“Perhaps you should go to the Acharya,” his Minister suggested. Acharya was the King’s older brother. He had abdicated the throne to find the answer to the question that had a stranglehold on the human mind since time. Was there a God? Was there a meaning to life? Was there a soul? The King had nothing but disdain for his brother and had made no effort to hide it. What kind of a man would give the throne up for the life of an ascetic? Only a coward would do that, someone who could not deal with the pressures of ruling a kingdom.
Now, after all the years that had gone by, was he supposed to go to a coward to seek a way out of his unhappiness? He hated to seek the Acharya’s help and yet he could not see another way. There was only one way to get rid of his want wit sadness and restlessness, it was to seek the help of someone who had gained control over it.
The Acharya could see the dust storm of the King’s cavalcade. He was surprised to see his younger Brother coming his way. He never did. He had no idea what he could want from him.
He sat on his perch under the Banyan tree and watched his Brother alight from the palanquin and head towards him. Horsemen and foot soldiers stood a distance behind. So much fanfare just to travel to a mere ascetic in the forest, the thought made the Acharya smile inwardly.
“What brings the great King to me?” the Acharya asked with a smile.
“I need something that you have,” the King had not learned to ask; he only knew how to demand. “Me? I have something that you want? I would really like to hear what that is,” the Acharya wouldn’t let his peace be destroyed by lowly insolence.
“I have everything and yet I am sad, restless, I am not at peace and you own nothing and yet you have peace, you are not sad, teach me to get rid of this gloom and misery.”
The Acharya smiled, finally understanding why his Brother was there to see him. “Why don’t you send your men away and stay in my little thatched home for a few days and perhaps I could teach you what you desire?”
The King looked at the pathetic little straw hut. It was an excuse for a home but he had little choice in the matter. He nodded his assent.
“Do you know of Aryabhatta?” the Acharya asked of the King.
“He discovered the zero,” the King shot back.
“Well not exactly discovered, you can’t discover a zero but yes he invented it. So here is what I want you to do. I want you to pretend that you and me are here before Aryabhatta invented the zero. And your job is to count all the dried leaves in the yard but without using the zero or any symbol that can signify a zero. You understand?”
The King looked at the Acharya quizzically. “How is that supposed to give me what I want?”
“You have to listen to me if you want what I have,” the Acharya reasserted. The King sighed and went into the yard.
He began to collect the leaves and then as he reached the number nine he realized that he couldn’t use a zero to make a ten and nor could he use anything that could signify a zero, which meant that he needed to create a new number. So he created a number for ten, but then eleven could not exist because eleven was one plus a unit of ten that now did not exist, so he had to create a number for eleven. He looked at the yard and saw the amount of leaves strewn around and it came to him very quickly that in front of him lay the yeoman task of creating so many new numbers.
It was a slow painful job and by the time he had reached a hundred he had ended up making ninety-one unique numbers and it was driving him mad. He gave up! He went to his older Brother and told him that it just wasn’t working. This was an impossible feat to achieve. The Acharya smiled and asked him to sit down next to him.
“Do you know little Brother, this was exactly the problem that people had before Aryabhatta invented the Zero? And yet tell me what is Zero?”
The King thought for a moment. “Zero is Zero, it is nothing!”
“And yet without nothing you cannot count to large numbers. A lot of something needs nothing to have meaning. Without nothing there is only a lot of something that cannot be put together.”
The King looked stunned at his Brother, a realization slowly dawning on him. “You mean, I have a lot of something and no nothing and that is the reason why…”
“Yes, Brother. You need to have nothing and that nothing is to look beyond yourself. When you do things that would give you nothing, the something you have will mean something. Charity gives you nothing but try it, serving the sick will give you nothing but try it, building a temple will give you nothing but try it, helping the old will give you nothing but try it, bringing a smile to a child’s face will give you nothing but try it… try a lot of nothing and you will see how the something that you have will get a meaning that it does not today.”
The King was overwhelmed. He looked at his Brother, unable to speak for few long moments. Then he fell at his feet. “I know now how rich you are with your nothing!”
Source - https://thinkingbhatt.com/2016/01/22/vikrams-short-story-181-2/