shrine in his home.
One day during his meditation, he observed that the Prasad (food offering) to the deity which is customarily eaten by the devotee after worship, was snatched away by a mouse and eaten in front of his very eyes. The Brahmin was astonished to see this and concluded that the mouse was more powerful than the deity. Otherwise, how could it dare eat the offering? So he grabbed hold of the mouse, and tying it with a string to the place of worship, decided to worship this creature instead of the deity.
He removed the picture of the deity from the shrine, and started worshipping the mouse until one day, his cat, becoming jealous of the attention the mouse was receiving, pounced upon the tiny creature. The two had a terrible fight, but of course the poor mouse was killed in the battle.
Now it was quite clear to the Brahmin that the cat was more powerful than the mouse; so he started worshipping the cat whom he had previously neglected. This continued for some time until one day the Brahmin's dog entered the room of worship. Seeing the attention that the cat was getting from his master, the dog became furiously jealous and violently attacked the cat. The unhappy cat was bitten and scratched all over and bled in many places. When the master considered the situation, it became quite clear to him that the dog was more powerful than the cat.
So he removed the cat from the place of worship and placed the dog there instead. He now began to worship the dog who was tied with a rope to the shrine. The animal's continual barking, however, was a source of great irritation to the master's wife. One day, in utter exasperation she threw a brick at the barking dog. It landed on his head with a thump. The poor dog was in great pain and cried piteously over his wound. The master, hearing the whimpering of the poor dog, came into the room, and seeing what had happened, concluded that this must be due to the superior power of his wife.
So he let the dog go and replaced it with his wife, saying to her, "At long last I realise that you are the most powerful — only you can be the object of my adoration!"
The wife was thunderstruck at these remarks, to say nothing of being puzzled and embarrassed. How could she be the object of his adoration, she thought, since all her life she had been made to feel like his servant, constantly at his beck and call. However, she finally consented, since she had no alternative.
Now his wife had become his object of adoration and worship. He addressed her in devotional words and praised her divine qualities. So devoted was he that he had the impulse to worship her even when she was asleep. He would awaken her and make her take her place at the shrine where he could adore her. Or if she were in the shower, he would call her to come out. No matter what she was doing, she would have to drop it and come to the shrine to be worshipped.
Finally his wife became so fed up with this farce that she told him the whole thing was nonsense. At this he became furious. "Nonsense," he echoed, "how dare you criticise my wisdom?" And he slapped her violently. The poor frightened woman began weeping bitter tears.
Now, seeing his own power, it became very clear to the Brahmin that he was the strongest of all. So he started worshipping himself, saying, "I am God, I am the greatest, I am everything."
But it did not take him much time to realise that he was merely a prey to his desires. It was his desires that were compelling him to action — either good or bad. So, since his habit was to worship the most powerful force, he started worshipping his desires. But he quickly gave this up, for he saw immediately that his desires had no strength of their own. It was his senses that compelled the desires to possess and be possessed.
So the Brahmin started worshipping the senses: sight, smell, taste, etc. He was now pondering deeply on these subtle things that he was worshipping. After much thought, he concluded that it was the mind which was responsible for the functioning of the senses.
So he began worshipping his mind, and felt proud that he had progressed so far from the ignorant animals he had worshipped only a few months before. But he found that his mind was far from satisfaction, not to speak of perfection. So he entered into his heart.
The heart, in spite of having peace and joy and harmony, was still lacking in absolute fulfilment. He was still yearning for the supreme power. He concluded that the heart is not enough. So he entered into his soul.
There, in union with his own soul, he got the first glimpse of his divine fulfilment. He plunged deep into the spiritual life. But the individual soul, he found, is not all-pervading or all-fulfilling. He aspired for the Highest, so he went even deeper. There he discovered the Supreme Self.
Here at the end of his journey, the Brahmin saw that the most Powerful is the Supreme Self, that has neither beginning nor ending, the all-pervading and all-fulfilling, both Creator and Creation, the Highest.