Zero, zilch, nix, nothing!

This is a story that illustrates the difference between the western view of life and the eastern. 

Alexander the great, who was on his dream of conquering the world, reached the banks of river Sindhu. On the opposite side of the river bank, sat a Jina – a Digambar jain- a gymnosophist. He was a enlightened soul, but as a Digambar, he was completely naked. Alexander looked at him and asked, “what are you doing?”. The Jina said, “I am doing nothing”. Alexander heard him and laughed. The Jina asked Alexander, “what are you doing?”. Alexander answered, “I am conquering the world”. The Jina heard his reply and laughed out loud.

Both men were correct. Both men understood the world from their perspective. Both men were evaluating the situation against their own paradigm.

Alexander was brought up in Greece, under the western philosophy of heroism. He believed that man gets only one chance at life. The value of one’s life is all the achievement that one can garner in one lifetime. So, wasting time doing nothing was absolutely ridiculous. Thus he laughed at the Jina, who was doing nothing.

But the Jina was brought up in the eastern philosophy. He believed that this life is just one of the infinite birth that the soul goes through. While the external actions in the life are important, in the perspective of the infinite births that the soul goes through, one birth is insignificant. 1 divided by infinity is Zero, zilch, nix, nothing. He believed that trying to conquer the world was futile, zero, zilch, nix, nothing. He believed that conquering the self was paramount. Conquering the world, zero. Conquering the self - Infinite!

While Alexander and Jina can keep laughing at each other, what is it that you learn from this exchange? 

PS: I heard this story first from Devdutt Pattanaik and have added a bit of my own interpretation as well.

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 141 #zero


  1. You weaved an interesting tale on a serious topic. A like for it.

  2. Nice story. But a Digambar Jain was he really doing nothing? He may be inactive at the moment so was Alexander. Digamber had different pursuit so did Alexander. Yes i agree they were brought up differently.

    1. Sir, doing nothing as per the external world. The enlightened person works in a different world altogether.


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