The Srimad Bhagavatam, also known as the Bhagavata Purana, is one of the best-known puranic texts. Like so many of the Sanskrit scriptures, it was part of the oral tradition of ancient India, and attributes authorship of its 18,000 verses to the sage Vyasa, to whom the Vedas are also attributed. The text takes the form of a story originally told by Vyasa’s son to Parikshit, Arjuna’s grandson, who is dying of snakebite on the bank of the Ganga. The recitation of the text filled the last seven days of Parikshit’s life, and guided him through the transition of death.

The Bagavata includes many well-known stories embodying Sankhya and yogic philosophy, but is most famous for its comprehensive stories of the avatars of Lord Vishnu. In this story, Lord Vishnu has taken the form of a young dwarf who confronts the demon king Bali.

The Divine Dwarf said,

All the dearest things of the three worlds, whatever they are, cannot satiate one who has not been able to subdue his senses and mind, O protector of men. He who is not satisfied with three paces cannot be sated even with a continent; he will be seized with a longing for the whole world.

Srimad Bhagavatam 8.19.21–22; adapted from the translation by C. L. Goswami (Gita Press)


King Bali, the wealthy undisputed ruler of the world, is sponsoring a grand ritual. At its conclusion, he is delighted when a radiant, though dwarfish, brahmacharya (young spiritual student) suddenly appears. In accordance with the proper protocols for such events, King Bali honors the diminutive boy and says, “Please, take whatever you desire, O most worthy one. Accept cows, gold, a house, food, drink, wives, and all luxuries and comforts, prosperous villages, horses, elephants, and chariots.”

The boy, who is actually the dwarf incarnation of Lord Vishnu, replies, “From you, the foremost bestower of boons, I ask a small strip of land, three places long, as measured by my stride. I seek nothing more from you, the ruler of the world. I ask for only three paces, sufficient to accomplish my purpose.”

Proud of the enormous wealth at his disposal, King Bali tells the boy that he is unwise, and urges him to accept at least the land he needs to set himself up properly in the world. But the Divine Dwarf answers with the verses above: “He who is not satisfied with three paces cannot be sated even with a continent.” He goes on to explain that an uncontrolled mind continues to thirst for riches and objects of its desires, regardless of what has been achieved.

It is the nature of the mind and senses, he says, to be insatiable beyond a short-lived sense of satisfaction. Hunger arises over and over to prompt us to nourish the body. The senses serve a purpose, but when our mind is completely driven by the senses and ego-driven desires, satisfaction is fleeting, no matter how much we have. The sense of emptiness and inner unrest haunts us, and we remain unfulfilled. The radiance of one who is contented grows, while discontent extinguishes that radiance like water extinguishes fire. True contentment is an inner attribute of the mind that springs from discrimination, self-acceptance, discipline, and living in alignment with our true nature.

The radiance of one who is contented grows, while discontent extinguishes that radiance like water extinguishes fire.

King Bali, the arrogant and unlawful ruler of the whole world, laughs, and formally vows to bestow the boy’s strange request. Immediately, the Divine Dwarf grows to his full Lord-of-the-Universe stature and covers the entire earth and the heavens in two steps. Beholding the whole universe in the cosmic form of the Divine Dwarf, King Bali offers his own head for the third step, thus relinquishing his ill-gotten kingdom and his ego-driven sovereignty.

This story is the story of every spiritual seeker. The ritual of life is our opportunity to align our mind and senses with a much greater force of nourishment, guidance, and fulfillment, and to relieve ourself of the burdens of illusion, pride, and greed. If we are so blessed, the Divine Dwarf appears at the ritual of our life with an opportunity for us, too, to bow our head.

Source: Adapted from Yoga International

Related Content