The Self-Eating Expression: Form And Purpose

‘Be so kind as to not interrupt me while I am ignoring you’

Maharani Sita Kumari of Kapurthala [1915-2002], a then permanent resident on the ‘World’s Best Dressed’ list. [Just a little joke, your highness. I’m a die-hard Royalist.]


You are driving down a dark country road. And lo! a huge sign in flashing florescent pink border and throbbing green lights reads: ‘Don’t Look at Me!’. Hit the brakes and pull up to the side. Something’s afoot.

The sarcophagus of Tutankhamun [1,300 BCE]. Note the coiled snake at the center swallowing its tail. Ourobouros [Greek], literally: ‘Tail-Eater’, In our lexicon, the Self-Eating Expression. The Symbol ‘0’ is the original Self-Eating Expression

The Self-Eating Expression is simply the generalized capture of a very specific Logical Form. 

There are various mediums of the Self-Eating Expression: Graphic-Visual, Auditory, Gestural, Lingual and so on.

I’ll list a few lingual versions and you’ll get a feel for what it is supposed to do.

There are two broad variants. The first is a terse in-you-face contradiction meant to paralyze you.

If you stay paralyzed long enough, you might find yourself working backward along the same path as the pioneers, to the nature of the Subject-Object Divide, the First Presumption Of Inquiry, the Co-Dependence Principle, the Axioms of Sight and ‘Self’, the ‘Backward Step’ and finally to the Symbol ‘0’. and .

And in time necessarily arrive at the doorstep of the second kind.

Much of the world’s best religious [‘Mystic’] literature, follows the same track but without the clear and tested markers available here. And this sharply increases the likelihood of short-stops.

The Inquirer ejects from the paralysis, not by completing the track to the Symbol ‘0’, but by an act of ‘Blinking and Winking’. I’ll give lots of examples as we go along.

The second kind of Self-Eating Expression is a seeming contradiction that allows discovery by a usable recursive rule. A sequence meant to be unwound in the ‘Backward Step’.

Unlike the first, it is not to be stared at as a static logical complexity [a ‘Paradox’]. Hence the nomenclature of Marga [Path; Tao]. Illustrations of this second kind are in an earlier post: The Self-Eating Expression.


Here are examples of the first kind:

The summary expression of Vedic insight is Tát [literally, ‘That’], an ‘Expression Of Inexpressibility’.

‘It moves. It moves not. It is far, and It is near’ say’s the Isa Upanishad.

‘Active-Inaction’ demands the Bhagavad Gita. ‘Do Not-Doing’, the central diktat of Lao-Tsu, the first philosophy of China. ‘Mu’, an assertion of negation, the First Zen Koan. ‘Unmoved-Mover’, Aristotle’s ‘God’.

‘Fana al-Fana’ [‘the annihilation of annihilation itself’] is the final Islamic Sufi Teaching. ‘I don’t exist!’ say’s the Theravada Buddhist. ‘Nameless’-the most ubiquitous reference in all religious literature.

How does one make sense of this kind of advice, every one of them a terse, cryptic contradiction? It paralyses you. And that is its point and purpose. Stare at it long enough and you will begin the ‘Backward Step’.

Here are some more amenable variants:

‘It is known by him who knows it not’ Say’s the Kena Upaniṣad [Kena: ‘By Whom’].

In other words, if you know ‘It’, by that very fact, what you have known is not ‘It’.

St. Augustine [354-430 CE], arguably the most influential Christian Theologian whose roots go back to Plato and Plotinus famously wrote: ‘Si Comprehendus, Non Est Deus‘.

If you understand ‘God’, by that very fact, what you have understood is not ‘God’.

Both the above expansions have the same Logical Form as the Symbol ‘0’.


Among the most powerfully paralyzing lingual Self-Eating Expressions are those which include words like: I, Me, All, None, Everything, Nothing, Always, Never. [Nice, slippery, unstable words].

Typical example are: ‘All Words Lie!’ itself in words. ‘Nothing is true’-including this claim; ‘All statements are false’-itself a statement.

‘I don’t Exist!’, or ‘Don’t believe a word I say!’ or ‘Mama, I am dead!’, conclusive evidence that the kid is very much alive. Variants of these are common in the Paradox Literature of contemporary Logic and Mathematics

They are laid-out in ‘The Loop’ section. And the way out is not to stare at them after declaring them ‘Paradoxes’ [a misnomer] but to get yourself a durable Meditation Mat.

Then there are clever expressions which carry the form of the Self-Eating Expression but aren’t meant as pointers [ although they can be made so if one tries].

‘Mama, I am dead!’ is conclusive evidence that the kid is very much alive. Or the about to be fired employee who begins the Corporate Toast with: ‘I won’t tell you what an insufferable dip my boss really is.’ And so on.

And the Popular Variants which tend to be rhetorical devices such as autological ‘Oxymorons’ or literary embellishments [‘Expressive Silence’] or verbal dig [‘Microsoft Works’].


The following Posts, a dozen or more, reveal the pervasive presence of the Self-Eating Expression in religious literature. Naturally, since the men and women of religion were the First Inquirers.

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