THE SYMBOL: ‘0’

Yājñavalkya’s Algorithm
‘It is not this! It is not: ‘It is not this!”


As the name plainly discloses, there is no such thing as True-Nothing [‘0’]. That you see something there is the speck in your vision

This Site is all about that speck in your vision. How to spot it, how to get rid of it and what happens if you ignore it

It’s a good idea to sight the Symbol. It’s the ground you are standing on. Here and now as you read this line

Praṇāmam, a deep gasshō, to every fearless hunter
who follows ‘The Great Doubt’ wherever it may lead.
Stalks the Bear to its Lair. And stares it in the Eye

S. R. Aiyer
sra@the-not.org


The Mathematician Pappus records Archimedes [287-212 BCE]: ‘Give me a place to stand and [with a lever] I shall move the earth’.

You don’t need to move the earth. But you do need to step back to Nothing to see what’s going on with Everything.

Else, you miss.

The understanding of the symbols: 0 [Zero], ∞ [Infinity], and I [‘Self’] are mutually inseparable.

In other words, I understand all three. Or I understand none


‘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 original Symbol ‘0’. What am I talking about? Read on.


You are driving down a dark country road. And lo! a huge sign in fluorescent pink border and throbbing green lights reads: ‘Don’t Look at Me!’.

Hit the brakes and pull up to the side. Something’s afoot.

‘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 religious literature. Or: ‘Mama! I am dead’-convincing evidence that the kid is still alive.

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.


From the Mahā Prajñāpāramithā Vajracchedikā [‘Diamond-Cutter’ Sūtra: Around 400 BCE; ‘The Oldest Preserved Printed Text’; Donhuang, China]:

Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata attained the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment?’

Subhuti answered: ‘As I understand The Buddha’s meaning there is no formulation of truth called Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.’

Subhuti, what do you think? Does a holy one say within himself:
I have obtained Perfective Enlightenment?’

Subhuti said: ‘No, World-honored One. Wherefore? Because there is no such condition as that called ‘Perfective Enlightenment”.

‘Enlightenment’ is the realization that there is no such special state as ‘Enlightenment’. When you realize that, you are ‘Enlightened’. Until you realize that, you are in ‘Delusion’.


All the above illustrations are examples of the Self-Eating Expression [‘SEE’]. And the Symbol ‘0’ is the original, the paradigmatic Self-Eating Expression, an assertion of negation, the short blade of Seppuku. It negates itself in order to reveal its reference.

If you have spotted the Symbol, by that very fact, what you have spotted is not the Symbol.

Its lingual equivalent is True-Nothing [Śūnyam], Absolute AbsenceIts auditory equivalent is the sound: ‘Silence!’ [You violate the silence in commanding: ‘Silence!’]. And so on.

The expression ‘The-Not’ [‘Nought’] is the most terse of lingual Self-Eating Expressions going back directly to the lay-out of Yājñavalkya’s Rule. I use the better-known term ‘True-Nothing’ but as used they are perfectly synonymous.

The Symbol ‘0’ is a marker of both End and Means to that End. As End, it is the alighting on True-Nothing. As Means, it the Self-Eating Expression [‘SEE’] and the unfolding of its recursive sequence that converges and terminates at True- Nothing.


Zeno, the favorite of Parmenides [‘Venerable and Awful’], a pioneer of the logico-mathematical paradox, describes his new treatise to Socrates:

It is…a defense of Parmenides against those who make fun of his ideas…this book is a retort against those who assert a Plurality…pays them back in the same coin with something to spare. For it shows that on a thorough examination, their own supposition that there is a Plurality leads to even more absurd consequences than the Hypothesis of ‘The One’.’

The Parmenides is considered the most difficult of the Platonic Dialogues. That is because Parmenides [and a few others; see the Posts] was alert to the Self-Loop, and to which his modern interpreters are conspicuously innocent.

You are in sight of ‘True Nothing’. Or you are in some variant of the Self-Loop. It’s one or the other. And to be stuck in the Self-Loop can really limit your movement, cramp your style.


Vedic Truth: from Vid; To Know, To See; Proto-Indo European Weid, as in Vide, View, Video. Hence Schools of Philosophy as Darśanas, from dṛś: ‘To See’.

The Philosopher [‘Lover of Wisdom’] is replaced by the Seer.
I can debate you to the grave. But I can’t unsee what I see.

So it is that all Vedic inquiry begins with Formal Meditation Practice [Dhyāna], the original ‘Laboratory For Inquiry’. Its defining feature and its indispensable platform [C’han, Zen, for example are morphed extensions of the word ‘Dhyāna‘].

The book-read modern Vedic Scholar has mastered the acts of veneration and argument, carefully avoiding the evident dangers of the original skill of seeing what is in front of his nose.


Brahman is all of which the Upaniṣads speak‘ begins the celebrated Kena Upanishad.

Brahman is from the root ‘Brh‘: ‘To Uphold, Support’. Brahman is: ‘That which upholds’, and was originally a Mantric expression for Yagnic formalities.

So what is this Brahman? The earliest Mahāvākyam, a summary affirmation of primal Vedic Truth, is from the Chāndogya Upaniṣad (3.14.1, among others; around 1,000 BCE): Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma: ‘All [this] is Brahman‘.

[You will find variants of this in the mystical parallels of the Abrahamic traditions as in the Gnostic Gospels: ‘I am the All. The All came forth from Me…and attained in Me.’]


What is Brahman? I don’t know. In fact I can never know what Brahman is. And why not? Because I am part of this ‘All’, whatever this ‘All’ is. Else it wouldn’t be the ‘All’.

The word Brahman is ensconced in layers of self-reference. It will twirl you around like a top if you don’t stay alert.

I can’t locate ‘The All’ while sitting on my rocker because ‘The All’ includes me sitting on my rocker. And it includes me thinking about locating ‘The All’ while sitting on my rocker. And…ad infinitum.

If you don’t see it, you will reduce Brahman to another Man-Made ‘God’. Which is pretty much the state of things today.


Here’s a clip I once wrote about the origins of Self-Reference in Classical Logic:

‘In looking for ‘Nothing’, you must remember to exclude any sensory, cognitive or affective representation of it as Object. ‘Nothing’ is radically exclusive and expressible only as a Self-Eating Expression [SEE].

In looking for ‘Everything’, you must remember to include the Looking-Subject. ‘Everything’ is radically inclusive and expressible only as a Self-Eating Expression.

The Symbol ‘0’, the original Self-Eating Expression [‘SEE’], is a synthetic construct that was put together with the very specific objective of helping the investigator get to the bottom of all this.

In particular, this ‘I’.


Now therefore the inquiry into Brahman.’ This is the opening line of the Brahma Sūtra [around 300 BCE], a foundational text for all subsequent commentaries.

So how are we going to begin this Inquiry? Where do we start?

The first and fundamental presumption of Formal Inquiry is the accepted convention, the unstated conviction, of the presence of an inquiring Subject ‘Independent and Separate’ from the investigated Object.

It is meaningless to talk of ‘Inquiry’ if the Subject is conjoined with the Object of Inquiry.

But then, the word ‘Meaning’ itself is predicated on the presence of a ‘Me’.


‘Who am I?’ It is the oldest question in the book.

‘Self’ is a complicated Idea. ‘Subject’ is easier. But ‘Sight’ is the easiest. We’ll get to the other two in later Posts. Let’s start with ‘Sight’.

‘Look cuttingly: Who is it that looks? When you thoroughly penetrate this, the clarity stands out as lacquer black as a coal goose standing in the snow.’ [Bassui Tokushō, 1327-1387].


The Empty Mirror

Step into your bathroom. Turn on the lights. Wipe mirror with a damp cloth. Look. 

Do you see your eye? Of Course you do. But what you don’t see is the source of your vision.

In fact, what you see in the mirror cannot be the source of your vision. In fact, it can be anything but the source of your vision.

Your source of vision may never see itself. Anything you see as the source of your vision, by that very fact, is confirmed as not being the source of your vision.

This is the Axiom of Sight. There are no claims of error in which I can have greater conviction.

The Inquiry evolves from direct to inferential claims: ‘Is it my thought I am thinking right now?’

Also note that this Axiom of Sight precedes and preempts the Axioms of Formal Logic which originate in primary ontological assumptions mounted on the ‘Subject-Object’ Divide. See the Posts.


The Axiom of Sight is the Virgin. It is not to be violated. So what happens if I do? I then: ‘Give Birth To Myself’.

I look into a mirror. And I am absolutely certain that what I see is the source of my vision.

In claiming to see my own eye, I become an Object to myself as Subject.

I double. I multiply and divide, while all the time remaining myself. [A word etymologically related to Doubt, Duplicity and the Devil.]


‘Know Thyself’: Gnothi Seauton. In the Sanskrit: Atmanam Viddhi. You can find variants of it in every literate culture. The oldest, most ubiquitous injunction in Language.

But its original meaning bears no relationship to its contemporary interpretation, today’s La-La Land.

Self-Inquiry is an absurd idea. I can inquire about any and all things in this great and grand world of ours. Except inquire about me.

Self-Awareness? I can never be aware of that which is aware. I can be aware of anything but the source of my awareness.

Self-Knowledge? I can know about all things in this our magnificent cosmos. But I may never know myself.

The Loop is ‘I’ seeking ‘Me’.

Any ‘True-Self’ I discover other than as ‘True-Nothing’ is simply a short-stop in a confounding of ‘Object as Subject’.

It was in coming to terms with this implacable Loop that began the ‘Backward Step’ which lead to the first formulation of the Symbol ‘0’ in the verses of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad.


In exact analogue of the ‘Axiom Of Sight’: I cannot see True-Nothing. Anything I see as True-Nothing, by that very fact, is not True-Nothing.

[True-Nothing: Absolute Absence, in counterpoint to the Concept of Nothing, the Idea of Absence, as in: -1<0<+1, an altogether- different animal.]

In general I cannot have any kind of relationship, sensory, cognitive, affective or volitional with ‘True Nothing’. Any relationship I have can only be with the Concept of Nothing, the idea of Absence, the ‘Confounding of Something as Nothing.’

If you don’t see this in its completeness, you will stop-short of ‘True-Nothing’ and find yourself a low-grade religion.


‘Seeing’ in its analytic meaning is is all about catching the beam in your own eye.

I catch the beam in my eye: and catch myself catching myself; and catch myself catching myself catching myself. And so on.

Swayambunath

I See. I See that I See. I See that I See that I See…

I Know. I Know that I Know. I Know that I Know that I Know…

[Try it such on such high abstractions as ‘Why?’ and ‘Cause’. You’ll get a better feel for it.]

To ‘See’ is to take the ‘Backward Step’ and unwind the Self-Eating Expression [SEE] all the way back to ‘True Nothing’.


The unexamined, inherited, implicit and arbitrary divide of ‘Subject and Object’ [Self and World; God and Man; ‘I’ and ‘Not-I’] is deeply conflicted, demonstrably absurd. A preposterous presumption, a comic conceit and a sanctioned vanity.

The ‘Subject-Object’ divide did not drop down from heaven. It is a man-made construct, the only child of the first divide, the assumption of an ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self’.

Independent? It is near impossible to find zero correlations in Nature. Yet I magically claim it for myself [there is no such thing as partially independent. The correlation is either zero or non-zero].

The Self-Loop is the most general form of the ‘Subject-Object’ divide.


Where is True-Nothing?

You will find True-Nothing at the terminus of ‘The Backward Step’, behind all intertwined Object[s] confuted as Subject and all interpretations of Subject fabricated in intricate diaphanous reflexive loops of logic and language, what we call ‘Self’.

An ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self” [entity, process, elevated abstraction] is procured only at the expense of numerous fragile and conflicting assumptions, inherited, acquired and uninvestigated. Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

The analytic convenience of the ‘Subject-Object Divide’ is one unit. They are mutually supporting modeling artifacts.

As the Zen classic, the hsin-hsin ming [6th Century CE] notes: ‘When thought objects vanish, the thinking-subject vanishes, As when the mind vanishes, objects vanish’.

[Work towards the terminal binary of ‘True-Nothing’/’Not-True Nothing’ before taking the leap to ‘True-Nothing’. A lot of schools stop-short, pitch tent, make-up an exalted ‘Object’ and find religion. The Posts are full of examples. ]

The Symbol ‘0’ was designed as a guiding-rail. Without it the ‘Backward Step’ is not navigable. You will spin interminably in self-referential loops with no exit.


There is nothing holy, religious, sacred, spiritual, esoteric or mystical about the Symbol ‘0’.

[There is nothing mundane, profane or banal about it either, but that is less often the slip.]

To limit it so would be to abase its Truth.


The Symbol ‘0’ is the natural and necessary limit of Inquiry. To not end the Inquiry in the arisen conviction of the absence of an ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self”, is to have not awoken to the significance of the absence of a ‘Self’ in the first place.

[‘Inquiry’ with a capital ‘I’. I am still inquiring why my spinach never blanches just right. The Pill to cure Cancer remains unfound and Climate Change is upon us. You have your work cut-out for you.]

If someone stops by your door and asks: ‘What is Truth?’, you pack him a sandwich, show him the ‘Backward Step’, and suggest that he watch-out for falling rocks and deceptively shallow puddles. Other than that, you don’t say a word.

[Big Y’s ‘Neti! Neti!‘ still applies: Avyākṛta, Anirvacaniya, Mounam].

If you must say a word, it may only be as Self-Eating Expression. Tell him to go find himself the Symbol.


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

What is common between:

The oldest posit of the Upaniṣads; the central metaphor of the Buddha-Dharma; The opening lines of the Tao-Te-Ching; The first Zen Koan [Mumonkon]; Ramana Maharishi’s principal teaching metaphor; The iconography of Shiva-Nataraja; Immanuel Kant’s: ‘The Highest Principle Of All Human Cognition’; Martin Heidegger’s: ‘a Priori; Aristotle’s: ‘God’; The Mahāyāna‘s: ŚūnyathaŚūnyatha; Vishnu’s Dream; The Bhagavad-Gita’s Ideal Yogin; Śaṅkarācārya’s ‘Self’; The final stage of Islamic Sufi Practice; The Judaic ‘Face Of God’; St. Paul’s Awakening; St John’s Truth; Friedrich Hegel’s  definition of Philosophy; Socrates’ definition of ‘Knowledge’; Descartes’: ‘Cogito Ergo Sum‘; Wilhelm Leibniz’: ‘Twin Truths’; Einstein’s Confession; the definition of Definition; thinking about ‘Thought’; Understanding ‘Understanding’; Self-Awareness; The founding assumptions of Epistemology and Ontology; Socrates: ‘The Most Vicious Of Circles; ‘Schrodinger’s quarrel with ‘Scientific Method’; Heisenberg on ‘Causality’; Kurt Godel’s celebrated proof [‘The Most Significant Mathematical Discovery of the Century’ cooed Harvard]; The Roots and Classes of Formal Logic; The Nature of ‘Sign’ [Alphabet /Number]; the ‘Origins’ of Language; Aristotle’s defense of the ‘First Principle of all Analytic Cognition’; my Grandma on the avatār of Narasimha..

OK. I’ll stop right here.

What’s common between them is that they all pivot on the algorithmic sequence of the Self-Eating Expression. And the Symbol ‘0’ is the original Self-Eating Expression.

Though on a common track, each listed expression, and at varying degrees, is still caught in the Self-Referential Loop. For many, the ‘Backward Step’ is stopped short.

If the algorithmic sequence is taken to completion, unwound to exhaustion, each one would necessarily terminate at, and only at True-Nothing.


Explicit, irreducible and verifiable, you either see it or you don’t. You can’t fudge it. Like the Nerds say, it’s a ‘0,1’ Thing.

The Steamy Gripper, the Story Of ‘The-Not’

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