Give Venkateswara Nothing
Vishnu recovered himself enough to understand he needed help. But who could help him? His thoughts turned to Kuber: Kuber never failed at anything. After the situation was explained, Kuber smiled kindly at his friend. "Certainly," said Kuber. "I am happy to be able to help! I will make sure you are able to accomplish your sacrifice. Whatever you require, I will supply. You can count on me!"
Kuber was Vishnu's friend: he could not permit his friend to fail, especially for the reason of having nothing to sacrifice. Not when Kuber had everything. But Kuber didn't know much about sacrifice, or what would be acceptable. So Kuber naturally sought for help and asked Shiva, who knew everything there was to know about sacrifice. Shiva said that "the greatest sacrifice is to sacrifice everything."
Misunderstanding, Kuber thanked Shiva and said he would give as a gift to Vishnu "every thing." Shiva laughed, "no, Kuber! No, you misunderstand me. Besides, such a sacrifice would be unacceptable. The honor would belong to you, Kuber, not to Vishnu, as it is your gift to Vishnu. Vishnu would then merely be accepting what is yours, and he is presently unworthy of accepting anything, especially this sacrifice of yours: the reason for his sacrifice is to earn honor, and become worthy again. Vishnu has nothing. Let Vishnu sacrifice nothing, Kuber."
Kuber misunderstood again, thinking Shiva was prohibiting Vishnu from sacrificing. So Kuber thanked Shiva again, and said he would loan whatever was required to Vishnu, without interest. Shiva shook his head, "No, Kuber. You still don't understand. Kuber, I do not prohibit Vishnu's sacrifices. Or any sacrifices. But this proposal of yours would also be unacceptable. A loan without interest is also a form of sacrifice: giving and sharing are the same thing as using things up. All three accomplish the purpose of things, all three are sacrifices. The honor would still be yours for sharing with Vishnu what is yours. No, it is Vishnu who needs to sacrifice everything. And every thing is yours. Vishnu has nothing. Vishnu needs to sacrifice nothing"
Kuber misunderstood again, thinking no sacrifice was required of Vishnu. "No, Kuber. Vishnu needs to sacrifice." So Kuber offered to sacrifice on behalf of Vishnu? Shiva shook his head again. "No, Kuber, you are still not understanding me. A sacrifice is required of Vishnu. And Vishnu can and should sacrifice for himself. Though it is true anyone can assist another in their sacrifice, or permit the conditions required for that sacrifice to be successful, no one can sacrifice for another," explained Shiva. "Vishnu must sacrifice everything."
Kuber now was thoroughly confused. "But... Vishnu has nothing!" Shiva smiled in agreement. "Yes, now you understand."
Kuber did not understand. So Kuber asked Shiva if he might loan to Vishnu what was required - this time with interest? "No, Kuber, no. If you loan to Vishnu what Vishnu sacrifices, the debt is still not his own. It is to your credit." Shiva paused a moment and smiled to himself, "Well...that is, unless...Vishnu should never pay you back?" Shiva laughed at the idea. "Indeed, such a loan, being so kind, so generous, so large, can never be adequately paid back. He would have to remain here in these hills forever just collecting everything he owed to you. And because of this he would never enjoy what he sacrificed for. This would be regrettable."
Kuber had to agree - and for a time thought what a tragedy it would be if Vishnu spent eternity repaying him. Shiva was right - how could Vishnu pay Kuber back? What Shiva was telling him to do seemed impossible. Kuber was distraught. How would he keep his promise to Vishnu and help?
Shiva saw Kuber despondent and tried to comfort Kuber, and tried to explain himself better. "I am sorry, I should be clearer. I did not say it was impossible, Kuber. I said Vishnu must sacrifice every thing - he has nothing. So he must sacrifice sacrificing itself. That is the purpose of sacrifice, you know. The sacrifice must be successful, so that no further sacrifice is required. Otherwise a person would always be sacrificing, and never enjoy the benefits of it. And when one sacrifice is done, the fire can be more easily shared - giving the opportunity to others to sacrifice. Accomplish the purpose if you would be successful."
Shiva continued, "What is left to say when all the Vedas have been said? When all has been let go of, what can and is taken hold of? You see, Kuber, even if Vishnu has no thing to sacrifice, no thing (nothing) is still an acceptable sacrifice. It is the manner in which things are done, not what is actually accomplished, that matters most to determining whether we are worthy of what we would obtain by that effort: giving, sharing, using up, these accomplish the purpose acceptably. And in developing his capacity for understanding this, he will have developed the requisite ability to enjoy what he seeks to regain."
Shiva then showed Kuber what he was talking about. "Besides, when you think about it, nothing is actually quite a lot: rooms can be filled with nothing, hearts are frequently filled with nothing at all. Some people have too much of nothing. You wouldn't know, of course, because you have no nothing, you have everything. But it might be possible for you to imagine? Well, use your imagination and put yourself in Vishnu's position. Vishnu has nothing now. He has too much nothing. And there is a difference between involuntarily losing, and giving up. Sacrificing nothing for something would be acceptable under any circumstances, but is especially necessary for Vishnu to do now. Everyone loses things involuntarily - and loses nothings, too, getting things back or new things, involuntarily. And this is why you can do nothing to help Vishnu. And Vishnu needs to do nothing now."
Kuber protested, "but how can I do nothing to help Vishnu? I promised to do whatever was needed to help!"
Shiva smiled and laughed at Kuber, "and Vishnu does need your help! You need to do nothing, Kuber." Kuber was hopelessly confused.
Laxmi, nearby, had heard everything and understood. She did want Vishnu to succeed, after all. And like Kuber she did not know what to do. Now she knew she had to do nothing. So she approached and encouraged Kuber loud enough for Vishnu to hear: "I understand, Shiva. Don't you see, Kuber? Vishnu should have to sacrifice nothing - there is nothing for us - or Vishnu - to do! He has to figure this out on his own. We should do nothing if we would be helpful." Vishnu heard this, and also understood - and understanding, freed himself from his attachment to nothing by doing nothing, sacrificing everything.
Now, of course, Laxmi and Kuber did not do nothing, talking so loudly that Vishnu could hear. But sometimes doing something is doing nothing. It was enough. Vishnu enjoyed the benefits of his sacrifices. And after all was done, Vishnu would always be the first to say it was all true, even the parts that weren't: Vishnu needed to sacrifice nothing to reclaim Laxmi, and all he loved. Everyone was content, and required no more sacrifices. Everyone lived happily ever after. And though he did not need to remain in those hills collecting to repay Kuber, Vishnu remains there today - enjoying all he sacrificed to obtain, accepting gifts from those who do not understand.
So we all know this is not how the story was originally written. Nor is it how it is traditionally told. But no one can deny the fact that the story is not yet over and done - not when Vishnu's friends and devotees continue to give to Kuber on behalf of Vishnu's debt. And as things have not yet ended for poor Venkateswara, it may be premature to declare that the story has come to an end. Indeed, since the debt is not yet repaid, perhaps it is not too late to write a better ending? That is the way with stories, before the ending is made, we can make a better ending of things.
Thus, despite whatever you formerly learned about things, it is time to learn something new. We are all always learning something new. For there is no end of things to learn, nor is there any end to our stories.
Be assured, if you would be one of those treasured devotees who would share in Vishnu's debt to help him, you need to do nothing to sacrifice "nothing." Nothing is a difficult sacrifice to make. Nothing is a difficult thing to do. But this is what is presently required of you.