Nisargadatta Maharaj once said:
“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between these two, my life flows.” ‘I am nothing’ does not mean there is a void or a wasteland within. What it means is that with constant awareness we open to a clear, unimpeded space, without centre or boundaries, there is nothing separate. Being nothing in this way, we are also, inevitably, everything there is. “Everything” does not mean self- importance or the egotistical idea that self-aggrandisement is everything, but a decisive recognition of interconnection; we are not separate. Both the clear open space of ‘nothing’ and the interconnectedness of ‘everything;’ awakens us to our true nature.”
Here is a story about a powerful emperor who found that owning nothing gave him more happiness that owning everything.
Ashoka was an emperor in northern India who lived around two hundred years after the time of the Buddha. In the early years of his reign, he was a bloody tyrant. He wanted everything for himself. Land, riches, gems, jewels, he was greedy for them all. Ashoka might have been emperor but inside he was a very unhappy man. A man who could not find happiness even though he had conquered all the lands.
One day, after a particularly terrible battle that he had launched in order to acquire more land and wealth, he walked on to the battlefield amid the appalling spectacle of corpses of men and animals strewn everywhere, already rotting in the warmth of the sun. He watched as the carrion-eating birds devoured the bodies. Ashoka was aghast at the carnage he had reaped. He sat down and cried.
Just then a Buddhist monk came walking across the battlefield. The monk did not say a word, but his being was quite radiant with peace and happiness. Seeing the monk, Ashoka thought, “Why is it that I, having everything in the world, feel so miserable? Whereas the monk has nothing to call his own, other than the robes he wears and the bowl he carries, looks so serene and happy, even in this terrible place?”
Ashoka made a momentous decision on that day. He pursued the monk and asked him, “Are you happy? If so, how did this come to be? How can you be happy with nothing?” In response, the monk who had nothing, introduced the emperor, who had everything, to the Buddha’s teachings. The consequence of this chance meeting, was Ashoka changed from that day onward. Ashoka devoted himself to the practice and study of Buddhism and changed the entire nature of his reign. He stopped waging wars. He fed the poor and gave them homes. He transformed himself from a terrible tyrant into one of history’s most respected rulers, acclaimed for thousands of years after as just and benevolent.