Following the Press Release from the Bodleian, a writer made the sharp observation cited below on the origin of the symbol. [I forget his name; drop me a note if you recognize this piece.]
‘The concept of zero seems intuitive, but that’s because we’re already familiar with it. There’s a big conceptual leap between saying ‘there are no apples on this tree’ to saying ‘this tree has zero apples on it.’
Both ‘No Apples’ and ‘Zero Apples’ are conceptual extracts, neither being Shūnyam [True Nothing]. But the above is a helpful distinction and it can be made more visible.
Around 600 CE, Chandrakirthi, an articulate spokesman for the Mādhyamika school which claimed itself a dialectic, itself holding ‘No views of its own’, gave this illustration of one who retains a ‘View’ of Absence [i.e. an Idea, a conceptual elaboration].
‘It is as if I ask a shopkeeper:’What do you have to sell?’. And he replies: ‘I have nothing to sell’. And I say: ‘Oh, fine! That will do. Sell me this nothing then.‘
The claim: ‘We have no views!’, is problematic and ultimately undermines the Mādhyamaka school itself. It is an unwound Self-Eating Expression, a sighting short of the terminus, short of Shūnyam.
But that does not take away from Chandrakirthi’s illustration or the writer’s observation.