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Give Venkateswara Nothing
So Vishnu was compelled to humble himself and explained the situation to Kuber to beg for help. Vishnu knew Kuber never failed at anything. "Certainly," said Kuber. "I am happy to help! I will make sure you are able to accomplish your sacrifice. Whatever you require, I will supply." 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 asked Shiva, who knew everything there was to know about sacrifice. Shiva explained that "the greatest sacrifice is to sacrifice everything."
Misunderstanding, Kuber offered to give as a gift to Vishnu every thing. Shiva laughed, "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 this sacrifice: 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 offered to loan what was required to Vishnu, without interest. Shiva shook his head, "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. The honor would still be yours for sharing with Vishnu what is yours. No, it is Vishnu who would need 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. So Kuber offered to sacrifice on behalf of Vishnu. But Shiva shook his head again. "No, Kuber, you are still not understanding me. A sacrifice is required of Vishnu. Yet your proposal is also unacceptable. Though 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 - 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 to consider the matter. "Well...that is, unless...Vishnu should pay you back?" Shiva thought better of it. "But no, such a loan, being so kind, so generous, 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 - how could Vishnu pay Kuber back? It 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 did not say it was impossible, Kuber. I said Vishnu must sacrifice every thing - even sacrificing itself. That is the purpose of sacrifice. The sacrifice must be successful, so that no further sacrifice is required. Then, one can give the opportunity to others to sacrifice, and share in their sacrifices, and be worthy of sacrifice. One must accomplish the purpose of using things up. 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. Besides, 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, 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 I promised to do whatever was needed to help!"
Shiva assured 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. But 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! We should do nothing to sacrifice 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.
So Vishnu enjoyed the benefits of his sacrifices. And after all was done, it was perfectly true: 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.
Now, of course, 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?
So it may be that, despite whatever you formerly learned, it is time to learn something new. 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.