What is Zero?


Zero is a device available to all of us in order to thrive and live a fulfilling life in an increasingly over-populated, resource-constrained and drastically changing world.
Zero is next generation sustainability and resilience.

Zero is an answer for mindful satisfaction.

How does it work, and why now?
There is a critical disconnect between what’s going on at a planetary (macro-economic), micro-economic and personal level.  Earth is now holding 7 billion people.  At a planetary level, the environment is stressed and resources are becoming scarcer.  Many experts believe that the current system is not sustainable. However at a micro-economic, we keep trying to expand our economic activities.  Businesses compete fiercely to provide more for less, fueled by ever-intensifying consumer demand.  We seek to access more products and services for less to feel satisfied and happy.  This disconnect may keep growing until we end up depleting all the resources, unless we proactively embrace another perspective on how we pursue satisfaction and happiness.

If you felt “what about technology? Technology will eventually solve all the problems,” stay tuned. Zero and technology will be discussed in the near future.  Please sign up for updates from the sidebar.



  • The Earth’s resources are finite.
  • Population keeps growing at an exponential rate.
  • Production capacity also keeps growing, but no one knows for sure to what extent it can keep growing.
  • Many commodities, notably food-related products and metals/minerals have been showing significant price increases over the last two decades.
    • Cheap resources underpinned economic growth for much of the 20th century. The 21st will be different.(Mckinsey Quarterly, 2011)
  • Climate change and environmental degradation is already directly damaging our existing assets (e.g. through extreme weather), or indirectly affecting our productivity (e.g. drought or deforestation)


  • Global competition intensifies and business environment keeps changing at a fast pace.
  • Customer demands for “more for less” intensify even though input prices keep increasing.
  • Middle class is disappearing.


  • Care about the environment, but don’t want to give up the happiness and comfort delivered by plethora of affordable products and services.
  • Life security depends on job security and income, which depends on economic growth.

What’s happening at a micro-economic and personal level simply don’t go hand-in-hand with the reality that the Earth faces. You cannot keep increasing your output in a closed system with decreasing input, and our planet is a closed system.
So we have been talking about sustainability for quite some time now.  It is critical to figure out how we can maintain our output in a closed system.  However, sustainability is no longer just about resource sustainability or environmental sustainability.
In the 21st century, the sustainability of our own satisfaction and happiness is at stake because it depends on the sustainability of our economy, which depends on resource/environmental sustainability.  And we are already starting to see the impact.

This is where Zero comes into play.


Next generation sustainability is not 4.0 or 5.0, it’s 0.0.
By zeroing on our own potential, rather than focusing on the amount of products/services we can get, or on how much efficiency external systems can deliver to us, we can feel mindful satisfaction and live a fulfilling like without relying on “more.”  You can think of this as sustainability Zen.

If you would like to know more about Zero, please start from Zero Intro.  There are also various contents on how to find/leverage Zero in our daily lives and in business.

“Deceptively simple line”: Charlie Brown, a cartoon of Zen

A cartoonist is someone who draws the same thing day after day without repeating himself. Charles M. Schulz

Chapter 1-10: Roots of Zen – Japan in the Middle Ages

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The peculiar thing is, although Zen sounds really stoic and far-fetched from ordinary people’s ordinary lives (which are filled with desire and lust), they were not secluded from society in Japan.  They were instead respected and sought for their intellectual wealth and their ability to control/maintain mental stability.  

This is the era (around 11th~ 14th century) where the power was shifting from aristocrats (Tenno or Emperor) to military (Sho-gun).  Military power was rapidly taking control of the entire country and accumulating wealth that the society had never seen before.  However, unprecedented accumulation of wealth resulted in unprecedented level of conflicts.  The fights among regional powers intensified and peoples’ lives were devastated.

Onin war (1467-1477) was the first civil war that involved most regions in Japan. It devastated Kyoto, the then capital which became the main battleground. Kamonnosuke Hisakuni, “Shinnyodō engi” (Origin of Shinnyo-dō Temple; Shinshō Gokuraku-ji), vol.3 from a set of three vols. 1524. Public domain.

People were faced with a bitter realization: wealth is a source of pleasure, but it can cause devastating tragedy when people start fighting for it (and they always do).  If you are in power you always have to be prepared for warfare and death. If you are a citizen you have to prepare for social unrest and destruction.  People were torn apart between the pleasure of wealth and the tragedy it caused.

They needed Buddhism to overcome the enormous stress and despair.  Zen monks were the go-to mentors in order to maintain a peace of mind despite harsh reality.

Torn apart between pleasure and tragedy, Zen monks accelerated their concentration training to get away from desire , the sources of tragedy. 

Remember, Zen denies text.

Ultimately,  many prominent monks crystallized their internal breakthroughs (to extinguish the flame of desire) as the abstract of various arts. One of the most famous artistic materialization of Zero is Kare-sansui, the Zen rock garden.

Ryoan Ji, Kyoto zen garden, By Cquest (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

For the Zen monks, “Zero” meant drastically reducing the amount of desire and pleasure.  At the culmination of their Zero journey emerged beauty.

The crystallization of Zero was not nothingness.

They discovered that Zero was abundance.


Why we need Zero

Why zero?

Before it’s application to math, zero has been the focus of ancient Indian philosophers.  Buddhism embraced zero as part of its core philosophy. 

Buddhism was founded by Buddha (the awakened one), sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.  I was born in Buddhist priest family and grew up hearing the stories about how Siddhārtha Gautama, born in a royal and wealthy family, attained Enlightenment under a pipal tree and became Buddha.

As a young girl who’s never seen the wide world, I was struck by the theme that appeared and reappeared so many times: the world was full of pains, sufferings, fights and wars in Buddha’s era, and that people needed Buddhism to survive in such a harsh environment without losing calmness, modesty and consideration. 

Nature human interaction

In Buddha’s era (and pretty much all the time until very recently in our history), humans had to face various types of threats posed by nature on their own.  Food was scarce, diseases were rampant,  extreme weather and natural disasters were uncontrollable.  People had to fight each other for scarce resources.  Death was always next to you.
Buddhism concluded that the ultimate way to deal with such hardships was to extinguish the flame of all sorts of desires and achieve the state of emptiness in your mind.  You had to stop wanting more, since it was the source of fights and sufferings.

Nature human zero


Nissin Cupnoodles Museum

Even though its main audience is children, Cupnoodles Museums does not rely on “more” to make them happy. Then what are the keys for their success?

Chapter 1-2: Full because it’s empty

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Empty glass

The inspiration for Zero = abundance first came from Patagonia — especially their short movie, “Worn Wear.”  Patagonia and Zen may not sound connected, but there are something common at a very deep level. If you haven’t watched it, it’s highly recommend.

As the title suggests, it is a compilation of Patagonia users’ stories who continue wearing the same gear until they are literally worn out.  They proudly “boast” about their worn clothes  — weathered, ripped and repaired so many times.  Many items are handed down from one generation to the next.

The peculiar thing is, although the movie is all about worn gear or products that theoretically should have “depreciated” in value – if we were to borrow economic terms – it is far from any tone associated with stinginess, deficiency or sacrifice.  Instead, it is simply filled with a prevailing sense of satisfaction.

Patagonia must have created this movie to raise awareness about the risks of our economic system that heavily relies on over production and over consumption. But I almost forgot about the environmental cause.

This satisfaction overflow simply struck me.  I was in awe.

How come they can feel so content by wearing the same old rugged clothes instead of replacing them with new ones?  How come they don’t look shabby but look so beautiful?

I had to question myself if I could wear a smile as beautiful as theirs if I were to pose in front of a camera with such worn clothes.  Well probably I don’t have to worry about it. I don’t have any “worn wears” to begin with.  I don’t have any clothes that I trusted so much that I’ve gone through so many life-defining moments like the folks in the movie.  

They reminded me of an empty glass.

A glass so full because it’s empty.

And this is not rhetoric.

I literally felt the fullness because of its emptiness.

That led me to the journey to find out what’s behind the emptiness, or the “Zero” that we will be exploring in this project.

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Zero Narrative

    Zero was discovered more than two thousand years ago.  Since then humans have been working seriously and sincerely to understand what Zero truly embraces. If it makes sense to “biomimic” Earth, because it is the longest surviving lab to test resilience, then Zero is the long-standing lab to test humans’ resilience. In addition to biomimic, we now human-minic.  “Zero narrative” provides you a perspective about what kind of ship we are on when we talk about Zero. 

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    Title Chapter 4



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