(a tale from India)
Once upon a time there was a man in India who was searching for the best thing in the world. He wanted to give his prayers and sacrifices to the greatest thing of all. He wasn’t sure exactly what or who that was. So one day he set off to search.
A few days later as he was searching in a marketplace, a merchant showed him a tall wooden statue. It was a figure carved in teak, beautiful and delicate, soft and hard at the same time. “This is what you are seeking,” said the merchant.
The searcher studied the statue. It was exquisite. “Is this the greatest thing of all?” he asked.
The merchant squinted. “Well …” he began.
“You see,” said the searcher, “I am seeking the greatest thing of all. It is that which I shall worship.”
The merchant smiled. “I think this is the greatest thing of all,” he said, “and not too expensive.”
The searcher smiled. “It is worth any price!” he said, and he paid the stranger a great deal of money and hurried home.
The searcher was overjoyed to know that he had found the greatest thing of all, and from that day on, he worshipped the statue. Every morning he woke and sat as still as a stone before it, and he offered the statue his prayers. To show his gratitude, he also offered gifts — bowls of lemon water, orchids and incense. One day he offered a sweet, ripe banana. He peeled the banana and cut it into thin slices. “This is for you,” he told the statue as he presented his offering.
The next morning when he returned to pray, he found the lemon water, orchids and incense still there, but the banana was gone.
“So it is the banana you cherish,” he said to himself, and the next day he returned with another banana, sliced thin. Again he laid the banana before the statue.
The next morning the banana was gone again. The searcher realized his god loved bananas, and so, day after day, he brought the statue a fresh banana.
One morning just as he had finished praying, a tiny gray mouse slipped out of a crack in the wall and scurried to the banana. Before the searcher’s eyes, the mouse began to nibble at the fruit.
The statue did nothing at all.
The searcher watched as the mouse ate an entire slice. He stared in wonder. “So you are greater than the statue,” he gasped. “You must be the greatest thing of all.”
The searcher then began to worship the mouse. “You must be the true god,” he declared, and again he prayed, and again he offered bananas. Every day when he returned to pray, the banana was gone.
Then one day a cat sneaked into the house through an open door, and just as the mouse was about to eat the banana, the cat pounced upon it and ate it. The searcher, who had just arrived for his daily worship, saw this happen.
“Aha!” the searcher said. “So you are the greatest thing of all,” and he began to worship the cat. That very night he created a special ceremony. He lit lamps and made a bed of silk pillows, and he offered the cat not only bananas but also cream. The cat purred happily, lapping at his cream and snuggling down into the soft pillows. The searcher was satisfied he had indeed found the greatest thing in the world.
Then one day the searcher’s son returned home from school with a dog. He planned to ask his father to allow him to keep it, but before he could speak, the dog saw the cat and gave chase.
The cat, ignoring her cream and silk pillows, raced out through the door and vanished.
Now the boy was afraid his father would be angry, but instead the searcher said, “Ah, I see the dog is the greatest thing of all. I will worship him.”
So the boy kept the dog, and every day his father said prayers to the dog and offered him bones and other delicacies.
But one day the dog sneaked into the kitchen, and when he smelled the lentil soup that was cooking upon the stove, he leaped upon a chair and began to lap the soup.
When the searcher’s wife saw this, she began to yell at the dog. Her eyes blazing, she chastised that dog, and soon it lay down upon the floor and began to whimper.
When the searcher saw this, he understood that his wife was greater than the dog, and he began to worship his wife.
One evening the searcher was awaiting his supper, but his wife arrived home late. “I’m starving!” the searcher yelled. “You forgot to cook supper!”
“I’m terribly sorry,” his wife said, and she bowed her head.
When she did this, the searcher realized he must be greater than his wife. He must be the greatest thing in the world.
The searcher began to worship himself, but soon his stomach growled, and he realized it was telling him he must eat. When his stomach was full, he understood he must stop eating.
“My stomach is stronger than I,” he said. Then he knew then that his stomach must be the greatest thing in the world.
From that day on, the merchant began to worship his stomach.
Of course, it is possible that one day the man discovered something more powerful than his stomach. Perhaps it was a mountain, a butterfly, a walnut or a whale. And if he did find something stronger, he is worshipping that, but no one knows.