The Lord 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 globe.”
—Srimad Bhagavatam 8.19.21–22; adapted from the translation by C. L. Goswami (Gita Press)
A story in the Srimad Bhagavatam reveals how the untrained mind and senses can lead us away from true fulfillment in life. King Bali, the undisputed ruler of the entire world, is delighted when a radiant, though dwarfish, brahmacharya (young religious student) suddenly appears during a grand ritual he is conducting. In accordance with the proper protocols for such events, King Bali offers the diminutive boy alms. The boy, who is actually the dwarf incarnation of Lord Vishnu, requests a strip of land three paces long. With enormous wealth at his disposal, the king urges him to accept real estate, gold, cows, and wives—whatever he wants to set himself up in the world. But the Divine Dwarf answers with the verses above: all the wealth of the world will not satisfy the untrained mind and senses.
It’s the nature of the senses to be insatiable beyond a short-lived sense of satisfaction. Hunger may be sated after a meal but arises over and over to prompt us to nourish the body.
It’s the nature of the senses to be insatiable beyond a short-lived sense of satisfaction. Hunger may be sated after a meal but arises over and over to prompt us to nourish the body. The senses therefore serve a purpose, but when our minds are completely controlled by the desire for worldly experiences, contentment remains fleeting and temporary. Our cravings arise again, and even a continent will not suffice to quell our inner unrest and sense of emptiness.
However, when we harness the mind and senses for a higher purpose in life, we yearn only for what is needed to help fulfill our heart’s desire, without being driven by greed, anger, or fear. True contentment is an inner attribute of the mind that springs from placing our mind and senses in service of the Self, as King Bali discovers in the surprise ending of this story.
The Divine Dwarf grows to his full Lord-of-the-Universe stature, and covers the entire earth and the heavens in two steps. To honor his promise, King Bali offers his head for the third step, thus surrendering all that he possessed to Lord Vishnu—the kingdom he claimed as his own, as well as his individual ego-driven self. Having placed his mind and heart in the hands of the Divine, Bali goes on to fulfill his rightful duties, with Vishnu’s loving guidance and support.