‘What is the Grass?’

 

Stop this day and night with me and you
shall possess the origin of all poems

You shall possess the good of the earth and the sun there are millions of suns left

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand…
Nor look through the eyes of the dead…nor feed on the spectres in books

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself

I have heard what the talkers were talking…the
talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end

There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now.
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now

To elaborate is no avail…Learned and unlearned feel
That is so

Sure as the most certain sure…plumb in the uprights,
well entretied, braced in the beams,
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery, here we stand

Showing the best and dividing it from the worst,
age vexes age;
Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things while
they discuss I am silent, and go bathe and admire myself

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?…I do not know what it is
anymore than he

The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections,
They scorn the best I can do to relate them

These are thoughts of all men in all ages and lands-
they are not original with me;
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing,
If they do not enclose everything they are next to nothing,

If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle
they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant
they are nothing

Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams;
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of
every moment of your life

Long have you timidly waded, holding a plank by the shore;
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me,
shout, and laughingly dash with your hair

I am the teacher of athletes;
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own, proves
the width of my own;
He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy
the teacher

I teach straying from me- yet who can stray from me?
I follow you, whoever you are, from the present hour;
My words itch at your ears till you understand them

I do not say these things for a dollar, or to fill up the time
while I wait for a boat;
It is you talking just as much as myself-I act as the
tongue of you; tied in your mouth, in mine it begins to
be loosened

 

Walt Whitman
‘Leaves of Grass’
Selected Verses

SRA

 

As a young man, I rendered the Gāyatrī Mantra (Rig Veda: 3.62.10), invoked the deities, awoke the gods each day at sunrise. The observance of my orthopraxis. Less young, I stopped the ritual.

The Mantra’s opening syllable is Tát, literally, ‘That’. It is the originating root of the intuition that later becomes formalized as Shūnyam. This, is a reclamation of ‘That’.

The Site is no didactic discourse. It’s just a collection of old posts picked-up from my file-boxes and prettied-up.

Posts I wrote when I was more earnest, eager to convince. The Covid-19 lock-down occasioned the change of heart. A change of mind as well. The more one understands, the less less it matters if one is understood, or not. There are worse ways to waste one’s time.

‘The Natural Limit of Inquiry’ [Print, 2004] introduces the Symbol ‘0’ in the final pages using the Buddhist Doctrine of Co-dependence and terminates at a later derivative expression: Shūnyathā. This Site goes back to the Symbol’s origin as Shūnyam, elaborates it to completion and illustrates it in contemporary setting.

The early material on this Site, the first 250 odd-Posts, is from the book and my original files [1999]. Newer interspersed material adds comments and tries to make them more immediate and relevant. You’ll recognize them once you’ve seen a few.

Free, available everywhere, allowing dialogue, endless editing refinements, limitless page additions. Was there ever a better platform than a website to tell an interminable story?

There is no limit to how much this term Shūnyam can be simplified, clarified, contextualized in text and illustrated in contemporary setting. A glorious if thankless task.

Comments are disabled [this is a one-man folly]. But if you spot obscure, conflicting or redundant language in the unedited Posts, you get the credit but drop me a line. I read my emails.

Praṇāmam, a deep gasshō, to every fearless hunter who stalks ‘The Great Doubt’ wherever it may lead. And dares to stare the Bear in the eye.

S. R. Aiyer
sra@shunyam.org

Shūnyam

 

This is the story of the Symbol: 0. From the exalted heights of the Upaniṣads  and Sūtras to its present consignment as inconspicuous character on a corner of a crowded computer keyboard.

The earliest interpretation of the Symbol ‘0’ was as Pūjyam: ‘That worthy of worship’. In time it settles into its neutral connotation as Shūnyam, from a verbal root denoting hollowness [’empty inside’]. 

Shūnyam is the original Self-Negating Expression which evolved from Yājñavalkya‘s Algorithm, its final formulation largely complete by the time of the Vajracchedikā [Diamond] Sūtra around 500 BCE.

You will find Shūnyam 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’. Where you thought there was a ‘Self’ as Subject, there you will find Shūnyam.

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

Originally meant as a transparent Teaching Tool, it was muddled into impenetrable mystique, elongated into opaque doctrines by unfinished monks and book-read scholars. The elevated gibberish of the Learned and the Pious. 

A recoil began around the 6th Century, a swing to the other extreme, a reductionist reification to mundane meaning [as in -1<0<+1].

The first translation of the Diamond Sūtra from the Sanskrit was into classical Chinese in 179 CE by Lokashema [The Tao-Hsing]. With it the Symbol went East and took on local forms.

Around 1,000 years later the Symbol, along with the Decimal System of Number Representation [from Das, for ‘Ten’] headed West and docked in Venice. And did the same. We follow it in both directions.

And so it enters this our present Information Age residing at its very heart. An Age where all Knowledge [nay, even all Wisdom] is captured in the Boolean Binary of ‘0,1’.

The mathematician Pappus records Archimedes: ‘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 ‘True Nothing’ to see what’s going on with everything.

Shūnyam is a synthetic self-destroying device, a leap from the limit of abstraction built with exactly this purpose in mindIt erects no barriers, suffers no compromise. Absolutely nothing is hidden. A frontal nakedness in the focus of a flood-light.

Herein, the only tale, the steamy gripper, the story of Shūnyam.

‘Does God Exist?’

 

‘Does God Exist?’, the indispensable question of every Thinking Man and Woman is premature and presumptuous. The proper question, prior, proximate, more modest in its reach is: ‘Does Man exist?’

The Lady doesn’t need you to verify Her presence, thank you very much. She merely asks that you first confirm yours.

To talk about ‘God’ is not an act of sober piety but one of vacuous arrogance. A displayed humility is greater hubris. Pick any theological text of any religion and be awed at the sweep of reckless excess.

It is comic fluff to grandstand about ‘God’ before first locating ‘Man’. The grander your tag the greater your pretense. You always and only seek to first verify the presence or absence of ‘Man’. And then go on to the Big One.

You always and only orient to ‘True Nothing’, to mortification, never the other way around [such as an imagined ‘God’ or ‘Ultimate Reality’]. That road is long clogged with the bent bodies of proud pilgrims.


The ‘Inward Turn’ of the Chandogya Upanishad around 1,000 BCE arose partly in response to this recognition. ‘Godless cult!’ was the first egg thrown at the emerging new Buddha-Dharma. This was rich.

‘Venerable and Awful’

 

The unexamined, inherited, implicit and arbitrary divide of: ‘Self and World’ [God and Man; Subject and Object] is deeply conflicted, demonstrably senseless. At extreme, self-flagellating, violent, at war with itself and its world.

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 posts] was alert to the Self-Loop, and to which his modern interpreters are conspicuously innocent.

This and all other excerpts from Plato’s Dialogues are from the Hamilton and Cairns, Princeton, ’61 Edition.

An Unquiet Desperation

 

Before I get to Shūnyam, I’m laying out a dozen or so Posts to prepare the ground, old Posts from my file-box, as is, unedited except for updated news stories.


I had been around. And I had slid. From an amused bemusement, past simple bewilderment, beyond all sophisticated skepticism, to a lurching unquiet desperation.

Perhaps you are one of  the blessed, one with an easy, resilient faith. You don’t see what all the fuss is about.

Scrape the surface and nothing makes sense. So I sit on the side and agree to pretend.

Cherished, coddled paradigms that are deeply conflicted are preserved precariously with strips and patches of facile assumptions, specious logic and authoritative bluster. The Gnostic has been replaced by the Graduate, a Learned Ignorance by an erudite cleverness.

You are finally ready to allow the possibility [and just the possibility] that most explanations are deflections, denials and exalted rationalizations.

That a pious insanity is afoot.


[The modern equivalent of the mythic: ‘Disease, Old Age and Death’, the rousing that must precede every entry into the forest. A gentler sensibility than mine would have flagged the Buddhist ‘Suffering’ [Duḥkha] instead of a futile senselessness.]

It Takes A Fool

 

It takes a Genius to answer: ‘Gravity makes the Apple fall’. And a Fool to ask: ‘Why does Gravity make the apple fall?’

Isaac Newton, wise, died a pious Catholic seeing no quarrel here between law, origin and purpose.

‘Space was the Sensorium of an omnipresent God’ was what he wrote to Wilhelm Leibniz, a co-founder of Modern Logic and the Calculus. [Calculus? You know, that business about ‘Tending to Zero’.]

‘That’s ancient stuff’ you say ‘It’s not Gravity; it’s Space-Time. Matter tells Space-Time how to curve and curved Space-Time tells Matter how to move’. Nice. So who kicked the  ball first? [Hey! What difference does it make?]

What was there before the ‘Big Bang’? And where did the Monkey come from that Man descends from? What caused the butterfly to whip his wings in Brazil that it can whip me up a tornado in Dakota?

The visible part of the Electromagnetic Spectrum is about a third of one percent. ‘Real’ seems a dodgy idea to me if my visibility blanks out at 0.3 %. [Where did the Universe go?]

So is the sky out there blue? Or is it right here, the electro-chemical rinse coursing along my neurons as I look?

If my body temperature changes by a measly 6 degrees F, I pass out. [I’m still looking for my ‘Consciousness’ in the rest of the range.]

What defends the ‘Conservation Principles’ of Physics [or the classes of Classical Logic] which themselves underived from the laws of Physics [of Logic], arbiter the entry of laws into Physics [into Logic]?

Our rules of arithmetic repeatedly fumble at the ‘Measured Speed of Light’. And a large helping of words like ‘Infinity’ [and Zero] are needed to hold the equations in place [‘An infinite amount of Mass is required to…’].

Very slippery words which the Ancients had serious problems with. And we, blithely, don’t. [So what does addition mean? See the posts on Kurt Godel]

‘Ask the lady in the corner office’ says the annoyed Scientist. ‘These are questions above my pay-grade. Science is not designed to answer stuff like that’.

‘The Objectivation Principle’

 

The Objectivation Principle-the hypothesis of the real world..is a simplification where without being aware of it, we exclude the subject of cognizance from the Nature that we endeavor to understand.. which by this very procedure becomes the objective world.

At the end ..I put myself which had constructed the world as a mental product, back into it- with the pandemonium of disastrous logical consequences that flow from this chain of faulty reasoning..

The antinomy cannot be solved at the level of present day Science..[which is] entirely engulfed [in it]- without knowing it..Science must be made anew..

Heisenberg

 

Although the Theory of Relativity makes the greatest demands on the ability of abstract thought, still it permits the traditional requirement of Science, as it permits a division of the world into Subject and Object and hence a clear formulation of the Laws of Causality.

This is the very point at which the difficulties of the Quantum Theory begin’.


Elsewhere, on the method of proper observation, Heisenberg writes:

‘What we observe is not Nature in itself but Nature exposed to our method of questioning’.

Hold on to that insight as you read these posts.

‘What Is A ‘Thought’, Doc?’

 

Do you know what at a ‘Thought’ is? I don’t. [But then, nor do Universities which do a fine trade in refining it.]

The problem is that every time I work up a thought to nail this buzzing fly called ‘Thought’, I am squarely in the Self-Loop.

The Self-Loop is ‘I’ seeking ‘Me’.

This thing I have nailed as ‘Thought’ by thinking about it, by that very fact, cannot be ‘Thought’.

What is the Subject in: ‘This is a ‘Thought’?

It’s origin is unknown [grab that next thought please, and ask it where it came from].

It’s stage can’t be located. [Inside my head? Beneath the sink? In Kiev?]

It’s terminus is not found. [Where do all those thoughts go, like stairs in an escalator?].

I can’t see it. I can’t hear it. I can’t smell it. And any thinking about it, muddles it more.

No self-respecting scientist would take seriously something to which he cannot give the simplest of coordinates.

[I cannot deny you the smile: at least one noted Philosopher majisterially defines a Philosopher as one who: ‘Thinks about Thinking’.]

This Dodgy Fellow

 

The Thinker in Rodin Museum in Paris

There is nothing I understand less than this thing called ‘Thought’. Yet nothing is more real to me than this which I understand the least.

Dodgy Fellow, this ‘Thought’. So try and not think a thought for the next sixty seconds.

‘Cogito Ergo Sum!’

 

490px-Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_René_Descartes

Is there anything I am absolutely sure about?

The moon-landing was faked. Doughnuts widen arteries. My mother really loves me. Perhaps, perhaps not.

But I don’t have these insidious doubts about whose thoughts are bouncing around in my head.

The thoughts in my head are my thoughts. What happens in my mind is mine! mine! mine!

There is nothing else on the planet that is so taken for granted as belonging to ‘Me’ as ‘My Thoughts’. That’s why it is so real. As long as I have my thoughts, I have me.

I can wear your cuff-links and you can borrow my cologne but my thought is my thought and your thought is your thought.

I might own a Bentley and only leg into silk underwear. But my thoughts are closer to me than both.

So it was that Rene Descartes, founder of Cartesian method and Father of Western Academic Philosophy exclaimed:

Thinking. At last I have discovered it- Thought. This alone is inseparable from me.’

‘I am Thinking. Therefore I am’: Cogito ergo sum.

Are you sure it is your thought you are thinking right now?


René Descartes, like Aristotle before him and Kant and Leibniz after, and in sharp contrast to most other philosophers, knew when he was edging the territory of the Self-Loop. His rationale was more nuanced than the  standard academic bumper-sticker interpretation. I’ll get to it later in his less-known letters.

‘Thought, Dr. Kant?’: The Concept of Concept

 

Immanuel Kant, whose roots go back directly to Aristotle, defined the domain of Academic Philosophy for over two centuries.

‘Thought’ proffered Immanuel Kant ‘is cognition by means of conception’.

What’s a ‘Conception’? That sounds like a difficult idea with more syllables. Let’s start with ‘Concept’.

A ‘Concept’ says the Dictionary, is a: ‘a General Notion or Idea; a Conception’.

Great. So what’s an ‘Idea’? The Dictionary says it’s a: ‘Thought, Conception or Notion.’

We’ll, OK. So what’s a ‘Conception’? The Dictionary says it’s a: ‘Notion, Idea, Concept’. [Dictionary.com. Check it out.]

Cognition is a concept. A Concept is that which is ‘conceptually differentiable’. But ‘conceptually differentiable’ is itself a concept.

A concept has a public understanding while ‘conception’ is just a private view. Yet concept is for you a conception and conception becomes a concept in the dictionary, unchanged regardless of who looks at it.

Concept; Conception; Concept of Conception; Conception of Concept. All Concepts; or are they Conceptions?

What are we talking about?

The Orangeness of Oranges

 

What is the ‘Orangeness’ in an Orange?

OrangeHow do you miraculously, unhesitatingly, repeatedly manage to identify an Orange?

What is common between a sliced and a peeled Orange? A ripe and a rotten Orange? A nibbled Orange and a fresh one?

A picture of an Orange, the sound ‘Orange Juice’, the taste of Orange pop, the smell of Orange peel, the touch of Orange pip, the letters ‘O R A N G E’, on a page. The negation: ‘Not-Orange’.

Orangeness is an idea, a concept. A thought.

‘I don’t exactly know what Orangeness is, Professor, but I sure know how to pick an Orange. Or do I?’

‘What Is A ‘Thought’, Socrates?’

 

Socrates_statue_at_the_LouvreWhen Thaetetus asks Socrates to describe ‘ Thinking’, Socrates replies:

As a discourse that the mind carries on with itself about any subject it is considering.

You must take this explanation as coming from an ignoramus. but I have a notion that, when the mind is thinking, it is simply talking to itself, asking questions and answering them, and saying yes or no.

When it reaches a decision-which may come slowly or in a sudden rush-when doubt is over and the two voices affirm the same thing, then we call that its ‘judgment.’

So I should describe thinking as discourse, and judgment as a statement pronounced, not aloud to someone else but silently to oneself.

I can silently unfold the phrase: ‘Elvis Lives!’ in my mind syllable by syllable in complete comprehension of its meaning.

Mental Verbalization is ‘I’ talking to ‘Me’. Monologue as Dialogue.


Japanese Zen Training especially in the Martial Arts seeks a state it calls Mushin [‘No-Mind, No-Thought], a readiness for combat marked by a subsiding of this Dialogue. The Chinese synonym, Wuxin, begins with the character for ‘Not’. As with everything else the idea has taken a life of its own in the hands of pop philosophers.

There is nothing ‘Wrong’ with thought; there is nothing particularly ‘Right’ about it either. Both ideas are themselves rooted in thought. Try your hand at the Self-Negating Expression: ‘All Thought Misleads’-itself a thought.

Man

 

Vitruvian Man, Leonardo Da Vinci, Circa 1490 CE, Gallerie dell'Academia, Venice

The word ‘Man’ derives from a root [as in the Sanskrit Manush, Manas] that says: ‘That which has Mind’ or more literally, ‘That which thinks’.

How is ‘Man’ different say, from a Mattress? Man is different because Man alone has Mind. This has been the traditional answer since antiquity.

The defining attribute of Man is his Mind. And with this Mind, Man constructs his World as Model. And its central character is his model of himself as ‘Man’.

Homer’s Odyssey begins with the word ‘Man’ [Andra, from the Attic-Greek Aner, as in the English Anthropo].

Let’s go see if we can find the fella.

Man, Mind And Model

 

We view the World [and ourselves] largely through the prism of ‘Model’.

The word ‘Model’ is etymologically related to the Sanskrit Maya, from the root Ma: To Build’ and Manas [an early version of the modern: ‘Mind’].

The expansions of Model are done through referential systems, mainly Language and Logic. And the foundation of a modeled understanding is the presumption of a ‘Subject-Object’ Divide.

The ‘Subject-Object’ Divide [as in ‘Self and World’] doesn’t originate in heaven but in the very terrestrial assumption of an independent, separated ‘Self’ [a dressed-up Subject].

It is the first and only progeny of the primeval cleaving. The elemental DNA, the building block, of every man-made Model, which includes the notions of ‘Man’ and ‘Model’.

A ‘Model’ is a creation, a re-construction of the original, not the real-thing but its re-presentation. A Model of Reality, not the Real McCoy.

A toy-car is a model. So is a doll’s-house. But the most important models are mental-models, the ones we build inside our heads using things that ‘double’. Sign and Symbol that refer and come alive in such building blocks as the Alphabet, the Number System and other such kits of complex referencing signs. All mediums in fact conducive to referential traffic.

The word ‘Model’ is etymologically related to the Sanskrit Maya [from the root Ma: To Build’, commonly translated as ‘Illusion’] and Manas [an early version of the modern: ‘Mind’].

There is nothing erroneous or illusory about Model. ‘Error and Illusion’ are themselves modeled-views. As is the very notion of modeled-view.

In the hands of an accomplished architect, the complex architecture of building a house made up of ‘Subjects’ and ‘Objects’ can be an intricate, layered piece of Art.

The sprawling and sophisticated intellectual frame that directs and defends our entire contemporary way of thinking and living. Our ‘Man-Made Modeled World.

What is ‘Mind’?

 

The Universe belies you‘ wrote Voltaire the passionate skeptic, ‘and your heart refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit‘.

I don’t know what Mind is. But I do know this. Every time I say: ‘Gotcha!’, every time I hold forth on the Nature of Mind, I am back in the whirl of the Self-Loop.

Very wise-men have been trying to get a handle on this thing called ‘Mind’ for a few millennia and have gotten nowhere. Divine origin? The center of cognition, emotion and volition? The firing of synapse on brain tissue?

But this ‘Mind’ of mine [which of course I know exists] keeps giving me the slip. And to further confuse matters, knowing folks say that Mind is also the depository of ‘Thought’, the dodgy character we just met.

I can’t see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, touch it. And yet, darn it all, it feels awfully real and tangible to me. This ghost behind my nose and between my ears.

And anything I pick and label as ‘Mind’ using this Mind of mine cannot be Mind, can be anything but Mind.

So. ‘What is ‘Mind’? As I said, that’s about where the wise-men left it.


Everytime I feel dispirited about the future of this creature called ‘Man’, I reach for this learned quote:

One aspect that sharply differentiates Man from Nature is his highly developed capacity for thought, feeling and deliberate action. Here and there in other animals, rudiments of this capacity may occasionally be found, but the full blown development that is called Mind is unmatched elsewhere in Nature‘.

We don’t quite know if a Giraffe has a Mind. But we are absolutely sure that we have one. Our Mind told us so.

The First Law Of Consciousness

 

‘Consciousness’: from the Latin ‘Con Scire‘: ‘to be awake; to know’; and related to Cognitionem, as in the words ‘Cognition’ and ‘Science’.

The First Law of Consciousness states that you may not investigate your consciousness while being in an actively conscious state.

If you can consciously point to something as your ‘Consciousness’, by that very fact, what you have pointed to cannot be your consciousness.

You cannot be conscious of being ‘Conscious’. You can be conscious. That’s it.

To be conscious of being ‘Conscious’ is the high road to fatal self-contradictions. An unwarranted, illegitimate doubling that makes what is simple and unclouded into a belligerent complexity.

You cannot, however hard you blink, wiggle or scheme, stand outside Consciousness to orate upon it. If you feel hemmed in, that is the idea.


If you can convincingly hold-forth on the conscious ‘Unconscious’ in addition to the merits of mentating about Mind, your talent should not go unnoticed. The most convincing Couch Therapists all live on Park Avenue.

Listened in recently on a major convention of international scientists on ‘Consciousness and Science’ [I think that’s what the title was] in India, presided over by the Dalai Lama. The word Self-Reference, let alone the Self-Loop, never occurred even once.

The convention was major news in the media for weeks. The Scientists, it said, were close to cracking the code. I need a beer.

You know, there is actually a book titled ‘Consciousness Explained’ by a chaired professor of a famous university. I can’t wait to buy it once it is out on paperback. I’ll let you know. 

Immanuel Kant: The ‘Highest Principle’

 

Immanuel Kant [1724-1804] Bucknell University Gallery

The idea of Consciousness, its centrality in the minds of the most influential modern thinkers, has never been fully appreciated. Nor their short-stops.

So come with me now to Königsberg, Prussia, circa 1750 CE.

Immanuel Kant from his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, a volume that helped mark the domain of Academic Philosophy for several generations:

The ‘I Think’ must accompany all my representations..I call it pure apperception..because it is a Self-Consciousness..it is in all acts of Consciousness one and the same and unaccompanied by it no representation can exist for me.

The unity of this apperception I call the Transcendental Unity of Self- Consciousness..and this principle..is the highest principle in all human cognition.

So how does this ‘Unity’ catch itself?

[Kant, unlike most philosophers, was well aware of the Self-Loop. I’ll get to it in later Posts] 

Were not done yet. Step into my old Porche Convertible for a long drive south to Hanover, Germany, a 1,000 kilometers and a 100 years away. Let’s go meet Dr. Wilhelm Leibniz.

Wilhelm Leibniz: The ‘Twin Truths’

 

Gottfried_Wilhelm_Leibniz

Here is Dr. Leibniz on his celebrated ‘Twin Truths’:

The immediate awareness of our existence and our thoughts furnishes us with the first a posteriori truths, or truths of Fact, the first experiences, while identical propositions embody the first a priori truths, or truths of Reason, the first illuminations.

Neither admits of proof and each may be called immediate.’

‘Transcendental Unity of Self-Consciousness’? ‘The immediate awareness of our existence and our thoughts’?

No. We are not in the Himalayas amidst a mystical mountain-sect. Nor the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

We are in Hanover, at the Study of Dr. Wilhelm von Leibniz, a founder of Modern Logic and the Mathematical Calculus. [If you want someone to blame for your shoddy grades in Math, here’s the man.]

So. Am I ‘immediately aware’ of my ‘Immediate Awareness’?

Meta-Trinity: Self-Reference

 

Thought, Mind and Consciousness; the Meta-trinity. The machinery that makes the machine-tools that make the machines that make the machine-tools…that make the Models. The Epicenter of Self-Reference.

There are two aspects which define the Meta-Trinity.

Their self-referential nature, a repeated readiness to slip into the Self-Loop. And their intimate, inviolable relationship to ‘Me’.

The elements of the Meta-Trinity are nothing if not fecund and vigorous. They reflexively appropriate the Divine Ability to recreate in their own Image, double while remaining single, multiply and divide while all the time remaining themselves.

They can in other words effortlessly become Objects to themselves as Subjects.

The Empty Mirror

 

I can Understand; but I may not try to Understand ‘Understanding’.

I can do a lot of things with ‘Understanding’. But I may not try to Understand it.

Mind may not mentate about Mind. You can mentate about all things in this great and grand universe of ours. But you may not mentate about Mind.

Consciousness may not grasp at consciousness. Thought may not seek its beginnings in another thought. Concept may not conceive itself in another concept.

Logical Symbol may not grasp for its genealogy using other symbols of Logic, nor Mathematics in the axioms of Mathematics.

Language may not seek its source using Language. Word may not seek its meaning through other words.

I may not seek for the definition of  the word ‘Knowledge’ while in the ‘Know’. I may not search for the ground of ‘Being’ while in the ‘Be’.

And ‘I’ may not inquire about ‘Me’.


So what happens if I do? Does the sky collapse? Do the mountains crumble? No. Something much more strange: I ‘Give Birth to Myself’.

Goofy Explaining The Self-Loop

 

Goofy vividly demonstrating the Self-Loop. If you understand what Goofy is up to, you understand the Self-Loop.

 

Goofy vividly demonstrating the Self-Loop

 

Do not confound the Self-Loop with domesticated, general-issue fallacies like ‘Circular Reasoning’ and such [a truncation far short of Shūnyam]. I’ll get to them when we look at the ground assumptions of Epistemology and Ontology.

Why ‘Why?’?

 

'Nothing personal, Henry. I couldn't have said it better myself.'‘Ever since I can remember, I have had a need to explain myself. This is patently neurotic.

‘Never Complain, Never Explain’ advised Henry Ford II to a fresh-faced reporter, when caught in a drunken car accident with a woman beside him who was clearly not his wife.

Why Explain? And why explain my need to Explain?

Why, ‘Why?’?’

[From the preface to the 2004, print edition].


‘Explanation’ is from the Latin Ex-planationem: ‘to make plain, to flatten [planus].

An ‘Explanation’ flattens things out so that they fit within a Modeled-View. Just like plaining a piece of irregular wood.

In this tripped age where Reason is confounded with the Rational, the most insistent and socially-sanctified demand is for an ‘Explanation’.

Everyone wants one, feels obliged to ask for one, and deprived if denied one. [‘Why does my bottom hurt so, Mom?’ ‘Because I just spanked you, Darling!’]

‘Oh! That makes sense!’. In other words, an explanation falls in line, takes its assigned slot within the broad mix of paradigms, preferences, prejudices, conveniences and cultural cues that grant a view acceptance, and when tightly in conformance, applause.

When you say: ‘That explanation makes sense!’, it means it tucks nicely into your backpack, logically fits [i.e., ‘is consistent’] within the umbrella of Convention, views widely accepted as valid.

And the base of this umbrella is the assumption of a Separated ‘Self’.

‘Hide And Seek’

 

If your pulse doesn’t race, you should be seeing a Doctor
Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Fellini’s: ‘La Dolce Vita’


My entire school education on Buddhism was summarized in the travesty of insight: ‘Desire is the cause of all suffering’.

So how does one: ‘Desire to Not-Desire’?

[‘Desire is the cause of all suffering’ is a literal take on the Buddhist ‘Second Noble Truth’, if you are curious as to where this beam of light came from.]

‘Detachment’ is the single most emphasized injunction in the Dharma. So how do you intend to detach if you are attached to ‘Detachment’?

How do you play ‘Hide and Seek’ with yourself?

What denatured Elysium do these pilgrims seek sans wine, women and earthly-folly?

Life And Death

 

If you can say: ‘I am asleep!’, that’s convincing evidence that you are awake.

The distinction of ‘Awake’ and ‘Asleep’ is always and only made in a wakeful state. 

I tell you about my dream when, and only when, both of us are awake. We know nothing about ‘Dream’ and ‘Sleep’ except as very wakeful ideas.

[Doctors reassuringly measure sleep-meters only when they are awake, thank you very much.]

None of this hair-splitting lessens the veracity of my pronouncement today that I slept like a baby last night.

We can give the Divide some more Gravitas. All talk of ‘Death’ is always and only done when ‘Alive’. You just can’t wink your way out of this one.

You really know nothing about ‘Death’ except as gossip from some very alive people.

And just as I hold forth on ‘Death’ while firmly ‘Alive’, just as I embellish my last night’s dream while wide awake, I create the divide of ‘I’ and ‘Not-I’ while firmly setting my tush down on one end of the self-same construction.

All this is in effect a sleight-of-hand, a fast wave of the hand-kerchief by the Divide-Magician who hopes you are not looking too closely.

But this slip when carried forward in sprees of grand abstract elaborations [as in the University ] can get seriously misleading. If you start telescoping such situations, soon enough you will have totally lost the thread.

Yet no amount of double-talk will convince me otherwise that my dear great-aunt, bless her good soul, is resolutely dead.

Holy Truth?

 

If you ask a Librarian to show you the section with the Upanishads and Sūtras, the nice lady is likely to point you to the shelves marked ‘Religion’.

But these compilations are documents of Inquiry characterized by trial and error, not claim and faith. They were the obsessions of the Learned. Your normal healthy farm-boy will find it all quite batty.

The First Inquirers were the men and women of Religion [French: Re-Ligare; to bind back]. And the search for some Grounding Truth is Man’s first investigative journey. We aren’t so smart to have newly awoken to it for the first time.

Shūnyam does not lead you up the mountain or into a cave. It unloads you at Life, unrehearsed. And there is nothing in the Human Condition however exalted, muddled, banal or depraved that is not intimate with it.

Nor is Shūnyam against the comforts, consolations and beatitudes of religion and the sacred. [In fact it was first offered not as high philosophy or the limit of inquiry but as a Refuge.]

But put an early religious spin on Shūnyam and you will miss. And in this business, you miss by a milli-meter, you miss by a mile.

And you don’t know what Piety or Reverence mean, except as camouflaged petitionary acts, until you are in sight of Shūnyam.

‘Nothing holy’, replied Bodhidharman [around 500 CE], when Emperor Wu asked him; ‘What is holy truth?’

There is nothing holy, religious, sacred, spiritual, esoteric or mystical about Shūnyam. To limit it so would be to abase its Truth.

[There is nothing earthy, profane, banal or literal about it either. But that is less often the slip.]

Indian records are sketchy as is the norm. We know Bodhidharman cited from the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, [Lanka, as in Sri Lanka today] a later tradition to the Prajñā Pāramitha.

Chinese chroniclers [Tánlín, Dàoxuān, circa 550 CE] identify him as: ‘The third son of a nobleman of firm Brahman stock from South India’.

Given what we know of dynasties and trade-routes, he was most likely from Kāñcipuram, the then capital of the PallavasNo shrines, no stupas, no sign-boards, the last time I checked. No one remembers anymore.

The Symbol ‘0: Logical Form

 

The Symbol ‘0’ is the original Self-Negating Expression. It is reference to the absolute absence of that which is referenced.

I’m taking the next dozen or so Posts to lay out this notion of the Self-Negating Expression, note its centrality in all of Man’s documented Inquiries.

The Self Negating Expression is simply the generalized capture of a very specific Logical Form. What is Logical Form? When you fill in the question mark to the statement: ‘Bird is to plane as fish is to ?’, you have captured its Logical Form.

The rest of what I am trying to say will be evident as you read through the next few Posts. 

‘That’

 

The central summary expression of Vedic insight is Tát, literally ‘That’.

‘That’ is an Expression of Inexpressibility. A self-scuttling assertion in negation, an immediate, unregenerate self-contradiction. It is neither noun nor verb, is grammatically homeless, a lexicographer’s nightmare, and meant to be so.

Point a finger, draw a line, say a word, think a thought, emote a feeling towards ‘That’ and by that very act, what you have pointed a finger to, drawn a line of, said, thought, emoted, is not ‘That’.

It includes all markers, any and every whiff of presumption to identity. Aspects, elements, endowments, features, qualities, temperament, tendencies. You may not source it for ethical or social directives [rules], go philosophical or poetic on its attributes…

The Summum Bonum of Dharmic Teaching is: Tát Tvam Asi, the same Tát [‘That’] of the Rig Veda. In translation: ‘That are’t Thou’.

I cannot say anything about ‘That’. Anything I say about ‘That’, by that very fact is not ‘That’. Effecting this yields the Logical Form of the Self-Negating Expression.

The Symbol ‘0’, Shūnyam is simply ‘That’ taken to its natural, necessary and inevitable limit.

Brahman

 

‘That’ is synonymous with Brahman, from the root ‘Brh‘, ‘To Uphold, Support’. Brahman is ‘That which upholds’, originally a Mantric expression for Yagnic formalities before it took on metaphysical meanings.

Para Brahman [the ‘Highest Expression’] of Brahman was as Nirguṇa Brahman: ‘Brahman without attributes’.

If something doesn’t have attributes you cannot express it. Except as Self-Negating Expression.

Tát-āgathā

 

The Buddha famously held his Silence [Mounam, Avyākṛta, Anirvacaniya] to all questions about the nature of his denouement.

This Unformulated Principle‘ says the Diamond Sutra ‘is Uncontainable and Inexpressible’. [Unformulated Principle‘? Formulation is the essence of Principle. Is that a Self-Negating Expression sneaking by?]

Siddhartha Gautama’s chosen name for himself was not as ‘The Buddha’ [a later appellation] but as the Tát-āgathā [literally, ‘That-Gone’] again, the same Tát [‘That’] of the Rig Veda. And it has the same intent as: Tát Tvam Asi [‘That are’t Thou’].

In the highest tradition of the Buddha-Dharma one does not worship The Buddha, which is easy enough. The struggle is to become a Tat-āgatha.

A Tát-āgathā is one: ‘Entered in Tát’ [‘That’]. It says nothing about any ‘Object’ [such as an imagined ‘That’]. It is all about the Subject. Or rather, the absence of it. 

‘Self’ [‘Thou’] as used in the Upanishads was a mystical term [as in the ‘Subtle Inner Essence’ of the Chandogya]. In the Buddhist Sūtric articulation, it is consistently an empirical one. That is, as an identifiable  Subject in counterpoint to an identified Object. And this tilt is what gives the Buddha-Dharma its special flavor [Anātman].

East Of ‘That’: The Tao

 

Tát [‘That’] as an ‘Expression of Inexpressibility’ is the pivotal expression in the Dharmic Tradition. But there is no serious tradition that does not carry it, or some close variant of it.

From the opening line of the opening verse of the Tao Te Ching:

The True Tao is nameless; what is named is not the True Tao. The True Tao cannot be told; what is told is not the True Tao’.

Tao is a Self-Eating Expression.

The central directive of Taoism is to live a life based on Wie Wu Wei: ‘Doing Not-Doing’. A Self-Negating Expression. Of Course.


Lao Tzu [circa 5th Century BCE, literally, ‘Old Master’] founded Taoism, the first philosophy of China.

Lao Tzu didn’t prissy around. First he declares that the true Tao is nameless, then adds that nothing may be said about it. All in the opening verse. Then he proceeds to write his poem naming and telling all about the Tao.

Sort of like this Site.

C’han Zen: ‘Joshu’s Mu!’

 

The opening Koan from the venerated Mumonkon Collection is: ‘Joshu’s Mu!’. It is in response to the question: ‘Does a dog have Buddha-Nature?’.

Joshu’s ‘Mu!’ is a negative particle, a vociferous assertion of negation. The driving kinetic of its terse formulation is its simultaneous self-consumption. Literally, ‘Nothing’. [I think it was Hakuin who wrote that all of Zen was contained in Mu]

Bodhidharman defined the ends of C’han-Zen Practice as follows: ‘A special transmission outside the scriptures; no dependence on words and letters; seeing into one’s Self-Nature, and the attaining of Buddha-hood.

Again from the Mumonkan:

Daibai asked Baso: ‘What is the Buddha?’
Baso answered: ‘The mind is the Buddha.’
A monk asked Baso: ‘What is the Buddha?’
Baso replied: ‘Not mind, not Buddha.’

Note that the better Koans never mark an identifiable terminus. It dates back to the founding of the Tradition itself.

West Of ‘That’: Aristotle’s ‘God’

 

Aristotle is the pioneering formulator of precise, cogent, hugely influential models of reality. From the elementary notion of ‘Substance’ to the most cogent defense of the Principle of Contradiction [‘The first principle of analytical cognition’, as he put it. See the later Posts].

They lasted well past Copernicus. Immanuel Kant’s pioneering work which dominated European Academic Philosophy for over two hundred years began with Aristotle. [I’ll get to his seminal ‘Critique of Pure Reason’. Fun stuff.] 

But oddly enough, Aristotle installed a very strange fellow, an indecipherable creature in-fact, in the sanctum-sanctorum of his scrupulous, logically precise modeled world.

From Aristotle’s Metaphysics:

There is therefore also an Unmoved-Mover, being eternal, primary and in act..the first mover is a necessary Being..and is thus a first principle, for there is always a mover of things moved, and the first mover is itself unmoved.’

Aristotle’s ‘God’: The ‘Unmoved Mover’. Do you sight the Self-Loop?

 

Abraham/Ibrahim

 

The pivotal notions of Identifiability and Expressibility in the Dharmic Tradition combine to become the notion of Association or ‘Granting Partnership’ in the Abrahamic literature [Hebrew Shituf, Arabic Shirk].

Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live‘ [Exodus: 33].

St Augustine [354-430 CE] arguably the most influential theologian of the later Western Christian Tradition [and whose roots were Neo-Platonic] famously wrote:

‘The best thing that man can say about God is to be able to be silent about Him, from the wisdom of his inner judgement. Therefore be silent and prate not about God, for whenever thou dost prate about God, thou liest, and committest sin. If thou wilt be without sin, prate not about God. Thou canst understand nought about God, for He is above all understanding. A master saith: If I had a God whom I could understand, I would never hold Him to be God’.

Orthodox Jews remove the vowels [YHWH] to limit expression, hence presumption, on the nature of Yahweh, of G-d [Elohim], a central theme of the Hebrew Torah. [‘Ten Sayings’; aseret ha-d’varîm].

The Aramaic Alaha, the common name for the Divine in the language that Jesus spoke, is in turn related to the Arabic Allah: ‘The God’, and the Hebrew: Eloah [Elohim, Elohai]. It was originally a loose reference to a regional deity and in-time appropriated into emerging Islam.

The principle prayer of Islam, the Shahadah reads:
La Ilaha il al-Lah’: ‘There is no God if it be not the God’.

It is an informed rendering of insight as Self-Eating Expression meant for the trained ear and in the language of the day. [But try explaining that to a modern day Mullah].

You may never re-present [express] Al-lah, the fundamental sin of Islam [Shirk]. ‘Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him, but He forgives anything else, to whom He pleases, to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed’ (Qur’an 4:48). The Kaaba in Mecca is an empty cube.

The Mystic’s Parallel

 

Within the wider Abrahamic Tradition you will see Inexpressibility at the heart of the parallel Mystic schools.

The Qabballah of the Jews; the Taṣawwuf [Sufism] of the Muslims; the Gnostic Texts of Christianity. Key mystic terms like the Jewish Aleph and the Islamic Fana originate here.

The final stage of practice in high Sufism is termed Fana al-Fana, the ‘Annihilation of Annihilation itself’. A Self-Negating Expression, naturally, necessarily.

The Neo-Platonic ‘One’ of Plotinus [sourced in Plato’s Parmenides] was the dominant European Mystical Tradition for a millennia. It was a principal influence on everyone from Thomas Aquinas to Meister Eckhart [‘God is ‘Namelessness’, wrote Eckhart who taught Aristotle at the Sorbonne, and promptly got arraigned by the Vatican]. 

Reality, wrote Plotinus was: ‘A Nameless Unity, indescribable, undefinable.. never known measure, stands outside number..is under no limit of any kind..is Everything and Nothing..’.


Perhaps no other Mystic influenced all three of the Abrahamic faiths as comprehensively as Plotinus [203-270]. He famously joined Gordian’s march on Persia in order to find his way to India. The campaign failed and he returned to Antioch. In 3rd Century Bharat, the understanding of Shūnyam was still not entirely dead; it would have been a worthwhile visit.

Hinduism: The ‘Nameless’

 

In the celebrated lines of the Katha Upanishad:

Not by speech, not by mind,
Not by sight is It be apprehended.
How else is It comprehended
Otherwise than as: ‘It is’ ?’

Hinduism has no principal holy-scripture, no founding sage, no required observance, no pope nor doctrine of papal infallibility, no founding prophets who knew the answer.

[Perhaps because of this it has more holy-men per-capita, so many woolly-eyed mystics and whining secularists stalk the streets that you watch your every step to not step on one.] 

‘Hinduism’ itself is a new word largely unknown in Sanskrit text. A motley mix of Sanskrit, Greek and Persian [and a river], it is meant for the outsider looking in.

The Kanchi Paramacharya [1894-1994], a sober and respected modern authority on the subject, reiterates a title emphasized in early times. The name of the tradition, he declares, is: ‘Nameless’.

Vishnu has a thousand names [Sahasranāmam] precisely because Vishnu is Nameless. At its core Hinduism is simply the proper unwinding of Yājñavalkya’s Rule.

The word ‘Nameless’ is simultaneously a name and a noun and an adjective about itself as a name and a noun. A meta-statement, a self-referential swivel. 

There is no serious tradition that does not carry it, or some close variant of it. Is ‘Nameless’ a name? Or is it not a name? [Try it.] ‘Nameless’ is a Self-Eating Expression. And the Symbol ‘0’ is the paradigmatic Self-Eating Expression.

‘The Seat of the Muses’

 

Community and worship, chant and song, incense and flowers, lit lamps and rustling silk. The rigor of perfected Ritual, the propriety of Tradition, for its own sake. The Bhava of Benediction, the Rasa of Reverence. If your heart cannot hum in the cirque of the sacred, surely you miss.

The tradition of Temple Worship did not begin until around the 2nd Century CE. And the great temple shrines at Thanjavur and Madurai were far more than centers of ritual and ceremony.

The cities grew around them in concentric circles, and they served as the centers, literally and figuratively, for every Art Form. Music and Dance, Literature and Theater.

The sense of the Sublime is at the center of what is to be properly called Art. It does not need to find its space in distorted metaphysical platforms.

The word ‘Museum’ derives from the Greek Mouseion: ‘Seat of the Muses’ [and not to be confused with ‘Mausoleum’, which modern museums closely resemble]. Temples were the original Museums.


Swamimalai in Kumbakonam, my maternal ancestral home, now long demolished.

 

I am a regular at south-indian temples the priests always eyeing me in squinted suspicion. Community and worship, chant and song, incense and flowers, lit lamps and rustling silk. The rigor of perfected Ritual, the propriety of Tradition, for its own sake. The Bhava, the Rasa of Reverence.

If your heart cannot hum in the cirque of the sacred, surely you miss.


The tradition of Temple Worship did not begin until around the 2nd Century CE [See: Yagñá]. And the great temple shrines at Thanjavur and Madurai were far more than centers of ritual and ceremony.

The cities grew around them in concentric circles, and they served as the centers, literally and figuratively, for the cities culture, for every Art Form. Music and Dance, Literature and Theater. Reverence and Worship are not outside Art.

The word ‘Museum’ derives from the Greek Mouseion: ‘Seat of the Muses’ [and not to be confused with ‘Mausoleum’, which modern museums closely resemble]. Temples were the original Museums.

‘I Am Not The Buddha’

 

The Dharma Chakra Mudra,
‘The Turning of the Wheel of Dharma‘,
Circa 400 CE, Sarnath Museum, India

 

If someone would for a hundred thousand eons
Constantly look at the Tathagatha
Without relying on Ultimate Reality

But only seeing the World’s Saviour
That person is attached to Form
and enlarging the Net of Ignorance and Illusion
Tied up to the prison of Birth and Death
Deluded, he does not see the Buddha.

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra

 

The Self-Eating Expression: ‘I am not the Buddha’, was in fact taken to its sacrilegious point of doubt by some who questioned whether there ever was a Buddha in flesh and blood. A fair question given the substance of the Teachings.

If the questioner was annoyingly insistent, the response of the Scholar-Monks was set to the standard template of the Chatushkoti [tetralemma]:

‘The Buddha existed; did not exist; both existed and did not exist; neither existed, nor did not exist’.

Siddhartha Gautama would have chuckled.


The earliest depictions of the Buddha were in fact uniformly aniconic: prints of the feet, an empty chair, an umbrella. Human depictions came much later.

The Central Metaphor of Buddhism

 

Hui-Neng,The Sixth Patriarch: 'Burning The SūtrasTo have gained the Teaching is to abandon the Teaching.

If you haven’t gutted the Self-Eating Expression to empty, taken it all the way back to ‘True Nothing’, you aren’t done yet.

The Buddha didn’t think much of ascetics, god-men, philosophers or sages.

And he liked concrete metaphors. And this is the earliest concrete analogy of the hitherto abstract Self-Eating Expression. It is the central metaphor of the Buddha Dharma.

From the Diamond Sūtra:

‘My teaching of the Good Law is to be likened unto a raft. [Does a man who has safely crossed a flood upon a raft continue his journey carrying that raft upon his head?]

The Buddha-teaching must be relinquished; how much more so mis-teaching!’

You ‘Burn the Sūtras’ once their work is done.


[You know any other Tradition that suggests its core Teachings be gotten rid of once grasped?]

The Scope Of The SEE

 

I could go on giving examples. But I’ll save us both some time and instead display an old Post from my former [if very brief] days of activist writing:

What is common between:

The oldest posit of the Upaniṣads; the central metaphor of Buddhism; the opening lines of the opening verse of the Chinese Tao-Te-Ching [the first philosophy of China]; the opening Zen Koan from the Japanese Mumonkon; the final stage of Islamic Sufi Practice; the Synod of Nicaea [the first ecumenical meeting of the Catholic Church]; The Bhagavad Gita’s ideal Yogin; ‘Vishnu’s Dream’, the best-known of Puranic Myths; Ramana Maharishi, the preeminent Vedanthin’s principal teaching metaphor; The central directive of Taoism; Friedrich Hegel’s very definition of Philosophy; Immanuel Kant’s caution to readers of his ‘Critique’; the sarcophagus of ToutAnkhAmun at the Egypt museum in Cairo; Kurt Godel’s proof [‘The Most Significant Mathematical Discovery of the Century’-cooed Harvard in 1952]; Aristotle’s ‘God’ and his defense of the ‘First Principle of all Analytic Cognition’ as he put it; the grounding assumptions of Epistemology and Ontology, the twin pillars of Academic Philosophy; of Semiotics and Semantics and the origins of Language; the base of ‘Scientific Method’; the Binary Code and the genesis of the Information Age…

OK. I’ll stop right here. 

What’s common between them is that they all pivot on the logical form of the Self-Negating Expression. I’ll get to each one, bye and bye.

[Depending on when the Post was written, I have used Self-Negating Expression and Self-Eating Expression alternatively and as perfect synonyms. I liked the acronym of the latter: ‘SEE’]

Variants On The SEE

 

‘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.]


Finally a note of caution. A Self-Negating Expression is a handrail, an investigative tool meant to be unwound sequentially in the ‘Backward Step’. It is not to be stared at as a static logical complexity [as for example in the contemporary mathematical literature]. That just sinks you deeper into the swamp.

‘Mama, I am dead!’ is conclusive evidence that the kid is very much alive. ‘I don’t Exist!’ unwinds in a negation that throws you into the center of the vortex that is an Infinite Regress.

There are at least three levels of the lingual Self-Negating Expression, a useful distinction. First as the simple self-contradiction as in Aristotle’s ‘Unmover Mover’. These can be intuitively helpful but hard to work with.

Second, again from Aristotle, ‘All Things are False’, a phrase he uses in his celebrated defense of the Principal of Contradiction. Replace it with its legitimate equivalent: ‘All Words are Meaningless’-itself an expression in words, and you have a workable Self-Negating Expression, ready for the ‘Backward Step’.

The most effective lingual Self-Eating Expressions typically include words like: I, Me, All, None, Everything, Nothing, Always, Never. [Nice, slippery, unstable wordsl you wonder why?] The Self-Negating Expression: ‘All statements are false’-itself a statement, is more usable than the expression: ‘This statement is false’. 

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

The best of the world’s Mystic Literature is made up of Self-Negating Expressions. The Logical-Form can show-up in many guises. Not all are trekking-aids.

A ‘Conventional Understanding’

 

The word ‘Model’ as used here is a descendent of what is known in learned circles as ‘Theory’, from the early Greek Theoria: ‘ a perspective birthed in contemplation’.

That is, a Theory is not yet confirmed through experimentation and such, nor is it of the elevated stature of a ready ‘Principle’. But it has a legitimacy of its own born of its base of assumptions.

A Model takes life on a host of assumptions, And they all originate in complex draw from the First Divide, the original cleaving of ‘Subject’ and ‘Object’. 

So what is my First Assumption? That there is such a thing as a ‘Me’ with such things called ‘Assumptions’ stuffed inside my head. Sort of like socks in a drawer.

‘Method’, said Immanuel Kant, ‘is Procedure according to Principle’. Methods of Inquiry that have immediate credibility to the modern-ear begin with the early Greek philosophers.

Inquiry must begin, they said, with the assertion of Axiom, the investigative analogue of the atom. [You can’t prove an Axiom. Bad idea. The idea of ‘proof’ itself is rooted in an Axiom. But people try all the time.]

But in most cases we have to settle for the Assumption. In a fogged-in world it is the reasonable man’s truth. We carry around a head-full, inherited, acquired, imposed. And often our deepest convictions begin in the flimsiest of assumptions.

An Assumption unlike an Axiom, ranks way down on the conviction-meter. This is the world of Belief. You can believe, partially believe or disbelieve an idea. You can never be sure of how true it is. Beliefs go along with Assumptions; where you find one, you’ll find the other.

Experts know a great deal. The sage knows less and less, as his assumption base keeps getting chipped away. Wisdom digs down. Expertise builds up. [No, I would not have the sage fix my stalled refrigerator.]

A good [not to be confused with ‘Higher’] education gives you the confidence to systematically look your Assumptions and Beliefs in the eye. And not because you can now locate Sudan on a map.

An understanding built on Assumptions and corresponding Beliefs and [necessarily] expressed in the vocabulary of Signs and Symbols is called a ‘Model’. A conventional understanding of Self and World [Vyavaharasatya, in its original meaning].

Importantly, there is no ‘Error’ here, ‘Accuracy and Error’ being themselves modeled interpretations. If I am building a house, I darn well hope the architect I’ve hired knows his geometry. And the pilot on my next flight, his coordinates. And my surgeon, especially my surgeon, his straight line.


If you want to jump the gun, which I don’t recommend, go to: Alice’s Wonderland: The World as Model.

The Founding Texts

 

I’ll take the next few Posts to layout the founding texts. The principal sources which bridge the first intuition of Shūnyam in the Rig Vedam to its final functional formulation as the Self-Negating Expression unwound in an ‘Infinite Regress’, the ‘Backward Step’ that necessarily converges on ‘ True Nothing’.

The two core texts are the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad and the Vajracchedikā [‘Diamond’] Sūtra.

The two ancillary texts are the Chandogya Upaniṣad [along with the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, the second of  the two oldest extant texts in the Upaniṣadic canon] and the Hṛdaya [‘Heart’] Sūtra [ incorrectly and commonly interpreted as a summary of the ‘Diamond’ Sūtra].

The four texts span a period of over 800 years ending around 200 BCE, their content revealing an evident continuum.

Once done with that, I’ll get to the method to get to Shūnyam.

The Chandogya Upaniṣad

 

Upaniṣad is Vedanta: ‘The end of the Vedas, of Vedic Understanding’, a word-play on the fortuitous convergence of the metaphoric and literal, as they are located at the concluding part of the Vedic contracting cone. Abstraction and metaphysical content rise as the cone shrinks. 

None of what I am saying is new or original. It was first investigated about 3,500 years ago and first articulated in the Upanishads and later the Buddhist Sūtras. Although ignored, it was largely in complete form by 500 BCE.

The tradition descended from oral-teaching to written word around 1,000 BCE.  that the precondition that Philosophical Inquiry begin with Inquiry on the Inquirer [Subject] becomes obligatory.

The dialogues of Uddalaka and his son Svetaketu in the Chandogya Upaniṣad, the first of the two oldest extant Upanishads, lay-out the pioneering of the ‘Inward Turn’, the first seed that finally birthed the formulation of Shūnyam.

The assumed Subject had to be first clearly identified, the Inquirer’s Platform laid bare, prior to any investigation on an Object. Honest Inquiry began inwards, backwards.

It was here and for the first time, the Inquirer as the Subject of Inquiry, the platform from which he views his world, was being recognized as pivotal in any understanding of ‘That’. Inquiry on the Inquirer [Subject] becomes an obligatory part, the opening step of Formal Inquiry.

The modern assumption that the Subject can be ignored as long as the Object was clearly in view was, after repeated and painful experimentation, found to be false. 

[A laying-out of the Inquirer, making transparent his presumptions and closeted prejudices, is part of the ‘Scientific Stance’, an integral element of what today is termed ‘Scientific Method’. The roots of Formal Meditation Practice begin here. See the later Posts.]

In time there spread a wider appreciation of the issues involved. That this type of Inquiry was of a very special and perilous character, that any inquiry on the nature of the Subject, by an assumed Subject, was fraught with miscues, wrong turns and short stops.

The Inquirers of the Chandogya, didn’t go all the way. They stopped short of Shūnyam, settling instead for a ‘Subtle Inner Essence’. [‘As salt dissolved in water is no longer distinguishable as salt’ was the metaphor used.]

The rounding of the circle comes much later in the Prajna Paramita. But the ‘Inward Turn’ which was formalized in the Sutra as the ‘Backward Step’ leading to Shūnyam was born much earlier. The Sutras could not have birthed if not for the documentation left behind by these first pioneers.

Equus Asinus: The Doctor of Philosophy

 

University, from the Latin: Universus, ‘Whole’.

Did you know that by most reliable accounts the world’s oldest University still giving courses is Bologna, founded in 1088 C.E.?

And that it originated in the monastic schools that had been active for nearly 400 years until the University was established?

No? And you have a degree from Oxford [1167 C.E.]?


In those days, you dictated your risky love-letter to a monk who wrote it and passed it on, to be read to the ear of your Beloved by an equally celibate monk. Difficult days.

Now what did monks in the 11th century do when not making fine brandies. Monks meditate, navel-gaze, step ‘Backward’, go ‘Inward’.

When was the last time your Philosophy Professor suggested a moment’s quiet breathing before discussing the ‘Meaning of Meaning’? Ten minutes of Formal Meditation preceding John Rawls?

You can do a Doctorate in Philosophy today in the best universities without ever raising the question of the ‘Subject’ doing the Inquiry.

If you suggest that it may be relevant, the Professor will likely take you aside and suggest that you might be better suited for Art History.


The word ‘University’, in spite of its loose use, is a very specific term for an institution that birthed in the Western historical and religious tradition. There were Instituitions of Learning that predated the specific concept of the University,  Nalanda or Takshasheela, for example, but they are not to be called ‘Universities’.

The ‘Liberal Education’

 

The word Pundit [Puṇḍita], a scholar, learned teacher, has its roots in the first Vedic texts. The English word ‘Professor’ derives from the medieval Latin Prō-fitērīTo acknowledge, confess, avow a religious order’.

If you were educated as a member of the Learned Class, you were educated in the ways of the religious order that provided you the education. A Modern Liberal Education, wouldn’t you know, was originally conceived as culminating in this momentous achievement.

The beneficiary of a ‘Liberal Education’ in contrast to a technical one or a guild apprenticeship was ‘liberated’ [Latin Liber, ‘Free’] from common blinders and conventional prejudices. A Liberal Education completed and displayed the Finished Man [Liberalis evolved to mean ‘Noble’].

A good education [not to be confused with ‘higher’] gives you the confidence to look your assumptions and beliefs in the eye. It’s really not about knowing the difference between Fahrenheit and Centigrade or the geographic co-ordinates of Khartoum.

The idea is long in the trash, and the Finished Man is now a Gentleman who can properly tie a Windsor-knot. But that was not the beginning idea.

[I’d still rather share a Table with a Gentleman.]

Phaedrus

 

Socrates_statue_at_the_LouvreIn the best known lines from Plato’s Phaedrus:

But I [Socrates] have no leisure for them [other inquiries] at all.

And the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription [Gnothi Seauton] has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.

Yājñavalkya’s Rule

 

The second event is when Uddalaka’s distinguished disciple Yājñavalkya, in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, lays out a simple algorithmic rule to get to ‘That’. The formula is: ‘It is not this! It is not this!’ [Neti, Neti].

The exact word used is Ātman, a term synonymous with ‘That’ in the verses and related to the English wordAnimate’: to come alive, [the Latin Anima Mundi]. Ātman is simply ‘That which animates Life’.

What is ‘It’? And why is the Rule repeated twice? The common interpretation is that this was a sweeping rejection of ‘World as Object’ and a relapse to an ‘Inner Self’ in line with the terminus of the Chandogya Upanishad. An emphatic repetition of the Rule in a linear sealing of the formula.

The Rule is not the revelation: ‘I am not this potted plant’. The Rule is about the claimant, the speaker with the revelation: ‘I am not this potted plant’.

The ‘It’ refers to the Subject making the claim. The rule properly interpreted is a self-scuttling circular loop. ‘The Backward Step’ designed to scuttle the presumed Subject and not a forward sweep for locating a new Object [such as an imagined ‘That’].

Used as linear unfolding Yājñavalkya’s Rule has no natural convergence and will  enter into an insidious spin. No amount of negating will lead to convergence unless the negating finally turns in on itself. And the reel will spin forever if you don’t at some point see that you are part of the movie.

The formula completes, the circle is rounded only when the aim, act and agent of negation are themselves consumed in full self-scuttle. It is a meta-statement; an assertion about an assertion. Yājñavalkya’s Rule, properly rounded becomes: ‘It is not this! It is not: ‘It is not this!’.

When properly rounded Yājñavalkya’s Rule becomes the first formulated Self-Negating Expression and the earliest definition for the Symbol ‘0’.

But the most accurate articulation of the rounded Yājñavalkya’s Rule appears almost 500 years later in the rightly celebrated Vajrachedika Sūtra, in English, the ‘Diamond’ [or ‘Diamond-Cutter’] Sūtra.


Yājñavalkya has a fairly long list of credits. The earliest implicit reference to the ‘Axioms of ‘Self’. The most compact definition for ‘Not-Two’. And more.

‘Hinduism’ in its original intent is simply the proper unwinding of Yājñavalkya’s Rule [although I see an outraged reaction to that summary]. The first temples weren’t built until well past the 2nd Century, the popular Puranas remained unwritten until the 5th Century, the practice of the domesticated Puja begun even later. See the Posts on Hinduism, the Vedanthins and Yagñá.

The Oldest Printed Text

 

The Diamond Sūtra

Man’s Oldest Preserved Printed Text
Ink on Paper, Cave 17, Donhuang, China

Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th day of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong’
[May 11, 868, CE]

British Museum Library, London


When properly rounded, Yājñavalkya’s Rule  would mark the origin of the Via Negativa, the first formulated Self-Negating Expression and the earliest definition for the Symbol ‘0’.

But its most complete elaboration is in the Diamond Sūtra, a specific condensation of the larger Maha Prajñā Pāramitha Sūtra.

Prajñā is ‘Primal Sight-Insight’. Pāramitha marks the limit of achievement, the full rounding of the circle with no remainder [also as the: ‘Other Shore’, the shore of the Immortals].

Sūtra, cognate with ‘Suture’, a strung-together lock, was originally meant as a mnemonic arrangement [hence the repetitious reinforcements], the anchoring reference to an oral teaching tradition.

The turn here is towards a fierce and single-minded emphasis on the absence of any independent, separated empirical ‘Self’ and its implications for viewing the world. This can lead to some exceptionally loopy language [and some profound insights]. It also gives the emerging Buddha Dharma its unique orientation [Anatman].

The recensions of the Maha Prajñā Pāramitha Sūtra expand in stages and reach as high as 100,000 Slokas [Sloka, a metrical unit of 32 syllables]. By the time the Sūtra reaches these rarefied heights of loquacious amplification, the core insights of the original text are lost or faded into footnotes.

The oral tradition and its dependence on mnemonic phrasing did not transfer well to the written word in high Sanskrit. A downward spiral progressively compacting the now unwieldy texts. The 300 Sloka version is the Vajrachedika Sūtra, [In English, the ‘Diamond’ or ‘Diamond-Cutter’ Sūtra].

Arouse the Mind with no abiding place‘ says its most the celebrated line[The metaphor of the Raft, the central metaphor of Buddhism, also originates here.]

The language of the Diamond Sūtra is manifestly opaque to one unfamiliar with its intent. It is special because it is uniquely cognizant of the centrality of the Self-Loop. The Self-Eating Expression is the principal, the only theme of the Sūtra.

[Here is an example parsing the second verse below. The Teaching is that there is no ‘Teaching’. When you see that you gain the Teaching. Until then, you are held back in class. The purport of the Self-Negating Expression is to scuttle all ‘Teaching’ including itself as a ‘Teaching’.]


For the below excerpts, I’ve chosen the simpler but remarkably precise A.F.Price and Wong Mou-Lam translation from the Chinese[1947]. 

On ‘Enlightenment’:

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

Subhuti answered: As I understand 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.

World-honored one, if a holy one of Perfective Enlightenment said to himself “such am I,” he would necessarily partake of the idea of an ego-entity, a personality, a being, or a separated individuality….


On ‘Teaching’:

Subhuti, do not say that the Tathagata conceives the idea: I must set forth a Teaching. For if anyone says that the Tathagata sets forth a Teaching he really slanders Buddha and is unable to explain what I teach.’

‘Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata a teaching to enunciate?

Subhuti replied to the Buddha: World-honored One, indeed, the Tathagata has nothing to teach.’

On Achievement [‘Acquisition’]:

Then Subhuti asked Buddha: World-honored One, in the attainment of the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment did Buddha make no acquisition whatsoever?

Buddha replied: Just so, Subhuti. Through the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment I acquired not even the least thing; therefore it is called ‘Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.

On Liberation:

Subhuti, what do you think? Let no one say the Tathagata cherishes the idea: I must liberate all living beings. Allow no such thought, Subhuti.

Wherefore? Because in reality there are no living beings to be liberated by the Tathagata. If there were living beings for the Tathagata to liberate, He would partake in the idea of selfhood, personality entity, and separate individuality.

On ‘Self’:

Subhuti, if anyone should say that Buddha declares any conception of egoity do you consider he would understand my teaching correctly?

No, World-honored One, such a man would not have any sound understanding of the Tathagata’s teaching, because the World-honored One declares that notions of selfhood, personality, entity and separate individuality, as really existing, are erroneous – these terms are merely figures of speech.

Subhuti, though the common people accept egoity as real, the Tathagata declares that ego is not different from non-ego. Subhuti, those whom the Tathagata referred to as “common people” are not really common people; such is merely a name.

On ‘Views And Aspects’:

Subhuti, if you should conceive the idea that anyone in whom dawns the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment declares that all manifest standards are ended and extinguished, do not countenance such thoughts.

Wherefore? Because the man in whom the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment dawns does not affirm concerning any formula that it is finally extinguished.

Subhuti, those who aspire to the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment should recognize and understand all varieties of things in the same way and cut off the arising of views. Subhuti, as regards aspects, the Tathagata declares that in reality they are not such. They are called [merely called] “aspects”.

Just as the Tathagata declares that characteristics are not characteristics, so He declares that all living beings are not, in fact, living beings.

On ‘Wisdom And Reality’:

At that time Subhuti addressed Buddha, saying: World-honored One, by what name should this Discourse be known, and how should we receive and retain it?

Buddha answered: Subhuti, this Discourse should be known as “The Diamond of the Perfection of Transcendental Wisdom” – thus should you receive and retain it. Subhuti, what is the reason herein? According to the Buddha-teaching the Perfection of Transcendental Wisdom is not really such. “Perfection of Transcendental Wisdom” is just the name given to it…

Fundamental Reality is not, in fact, a distinctive idea; therefore the Tathagata teaches: “Idea of Fundamental Reality” is merely a name.


In the later periods, it was common for senior scholars to try and insert, delete or alter key phrases in the reconstructed verses as means of elaborating and legitimizing their own views or in a misguided attempt at straightening and simplifying the Loop. 

The way to spot a slide in the core content is to stay alert to sudden qualifying lines, lines conflicting with an earlier or later primary metric, or inappropriate, redundant refrains. In general, if the language slips to the linear, if it is avoiding confronting the Self-Loop, it is most likely a later addition.

So watch your step as you read these aged lines. They can be very helpful to the informed reader, fatally beguiling to the casually curious.


Soon after, the descent begins. Pious scribes and well-meaning monks tame Shūnyam’fierce bellow into a feeble whimper, a reverent purr.

What could have stabilized as Shūnyam and the view from Shūnyam gets morphed into a rarefied space of high-abstractions and elevated reifications, all proxying for a missed denouement. [The Posts list about 40 examples.]

The Heart Sutra

 

The 25 Sloka compacting of the MahaPrajñāpāramithā is the Hridaya Sutra [‘Heart Sutra] the daily invocation in every Zendo. Intentionally bite-sized, it is to be read and interpreted only as supplement to the Vajrachedika for its very tight phrasing can seriously miscue the entrant.

No Sutra in the entire canon is more direct, in-your-face, unflinching in its declaration than the Heart Sutra. And very few Sutras have been more insistently spun into a mystic outer-space than the Heart Sutra. Given its brevity I’ve listed it in its entirety below.

Much of it has to do with the introduction of a derivative term Shūnyathā and the truncated interpretation of the ancient expression Namarupa [Rupa] in the verses. Shūnyathā is to Shūnyam in rough analogue as Tathātā is to the pivotal expression Tát [‘That’], a distinction long predating the creation of Shūnyam.

I’ll get to it in detail during the discussion on Classical Logic from where both the English words ‘Emptiness’ [for Shūnyathā] and ‘Form’ [for Namarupa] originate. 

 


THE SUTRA OF THE HEART OF TRANSCENDENT KNOWLEDGE [‘HEART SUTRA’]

Thus have I heard

Once the Blessed One was dwelling in Rajagriha at Vulture Peak mountain, together with a great gathering of the sangha of monks and a great gathering of the sangha of bodhisattvas.

At that time the Blessed One entered the samadhi that expresses the dharma called profound illumination, and at the same time noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, while practicing the profound prajñaparamita, saw in this way: he saw the five skandhas to be empty of nature.

Then, through the power of the Buddha, venerable Shariputra said to noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, “How should a son or daughter of noble family train, who wishes to practice the profound prajñaparamita?”

Addressed in this way, noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva said to venerable Shariputra, “O, Shariputra, a son or daughter of noble family who wishes to practice the profound prajñaparamita should see in this way: seeing the five skandhas to be empty of nature.

Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness. In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are emptiness. Thus, Shariputra, all dharmas are emptiness. There are no characteristics. There is no birth and no cessation. There is no impurity and no purity. There is no decrease and no increase.

Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no appearance, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no dharmas; no eye dhatu up to no mind dhatu, no dhatu of dharmas, no mind consciousness dhatu; no ignorance, no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death; no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, and no non-attainment.

Therefore, Shariputra, since the bodhisattvas have no attainment, they abide by means of prajñaparamita. Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear. They transcend falsity and attain complete nirvana. All the buddhas of the three times, by means of prajñaparamita, fully awaken to unsurpassable, true, complete enlightenment.

Therefore, the great mantra of prajñaparamita, the mantra of great insight, the unsurpassed mantra, the unequalled mantra, the mantra that calms all suffering, should be known as truth, since there is no deception. The prajñaparamita mantra is said in this way:

OM GATE GATE PĀRAGATE PĀRASAMGATE BODHI SVĀHĀ

Thus, Shariputra, the bodhisattva mahasattva should train in the profound prajñaparamita.”

Then the Blessed One arose from that samadhi and praised noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, saying, “Good, good, O son of noble family; thus it is, O son of noble family, thus it is. One should practice the profound prajñaparamita just as you have taught and all the tathagatas will rejoice.”

When the Blessed One had said this, venerable Shariputra and noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, that whole assembly and the world with its gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas rejoiced and praised the words of the Blessed One.


Translated into English by the Nalanda Translation Committee, with reference to several Sanskrit editions.

© 1975, 1980 Nalanda Translation Committee. All rights reserved. 

The Approach to Shūnyam

 

The next dozen or so Posts place you on a direct approach Shūnyam. A necessary preamble that must precede any application of the actual algorithm that alights you on Shūnyam.

As before, the Posts are displayed, unedited, fresh from my dog-eared file box.

The Redoubtable Mr. Holmes

 

Holmes2‘Holmes and Watson’, Richard Gutschmidt, 1906

 

‘How often have I said to you [Watson], that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’.

Arthur Conan-Doyle: ‘The Sign of Four’ [1890]

The ‘Not’

 

The two most deceptively simple words in the English Language are the midgets: ‘Is’ and  ‘Not’. Existence and Absence. [Sanskrit, from the roots: as and na.]

We shall get to the ‘Is’ later. For now, the ‘Not’.

Not; Nothing; Nonsense; Never; Neither; Neutral. They all come from the same gene. One big mischievous joint-family. [I know of no word that more annoys a trained Logician than the word ‘Not’.]

And here is how the mischief begins:

North America and South America together make up the Americas. But North America and Not-North America?

We are not quite sure what exactly is: ‘North America and Not-North America’.

‘Not quite sure?’ That’s right. Not quite sure.

And not quite sure what exactly: ‘Not quite sure’ means.

Nor the above sentence.

 


The Three Layers Of ‘Not-Two

The Philosopher

 

So here you are. A failure at everything you’ve touched. Your wife left you for your best friend. Your son doesn’t return your calls. And your daughter crosses the street if she catches you approaching.

So now you’ve decided to become a philosopher.

You are sitting in your rocking chair [‘the philosopher’s workstation’], a nicely-aged Scotch in hand to energize your thinking.

And what are you thinking about? You are thinking about ‘Infinity’, a very respectable thing for philosopher’s to be thinking about.

I think it was Voltaire who advised you judge a man by his questions, not his answers. He stands with you.

No matter. It’s getting late, you’ve run out of Scotch and its getting to be dinner time. What is ‘Infinity?’ How do you plan to locate this ‘Infinity’ before you get to dinner?

‘Infinity’

 

The symbol ‘0’ has been around for a long time. But the symbol ‘∞’ for ‘Infinity’ however is relatively new, less than 500 years old, coincident with the birth of Science and its need for abstract measurements [the Universe is ‘Finite but Unbounded’?!].

From the Isavasya, the briefest of the principal Upanishads: ‘When taken away from the Infinite Whole [Purnam], the Infinite Whole remains the Infinite Whole’.

Infinity minus ten trillion is still Infinity. That’s what this formally ‘Undefined Concept’ is. ‘Infinity’ is that which doesn’t budge when you take something away from it. Or add something to it.

We don’t quite know what Infinity is. But we are quite sure that ‘Infinity plus one’ is the same as it. The functional definition of this idea has remained pretty much the same since antiquity.

The grizzled Dharmic monks and the geezers around the fountain-square in old Athens didn’t like the word very much, rarely used it. And why not?

‘Infinity’ is from the Latin In-finitas, for ‘Unbounded, Unbordered’. The bells should go off right there. To give definition is to mark a boundary. And here we begin by defining something as the ‘Unbounded’. [Sort of like: ‘That’]


‘Infinite Regress’? A term coined to suggest its user needs serious psychiatric help. The resolution of the Self-Eating Expression is ‘Infinite Regress’ in its most militant form.

The idea of ‘Infinity’ has long attracted the mathematically adventurous. And the philosophically credulous.

The always effective threat of the Preacherman: ‘Thou shalt fry for all Eternity’ [Infinity on a Time-Axis].

Have you ever had the compelling desire to fly faster than Light? Yes? We’ll, you can’t do it. And why can’t you do it? The folks who worked out the Theory of Relativity found that as you approach the speed of Light, the amount of energy needed to move you [or for that matter, a single electron] ‘Tends to Infinity’.

While you snuggle into the empty space of a vacuum tube [‘Tends to Zero’], enthusiastic Scientists are vigorously seeking a ‘Theory of Everything’. Any such theory, by that very fact, invalidates itself.

‘All [this] is Brahman’

 

Your sitting on your rocker is a perfect repeat of what was done by some other men around 3,000 years ago.  

The earliest Mahāvākyam, summary capture of  primal Dharmic Truth, is from the Chandogya Upaniṣad (3.14.1.):

Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma: ‘All [this] is Brahman‘.

Brahman is from the root ‘Brh‘, ‘To Uphold, Support’. Brahman is ‘That which upholds’. It was originally a Mantric expression for Yagnic formalities before it took on metaphysical meanings. It is used as synonymous with ‘That’.

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’.

So how do I go about locating Brahman?

Nothing, Everything And Me

 

There is a problem. A big problem. And what is the problem?

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

Here’s a clip I wrote once 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, hence inexpressible except as Self-Negating Expression.

In looking for ‘Everything’, you must remember to include the Looking-Subject. ‘Everything’ is radically inclusive and hence inexpressible except as Self-Negating Expression.’

The Symbol ‘0’, the original Self-Negating Expression, 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’.

The Gospel Of St. Thomas

 

This idea of ‘The All’ is ubiquitous, found in the literature of every religion, although mostly in their Mystical Parallels. The Traditionalists were in all cases too literal-minded, incapable of proper interpretations.

From the St. Thomas Gospel, a principal Gnostic text [CE 100]:

The Kingdom of God is inside of you and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known..realize that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves you live in poverty..

The Kingdom of God is spread out upon the Earth and men do not see it..when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, then you will enter [the Kingdom].’

‘You read the face of the Sky and of the Earth, but you do not recognize the one before you and you do not know how to read this moment..

I am the All. The All came forth from Me…and attained in Me.’

The Definition of Definition

 

It’s important to remember the presence of this fundamental inclusion: The word-concept ‘Infinity’ is part of the Infinity it is referring to. ‘The All’ is part of the All. ‘Everything’ is part of Everything. ‘The One’ is part of the One. And any reference to ‘Not-True Nothing’ is already a part of Not-True Nothing.

Here is a related Post from my files that illustrates this idea and how ignoring this self-inclusion is often the only way to make Language meaningful as we know it. 


‘Definition’ derives from the Latin: De Finito-‘to make finite’. In other words, to draw a line. to divide and to make Double. Definitions are co-dependent and have no life except in mutual relationship.

But how do I define ‘Definition’ when every definition of ‘Definition’ is itself a defined word?

All Inquiry begins with Definition. It is the center bolt of Rational Discourse. And the line limiting fraudulent bombast.

Definition can be verbal, as that provided by a Dictionary. It can be spatial, auditory, tactile; it can be explicit, implicit, smooth or crooked; static, dynamic, clear or vague.

You may not explicitly know the definitions, but are implicitly using them in any form of expression, logic or language. But there must be a boundary in order to define something. And there must be a definition, explicit or implied, in order to have a dialogue.

We’ve got ourselves a fenced space where the fence needs to be moved further and further out as we repeatedly try to fence it in. If you can’t define ‘Definition’ all Inference drawn is spurious precision. The Logic will prove whatever you want it to prove.

[In the wonder-world of the Self-Loop, the word with the most number of posted definitions the last time I checked seems to be the word ‘Set’, as in Mathematical Set, which is another word for ‘Definition’.]

So what’s the definition of ‘Love’? What’s that? You’ll tell me when you feel it? Touché!

Vishnu’s Dream

 

Mystery and enigma unveil more readily in the fluid feminine of Myth than in the linear logic of argument and sermon.

Here is my favorite version of Genesis [Latin: literally, ‘Birth’].

A Story of Creation is told in the Vishnu-Purana where Vishnu as primordial divinity is stretched in slumber on the cosmic ocean of milk.

He rests his head on the abyssal serpent Ananta [‘Endless’] and dreams a great and grand dream of the universe.

Vishnu is dreaming a great and grand dream that He is dreaming a great and grand dream, and all men and women, all living things in Vishnu’s dream are in turn dreaming a great and grand dream of the Universe in which Vishnu is dreaming a great and grand dream.

[Lots of meticulous synchronization needed; but then that is why Vishnu is Divinity while you and I take the bus to work.]

Vishnu awakes and a lotus unfolds. Brahma, the divinity of Creation emerges and rules the created world of Vishnu for 100 cosmic years [Maha-Manvantara: 311 trillion human years, rounded-off].

At its end, Vishnu closes his eyes and returns to slumber. The lotus folds and the universe and all that is in it return to their source in the Cosmic Dreamer. In time Vishnu awakes, a lotus unfolds, a new Dream begins.

Stop.

You may not interpret this myth in any conventional way. For any commentary you have on this myth is itself part of the myth.

If ‘All is Dream!’ so is my claim that: ‘All is Dream’.

You reading these lines, right here, just now, about this Dream, according to this Dream, is in the middle of this very same Cosmic Dream.

Jackson Pollock

 

An afternoon at New York’s Museum of Modern Art:

‘What’s this?’ I asked the young lady, a curator-assistant, walking alongside me.

‘Oh, that!’ She said, ‘That’s Pollock. It’s painting about Painting.’

 

Paul Jackson Pollock [1912-1956]


An early commercial take on Self-Reference, the recursive image on the Droste Cocoa Container, later dubbed the Droste Effect. [Johannes Musset, 1900]

 

Four Symbols

 

The understanding of the symbols: 0 [Zero], ∞ [Infinity], 1 [One] and I [‘Self’] are mutually inseparable.

In other words, you understand all four. Or you understand none.

 


There is a fifth symbol: ? [‘God’]. It is a waste of time to go after it until you are in view of the other four.

Extracting ‘Self’

 

If you want to get a fix on Brahman, or just plain “infinity’, you first need to get a fix on this idea of ‘Self’. You need to identify it and take it out before you can say anything, anything at all, about them.

So how are you going to do it? Happily for us this is not a penetrating new insight. Its been explored and documented in every which way, up, down and sideways, for as far back as the literature exists.

More helpfully, every possible wrong turn, every miscue has been documented in black and white. Sometimes knowingly, often not.

‘Self’ is a complicated idea. We shall start with ‘Subject’. And begin by stripping it bare, by isolating what is the core relationship that underlies this idea of ‘Subject’. What is it, without which ‘Subject’ is no longer ‘Subject’?

But before getting there I’ll take the next dozen or so Posts to soften the ground a bit.

The First Presumption Of Inquiry

 

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.

Every known ‘First Principle’, in Philosophy, in Logic, in Language, in Science, in Art, takes life atop this platform.

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’.

[Nature rebels at zero correlations; try and find one. But anoint yourself ‘Independent’ and you’ll be granted this exclusive lie.]

We can spend decades testing an academic assumption that underpins a trite theory. But skip out on testing this first presumption that precedes the posit of Theory itself.


Unlike its ancestor the Monastery, every subject taught at a Modern University begins with implicit, mostly unstated ‘First Principles’.

They range from the thoughtful to the fearlessly flippant. [Most Inquiry however cheerfully begins well-past all ‘First Principles’]

All ‘First Principles’ however carry legitimacy only when mounted on the critically important ‘First Presumption’ that there is an ‘Independent and Separate Observer, Self, Subject’.

The professors are unlikely to remember what they are; ask the lady at the front-desk for the ‘First Principles List’ and wreck her day.

‘Entia Non Sunt Multiplicanda…’

 

The Tradition of Formal Inquiry declares that among equally valid explanations, the one with the least assumptions wins. And he who needs the additional assumption gets to defend it. The burden of proof rests with the claimant.

Especially on one as bizarre as this, the claim to an: ‘Independent and Separate Observer, Self, Subject’. But we shall not quibble. And we shall not whine.

This Parsimony Principle goes back to before Aristotle in the Western Tradition. The most recent variant is ‘Occam’s Razor’, very popular with intellectuals who revel in obscure Latin inserts: Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

The Copernican Center

 

Nickolaus Copernicus [1473-1543] Portrait, Torum Town-Hall, Poland

‘Science’, from the Latin Scire, related to the words ‘Cognition’ and ‘Consciousness’, is a form of Knowledge, a type of Knowing.

Science is important. Except for some arrivistes like ‘Liberal Humanism’ or older elites like Agnosticism, it is the Modern Educated Man’s most embraceable Religion.

[And like all religions, it offers tremendous solace and hope. Religions have their reasons to be.]

Nickolaus Copernicus, a Renaissance scholar and a catholic cleric, began the Modern Age of Science. In his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium:

There is no center for the celestial spheres; the center of the Earth is not the center of the Universe; the spheres revolve around the Sun..‘.

Before him, dear old Earth was the static center of the Universe [‘Geocentric’ paradigm]. The Heliocentric Theory [‘Helios’, the Greek Sun-God] found a new deity. The real center, it said, was in-fact the Sun.

Science as a Modern Religion began with planetary self-displacement. Where we stand is not the true center. The Observer is not the unmoving ground.

But Science keeps replacing every displaced god with a new deity. Science hasn’t finished the job, stepped-back only half-way. It needs to step back all the way, to the absence of all centers, of any center, to Shūnyam.

The Final Fault-Line

 

Who Am I ? And Who Are You?

This idea of ‘I’ cuts a wide swath. It is not just for Vegans. It is the original question. And the final fault line.

This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?’ wrote Leo Tolstoy [I’ve tried to finish: ‘War and Peace’. Twice.]

Taking a wider view is Dr. Samuel Huntington. From his: ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, that sits on every Foreign Ministers bookshelf.

A Civilization is the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity… Civilizations are the biggest ‘We’. [And] cultural identity is the central factor shaping a country’s associations and antagonisms…

The question: ‘Which side are you on? has been replaced by the much more fundamental one: ‘Who are you?’ Every state has to have an answer. That answer, its cultural identity, defines the state’s place in world politics, its friends and its enemies.’

Its a big subject. We’ll do it in small pieces.  


The late Dr. Huntington was the Albert J. Weatherhead University Professor and Director of Harvard’s ‘Center For International Affairs’.

The Teddy Bear Behind My Heart

 

Is there a Little Fellow behind your nose and between your ears, a Teddy Bear behind your heart and beneath your ribs, a Viewing Voyeur inside your eye and beneath your brow, that sees and thinks and feels and acts and makes you laugh and makes you cry?

If you find this language flip, I shall give it some gravitas.

Is there to be found, either by observation or by inference, and outside of an unexamined, inherited authority and unquestioned convention an ‘Independent and Separated Observer, ‘Self’, Subject’ in the guise of:

A Physical Body, a Cell, a DNA Code, an Awareness, a Totality, a Nullity, an Unity, an Ego, an Energy, a Life-Force, an Intelligence, an Existence, an ‘Organizing Principle’, an ‘Inner Being’, a Spirit, a ‘Soul’…

An ‘Independent and Separate Knowing Ontological Presence as Entity, Process or Abstraction’?

Go ahead and add any I may have missed. Don’t be shy.

Perhaps there is a Teddy Bear behind your heart and beneath your ribs. We are going to hunt the critter down.


Nature rebels at zero correlations; try and find one. But anoint yourself ‘Independent’ and you’ll be granted this exclusive lie. There is no such state as ‘partially independent’. I hear this thrown around a lot. The correlation is either Zero or Non-Zero.

In-dividuus; Cheese And Crayons

 

‘Individual’: from the Latin, In-dividuus: that which is ‘Indivisible-Further’, as in a-tomous for ‘atom’.

Any wedge of cheese that I can cut once, I can cut twice. Or thrice. In fact I can cut it as fine as I want. I just need sharper and stronger knives.

I can if I am in the mood, cut it a trillion times. Then anther trillion. And just keep going. But this can get tedious. And what I am cutting no longer tastes like cheese. So where should I stop?

[Make sure to do all this in broad daylight. And do not nick the Higgs-Boson, a.k.a. the ‘God-Particle’, else the scientists at CERN will get very upset.]

What applies for cheese, applies for carrots and broccoli. At some point they get tossed into the salad.

The Atom in Physics, the Element in Chemistry, the Axiom in Logic, the Point in Mathematics, the Word in Language, the Morpheme in Linguistics..

Do you remember where you stopped before climbing into your salad?


A ‘Point’ is a beginning unit of measure. It is the place where we decided to stop cutting and mark the location with a name [‘Here Ye! Henceforth this shall be called a ‘Point’].

A Line is defined as a ‘Series of Points’ [what Euclid called a ‘breadthless length’].

We are not sure what a ‘Point’ is; it is formally undefined. But a ‘Line’ is something your little girl understands. No limit of abstraction business here. And away we go with crayon and color.

Crayon and color that make up ‘Self’ and ‘World’.

Constructing ‘Subject’

 

You will have more luck getting a roomful of Biologists agreeing on a definition for the word ‘Alive’, or Logicians for the word ‘Reason’, than you will with a roomful of Psychologists defining the word ‘Subject’. 

The Bio-Engineer knows it is a silicon-chip atop the neurons and between the firing synapse. The Geneticist sneers at this simplification at what is  clearly a Gene [imminent in its discovery]. [DNA, perhaps?]

We won’t even broach the Mystics for now. But a particularly famous one from India is: ‘The sense of ‘I-ness”, which means whatever you want it to mean. [Inner-Self? Spirit? Soul?]

We go low-tech. We ask the Grammarian.

‘The Subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that is doing or being something. It is what acts or is acted upon.’

Ego is Latin for ‘I’. The Cambridge definition reads: ‘Your idea or opinion of yourself’. Note the self-loop.

What Is ‘Subject’?

 

What is the core relationship that underlies this idea of ‘Subject’. What is it that without which ‘Subject’ is no longer ‘Subject’?

‘Method’, said Immanuel Kant, ‘is Procedure according to Principle’. In the next few Posts we get to the basic principles that in their compliance lead to Shūnyam.

An explicit and tested Method, undeniable, irreducible, irreversible and verifiable.

I’ll lay out the axioms and illustrate them with examples over the course of the Posts. Let’s get the basics down first.

Hui Neng to Heidegger

 

The dominant East-Asian [Sino-Korean-Japanese] flavor of C’han-Zen was given to it by its 6th Chinese patriarch, Hui-neng [638-713 CE] and his ‘Platform-Sutras‘ [T’an-cheng].

From the first Nothing is!’ roared Hui neng.

[The story goes that the illiterate Hui-neng awoke to this conviction upon hearing the Diamond Sūtra recited just once at a public-square.]

A recent, widely-publicized survey solemnly titled: ‘The Most Important Unresolved Question Of All Time’, came up with Martin Heidegger’s celebrated query [itself, a variation on Aristotle’s ‘ti on’]:

Why is there Something and not Nothing?’

Very helpful. Smart people say the darnedest things.


Did Hui Neng mean ‘Nothing’ as in Absolute Absence? Or did he mean ‘Nothing’ as a reified ontological presence? The T’an-cheng is 1,500 years. The answer is not clear. But his emphatic declaration is.

I See, Therefore I Am

 

If the Universe was entirely pink, I will never know it to be so. For me to see the pink, there has to be a touch of purple somewhere. A spot of not-pink so that I can see the pink.

There has to be a minimum of two colors showing in order for me to see one color. [A simple version of the much-mauled Buddhist ‘Doctrine of Dependent Designation’.

And one more thing. I need to be able stand apart from this pink and purple in order to see that indeed, the Universe is pink and purple.

I get back home, look out the window and there she is. My ancient jalopy posing as a car.

I See. Therefore I Am.

When Professor Heidegger affirms a ‘Something’, he simultaneously affirms himself.

The big question of course is what is this ‘Himself’ that Dr. Heidegger simultaneously affirms.


‘Sight’ and ‘Thought’ and ‘Voice’ [Vox; ‘In the beginning was the Word‘] are for most of us our most personal possessions. But you will need to work through the whole list.

‘I Have, therefore I Am’ for the confirmed consumerist. ‘I Love, therefore I Am’ for the debutante romantic. You can play with this list for a long time. See the early Post: Cogito Ergo Sum

From the ‘I am Aware [Conscious], therefore I am’, very popular in Vedanthic circles to the Biblical: ‘I Am that I Am’ [ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh; Exodus].

In philosophical circles variations proliferate [George Berkeley et al]. ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?’ Modern Academic Philosophy considers this a question of exceptional nuance.

The Axioms Of Sight

 

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.

Furthermore, and of equal importance:

Anything you see as the source of your vision, by that very fact, is confirmed as not being the source of your vision.

These are the Axioms of Sight. There are no claims of error in which I can have greater conviction.


Note that these Axioms of Sight precede and preempt the Axioms of Formal Logic which originate in primary ontological assumptions such as an existent, independent, separated ‘Self’.

The graphic visual figure ‘0’ conveys both these axioms in summary. The need for the full uncompromised self-scuttle, the lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps, digging out the very ground you currently stand on is marked by the full circle, the orobouros eating its tail.

‘Giving Birth to Myself’

 

The Axioms of Sight: ‘I cannot see what see’s. Anything I see, by that very fact, is not what see’s. And anything I see is always and only seen in relationship to what it is not. 

The Axioms of Sight are the Inviolable Virgins. If I get any one of them pregnant, 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. I have violated the Virgin.

In claiming to see my own eye, I become an Object to myself as Subject. The fall into the Self-Loop. The ‘Cycle of Birth and Death’.

Deux Factus Sum: ‘I am become God’. I double, I multiply and divide, while all the time remaining myself.


You possess this wondrous thing called ‘Mind’. Right here, atop the synapse and betwixt the neuron.

You model yourself and the world around you in great sweeps of analytic glee. And then the conflicts and contradictions show-up.

No fear. You simply turn this formidable apparatus, this ‘Mind’, on ‘Mind’ itself. [A spot of grease should fix things nicely.]

You just violated the Virgin. You are re-born [‘Born-Again’!]. 


You only have two practical options. One is to continue using ‘Mind’ as if you understood what ‘Mind’ was, which is what most of us do. That’s the same as implicitly ‘Turning Mind on Mind’ in an un-investigated presumption of knowing what it is.

The other is to buy yourself a durable Meditation Mat.

Meditation: The Original Laboratory

 

How do I investigate what a ‘Thought’ is without using a thought?

How do I investigate what ‘Mind’ is without using mind?

How do ‘I’ investigate ‘Me’?

A search for Shūnyam without a Meditation Practice in place is not a good idea. 


Dhyāna, or Formal Meditation, an elemental, powerful and time-tested tool is the single-best practice to sight the Self-Loop, to grab the swirling cat’s tail. And it’s free. Take it. 

Formal meditation as an investigative tool had its origins in the recognition of self-reference lying at the heart of almost every serious inquiry. And the ancestor of ‘The Scientific Stance’; the sustained aseptic posture of a ‘Disinterested Alertness’. The original laboratory. 

The track of the Meditator is fairly well-established. After a lengthy period of investigating conceptual and concrete Objects and repeatedly catching himself chasing his tail in braided, layered self-referential loops, his focus turns inwards towards the Subject, the Investigator himself.

This is the entry into the long hall of mirrors. The very slippery search for ‘Self’ by an assumed ‘Self’. The handrail, the way to make it navigable, is to work the Axioms of ‘Self’ and Sight as made simple in the formula for Shūnyam.

Simply stop confounding ‘Something’ as ‘True Nothing’. And don’t blink, wink or look away at what you see. A ‘Backward Step’ in infinite regress that will naturally converge at Shūnyam.

The terminating act and event of Investigative Meditation Practice. Sight it and you are done.


Mystic, from Myein, ‘To close, shut [eyes and lips]’; you have to close the eye to see straight, shut the lip to speak truth.

It’s not a big secret. Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra has Meditation Practice as the high-point of a proper 8-part Yoga regimen. That no Yoga Teacher I’ve met is familiar with the seriousness of this stipulation would surprise him. [Get a good Teacher; a bad one can be lethally destructive.]

The longevity of traditions such as Zen [the name ZaZen itself a tag for Zen’s choice of ‘Best Meditation Practice’] owe their success to their founders acknowledging this truth and installing Meditation Practice at the core of their discipline. [All archetypal renderings of the Buddha are in formal Meditation Posture.] 

I continue to remain incredulous that self-referential paradoxes whether in Logic or Language or Mathematics can be investigated by learned professionals who have no basic training in Meditation Practices. Not the least. Most have never heard of it; and the few who have would wince if caught doing it. [See the later Posts on modern ‘Paradoxes’]

Darśana: To SEE

 

Darśana, is from the Sanskrit root: dṛś, literally,To See’. The Sanskritic analogue of the Greek Phílosophía [‘Lover of Wisdom’] is the Seer: ‘One who See’s’.

One loves Wisdom of course, but it is not settled until one ‘Sees’. All orthodox Hindu schools of Philosophy are officially Darśanas.

Argument is docked on assumption, Faith on belief. One can question it; reroute the inference; toss-up diversionary flak. But it’s a lot harder to ‘Unsee’ what you ‘See’.

‘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.

I look in a mirror and see my eye. I see my eye seeing my eye. I see my eye seeing my eye seeing my eye..

I see my Mind seeing my Mind. I catch my Thought catching my Thought. I Know. I Know that I Know. I Know that I Know that I Know…

This can get a little more loopy when the high inferential abstractions of Logic and Language are at play. Try your hand at: ‘All Words are Meaningless’-itself an expression in words. Or: ‘I don’t Exist!’

Darśana is the ‘Backward Step’, anInfinite Regress’ back to ‘True Nothing’ 


There are levels and levels of ‘Seeing’. For a pious Hindu, to see the adorned deity with a full and sincere heart is in turn to be seen by the deity in an act of divine grace [and often, such simple piety trumps all philosophy and metaphysics].

Watch out, though. Sanskrit Literature carries a long list of exclusive sightings made over the centuries by God-Men and Knaves. Each is raised up the flagpole and if anyone salutes a new school is born. All orthodox schools are officially Darśanas.

The Axiom Of Subject

 

Let’s go from ‘Sight’ to ‘Subject’.

‘Subject’ is the idea closest to me. It is me. It’s ridiculous to doubt it, of course. But just to be sure we are going to take a closer look.

With ‘Subject’, it’s not just ‘Seeing’; it’s any sensory relationship.

I can’t see the source of my seeing, I can’t hear the source of my hearing, taste the source of my tasting… In general, I can’t have any sensory relationship with my sensory source.

It’s not just sensory relationships. It’s any and all relationships.

I cannot have any kind of cognitive relationship with my cognitive source; affective relationship with my affective source.; volitional relationship with my volitional source. And so on.

I can’t have any true relationship with ‘Me’. Any relationship I have can only be with an idea of ‘Me’ in a ‘confounding of Object as Subject’. All markings of Subject are through, and only through, Object. This is the Axiom of ‘Self’.

The Object confounded as Subject could be direct or inferred, extrapolated or truncated, clear or contorted, explicit and verbalized or implicit and muted. Look in the basement. Check the attic. It’s a learned acquired skill to find the fellow.   

This is the basic principle. In delicious irony, ‘I cannot say anything honest about myself’ is the only honest thing I can say about myself. [Is that a Self-Negating Expression sneaking by?]

The Oldest Injunction In Language

 

‘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.

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.

Just like a thought chasing Thought, mind chasing Mind, consciousness chasing Consciousness, any Self I can inquire about, be aware of or know, is not me, but a model of ‘Me’. A confounding of ‘Object as Subject’.


Gnothi Seauton. The celebrated words on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Theodosius razed it to the ground hoping to end all remnants of Paganism. It didn’t work. Oscar Wilde proposed an appealing alternative, a big hit with the New-Age community: ‘Be Thyself’.

‘I am my Body!’

 

Perhaps one of the strongest convictions of this less-than-luminous Age is: ‘I am my Body’.

DiBiasi Restaurant dinner. Ernest Orlando Lawrence (left), Harold Walke, and Paul Aebersold (with cake), taken November 17, 1939. Radiation Lab dinner in honor of Ernest Orlando Lawrence for winning the Nobel Prize.The excerpt below is from the findings of Dr. Paul Aebersold’s [Smithsonian: 1953-54] radioisotope experiments. Earlier he had helped build the first Cyclotron at Berkeley.

Studies at the Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center have revealed that about 98 percent of all the atoms in a human body are replaced every year.

Experts..have concluded that there is a complete, 100 percent turnover of atoms in the body at least every five years. In other words, not one single atom present in your body today was there five years ago.

You get a new suit of skin every month and a new liver every six weeks. [Stomach] lining lasts five days…bones are not the solid, stable, concrete-like things you [thought]…the bones you have today are different from the bones you had a year ago.

This revelation brought great excitement to the New-Age community which claimed it confirmed their long-held belief in out-of-body experiences. It was vigorously attacked by more sober scientists who after diligent research showed that the number was not 98% as claimed, but in fact only 91%.

Later findings on neural-cell DNA and Tooth-Enamel further brought down the number. Perhaps you are your Tooth-Enamel.

The Mimic Construct

 

The roots of Shūnyam reach into the Axiom of Subject.

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’ [as in -1<0<+1; see the numerous examples].

‘True Nothing’ says: ‘You cannot see me, smell me, love me or hate me, grasp me or recoil from me. You cannot think of me, appraise me, perceive me, comprehend me or remember me, give me features or properties or tendencies, foist names, attributes, aspects. qualities…

The way, only way, to get to me is by the procedure of the Self-Negating Expression. The systematic sawing-off of the tree branch you are sitting on.’

It is ridiculously simple to lay-out and extraordinarily difficult to effect. All you need to do is systematically keep rejecting every ‘Something’, keep stepping back, until you get to ‘True Nothing.

Where is Shūnyam?

 

The Symbol ‘0’ is the graphic expression for Shūnyam. In English, True Nothing, Absolute Absence. It is the original formulated Self-Negating Expression, an instant contradiction, the short blade of Seppuku.

A Self-Negating Expression is simply an expression which you need to negate in order to get to what it is referring, pointing to. But you cannot go half-way, you cannot stop-short. You have to fully complete the self-scuttle, wholly round the circle. 

You will find Shūnyam 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’. Where you thought there was a ‘Self’ as Subject, there you will find Shūnyam.

The way, the only way to arrive at the settled conviction of the absence of a Separated ‘Self’ is to be in clear sight of Shūnyam. Short of that, all talk about it is book-read gibberish.

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

And Shūnyam is fully in effect, not tomorrow, not on the mountain-top but here and now as you read this line. If you see that, good. If you don’t, that’s all right too.


If you find this claim excessive it can be reset in smaller steps. Instead of denying the presence of a ‘Self’, confirm for yourself the absence of any claimed Subject that is itself not a complex mix of Objects. The rest will follow. I’ll expand on this in a later Post.

The Natural Limit Of Inquiry

 

The ‘Subject-Object’ divide did not drop down from heaven. It is a very terrestrial man-made construction, a direct and immediate result of the first cut, the only child, of the assumption of an ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self’. When Subject exits, it takes with it the entirety of the ‘Subject; Object’ Divide. 

The analytic convenience of the ‘Subject-Object Divide’ is one unit. They are mutually supporting modeling artifacts. The recurring act of an undead Subject is to name an Object that in turn reflexively gives it life.

Are you still sneaking in ever more nuanced names and sophisticated abstractions, synthetic ‘Objects’ to match an absent ‘Subject’? It’s the oldest trick in the book to assure yourself that you are still around.

At Shūnyam, and only at Shūnyam, is there neither necessity nor urge to posit an artificial ‘Object’ to partner a now confirmed absent Subject. To convincingly and irreversibly arrive here is the only reliable marker of having alighted on Shūnyam.

[If cornered in a dark alley, you can always say: ‘That!‘] 

The [Self-Scuttling] Sight-Insight on the very nature of Sight-Insight. And the Natural Limit of Inquiry [‘Inquiry’ with a capital ‘I’; I am still inquiring as to why my spinach never just blanches just right]

To not end the Inquiry in the arisen conviction of the absence of a ‘Self’ is to have not awoken to the significance of the absence of a ‘Self’ in the first place. 

Shūnyam just takes the logical form of ‘That’, both the least presumptive name and a clear Self-Negating Expression, and pushes it until it can no longer be pushed anymore.

Irreducible, irreversible, explicit and verifiable, you cannot fudge it. You either sight it or you don’t. Like the Nerds say: ‘It’s a ‘0,1’ thing’.


Importantly, it’s not that you have now restored a sundered whole to its original glory in an act of ecstatic mystical awakening. There simply was no division all along. Or more precisely, the notion of integration and division itself is recognized for what it is, a very man-made modeled idea.

The last ‘Divide’ that will need to be crossed is ‘True Nothing’ and ‘Not-True Nothing’. It’s a very helpful marker that I’ll discuss it in another Post.

Enlightenment: The Sight-Insight On Sight-Insight

 

From the Diamond Sūtra:

Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata attained the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment? Has the Tathagata a teaching to enunciate?

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

Very importantly, the denouement is not the newly discovered absence of an ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self’.

The denouement is that there never, ever was any such thing as an ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self’. There is no ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self’ here to experience any new ‘Denouement’.

This is:The [Self-Scuttling] Sight-Insight on the very nature of Sight-Insight’.

‘Enlightenment’, if you want to give it such a majestic title, is realizing that there is no such special state as ‘Enlightenment’. When you realize that, you are ‘Enlightened’; until you realize that, you are in ‘Ignorance’.

Wake up and realize you were never asleep. If you think you have newly woken up, by that very fact, you are still asleep.


If you hear about how some trekker awoke to ecstatic ‘Oneness’ in him realizing the absence of his own ‘Self’ [or anything along the same lines] you can be sure that he has not alighted on Shūnyam.

‘This Inverted Ashwattha Tree’

 

This Inverted Ashwattha tree,
With its roots above
And it’s branches below,
Is not in view to one
Rooted in this world..
The Sun illuminates not,
Nor Moon, nor Fire..
[That Source] from where
All light sets-forth
And that having reached,
The Traveler never returns.’

The Bhagavad-Gītā


Poetry should not be explained or interpreted. It should wander as it will, dance with the spirit of the Reader. Only the incorrigibly pedantic are presumptuous enough to tell you how it is to be read.

Having said that, I will take a minute to interpret the above lines:

‘The Traveler never returns’: Once sighted, Shūnyam can never be ‘unsighted’. It is a one-way street. That is its street-level meaning. Noting that, you can now elevate it as high as you want.

‘Is not in view to one rooted in the World’: Just keep in mind that any attempt to ‘Exit the World’ is itself a very worldly act. One of the many tasks of the Self-Negating Expression is to convince you of that condition.

The Circle of Self-Deception

 

Robert Lee Frost [1874-1963]

Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee, and I’ll forgive Thy great big one on me.‘ So chided Robert Frost.

Self-Deception is complete because there is no deception at all.

That’s The Joke. The great big one. The priceless howler. An artlessly honest Joke, not a clever play of words.

But there’s a big difference between reading it and realizing it. Same as between hearing it and getting it.

Like Silence, like Poetry, like Prayer, a Joke is not to be explained. If you explain the Joke, by that very act, you destroy the Joke. And what you have explained is not the Joke. But if you understand, you laugh. And just as often, weep.

A Joke is not always in the mood to make you laugh. And Absurdity, it’s kid-sister Irony, and it’s kid-brother Paradox, are not always funny. They can just as well make you wail, bring you to your knees. Especially if you didn’t get the Joke.

‘Plain As Daylight!’

 

‘Let me get this straight.

Your asking me if there is a ‘Me’? You want me to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to: ‘Do I exist?’ What sort of a dumbassed question is that?

Of Course I exist. Of Course there is a ‘Me’. Jeez! Everybody knows that! Says so right here on my application. Plain as daylight. Take a look.’


1. Name [Family]
2. Name [First]
3. Sex
4. Height
5. Weight
6. Ethnicity
7. Religious Affiliation [If any]
8. Cell Phone Number and Email Address
9. Residential Address
10. Drivers License State-of-Issue and Number
11. Date of Birth
12. Place of Birth [ City, Country]
13. Current Nationality
14. Marital Status
15. Spouse’s Name [If any]
16. Names of Children [if any]
17. Education [High School, College]
18. Occupation
19. Annual Income
20. Have you ever been convicted of a felony

[The Government agrees. Of Course you exist.]

How to Spot The Enlightened Man

Marlene Dietrich, Beret and Tweeds, and no-less a Woman.

 


From the Diamond Sūtra:

Subhuti, what do you think? Is the Tathagata to be recognized by some material characteristic?’

‘No, World-honored One; the Tathagata cannot be recognized by any material characteristic.’

‘Wherefore? Because the Tathagata has said that material characteristics are not, in fact, material characteristics. Subhuti, wheresoever are material characteristics there is delusion; but whoso perceives that all characteristics are in fact no-characteristics, perceives the Tathagata.’

‘Subhuti, what do you think? May the Tathagata be perceived by the thirty-two physical peculiarities [of an outstanding sage]?’

‘No, World-honored One, the Tathagata may not be perceived by these thirty-two marks. Wherefore? Because the Tathagata has explained that the thirty-two marks are not really such; they are called “the thirty-two marks.’

‘Subhuti, what do you think? Can the Buddha be perceived by His perfectly-formed body?’

‘No, World-honored One, the Tathagata cannot be perceived by His perfectly-formed body, because the Tathagata teaches that a perfectly-formed body is not really such; it is merely called “a perfectly-formed body.

Silence

 

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.

If you must say a word, it may only be as Self-Eating Expression. And its limit is as the Symbol ‘0’.

‘Silence’ [Mounam] has a long history going back to the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad and the mystic Mantra AUM. The Sound ‘Silence!’ itself is the auditory analogue of Shūnyam. The late-stage teachings were Rahásya, ‘Secret’. [‘Mute’ as in ‘Silent’, is from the Sanskrit Mūka]

But ‘Silence’ is also the ripest plum for mystical obscurantists and book-read teachers who have had a field-day with the word for centuries. They can mystify a brick but this one is a particularly rich lode.

Neti! Neti!‘ shouted Yagnavalkya. If you can’t tolerate the ambiguity, you can always say: That!

The Buddha famously held his Silence [Avyākṛta, Anirvacaniya] to all questions about the terminus. 

Vimalakirti; 705-780 CE; Donhuang Caves, China

Bodhidharma [circa 500 CE], the Founding Patriarch of C’han-Zen defines the ends of Practice:

A special transmission outside the scriptures; no dependence on words and letters; seeing into one’s self-nature and the attaining to Buddha-hood.’

Vimalakīrti, a man I would have related to, liked to spend his evenings at the cat-houses and casinos of the vibrant old city of Vaishali [now long dead, having been overrun by Religion].

Asked to ‘Explain the door to Non-Dual Understanding’, he stood silent. ‘Vimalakirti’s Lion’s Roar’ [Vimalakirt Sūtra].

From the Jǐngdé Records [Jǐngdé chuándēng], circa 10th Century CE:

Bodhidharma asked, “Can each of you say something to demonstrate your understanding?”
Dao Fu stepped forward and said, “It is not bound by words and phrases, nor is it separate from words and phrases. This is the function of the Tao.”
Bodhidharma: “You have attained my skin.”
The nun Zong Chi stepped up and said, “It is like a glorious glimpse of the realm of Akshobhya Buddha. Seen once, it need not be seen again.”
Bodhidharma; “You have attained my flesh.”
Dao Yu said, “The four elements are all empty. The five skandhas are without actual existence. Not a single dharma can be grasped.”
Bodhidharma: “You have attained my bones.”
Finally, Dazu Huike came forth, bowed deeply in silence and stood up straight.
Bodhidharma said, “You have attained my marrow.”

The Robe and Bowl were passed on to Dazu Huike.

Nirvāṇa

 

Nirvāṇa marks the end of Saṃsāra, the latter term translatable with adequate accuracy as a ‘Disoriented Search’. Nothing more is to be said. Nirvāṇa is defined only in relationship to what it is not.

The answer to the question: ‘What is Nirvāṇa?’ lies in an understanding of the misunderstanding that underlies the question itself.

The self-scuttling has to be done at the level of the questioner. And to properly sunder the Self-Loop is to comprehensively answer the question.

It is dangerously facile to talk about the possible absence of an ‘Independent ‘Self” to one firmly ensconced in it. It is markedly unwise to try and explain the nature of ‘World’ to one who can interpret the explanation only from the platform of a presumed observing and separated ‘Self’.

[In other words, don’t write Sites like this one. It’s what the ‘Diamond Sūtra tries to do recklessly risking all credibility.]

Nirvāṇa in its proper definition has nothing at all to do with any empyrean ecstasy, cosmic peace or any of that later rubbish. And no, upon reaching it you still will not be able to part the Red Sea.

The word Nirvāṇa long predates the Buddhist literature. And the problem of ambitious Guru’s unknown to Shūnyam, who have pinned a plethora of enticing and outright misleading attributes on Nirvāṇa is a very old one.

The word Nirvāṇa, literally a ‘Flaring-Out’, has its etymological roots in a fire that has ‘Come to Rest’. In its earliest Buddhist elaboration, the MadhimaNikaya says it is like asking the direction taken by a dead fire: ‘To ask: ‘In which direction has [the dead] fire gone?’, is a question that: ‘does not fit the case’.

In the common analogy, its like explaining life outside water to a fish that has known nothing else and cannot conceive it with any credence.

The fish is an easier case. With us humans, explanation is both unconvincing and deleterious. What we conventionally mean by ‘Understanding’ itself begins in the presumption of a separated ”Self’ and World’.

It’s sort of like the situation at the counter at the Rolls-Royce dealership. If you need to ask the price you probably can’t afford it.

If you need to have Nirvāṇa explained, you won’t understand it.

‘Not-Two’

 

‘Not-Two’ [Àdvaitham]: a term that predates Pūjyam, its transparent simplicity relentlessly mystified and obscured in the mainstream literature. 

At the risk of not properly contextualizing a 1,200 year gap in time I cite the Chinese C’han-Zen sage Huang-po Hsi-yün [around 850 CE]:

A perception sudden as blinking that subject and object are one will lead to a deeply mysterious wordless understanding‘.

Shūnyam however claims that the modeled-construct of ‘Subject and Object’ is itself deeply problematic, an artifice of convenience arisen in the first cleaving of a ‘Separated Self’ extended to absurd limits.

There is no ‘Subject and Object’ to be newly united. There never was any ‘Subject and Object’ that needed to be united.

Here, an extract from the rightly celebrated Hsin-hsin Ming [Faith Heart-Mind] by the Third Ch’an Patriarch Chien-chih Seng-ts’an [Around 550 CE]:

‘In this world of suchness
there is neither self nor other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony with this reality
just say when doubt rises “not two”.
In this “not two” nothing is separate,
nothing is excluded.’

‘The One’ [Sanskrit: Ekam Sat]. The earliest expansion of ‘Not-Two’ in the literature is as: ‘One without a Second’. More precise and by far the most succinct definition is Yājñavalkya’s take: ‘Neither inside not outside’.

‘The One’ can be found in the history of every literate tradition. From ‘The One’ of Plotinus that was the mainstay of the hugely influential European Neo-Platonic tradition with roots in the Parmenides to that of that of the Abrahamic Faiths [which gets conceptualized and reified into a later ‘Monotheism’.]

‘Not-Two’ is a more careful construction, an intentional negation. ‘The One’ is an assertion and its selective interpretations can take off on wild spins as evidenced in the literature. [‘The Rapist and the Raped; aren’t we all one big happy family?’].

‘Not-Two’. You can carry it around in your shirt-pocket. Bounce it, baby it, bully it. It will spring back to shape.


The ‘Not’

The Three layers Of ‘Not-Two’

 

I once sat in on a Sangha meeting where the learned monk was whipping up a lather: ‘Not-Two; Not-Three; Not-Four’, he pounded.

This is not what Not-Two means. It is not a swipe at all notions of plurality. Once you miss the significance of ‘Two’, you can go all the way to quadrillion. And it wouldn’t make any difference.

Not-Two: [Àdvaitham] is a term that predates Shūnyam. It has lots of layers and you won’t really notice them until you slip on one. But the three most relevant can be readily listed.

The first is the assumption of the ‘Independent and Separate ‘Self’. The ‘Two’ of the ‘Subject-Object Divide’. [‘Self and World’; ‘God and Man’, and so on.]

Not-Two is a categorical statement of Truth. It is not an appellation, not a name for an ‘Object’ [process, state, sentiment, anything you can objectify]. And the confounding of ‘Not-Two’ as a conventional reference, a name, is pervasive in the historical literature.

Not-Two actively locks in the Subject in a verbal hog-tie. You may not not say a word [or write a Post] about it. 

Secondly, the open-ended ‘Not’. [See: ‘The ‘Not]

Thirdly, our reflexive tendency to abstract in Sign and Symbol [‘Doubles that Refer’] and hence make our World amenable to Logic and Language. In particular, expressions formulated as ‘Sign’, and further extended in Logic, Language and ‘Thought’. And then cheerfully contracted or expanded until we get seriously lost.


[There is nothing ‘wrong’ with sign or symbol, logic or language. The binary divides of Right and Wrong, Accuracy and Error are all assertions which themselves arise, take shape in these very vehicles. They are legitimate modeling constructs in context.]

The Hsin-hsin Ming

 

I had inserted an excerpt from this classic Poem in the previous Post. This being a website, I don’t see why the whole Poem should not be published as it is widely available on the Web. So here is Richard Clarke’s popular translation:

 

The Hsin-hsin Ming [Faith Heart-Mind] by the Third Ch’an Patriarch Chien-chih Seng-ts’an

‘The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.

The Way is perfect like vast space
where nothing is lacking and nothing in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.

Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene in the oneness of things and such
erroneous views will disappear by themselves.

When you try to stop activity by passivity
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other
you will never know Oneness.

Those who do not live in the single Way
fail in both activity and passivity,
assertion and denial.
To deny the reality of things
is to miss their reality;
To assert the emptiness of things
is to miss their reality.

The more you talk and think about it,
the further astray you wander from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking,
and there is nothing you will not be able to know.

To return to the root is to find meaning,
but to pursue appearances is to miss the source.
At the moment of inner enlightenment
there is a going beyond appearance and emptiness.
The changes that appear to occur in the empty world
we call real only because of our ignorance.

Do not search for the truth;
only cease to cherish opinions.
do not remain in the dualistic state.
Avoid such pursuits carefully.
If there is even a trace of this and that,
of right and wrong,
the mind-essence will be lost in confusion.

Although all dualities come from the One,
do not be attached even to this One.
When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way,
nothing in the world can offend.
And when a thing can no longer offend,
it ceases to exist in the old way.

When no discriminating thoughts arise,
the old mind ceases to exist.
When thought objects vanish,
the thinking-subject vanishes:
As when the mind vanishes, objects vanish.

Things are objects because of the subject (mind):
the mind (subject) is such because of things (object).
Understand the relativity of these two
and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness.

In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable
and each contains in itself the whole world.
If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine
you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.

To live in the Great Way is neither easy nor difficult.
But those with limited views are fearful and irresolute:
the faster they hurry, the slower they go.

And clinging (attachment) cannot be limited:
Even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment
is to go astray. Just let things be in their own way
and there will be neither coming not going.

Obey the nature of things (your own nature)
and you will walk freely and undisturbed.
When the thought is in bondage the truth is hidden
for everything is murky and unclear.

And the burdensome practice of judging
brings annoyance and weariness.
What benefit can be derived
from distinctions and separations?

If you wish to move in the One Way
do not dislike even the world of senses and ideas.
Indeed, to accept them fully
is identical with enlightenment.

The wise man strives to no goals
but the foolish man fetters himself.
There is one Dharma, not many.

Distinctions arise from the clinging needs
of the ignorant.

To seek Mind with the (discriminating) mind
is the greatest of all mistakes.

Rest and unrest derive from illusion;
with enlightenment
there is no liking and disliking.
All dualities come from ignorant inference.

They are like dreams or flowers in air –
foolish to try to grasp them.
Gain and loss, right and wrong,
such thoughts must
finally be abolished at once.

If the eye never sleeps,
all dreams will naturally cease.
If the mind makes no discriminations,
the ten thousand things are as they are,
of single essence.

To understand the mystery of this One-essence
is to be released from all entanglements.
When all things are seen equally
the timeless Self-essence is reached,

No comparisons or analogies are possible
in this causeless, relationless state.
Consider movement stationary
and the stationary in motion,

both movement and rest disappear.
When such dualities cease to exist
Oneness itself cannot exist.
To this ultimate finality
no law or description applies.

For the unified mind in accord with the way
all self-centered striving ceases.
Doubts and irresolutions vanish
and life in true faith is possible.

With a single stroke we are freed from bondage:
Nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing.
All is empty, clear, self-illuminating,
with no exertion of the mind’s power.
Here thought, feeling,
knowledge and imagination are of no value.

In this world of suchness
there is neither self nor other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony with this reality
just say when doubt rises “not two”.
In this “not two” nothing is separate,
nothing is excluded.

No matter when or where,
enlightenment means entering this truth.
And this truth is beyond extension
or diminution in time and space:
In it a single thought is ten thousand years.

Emptiness here, emptiness there,
but the infinite universe
stands always before your eyes.
Infinitely large and infinitely small;
no difference, for definitions have vanished
and no boundaries are seen.

So too with Being and non-Being.
Don’t waste time in doubts and arguments
That have nothing to do with this.

One thing, all things,
move among and intermingle without distinction.
To live in this realization
is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.

To live in this faith is the road to non-duality,
because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.

Words!
The Way is beyond language,
for in it there is
no yesterday
no tomorrow
no today.’

 

Translated from the Chinese by Richard B. Clarke [1933-2013]. I’ve tried to keep the spacing as Richard translated it but it refuses to remain still and realigns itself on a whim. So stay alert for funny endings.

Truth And Trust

 

The English translation of the Hsin-hsin Ming has various interpretations of the Chinese Character that makes up its title, most commonly as ‘Faith Heart-Mind’ or the better known ‘Trusting Mind’. And the Poem itself refers to its purpose as a ‘Life lived in True Faith’, a ‘Living in Trust’.

‘Truth’, in delightful irony is a chameleon of a word. It derives from the Old-English Treiewo, itself from the ProtoGerman Treuwaz. Etymological descendant of the Sanskrit Dre and Dhr [as in Dharma], it originally meant ‘Firm, Immovable’.

Around the 14th Century it began a descent in meaning to Fidelity, to a conformance’ [to the situation] and in time to simply as ‘Faith’. Truth in its deepest meaning had something to do with an ‘Unshook Trust’.

As late as the 19th Century Academic philosophers were coming up with ‘Theories of Truth’ which by that very fact vitiates its end. The Consistency Theory of Truth; the Coherence Theory of Truth; the Correspondence Theory of Truth and so on. Plato would have gulped.

If you look up modern dictionary definitions you will find explanations in keeping with the times: ‘Actuality, Certainty, Conformance with Facts, Accord with Reality’ and so on although each of these terms [‘Fact’] would itself require a lengthy elaboration.

In Martin Heidegger’s insightful take, Truth has not to do with logical propositions but rather:

The essence of Truth is Freedom and the essence of Freedom …is the resolutely open bearing that does not close up on itself…Philosophical Thinking’ is the stern and resolute openness that does not disrupt the concealing but entreats its open essence into the open regions of the understanding and thus into its own Truth.’

The Beginner’s Wish-List

 

Religion [from Re-Ligaire: ‘to bind back’] in its broadest sense begins with the assignment of a Name other than as ‘Nameless’, a certified Self-Negating Expression.

If you can give your terminus a feature, however exalted, banal or debased, you have a man-made ‘God’. A modeled construction born of the first cleaving, the presumption  of a Separated ‘Self’.

An far back as the early Upaniṣads, names proliferate: Subtle Essence; Imperceptible; Omniscient; Omnipresent; Omnipotent; Unattached; Unfetterred.

Cherished human virtues are foisted on top of them: Compassionate, Happy, Generous, Just, Kind, Loving, Merciful, Motherly and so on. The standard wish-list of the beginning practioneer.

You will find close variants of this list in every formal religious tradition. Just skim the opening pages.

Here is a short-list, premature photographs clicked in a stopping-short of Shūnyam. 

‘The All’, Absence, Awareness, Being, [A Physical] Body, [A] Code, Co-Dependence, Consciousness, Emptiness, Energy, Essence, Existence, Form, Groundlessness, Impermanence, Infinity, Inner-Being, Intelligence, Life-Force, [Man-Made, Man-Like] Gods, Mind, No-Mind, No-Thought, Nothingness, Now-ness, Not-Nothing, Nullity, ‘The One’, Organizing-Principle, Presence, Silence, Soul, Space, Spirit, Stillness, That-ness, Totality, ‘True-Self’, Unconscious, Unity, Void…

Many on the above list are in fact perfectly good Self-Eating Expressions [‘The All’, for example]. The problem is that they have not been recognized as such and the self-scuttle is prematurely truncated. [That is, truncated before a sighting of ‘True Nothing’]

Then come the new vocabularies denoting mysterious, self-sustaining higher-powers and self-tripping abstractions coming out of Universities, Research Houses and Scholarly publications. And of course the best-selling airport-paperbacks of Pop-Philosophers.

It’s a long list. We’ll look at them gradually in the course of the Posts.

‘Skillful Means’ And Unskillful Listening

 

The layered term Upakausalya is effectively translated into English as ‘Skillful Means’, a term applied to the methods of a Teacher. To render Upakausalya is to speak at the speed of listening of the listener.

As one early text defines it: ‘As a learned grammarian would even teach the alphabet to a beginner’. Pedagogic expediency with eyes wide open.

But there is a big difference between using a Name in an act of ‘Skillful Means’ and applying one that emerged in a short-stopped denouement. A difference of night and day.

There is a serious risk that ‘Skillful Means’ ends up being very unskillful. With the wrong teacher or a misjudged audience, it can quickly take on a life of its own.

And Skillful Means has its counterpart in the the listening audience, one of a very unskillful listening.

Over the years I have witnessed impenetrable drivel spewing forth from an ambitious Guru being treated as deep teaching meant only for the ear of the ready devotee. Every stupid act of the Teacher is turned around to mean something profound and necessarily cryptic. 

Skillful Means is only meant to come half-way. You have to reach out to get it.


I’d read Dr. Evans-Wentz’ translation: ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ [Oxford, 1927] as a young man. The newest co-authored translation by a Sogyal Rinpoche [1992] became something of a celebrity text. Here’s an update on the great man. I happened to stumble upon it while writing up this page.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/sexual-assaults-violent-rages-inside-dark-world-buddhist-teacher/

The week after, the New York Times did an expose on the Shambala Guru-King. A delayed comeuppance. [At this rate, the Catholic Church and its Gay predatory priests might see some relief from the Media and postpone bankruptcy.] Read it and weep.

Jung: ‘God And Self’

 

I’ll take the next dozen or so Posts to  elaborate on the tradition of the ‘Spiritual Path’, a common term interpreted with fair uniformity across religious traditions.

I didn’t think up this trek to True Nothing by myself last night. It’s been around for a very long time. 

Carl Jung: ‘The goal of Eastern religious practice is the same as that of Western mysticism: the shifting of the center of gravity from the ego to the Self, from man to God. This means that the ego disappears in the Self, and man in God.’

This ‘Shifting of the center of gravity’ is the ‘Spiritual Path’ [MargaTao, and so on].

And this ‘Orienting to Nothing’ is the original ‘Spiritual Path’. Although it gets newly discovered each time a tradition wants to claim for itself an exclusive revelation.

Yagñá: The Central Religious Act

 

From the Hindu Yagñá to the Hebrew Altar, Sacrifice is the central religious act.

The English word ‘God’, the scholars say, derives from the German Gott, from the Proto-Indo-European Gutom, itself sourced in the Sanskrit Huta; ‘to pour’ [as in libation to the fire-altar] and its related word Hotr [the reciter of the ritual-invocation].

Both words derive from Hu: ‘Of the Sacrifice’ [from sacer; ‘to make sacred’] as used in the verses of the Rig Veda.

It’s not a good idea to be a goat on the Islamic Eid. Nor a buffalo at a Bengali Durga Pūjā. Nor a turkey at American Thanksgiving.

But you cannot sacrifice by proxy. That is cheating. You have to make your own.

The First Order Of Moral Code

 

Self-Denial is the first order of Moral Code. All Virtue aligns with it. All Vanity scoffs at it.

All religions offer their denouement at the limit of self-denial, in the perfection of self-mortification. They vary only in the details.

‘Civilization is self-restraint’ declared Rajagopalachari, once a distant neighbor, a man of scholarship and of God [a prolific translator of Sanskrit epics that crowded my boyhood bookshelf].

It was a favored maxim of Sigmund Freud, an acute observer of the Human Condition; and an Atheist.


You might not know that the English word ‘Virtue’ and ‘Virile’ actually have a common root [Latin: Virtut, Virilis; tell that to your Padre and watch him go pale] and in turn link to the Sanskrit Vir.

Virtue is related to Masculinity to ‘Manliness’ [before the Feminists got hold of the word]. And where you see a deficit of Manliness you invariably see a surplus of Cunning. Give me a manly culture any-day.

St. John: ‘Brought To Nothing’

 

When he is brought to nothing, the highest degree of humility, the spiritual union between his soul and God will be effected‘.

So wrote St. John of the Cross, the Spanish Mystic.

 

St. John of the Cross who gave us the scary poem: ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ [La noche oscura del alma] and his close collaborator Teresa of Ávila, have influenced every famous modern Western Mystic [Merton, Dali, et al].

The roots of St. John’s Mysticism, as that of Teresa, go back to medieval Neo-Platonism, the ‘One’ of Plotinus [Enneads], itself linking to Greek and Sanskrit text.

But more directly for the observant Christian: ‘Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live‘ [Exodus: 33].

‘The Death Of The Soul’

 

Mulay [Abu Abdullah Muhammed] al-‘Arabi al Darqawi founder, the Darqawi order of [Islamic] Sufis

As the Sufis affirm, there is no approach to God save through the door of the death of the soul.

Now we see-but God is wiser-that the Fakir will not kill his soul until he has been able to see its form and he will see its form only after separating himself from the world, from his companions, his friends and his habits.’

Ramana Maharishi; Māṇikkavāchakar

 

Sri Ramana Maharishi from the Vedanthic Tradition:

‘The Self is that where there is absolutely no “I” thought.. the place [idam] where even the slightest trace of ‘I’ does not exist is Swarupa [‘True Self’: One’s Real Nature]’.

That is called “Silence”. The Self itself is the world; the Self itself is “I”; the Self itself is God; all is Siva, the Self.’

Ramana Maharishi is by informed consent the most respected modern teacher of Vedantha. ‘Who am I?’ was his principal teaching, to be arrived at in the ‘Backward Step’.

‘By the inquiry ‘Who am I?’, the thought ‘Who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise Self-realization.’

The principal formula is Yājñavalkya’s Rule. The ‘Stick..will itself in the end get destroyed’ is the rounding of the Rule. It boils down to whether the stick truly burns out or some splinter remains. Is the self-scuttle truly complete or not.

After negating [all]..as ‘Not-This!; Not-This!’, that Awareness which alone remains-that I am…Pure Consciousness, unrelated to the body and transcending the mind… Self is the sub-stratum of all experience..

 


My thoughts upon that Nature dwelt
till thoughts there were no more.
There is nothing else other than You.
Approaching and approaching, 
I become worn down to an atom,
then worn away till I was one with Him.
Hail Shiva, dwelling in holy Perunturai!
There is nothing that You are,
Yet without You, nothing is!
Who indeed can know You?’

ikkavāchakar’s Thiruvāchakam
Tiruperunturai, Circa 8th Century

I cite this extract from ikkavāchakar’s rightly celebrated poem in Classical Tamil, just to convince you that this track of being ‘Brought to Nothing’ is both universal and very old. The above preceded St. John by about 800 years. You can locate parallel verses in any serious Tradition.


I can’t recall the very talented translator. If you recognize it, drop me a note.

See: Ramana Maharishi

Tar Baby: ‘Dying To Myself’

 

All roads lead to True Nothing. But Shūnyam brings with it an explicit map, a long-list of false premature stops, warnings on the most slippery sections of the trek, and so on. And the terminus is unambiguously confirmable by the arrived trekker.

All other Paths, both Mystic and Orthodox, are inherently conflicted as the literature will readily show. And the terminus, mostly short-stops as a result of not having an explicitly detailed map, vary, range all over the place.

Here is my old Post on this universal ‘Mystic’s Rule’ of ‘Dying to Myself’.


This ‘Dying To Myself’ is extremely tricky business except in the most disciplined and matured hands.

A fatal loop must trip up the pilgrim who seriously wants to end it all.Drawing by E.W. Kemble from: 'The Tar-Baby', by Joel Chandler Harris, 1904

Trying to negate myself is like taking on Uncle Remus’ ‘Tar-Baby’. The harder I try to negate myself the firmer I reinforce myself as Me.

Any attempt to nullify the ‘I’ using the ‘I’, befuddles, stupefies and ultimately immobilizes the ‘I’. [A state taken by the devout as further confirmation of divine oversight.]

A displayed humility is greater hubris.

I am happy to die as long as I can be alive to watch myself doing it.

You don’t have to ‘Die to Yourself’. There simply is no ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self” there to die to.

And by the time you see that, you would have died to yourself many times over. Much more than any routine ‘Dying to Yourself’. Not to worry.

The Cosmic Game Afoot

 

The presiding presumption of the religious-minded is that something is fundamentally wrong, that there is some kind of cosmic game afoot.

God has planted you on earth to test your virtues, redeem your sins, ceaselessly praise Him [not Her, of course] since His fragile pride needs constant fortification. And so on. This is more the Abrahamic version.

The Dharmic version sees you as hopelessly wallowing in ignorance, in need of awakening, lost in the World, until someday, lo! you get it. A later version has you condemned to endless rebirths of suffering, of Karmic debt settling, until the ledger is clean.

There are numerous other versions which I look forward to laying out in later posts. The modern biologists twist for example:

Why does the gene reproduce? Because it has to compulsively replicate itself in some form or other. Why does it compulsively have to replicate itself in some form or other? Well, that’s an easy one. That’s because Nature’s primary goal happens to be Self-Preservation [well, now you know].

There is not a stitch of deceit, not a trace of lie. All is laid out, plain as daylight. There is no cosmic game afoot.

Apostasy

 

In May 2014, Reshma Qureshi, 19, and her sister Gulshan were visiting the city of Allahabad in northern India when they were violently attacked by Gulshan’s estranged husband and two other people, Quartz India reports.

When Qureshi tried to help her sister, the men poured acid on her face.

We asked people for help, but no one helped us,” Qureshi told the publication.’

[The submerged print reads: #endacidsale]

What Moral Precept did Reshma disavow? What Divine Plan are we missing here?


‘A woman was burnt alive allegedly by her in-laws. The incident, which took place on Friday, happened in Haibatpur village in Uttar Pradesh. The woman was identified as Sonia, who was married to Arvind Kumar. A case has been registered against Arvind Kumar, his father Mageram, mother Mandri and sister Suman. All of them are missing, Station House Officer Rajive Kumar said’. [Press Trust of India; March, ’19]

India has over 25 Dowry-Demand Killings everyday. Yes, everyday. And that is just the number of reported cases. 

Foolish Prophets

 

Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went

Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing

What, without asking, hither hurried whence?
And, without asking, whither hurried hence!
Another and another Cup to drown
The Memory of this Impertinence

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in —Yes—
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be…Nothing…Thou shalt not be less

The Vine had struck a Fibre; which about
It clings my Being—let the Sufi flout;
Of my Base Metal may be filed a Key,
That shall unlock the Door he howls without

And this I know: whether the one True Light,
Kindle to Love, or Wrath consume me quite,
One Glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright

 

The Rene Bull, 1913, Illustration for the RubaiyatSelective verses: ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’

The classic and incomparable Edward Fitzgerald Translation

Sausalito Limerick

 

 

There was a young man who said: ‘Though,
It seems that I know that I know,
What I would like to see,
is the ‘I’ that knows ‘Me’,
When I know that I know that I know.’

 


I’m pretty sure I got this limerick from one of Alan Watts’ passionate little paperbacks. In Sausalito. A long time ago.

Gnana Marga: The ‘Path of Knowledge’

 

The  word ‘Know’ traces its roots directly back to the Latin Gnosis, which in turn traces back to the Sanskrit Gnana, the earliest direct translation of which was as the English word ‘Wisdom’.

Why are the Religious Classes of every Culture, those granted closest access to the Deity, the Brahmins and the Pastors, the Rabbis and the Imams, always from the ‘Learned Class’? This inner circle to the sanctum [did I forget the Professors?] whose proudest possession is the claim to ‘Know’?

Vedic-Texts [from Vid] are translatable as ‘Knowledge-Books’. Gnana Marga is the ‘Path of Knowledge’. All other Paths get you in the periphery, but the seal of conviction is impossible unless one goes through and past this word ‘Know’.

Kali Yuga

 

So what is it about this word ‘Know’?

What is so special about it? A word for which, after 5000 years of Language, intriguingly overlapping with the birth of the Kali-Yuga, we still do not have a proper definition.

Kali Yuga, from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa [the millennia beginning around 400 BCE]

There will be monarchs, men of churlish disposition and violent temper…Property alone will show rank.. wealth the only devotion..passion the sole bond of sexual union.. the Earth venerated for its mineral treasures..fine clothes will be dignity..(The Sacred thread ) the Brahmin.. menace and presumption will substitute for learning..dishonesty, the universal means of subsistence..

Kali Yuga ends when the understanding of Veda stands fully inverted, upside down.


This was tucked away in one of my old files. I don’t recall the lucid Translator of this verse. If you do, drop me a note.

The Epistemological Pirouette

 

You are a restless seeker, a Philosophy-Junkie. And you want to know all about ‘Know’. You want to know what ‘Knowledge’ means.

Not to worry. There is such a subject. And it is called Epistemology. You’ve come to the right department.

Epistemology is the scholarly study of ‘Knowing’ while firmly resident in the Know. It is knowing all about ‘Knowing’ and ‘Knowledge’. [Can you smell the Self-Loop?]

Empistemology [‘Know’] and Ontology [‘Be’] are the twin foundations of Philosophy. Any grand discourse on Philosophy without a clear investigated statement about these two stances is not worth the paper it is written on.

So you ask a Professor of Epistemology for the definition of the word ‘Knowledge’.

He might give you list [a safe response] but odds are that on that list is the phrase ‘Justified True Belief’ or something very close. [The original translated phrase from the Classical Greek is ‘True Belief with an Account’].

What’s so special about ‘Justified True Belief? It is the closest thing we have to an original definition for the word ‘Knowledge’. And it first emerges in the Theaetetus, in Plato’s Dialogues. Hence it is the ‘Classic’ definition.

The Theaetetus is where it all began. It is the source, the Mother-Lode for this subject called Epistemology.

And the Theaetetus, the founding source for the classic definition of ‘Knowledge’ is not about what ‘Knowledge’ is, but rather about what it is not. And why the word ‘Knowledge’ cannot be defined [read it].

Socrates: ‘The Most Vicious Of Circles’

 

Socrates asks Theaetetus, the meaning of the word ‘Knowledge’. Theaetetus proceeds to list the known disciplines, Geometry and Cobblery, the Sciences, et al.

Socrates stops him short: ‘But the question Theaetetus, was not what are the objects of knowledge..or sorts of knowledge..but the thing itself, knowledge, is,..do you fancy it is a small matter to discover the nature of knowledge? Is it not..the hardest?

After a lengthy and labored discussion of various definitions, ‘Justified True Belief’ is proposed, the one felt least presumptive of those explored.

Socrates himself does not propose an answer, staying instead with the negation. He offers Theaetetus his celebrated analogy of the barren midwife who can only help another give birth. Socrates continues:

Doesn’t it strike you as shameless to explain what knowing is like, when we don’t know what knowledge is?

The truth is, Theaetetus, that for some time past there has been a vicious taint in our discussion. Times out of numbers we have said ‘we know’, ‘we do not know’, ‘we have knowledge’, ‘we have no knowledge’, as if we could understand each other while we still know nothing about knowledge…

All that we have brought to birth..today about knowledge..our midwives skill pronounces to be mere wind eggs and not worth the rearing..

To tell us to get hold of something we already have in order to know something we are already thinking of suggests a state of the most absolute darkness..the most vicious of circles will be nothing compared to this injunction..

Having the good sense not to fancy you know what you do not know, for that and no more is all that my art can effect..’

‘The More You Know, The Less You Understand’

 

‘Having the good sense not to fancy you know what you do not know, for that and no more is all that my art can effect..

This is the limit of honest Epistemological insight.

The Good Professors could not come to terms with Socrates’ negation, this descent into infinite regress. So they declared victory and retreated.

But they needed some legitimizing link to Plato’s Dialogues in order to attest classical origins. So they took with them this ‘Least Presumptive’ definition of Knowledge and started a new Subject called Epistemology.

The study of Knowing while firmly resident in the Know. The absurdity had been winked away. It was back to business as usual.

Why was it so important to force a definition on the word ‘Know’? What’s wrong with ‘Business as Usual’?  

If you can’t claim to know what ‘Know’ means, you have a great deal of annoying explanations to give. And this can get very tiresome. As when you teach subjects claiming ‘Knowledge’.

Subjects like Philosophy and Religion; Science and History; Logic and Law. If you are not sure what ‘Know’ and ‘Not-Know’ mean, how do you plan to hold forth on: ‘True and False’? Or: Real and Unreal. Or the meaning of the words: ‘Meaning’ and ‘Word’.

Did you make sense of this morning’s Newspaper? Have you really understood a single word on this Page? Including this very sentence about understanding a single word on this Page?

It is known by him who knows it not..’ Say’s the Kena Upanishad. Or as Lao Tzu put it: ‘The more you know, the less you understand

Immanuel Kant: ‘The Principles of Knowing’

 

Immanuel Kant [1724-1804] Bucknell University Gallery

Immanuel Kant’s work which largely defined the domain of Academic Philosophy for 200 years had much to do with ‘Knowing’.

Kant tried to identify the ‘First Principles of Knowing’ itself, reaching back to Aristotle’s Principle of [Non] Contradiction and Categories [ Cause, Necessity, Contingency, etc ]. Along with ‘Space’ and ‘Time’, the ground conditions of Sensibility, they made up the Kantian Grid.

You cannot but view the World through these fundamental constructions, said Kant. They are organic contact lenses, hard-wired processors, the immutable framework within which must arise all Knowing and Understanding.

But what about these conditions themselves? How does one see one’s own organic contact lenses? How does one ‘Know the Knowing’?

Unlike most philosophers, Kant was vividly alert to the Self-Loop although he never took his own understanding of it to its necessary, implosive limit.

From Kant’s: ‘Critique of Pure Reason’:

If deduction of these conceptions is necessary, it must always be Transcendent. All attempts at an empirical deduction in regard to pure and a priori conceptions are in vain, and can only be done by one who does not understand the altogether peculiar nature of these conceptions.’

If you don’t see the significance of that qualification you will elaborate learnedly on the nature of Kant’s organic lenses while wearing them securely atop your nose.

And find yourself willy-nilly in the center of the vortex that is the Self-Loop. Which is exactly where Universities are today.


As always, all ‘First Principles’ including these, mount on a prior assumption of an ‘Independent and Separated ‘Self”. That does not take away from the depth of Kant’s insight.

How to Learn Tibetan

 

Let’s work through an example to understand Socrates’ scathing dismissal of the various proposed definitions for ‘Knowledge’. 

We understand [and create] the new only in reference to the old, only in counterpoint to that which is not-new. Your most imaginative construction of distant galaxy and strange alien is little more than a rearrangement of decidedly familiar idea and image. [‘R2-D2’ not-withstanding, a true alien must remain alien to your known world.]

New learning begins in an extension of what is already learnt. The unfamiliar originates in the conversant and the familiar. The Unknown begins in the Known.

I teach a child the meaning of the word ‘Cat’ by pointing to a picture of a cat. I do not read her the dictionary definition of Cat: ‘A species of carnivorous quadrupeds, of genus Felis.’

I start with what I know in order to know something new. I speak American-English and I wish to learn Tibetan. I go to a teacher who speaks Tibetan and American-English. I don’t go to a teacher who speaks Tibetan and German, nor to a teacher who speaks American-English and Japanese.

The Pioneer Plaque

 

1024px-Pioneer_plaque.svg

The Pioneer 10 Spacecraft launched in 1972 was the first object ever built that could achieve escape-velocity to exit the Solar System.

A ‘Pioneer Plaque’ was installed on it that included examples of what the designers felt were representative of the ‘Human’ and of ‘Planet Earth’.

It had Digital-Codes, equations from Chemical interactions and Astrophysical elements. And it had an [almost naked] figure of a Man and a Woman.

A stretched hand in greetings to all out there. But  it is unlikely that the designers actually thought that any of this would be understood by an alien intelligence. 

For this whole notion of ‘Understanding’ and ‘Communication’ as we understand it and communicate it is a very human idea.

We have no reason to believe [perhaps they do] that aliens exist as anything we can understand or communicate with, whether these images and words have any meaning at all in this context.

Perhaps the Aliens are blips of erratic light that laugh a great deal more than we humans do [‘light’ and ‘laugh’ still being very human points of recognition].

But the biggest controversy over this plaque arose because the human figures were drawn near-naked. The blips of light might get aroused and that would not be a good thing [they were redrawn].

Only in America.

How To Use A Dictionary

 

A Dictionary defines new and unfamiliar words in terms of old and familiar ones. [Literati say a Dictionary spirals down in terms of ‘simpler’ words. The simplest words in Language are ‘is’ and ‘not’ and men have been struggling to define them clearly for 2 millennia. So watch out.]

In order to use a Dictionary I must enter with a ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’. And this ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’ must itself be sourced outside the Dictionary.

I must already possess this ‘ Minimum-Knowledge of English’ before using a Dictionary and without it the Dictionary is of no use to me.


I search Webster’s for the meaning of the word ‘Metropolis’.

Metropolis: ‘The main city, often the capital, of a country, state or region’. But what is a City?

City: ‘A large important town’. But what is a Town?

Town: ‘A place enclosed or fenced in; a collection of houses enclosed within walls; a hamlet; a village’. But what is a Village?

Village: ‘A group of houses in the country, smaller than a town or city and larger than a hamlet’.

We have come full circle. This is all a Dictionary is meant to do. We can go no further. A Hamlet is defined in terms of ‘Village’; a Village in terms of ‘Hamlet’.

In order to use the Dictionary, I must enter with knowledge of what is a ‘Hamlet’ or a ‘Village’. If I do not, I will find myself in a permanent loop within the Dictionary with no exit.

If I am alert to that, I close the Dictionary and find a ‘Hamlet’, take a trip and visit  a ‘Village’.

If I am not alert to it, I keep turning the pages and look for new definitions without ever leaving the Dictionary. And enter the boudoir of the Self-Loop.

The Fatal Forgetting

 

I cannot find the meaning to the phrase ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’, within the pages of the Dictionary to which, in order to use, I must bring this ‘Minimum-Knowledge’.

But what happens when I seek for the definition of ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’ inside a Dictionary without being aware that I am already using this ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’ when I seek it?

In Socratic speak: ‘To tell us to get hold of something we already have in order to know something we are already thinking of…’.

With Language. it is possible to work backwards. In other words, it is possible, with due care and diligence, to identify your beginning inventory of English, the ‘Minimum-Knowledge’ that you bring with you in order to use a Dictionary.

With ‘Knowledge’, it is impossible.

If you can understand this line you are reading you are already well into a state of advanced ‘Knowing’. Much more so when you seek for a definition of the word ‘Know’. 

In Primal Forgetting, I build my entire vocabulary using words that define other words in a closed self-referential loop with no appreciation of the preemptive and prior ‘Minimum-Knowledge of English’ that I have brought with me.

‘Delusion’: Living Inside The Dictionary

 

Until I know what ‘Know’ means I live inside the Dictionary, defining each word using another word, earnestly expanding my vocabulary of erudite ignorance. I go from page to page chasing my tail with no hope of exit.

‘Knowing’ precedes Model, is prior to Alphabet, preemptive of Number. You cannot newly define it, for it precedes the concept of ‘Definition’.

You cannot newly seek it, for it preempts the concept of ‘Seek’. You cannot newly prove it, for it is prior to the notion of ‘Proof’.

Yet, you can never know anything about Knowing without being in contradiction to the act of Knowing itself. ‘Knowing’ and ‘Not-Knowing’ is a distinction always and only made in a state of ‘Knowing’.

If you can newly define the word ‘Know’, by that very fact, what you have defined is not the word ‘Know’.

All Religions, orthodox or scholarly [as from a University], when in their metaphysical moods, claim for themselves the: ‘Perfection of Knowledge’.

Shūnyam stands alone mocking this claim, assigning to itself: ‘The Perfection of Ignorance’.

If you say: ‘I Know’, you are off; if you say: ‘I don’t Know’, you are equally off. What’s common between them is the letter ‘I’.

This is the original state of ‘Delusion’[Avidya, Agnana, not to be confounded with the Vedanthic interpretation as ‘Error’].

From the Isa Upanishad: ‘Into a blinding darkness go those who worship ignorance; into a greater darkness, those who delight in knowledge.’

From the Kena Upanishad: ‘Other is it than the Known; just as much, above the Unknown. Thus have we heard from our ancestors; so was it explained’

Walt Whitman wrote: ‘A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child?…I do not know what it is anymore than he.’

The Biblical Fall

 

What is it about eating of the fruit of the famed Binary, the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’, of having your eyes opened, of having to die, and then ‘Living Forever?

The ‘Testimony of Truth’, a Gnostic Gospel, stands the story of Adam and Eve and Genesis [and its parallel Koranic version] on its head:

From every tree you may eat [but] from the tree [ of the knowledge of Good and Evil, that Gd planted in a garden eastward of Eden, after dividing the light from the darkness] which is in the midst of paradise do not eat, for on the day that you eat you will surely die‘.

But the serpent was wise… and persuaded Zoe [Life’], the daughter of Sophia [‘Wisdom’], also called Eve: ‘On the day that you eat from that tree, the eyes of your mind will be opened‘.

Eve ate and shared it with her husband. Their eyes were opened and the Jealous God said: ‘Behold, Adam has become like one of us, knowing evil and good…let us cast him out of paradise, lest he take from the tree of life and live forever…


When You Kneel At The Pew

The Pierian Spring

 

‘A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring’

 

 


There are lots of ways we judge the truth of a situation [Pramana]. In court a judge may believe an ‘Eyewitness’ more than a ‘Hearsay’ accusation. And this grant of credibility has changed and shifted back and forth over the centuries.

Science undermined all the old criteria on which ‘Belief’ was based. A sea-change took place in the way people picked their convictions. Such factors as Age, Authority, Holy-Books, Tradition and Custom, while still significant, could now be trounced if they ran repeatedly afoul of the results of Scientific Inquiry.

Western Man, uniquely so, had stared down the authority of both Royalty and Religion. And with it birthed Scientific-Method and much of our Modern World.

You can still walk into a party on either coast of the United States and loudly declare: ‘Jesus was no son of God!’ and receive tolerant smiles. But if you declare: ‘The world is flat!’ you’ll soon find yourself alone.

At least that’s what I thought until Trump came along, denied Climate-Change and began to gut the EPA. Turkey under Erdoğan just deleted Evolution from text-books.


Martin Luther, whose reinterpretation of Rome let loose the Prometheus that reshaped World Order helped publish Copernicus’ work, if I recall. One, a Catholic cleric, the other its nemesis, in a brotherhood of defiant ideas. I’ll have to fish my old files for the details.

What is Science?

 

‘Science’, from the Latin Scire, related to the words ‘Cognition’ and ‘Consciousness’, is a form of Knowledge, a type of Knowing.

Albert Einstein: Science is the endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought, the perceptible phenomena of the world, into as thoroughgoing an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of Existence by the process of conceptualization…‘ [See: ‘The Concept of Concept’]

Science is the nearest thing we have to a credible Modern Religion. And Science has three parts:

First, the codified ‘Scientific Method’ itself. Repeatable, measurable tests; consistent, cumulative theory; verifiable data and documentation; informed peer review, and so on.

Secondly, its central principles, the Principle of Contradiction and the Principle of Induction [there are others but these are the big ones. We’ll get to Method and Principles in later Posts].

And finally, very importantly, the ‘Scientific-Stance’.

The ‘Scientific Stance’: Self-Mortification

 

Since you won’t take my word for it, here are three very distinguished members of the extended Scientific Community on the core of what is meant by the ‘Scientific Stance’:

Bertrand Russell, co-author of the Principia Mathematica:'Mathematics..a beauty cold and austere..'

‘The kernel of the scientific outlook is the refusal to regard our own desires, tastes and interests as affording a key to the understanding of the Universe..

[It] involves a suppression of hope and fear, love and hate..the whole subjective emotional life, until we become subdued to the material at hand, able to see it frankly without misconception and without bias, without any wish except to see it as it is..

 

Albert Einstein:

‘Where the world ceases to be the scene of our personal hopes and wishes, where we face it as free human beings..we enter the realm of Art and Science.

If [it is] communicated in the language of Logic we are engaged in Science.. common to both is the loving devotion to that which transcends personal concerns and volition‘.

 

Michael Faraday:

‘I will simply express my strong belief, that that point of self-education which consists in teaching the mind to resist its desires and inclinations, until they are proved to be right, is the most important of all, not only in things of natural philosophy, but in every department of dally life.’

[Einstein famously had Faraday’s Photograph on his desk at Princeton.]

Shūnyam And Science.

 

Shūnyam is not against Science. It is its natural consummation. As Schrodinger lamented: ‘Science must be made anew’. 

But if the self-scuttling is incomplete, we create the modern ‘Objective Scientist’. Modern scientific observation methods, cut loose from the  monastic disciplines that were a requirement in the first houses of Learning, ignorant of the simplest Meditative and Mindfulness Practices, severs the observer from that which is observed.

Investigating the self-referential loop is effectively barred. An elaborate and intricately layered reality is built which at its core is absurd.

Instead of standing on ‘True Nothing’ and becoming ‘Subdued to the material at hand’, the modern Scientist sits on a mountain of venerated paradigms, inherited conventions, embedded preferences and unspoken presumptions.

You cannot: ‘Wish to be Objective’; then ‘Objective’ becomes your new subjective bias. You cannot: ‘Prefer to not-prefer’; then ‘Not-Preference’ becomes your new preference. ‘Trying to see straight’ is a tenth of an inch away from: Seeing Straight.

The perch of the Scientist, the post from which he views, is located at an arbitrary point, a point no Scientist would accept as legitimate if it were within his own domain of investigation.

A man conditioned over many years to be ‘Objective’ by a studied process of limiting the personal, limiting the ‘Subjective’. Out there is the ‘Objective, Observed World’, and behind this fog of the emotional, the wishful and the personal, lies the ‘Subjective, Seeing Me’.

And he builds a self-created ‘Objective World’ that is itself deeply sourced within his own unexamined ‘Subjective Self’.

The way out is well-mapped. The Observer must be investigated first before inquiry on the Observed. The lens must turn inwards.


None of this is unique to the profession of Science. Art Theory for instance, has long struggled with the notion of ‘Objective’ criteria, a fundamental pillar of the defense of Culture itself and the confusion is palpable in the wrenching obscurantism of today’s Art Dialogues.

The Laws of Science

 

This idea of ‘Not’ has a very long reach, a reach not fully appreciated by most of us. Here’s just one more example which might give you reason to give it its due respect. It’s an old Post from my file-box, trimmed to a quarter of its original length.  

‘Scientific-Law’ is a  forgivable exaggeration by the scientific-community. They are in fact generalizations from limited observations, tentatively affirmed hypothesis leading a precarious existence. 

A hypothesis is never proved. It only stands unrejected. Via Negativa-Lite.

The Mother Principle of Experimental-Science is the Principle of Induction. And along with the Contradiction Principle, it holds up much of what we know as modern Science.

The Principle says: ‘Like tomorrow’s sunrise, what is happening will continue happening until it doesn’t happen.’ The Induction Rule is formalized in the Mathematics of ‘Probability Theory’.

And the First Affirmation of Experimental Science is that a hypothesis can never be proved. It is impossible to prove that a man always speaks the truth, but easy to test if he never lies [One lie is proof].

[There are other affirmations. With Induction, there is no requirement for consistency between derivations. Thermodynamics does not have to jive with Molecular Biology in its final results. Each God gets his own space. I’ll get to this wonderfully liberal rule in later.] 

And Induction’s ‘Rejection-Machine’ becomes functional, takes life, because of the word ‘Not’. And its sidekicks, ‘Always’ and ‘Never.

Things work, but not for the reasons you think they do. And they could stop working, again not for the reasons you think they might.

As with the Principle of Contradiction, the early Greeks refused to give the Induction-Rule the status of ‘Law’ [Irascible party-poopers, these early Greeks. ‘Random’ is a complicated idea. I’ll get to it in a later Post]

It was a helpful rule, an informed conjecture,  but no, it was not ‘Law’. For a conjecture to become law it is required that it ‘Always Work’. The Laws of Motion cannot turn off at night, nor stop working when you are not looking.

Or do they?

‘And Lo! It Is Our Own’: The Gaussian Curve

 

Arthur Eddington

‘Something unknown is doing we don’t know what. We have found that where Science has progressed the farthest, the Mind has but regained from Nature that which Mind put into Nature.

We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories..to account for its origins.

At last we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the footprints. And Lo! It is our own.’


You know, there’s been this flip question floating around for a few centuries as to whether Mathematics measures a Real World.

Or is it just us painting with a palette limited to the colors we can see [like the visible .30 % of the Electromagnetic Spectrum]. And then claiming we’ve caught the ghost in our picture.

Sort of like the Nobel Committee limiting the Literature Prize to a Writer writing in a language it can read [about 5 out of around 7,000].

Same thing here. Most of the testing talked about in the previous post is grounded on the perfectly symmetric Gaussian Curve [the ‘Normal Distribution’: see the Diagram].

The Curve is conceived on a binary platform and mounted on the critical assumption [among others] of ‘Independent, Separate Observations’, a fairly dodgy idea but embraced in the Scientific community as perfectly realistic and sensible.

Is this the way Nature really curves? Or is this the only way Nature knows to curve given how how we’ve rigged the rules, given how we think? Is this Grandma being nice to her adorable grandson before he throws another fit?

‘What we observe is not Nature in itself but Nature exposed to our method of questioning’ noted Heisenberg [who was very familiar with the old Gaussian Curve].

‘Objectivity’: The New Virtue

 

What is it about this word ‘Objective’? Why does everybody and his aunt want to be ‘Objective’?

It’s like if you weren’t objective, you believed in Santa Claus [whose hard to locate these days, fearing gender and race discrimination lawsuits]. Even Art Critics hint at objective criteria for high-art, known of course only to the Critic.

There is no a priori reason why ‘Objectivity’ is any better than ‘Subjectivity’. It simply reflects the muted suspicion that Truth is independent of me and my views. That Truth is quite indifferent, happily so, to the Subject and its pretenses.

The Objective Reporter

 

 

So I’m watching this interview about the making of a documentary on the bomb-scarred children of Afghanistan.

‘I couldn’t take it anymore’ the lady film-maker said. ‘It was all too traumatic. So I stopped the film, brought some of the children back to the U.S. and returned to complete the documentary.’

‘Oh!’ interrupted the bright reporter ‘But didn’t that make your documentary less objective?’


As an aside, estimates of U.S. expenditure alone in the 16-year war in Afghanistan now range from around $800 Billion [with a ‘B’] to $2 Trillion. I thought this was outrageous until the lady at the counter racked up the bill for the Iraq debacle, about 3 Trillion and counting.

How many schools would that have built to replace the deranged Madrasahs? And how many Islamic clerics and warlords want to take on an irate mother late for class?

Afghanistan, now among the most violently intolerant places on the planet, was once different. I recall pictures of Afghan women wearing miniskirts in public as late as the 1960’s. The country was originally Buddhist and two of the most prominent Buddhist Scholar Monks, Asanga and Vasubandhu [circa 300 CE] were Afghans. As was the hugely popular mystic poet, Rumi.

‘Seeing Things As They Are’

 

The ‘Scientific Stance’ was first rigorously applied by the radical Buddhist Scholar-Monks around 500 BCE in a bid to exit the self-serving misinterpretations and the mystical obscurantism prevalent in the literature of the period.

It was called: ‘Seeing things as they are’ [Sakshat, Yatha Bhutam..] Formal Meditation Practice birthed from it, the disciplined cultivation of a tested stance to ‘See Straight’. 

To stand aloft Shūnyam, is to see without obstruction. [This is a verifiable claim going back to the early literature]. 

You might like what you see; you may not. But there is no longer any obstruction. And as long as there is a presumption of a Separated ‘Self’ there will be obstruction. 

The platform of the ‘Scientific Stance’ might yet put us back on the path to  Shūnyam. 


Watch out. The moment you describe, give features or properties to ‘Seeing Things As They Are’, you are no longer ‘Seeing Things As They Are’. The warped interpretation commonly found in modern Sanghas is to define it as the cognition of ‘Impermanence, No-Self and Suffering’. This is not what it means at all. 

Less Than A Pixel, But Still Not Zero

 

A ‘Pale Blue Dot’, they called it. Less than a Pixel; but still not Zero.

Earth, taken from the hugely successful Voyager mission [1990], 6 billion KM away, as it turned its lens inward one last time before entering interstellar space.

To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world‘ noted Carl Sagan a principal scientist on the mission [and never known to be shy at the mike].

What exactly are you looking at when you look through a telescope? The universe does not begin in a distant and cataclysmic ‘Big Bang’. It is less dramatic an event than portrayed by the scientists.

Venice

 

The first translation of the Diamond Sūtra was into Chinese in 179 CE by Lokashema [The Tao-Hsing]. With it the Symbol went East. And took on local forms. Around 1,000 years later, the Symbol headed West and docked in Venice. And did the same.

Carried on the ledger books of Arab traders long settled in Sind, the Symbol stops for a tour of Byzantine and Islamic Astronomy before finally docking in Venice around the 11th Century as the grounding expression of the Decimal System of Number Representation [from the Sanskrit Das, for ‘Ten’].

The Clergy, users of the Abacus, were unimpressed. They saw something decidedly sinister in this immigrant ‘Infidel Symbol’ arriving from the Islamic world. The Roman script at that time didn’t have a symbol for Nothing, didn’t carry a symbol for the absence of that symbolized.

The opening chapter of this expatriate life was penned by Leonardo Fibonacci [1170-1240; ‘The Greatest Western Mathematician of the Middle Period’] who wrote his celebrated Liber Abaci on the Modus Indorum in 1202 CE. [Fibonacci’s statue still stands in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, an hour’s drive from where I spend many an unhurried Autumn.]

If the early philosophical links with the West were Greek, the first mathematical links were Italian. The defense of the Concept of Zero as used in contemporary academia originates [among others] with the postulates of Guiseppe Peano [1858-1932].

Its reach is long. Russell and Whitehead’s encyclopedic Principia Mathematica began as an attempt to extend Guiseppe Peano. And was the bait for Kurt Godel’s rightly celebrated Theorem [‘The…most significant mathematical truth of the century’ cooed Harvard in 1952]. Modern Information Theory and what we call ‘Software’ took shape in this ferment [see the posts].

The Arabic: Sifr [Old-French Cifre; English ‘Cypher’] becomes the Medieval Latin: Zephirum, in time to Zerum and the English ‘Zero’. The symbol’s new life begins here. The economy was booming. Zero-Balance Bookkeeping had just been discovered. And this new symbol just fit the bill of the emerging mercantile classes.

That’s how the Symbol ‘О’ came West. It was not the fierce love for some metaphysical truth from the mysterious East. It helped make money; or rather, keep track of it. A refreshingly sensible reason.


The early Indian archaeological and manuscript finds were mostly along trade routes used by the vibrant Gujarathi and other mercantile communities. The symbol has historically shown a strong and very unspiritual fondness for Money over Mathematics.

The Earliest Dated Dot

 

The Press Release from the venerable Bodleian Library at Oxford along with informed news articles [The Guardian and such] came just about the time I had decided to publish this Site. A coincidence demanding acknowledgment. Below are some excerpts.


Carbon dating reveals earliest origins of zero symbol

Reading from right to left the small dot zero is the seventh character at the bottom right of the manuscript.

Carbon dating shows an ancient Indian manuscript has the earliest recorded origin of the zero symbol. The Bakhshali manuscript is now believed to date from the 3rd or 4th Century, making it hundreds of years older than previously thought…

The finding is of “vital importance” to the history of mathematics, Richard Ovenden from Bodleian Libraries said… It was also only in India where the zero developed into a number in its own right.

Bodleian Libraries said scholars had previously struggled to date it because it is made of 70 leaves of birch bark and composed of material from three different periods.

The creation of zero was one of the “greatest breakthroughs” in mathematics, Prof Marcus Du Sautoy of the University of Oxford said.

‘Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and our whole digital world is based on nothing or something. But there was a moment when there wasn’t this number.’

Translations of the text, which is written in a form of Sanskrit, suggest it was a form of training manual for merchants trading across the Silk Road…

In the fragile document, zero does not yet feature as a number in its own right, but as a placeholder in a number system, just as the “0” in “101” indicates no tens.

It also sowed the seed for zero as a number, which is first described in a text called Brahmasphutasiddhanta, written by the Indian astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta in 628 AD.

‘This becomes the birth of the concept of zero in it’s own right and this is a total revolution that happens out of India,’ said Du Sautoy.

The development of zero as a mathematical concept may have been inspired by the region’s long philosophical tradition of contemplating the void and may explain why the concept took so long to catch on in Europe, which lacked the same cultural reference points.

The development of zero in mathematics underpins an incredible range of further work, including the notion of infinity…and some of the deepest questions in cosmology of how the Universe arose – and how it might disappear from existence.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
[Nagara vāṭa, Yaśōdharapura, Khmer]

 

Built by Suryavarman as the Temple to Vishnu, it spans 400 acres and dates back to around 1150 CE.

‘Vishnu’s Dream’, undreamt, will get you to Shūnyam’s Door.

The following article released by the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. in 2014 was preserved in my files until the Bodleian announcement came along. It’s a good read.

 

The Origin of the Number Zero

Deep in the jungle, an intrepid scholar locates a symbol of power and mystery.

SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE

 

Four miles from the great temple of Angkor Wat, deep in the Cambodian jungle, I opened the door of a makeshift shed with a corrugated tin roof and walked into a dusty room painted in pale gray. Thousands of chunks and slabs of stone covered the dirt floor: smashed heads of statues of Khmer kings and Hindu gods, broken lintels and door frames from abandoned temples, the remains of steles with ancient writing. After years of searching, I’d finally arrived here, hoping to find a single dot chiseled into a reddish stone, a humble mark of incredible importance, a symbol that would become the very foundation of our number system—our first zero.

It was a lifelong love that led me to this threshold. I grew up on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean that often called at Monte Carlo, and I was drawn to the alluring numbers on roulette wheels: half of them red, half black. My fascination led to a career as a mathematician, and, dabbling in mathematical archaeology, I’ve tracked down many ancient numerals, including a magic square (those mysterious numerical grids in which the sum of every column, row and diagonal is the same) on the doorway of a tenth-century Jain temple at Khajuraho, India.

I’m convinced that the creation of numerals to represent the abstract entities we call numbers was our greatest intellectual achievement. The simple sign “3” represents all trios in the universe; it is the quality of “being three”—distinct from “being five” or “being seven.” Numerals allow us to keep track of belongings, record dates, trade goods, calculate so precisely that we are able to fly to the moon and operate on the brain.

We use them with such ease that we take them for granted. Surprisingly, our number system took hold in the West only in the 13th century, after the Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa—better known as Fibonacci—introduced the numerals to Europeans. He’d learned them from Arab traders, who presumably adopted them during travels to the Indian subcontinent.

[The invention of numerals is perhaps the greatest abstraction the human mind has ever created. Virtually everything in our lives is digital, numerical, or quantified. The story of how and where we got these numerals, which we so depend on, has for thousands of years been shrouded in mystery. “Finding Zero” is an adventure filled saga of Amir Aczel’s lifelong obsession: to find the original sources of our numerals.]

A circle inscribed at a temple in Gwalior, India, dating to the ninth century, had been widely considered the oldest version of zero in our system, the Hindu-Arabic. At the time it was made, trade with the Arab empire connected East and West, so it could have come from anywhere. I was after an older zero, a particular instance arguing for an Eastern origin.

Found on a stone stele, it was documented in 1931 by a French scholar named George Coedès. Assigned the identifying label K-127, the inscription reads like a bill of sale and includes references to slaves, five pairs of oxen and sacks of white rice. Though some of the writing wasn’t deciphered, the inscription clearly bore the date 605 in an ancient calendar that began in the year A.D. 78. Its date was thus A.D. 683. Two centuries older than the one at Gwalior, it predated wide-ranging Arab trade. But K-127 disappeared during the Khmer Rouge’s rule of terror, when more than 10,000 artifacts were deliberately destroyed.

I describe my obsession with finding this earliest zero in my forthcoming book, Finding Zero. I spent countless hours poring over old texts in libraries from London to Delhi and emailing and calling anyone who might know someone who could help me locate K-127. I made several unsuccessful trips to Cambodia, spending a significant amount of my own money. On the verge of giving up, I received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and forged ahead. Cambodia’s director general of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Hab Touch, directed me to the sheds at Angkor Conservation, a restoration and storage site closed to the public. When I was turned away twice, Touch graciously made a phone call, and in early January 2013, I was invited in. I still didn’t know if K-127 had even survived. 

London To Oxford

 

London, Glorious London. The weather is damp as ever, but the food has markedly improved. And I still get lost in its streets and parks and pubs and museums, happily so.

The original print of the Diamond Sūtra is at the British Museum in London. The original document [The Bakhshali Manuscript above] for the earliest Symbol ‘0’ is an hour away at the Bodleian in Oxford.

It’s time somebody took the bus across and connected Text and Symbol.

 

The ‘Bottomless Pit of Nonsense’

 

It is around 400 BCE. And the groves of Rājagṛiha are alive with the gatherings of the learned, the wise, the charlatans and the hustlers.

Far to the West, Socrates’ new ‘Theory of Forms’ has been getting a lot of attention in the Athens fountain circuit. So here he is sitting alongside the aging Parmenides.

Rightness, Beauty, Goodness. These high and noble things all have their essence in an intangible ideal ‘Form’, the theory said. Behind the veil of everyday blandness lay this epiphany waiting to be had.

[‘Form’: a core term in Classical Logic, later entering all English translations of the Hṛdaya [‘Heart’] Sūtra. The English word ‘Idea’ originates here.]

Perhaps, acknowledges Parmenides. But then what about the ugly, the depraved, the execrable, all around us?

What about, asks Parmenides, ‘The Hair..the Mud..the Dirt‘.

‘Oh, No!’ Socrates quickly replies, ‘They are just the things we see. It would be too absurd to suppose that they have a Form‘.

And why not? Why turn back at the Cliff’s Edge?

When I have reached that point’ replies Socrates, ‘I am driven to retreat, for fear of tumbling into a bottomless pit of nonsense’.

‘That’ replied Parmenides, ‘is because you are still young and Philosophy has not taken hold of you so firmly as I believe it will someday’.

The vicinity of Shūnyam is when: ‘Philosophy..takes hold of you‘. 


This and all other excerpts from Plato’s Dialogues are from the Hamilton and Cairns, Princeton, ’61 Edition.

Alice’s Wonderland: The World as Model

 

To elaborate breezily on Model as an ‘Interpretation’ and equate a Modeled-Reality to an ‘Interpreted Reality’ is to miss the point.

The very notion of ‘Interpretation’ is a Modeled-Idea. As is the notion of ‘Model’. [Fresh Academics and Deconstructionists are the most susceptible to such leaps.]

As there is, never was, any such thing as a Separated ‘Self’, there are no ‘Models’ being built by any ‘Separated ‘Self’. There are no ‘Models’ being embraced by any ‘Separated ‘Self’. There are no ‘Modeled Realities’ in which the non-existent Separated ‘Self’ resides. In fact, there are no ‘Models’ at all.

The early Vedanthin’s intuited this truth in defining the Sanskrit Maya as ‘Error’ and ‘Illusion’ [or in its more restrained metaphoric versions, ‘Like an Illusion’]. It was incomplete, for notions like ‘Error’ and ‘Illusion’ and ‘Metaphor’ are all themselves very much modeled ideas.

You truly understand the idea of ‘Model’ when, and only when, you see that there are, never were, any such things as ‘Models’. And no one here naively succumbing to any modeled-understanding. Or awakening in an exit from them.

But until you are in sight of Shūnyam, the notion of ‘Model’, its use as pedagogic tool, can be very helpful. In fact, indispensable.


Nirvāṇa

‘Queerer Than We Can Suppose’

 

I liked the way Haldane put it:

My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose‘.

A vital distinction. As for its path to acceptance:

I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages: a) This is worthless nonsense b) This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view, c) This is true, but quite unimportant, d) I always said so.’


No, no, you are not thinking, you are just being logical remarked Neils Bohr, a founder of Modern Physics, How wonderful that we have [finally] met with a paradox. Now we have some [real] hope of making progress.’