Śūnyam

The best known and most widely used lingual equivalent [in Indic Languages] to the Symbol ‘0’ is Śūnyam. Its popular use today [Śūnya, in commonspeak] retains no link whatsoever to its original meaning of Absolute Absence.

[‘That milk carton was 70 Rupees, mister. That’s what you gave me. No, I don’t owe you any change. Zip. Śūnya.’]

There are others, as in Pūjya, a mystical expression marking: ‘That worthy of worship’. It was a simultaneous reference to both a Completeness [the Plenum of the Iśopaniṣad] and one of Absence.

The Symbol’s auditory equivalent is the sound: ‘Silence!’ [You violate the silence in commanding: ‘Silence!’]. It is also related intimately with the Mantric Expression: AUM. Both terms have been appropriated by the religious-minded and have lost their pedagogic power. [But I’ll give it another try in a later Post.]

Śūnyam itself is not to be confounded with the numerous pre-fix versions that evolved in the regional Dharmic literatures well into the 10th Century [ŚūnyaBrahman, ŚūnyaPurusha et al].


The word Śūnyam originates etymologically in the notion of hollowness, of ‘Empty Inside’. The term ‘Empty’ as used in English translations of Śūnyam originates in the notion of the Empty Set, a foundational term in the vocabulary of Classical Logic and picked-up by a few pioneering and intrepid translators.

[Yet its origins in the vocabulary of Logic is largely unknown, draws a blank from every guru [fee-speaker, book-writer] I’ve met, which might explain their wildly creative interpretations of these terms.]

The English translations of Sanskrit scriptural texts, in contrast to their Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan and Persian counterparts, are all less than 150 years old. Translators, as do the rest of us, pick their lingual equivalents as of their Time and Season.


‘Not’ And The ‘Ña’ Family

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