Tidying up is about subtracting your belongings toward the ultimate essentials. Zero = abundance shares common theme. But there is something deeper.
What is Zero (kuu), the core tenet of Buddhism?
This website is named zero = abundance. Based on the concept conceived by the ancient Indian philosophers, we believe that zero, or nothingness/emptiness, is not null as it appears, but is actually a boundless source of inspiration, creation, engagement, and ultimately happiness. The ramification of the zero concept was so profound that the Buddhists dedicated themselves for centuries, if not a thousand years, to cement its principle. Eventually, Zen, a school of Buddhism that thrived in Japan during the Middle Ages, crystallized the essence in the form of various arts, most notably the Zen garden. The beauty was so captivating that it influenced modern minimalist arts, design, architecture and even business philosophy around the world.
In Eastern Asia, the concept of zero is expressed using the Chinese character “空,” which is pronounced “Kuu” in Japanese, and means “sky”, “void” or “emptiness.”
Zero (kuu) and Buddhism
The “zero” (or mathematical zero) as we know it today was first developed in India around 650 AD. It was conceived as a placeholder to recognize “nothingness” to perform complex calculations. The original sign for zero, or dots under the numbers, was also called “sunya” — a concept from ancient Indian philosophy to describe “emptiness,” “void,” or “sky.” While mathematical zero emerged as an essential element to advance science in the modern world, “sunya” has always been a major interest of Asian philosophy and religions. Buddhists have especially devoted themselves to pursue the truth of zero.
Buddha, who found the Buddhism in the 5~6th century BCE, used the word “縁起”(engi) to describe the concept of zero. He used “engi” to teach that everything we perceive is established only because it has relative relationships with other elements or factors. He maintained that all the things we believe exist, do not actually exist, if the definition of “existence” requires uniquely definable substantiality permanently. Since everything constantly changes its status, nothing exists. The “me” of today is one day older than the “me” of yesterday. While I may believe I am sitting on a “chair” as I write this, there is no such thing as an absolute “chair,” because your chair cannot be a chair if mine is a chair. If we accept the general notion of “chair” that can be applied to mine and yours alike to avoid that situation, my chair will lose its unique substantiality. Then the word “chair” becomes empty because it fails to capture the essence that constitutes my chair.
Does this mean that everything on Earth is meaningless? No, it’s actually the opposite. because everything can only be defined through its relationships with other elements and factors. “I” can be non-existent at the same time that I am not non-existent. In the world of “engi,” everything we perceive – including words or our ego – can exist without inconsistency no contradiction because we are “empty.”
Keeping true to his engi teachings, Buddha never wrote down his beliefs. (What’s the point of doing so if everything is relative and would eventually change?) His teaching was passed down by his apprentices after he passed away, who gathered to record their dialogues with Buddha.
But keeping up with the teaching that “nothing is absolute and existential” is challenging. After many groups tried hard to practice exactly what they believed Buddha taught, his followers eventually separated into two major groups: one group pursued a strict religious life, and the other group sought ways to practice Buddhism without abandoning social activities such as working and supporting a family.
The Mahayana Buddhism and Zen
The latter group, the Mahayana (it means “great vehicle” in Sanskrit) branch, had a breakthrough in the 2-3 centuries AD with the emergence of a great philosopher called Nagarjuna who established the foundation of the next generation of Mahayana Buddhism . Nagarjuna produced a solid logic system surrounding “空,” one of the most complicated philosophical concepts.
He further developed Buddha’s “engi” concept and found that all the things around us – both tangible and intangible – can be perceived only because of the relative and mutually influencing relationships with other elements and factors. I exist only because my surroundings shape me, but each element that constitutes my surroundings can exist because my presence. And we collectively exist because of mutual relationships. This is the reason why everything is “empty (kuu).” And because all are kuu, they are inherently temporary, and because they are temporary, words and statements are always contingent. And within kuu emerges solid neutrality.
Just as a pencil or a railroad can be considered short or long depending on a perspective, everything we say is relative. In his most well-known work, “Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way”, Nagarjuna stated that “‘kuu’, as taught by Buddha, means a departure from any perspective. In his world of kuu logic, nothing contradicts or conflicts with each other, because no word has absolute materiality. If a word contains no materiality, no words or statements can collide with each other. As a result, we no longer have a need to argue, which was one of the most important teachings of Buddha.
But how do you practice such a complicated concept, when in reality we live in a world where everyone has their own “absolute” perspectives and does not want to compromise? What was the approach taken by Zen, which emerged in China in the 5~6th century as one of the new schools of Mahayana Buddhism?
Can we put ourselves in tomatoes’ shoes to see what happens when we internalize Zero? Let’s look at Zazen, one of the Zen meditation methods. Zazen is a sitting with prescribed rules.
Zazen rules (according to Sotoshu)
- Use a neat and clean room that is not too cold, not too warm, nor not too dark, not too bright
- Fold legs and hands and straighten your spine
- Keep your eyes slightly open – do not focus on any particular thing but keep everything in your field of vision
- Quietly make a deep exhalation and inhalation
- Do not concentrate on any particular object or control your thought
The rules above are just a part of the entire Zazen protocol. The protocol covers everything from how to maintain your surroundings, clothes and physical condition, to how to maintain your body (head, eyes, mouth, shoulders, abdomen, back, hands, legs etc) and mind during Zazen.
You can ask for a warning “Katsu!” using an “awakening stick” if you go off balance and become restless or sleepy.
Image “Zazen kai meeting” courtesy of Koufukuji
Just like the Nagata tomatoes that were denied an abundant supply of water and nutrients, people lose all kinds of external pleasures during Zazen.
Conceptual state of mind during Zazen
Through the Zazen training, you learn how to keep your optimal level of arousal for every part of your body and mind WITHOUT relying on any external intervention.
This state can also be called mindfulness.
Do you see that mind-FULL-ness is actually achieved by Zero? Here, mindfulness emerges exactly because there is zero external intervention. It’s an accomplishment of purely your own.
Buddhist practitioners attempt to achieve optimal arousal level literally with zero external stimulus. And the ultimate state is Nirvana.
And, by the way, this is not a new experiment at all. People in the Middle Ages devoted themselves to this issue, sincerely and diligently. Zero is actually the very old black.
Today we can trace the results of their sophisticated experiments in the form of refined art, philosophy and religion.
While mathematical zero emerged as an essential element to advance science in the modern world, “sunya” continued to inspire various forms of art and philosophy in many Asian countries. Buddhists especially devoted themselves to the issue of “emptiness” and “void.” This concept is expressed by 空 in Chinese character, which means “sky”, “emptiness” and “void.”
Buddhism is a religion of “Zero (空). ”
Buddhism’s core belief is to achieve Nirvana (the imperturbable stillness of the mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished) to free ourselves from all kinds of sufferings. Sufferings are the product of desire and lust. If you stop “wanting,” then you no longer have to suffer. Once you reach Nirvana you almost merge with the vast universe; you acquire the eternal truth.
One school of Buddhism, Zen, has a distinct characteristic: it denies text as a means to acquire the eternal truth. Religious text is inherently prone to multiple interpretations. You could lose the critical truth when you are mired into disputes to decide which interpretation is correct.
Zen believes that the state of Nirvana can only be achieved through physical, mental and cognitive training (most notably by meditation). All the religious truth has to be inside yourself, not external to your body, like text.
We start our journey for Zero from the subtraction experiment.
Focus on your VISION.
You see a basket of beautiful, colorful and abundant flowers. Looking at them gives you pleasure.
number of flowers,
number of colors,
even number of species.