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The previous article discussed a brief history on how Zen and Zero design emerged and remained strong in Japanese traditional arts. 

Zero was conceptualized and elevated to a philosophical level by Buddhism as it spread to wider Asian regions. It’s expressed by “空” in Eastern Asia. “空” means sky, void or emptiness. Zero resonated with many people because it is fundamentally a product of a natural resource – human interaction, which applies to everyone.  We can never stop feeling unsatisfied because there are never enough resources for everyone, and we are forced to fight each other over limited resources.  The world is full of pain.  This is a theme repeatedly told regarding why Buddha had to abandon his status as a prince from a renowned family to found Buddhism.  This stark realization made many people seek an alternative way to feel peaceful and happy without chasing after more resources, or demanding stability and a permanent-ness of everything they would have otherwise wanted to keep forever.

Philosophical elements of Zero naturally married with many forms of arts such as poems, paintings or calligraphies. China, the epicenter of the economy and culture, also helped Buddhism to expand and refine, and saw many schools of arts emerge that focused on laws of nature – accepting everything as is.  Those artists expressed that profound beauty would emerge in when humans are almost dissolved in nature.

When those arts were imported to Japan along with Zen school of Buddhism in the 11the century, they inspired people who cherished Zero aesthetics, and Zen arts flourished.  Zen played an important role because it denied text and focused on physical/mental training, notably sitting meditation (zazen).  Many monks-artists used arts to record what they saw at the culmination of Zero training. Ikebana (Japanese traditional flower arrangement), Bonsai, Kare-sansui (Zen rock garden), and Noh (Japanese traditional theater) are some of the prominent examples of Zen arts that established a solid foundation during the 13-15 century.

As a summary, for the purpose of this project, we define Zero as humans’ endeavor to pursue peace, happiness and beauty by proactively embracing “less” instead of “more.”  Zero design can be applied to philosophy, thinking, architecture, systems, or products and services.

Zero was theorized and elevated by Buddhism, and it was further crystallized in the form of arts by Zen. Due to the fact that Japan lacked abundant natural resources, Zero especially resonated with Japanese people.  Since Zen excelled in recording the gist of Zero in many arts that did not rely on text, it helped people visualize the Zero concept tremendously. Those images are what we recognize as Zen design today.

Japanese diligently founded and maintained many forms of Zero arts through Zen. The essence of those arts is still embraced by many Japanese artists, designers, architects and of course, by users. 

However, Zero is not exclusive to Japan. Since the fundamental concept is very universal and applicable to everyone, Zero concepts and zero arts can have an enormous potential even in today’s world that must face the issue of resource constraints.