Competition and rivalry are looked down upon in the material world. Intense rivalry often leads to disastrous consequences. Even in the field of religion and spirituality, rivalry and competition are known to have caused great wars – which were dubbed as Dharam Yuddhas (wars for religion)- which even lead to sacrifices of life by some of the greatest spiritual beings. Such sacrifices undoubtedly were heroic deeds, but the underlying circumstances and religious rivalry which lead to such sacrifices were deplorable.

It is apparent that rivalry breeds bitterness and animosity leading to violence, even war- but there is also a positive side to it. The ability to assimilate poison, howsoever lethal it may be, makes one Mrityunjai (the conqueror of death.)

He, who competes even with a stake on his life, becomes a traveler of the grand spiritual path, if he remains innocent and un-vitiated , throughout the competition. For him, the competition itself becomes a ladder to climb on to the greatest spiritual realms.

A story from Skanda Purana, describes such a competition between the affluent King Chola of Kanchipuri and his subject, a poor Brahmin named Vishnudas.

Once King Chola went on a pilgrimage to the Anantashayanteeratha, where Lord Vishnu is supposed to be established in Yoga-nidra (the Yogic sleep). The king worshipped the lord with expensive offerings like Divya Mani, Muktaphal and lotus flowers made of gold. While the king was still sitting in the temple, Vishnudas, a poor Brahmin, arrived with offerings to the lord. Worshipping the lord with recitation of Vishnu-sukta, he offered Tulsi (Basel) leaves. While consecrating the leaves, the costly offerings of the King were covered with Tulsi leaves.

The king was annoyed. “Vishnudas”, he spoke in an angry mood, “how beautiful the form of the lord looked with such beautiful gold ornaments adorning him. You have covered all the ornaments with the Tulsi leaves. You illiterate poor villager, it appears you do not even know how to worship the lord.”

Unable to bear the insult, Vishnudas replied “O King, You know nothing about what is called worship. Your riches make you talk with such arrogance. Tell me how many Vaishnava vows have you performed.

The king laughed in derision. “What does a pauper like you know about how to perform a yagya? Dou you have enough money to donate? Can you afford to have a temple built? Still you are so proud of your devotion?”

Saying so he turned towards the other Brahmins present and spoke aloud.

“Listen to me, all of you. We will see who gets to achieve Bhagwan Vishnu’s Darshan first, me or this Brahmin. Then you all will come to know whose devotion is stronger.” The king’s face had a glow of competitive piousness.

The words uttered by the king struck Vishnudas straight on his heart. He could feel intense yearning, rising in his heart, to have the Lord’s darshan at the earliest. He felt as if these were the utterances of Bhagwan Vishnu himself, inspiring him to go all out to achieve the lord’s darshan.

Both, the King and Vishnudas, started their quest, in their own ways. While the King started performing Vaishnava yagya under the guidance of Maharishi Mudgal, Vishnudas began the worship of the lord through various forms prescribed in the shastras. Exercising utmost control over his diet and sleep, he would perform Mantras, Jap, dance chanting etc. with complete concentration through out the day and night. He started living in the temple itself, even cooking his own food.

Thus, both the king and Vishnudas continued their quest with utmost devotion and fervour.

On one such day, Vishnudas found to his surprise that the food, prepared by him for the day, had been stolen. Strict in keeping his time schedule, he did not cook the meal again, since the time to be spent cooking for the second time would have entailed breaching of his schedule and the time originally kept for worship would have been spent on cooking. Therefore, that day he decided to go without food. Vishnudas was perturbed to see that the next day too, his food had been stolen. So he had to fast for another day. This continued for seven days. It was now a matter of concern for him.
“I have been going without food for seven days now. I may not able to sustain without food any longer. My routine may be affected. I will have to guard my food now onwards”, he said to himself.

So, the next day after cooking his food, he placed it in the temple as usual and then hid himself behind the door to see who the thief was. After a few minutes, he saw a man lifting the food. The man was in a pathetic condition. He was so emaciated that his bones were clearly visible under his extremely thin dark and dirty skin. On seeing the condition of the poor man, the heart of Vishnudas was moved. “Listen my friend”, he called out, let me give some ghee along with the food”.

The man was startled. Frightened as he was, he ran out of the temple at once to the street out side. However, after running a few steps, he fainted and fell down. Vishnudas sprinkled some water on his face and started fanning him with his lion cloth.

Vishnudas was in for a surprise of his life. The man stood up at once. Lo and behold, the emaciated dark man transformed into none else but the lord Vishnu himself. Yes, Lord Vishnu it was, complete with Shankh, Chakra, Gada and Padam etc. Seeing the form of lord Vishnu standing in front of him, Vishnudas was ecstatic. His being was full of noble devotional emotions – of ecstasy and bliss. He stood there, his body vibrating, tears in his eyes, totally dumbstruck, so much so that he could not even bow in reverence to the lord whose darshan was the only wish he ever had. The lord embraced him with love, and took him away to be established at his abode, the god’s own abode.

On the other side, engrossed in the yagya, the king saw Vishnudas disappearing into the sky in a divine craft. He at once realized that Vishnudas had achieved the lord’s darshan. With this realization, it dawned upon him, that the lord’s bounty cannot be invoked with gold and diamond and all the wealthy in the world. He immediately took a decision. Abdicating his throne and handing it over to his nephew he stood facing the yagya fire and spoke aloud.

“My dear lord, grant me the ultimate devotion of mind, word and action”, saying so thrice, he jumped into the Yagya fire. Lord Vishnu appeared out of the flames of the Yagya fire and embraced the king, taking him also along to his own abode.

A small altercation between the king and Vishnudas lead to such grand consequence. Now a logician may be quick to jeer – “Are even the devotees of the lord so egoistic? Do they also compete? Do they also indulge in progressing by pushing back others?

However, while raising such question they should keep in mind, the conclusion of this competition, and the way of competing.

Both, the King and Vishnudas went ahead in their own ways. Their competition did not have an element of opposition. In fact passively by way of competition both of them were only inspiring each other. At last seeing Vishnudas’s achievement, the King, shunning the tempting use of riches to reach the lord, took the path of pure devotion to deserve the embrace of the lord.

In a similar manner even if a disciple tries to compete with his/her Guru, such competition may become a guiding light for such a disciple.

There is no death of ego in any being, and every one wishes to move forward. However it is unfortunate that either people do not desist from pushing down others or acting with hostility, just to progress as per their will or they aim at only material comforts and possessions.

A drunkard does not dread even death when he competes in drinking, but he dreads the thought of leaving the drinking habit. A gambler willingly looses all his possession while gambling, but is too weak to get rid of the habit of gambling. We are not afraid of litigations, even landing us in prisons; we are not afraid of the ignominy that we have to face for even committing frauds for material gains, but we fear competing with others when it comes to doing something pious, like seva devotion, meditation, chanting etc.

An accomplished artist always enjoys the limelight but the moment some younger artiste proves himself better, his (the older one’s) punctured ego makes him criticize the new artist, finding faults in his style, his works, his learning etc.

Similarly if an old and respected disciple of the Guru feels overshadowed by a new but a more accomplished disciple, he tries every trick in his hat, to protect his established respect and honour. However, he does not want to compete with him where sadhana is concerned.
One who nurtures an ambition should never be shy of competing. On the contrary he should compete with all the force at his command. Rather than trying to pull back those ahead of him, he should draw inspiration from them, for marching ahead of them.
However, the competition should be pure and healthy- like that of Vishnudas and King Chol.