Sage Narada was devoted to Lord Vishnu. He used to go around the world, chanting his name, “Narayana, Narayana, Narayana…”
Once, Sage Narada met Lord Vishnu, “You are dear to me, Narada. I am happy with your devotion.”
“Does that mean I am your greatest devotee?” asked Narada.
Vishnu smiled and said, “No.”
Narada was now confused, “Is there someone who is a greater devotee than me?”
“Let’s find out,” replied the Lord.
It was early in the morning. Vishnu took Narada to a cottage, where they found a farmer sleeping. As the day broke, the farmer woke up, joined his hands in prayer and said, “Narayana, Narayana.”
“Watch this devotee the whole day and then come meet me” said Lord Vishnu and left.
The farmer got ready and left for his field. Narada followed him. The farmer ploughed his land under the hot sun the whole morning.
“He hasn’t taken the Lord’s name even once!” thought Narada.
The farmer took a break to have lunch. “Narayana, Narayana,” he said before eating. After finishing his lunch, the farmer continued to plough the land.
The next day, Narada met Lord Vishnu, “So Narada, do you still doubt the farmer is my greatest devotee?”
Narada was hurt, “Lord, the farmer worked the whole day. He took your name only three times – when he got up in the morning, before having his lunch in the afternoon, and before he went to sleep. But I chant your name all the time. Why do you consider him your greatest devotee?”
Lord Vishnu smiled, “I’ll answer your question in a minute. But can I have some water first? There is a lake on top of this hill. Please bring me its water in a pot. Just make sure you don’t spill even a drop of water.”
Narada went up the hill, found the lake, and filled a pot with water. Placing the pot on his head, he began walking, chanting, “Narayana, Narayana.”
Then he stopped. “Wait, I must be careful. Lord Vishnu has told me that not even a drop of water can be spilled.”
Narada slowly climbed down the hill. All his attention was on the water pot. He took one step at a time, taking care that not a drop of water would fall from the pot.
At last he reached Lord Vishnu, standing at the foot of the hill. The sun was going down. Narada carefully lowered the pot and offered it to the Lord and then said, “Lord, not a drop of water was spilled.”
“That’s good Narada. But tell me, how many times did you take my name?” asked Lord Vishnu.
“Lord, my attention was on the water all the time. I could take your name only twice – when I started walking, and after I kept the pot down,” said Narada.
Lord Vishnu smiled. Narada realised that while the farmer had taken the Lord’s name thrice in the day, he had taken his name only twice! He fell at Lord Vishnu’s feet, saying, “Narayana, Narayana.”
Vishnu blessed Narada. “What is important is the feeling. I can feel that farmer’s love for me the same way as I feel your love for me.”
“And I can feel your love for all your devotees,” said Narada.
Thus Narada realised that devotion means love for God. He also realised that God loves everyone equally.