Religion’s Final Quarter, Tie Score: Monotheism 1, Zero-theism 0…

IMG_1183

Statue of Buddha in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Christians and Muslims will always be at each other’s throats, because they’re both playing offense, which I find rather offensive. We Buddhists prefer to play defense. Don’t you wish the DOD did? It used to be called the Department of War, you know. Nothing’s changed. The best defense is a good offense in American football, but life is no silly game…

In real life the best offense is a good defense, all kung fu’s and eastern martial arts based on the idea of letting the enemy’s own aggression destroy him–just facilitate the matter. China was for a long time, and is arguably still today, a Buddhist country. It certainly isn’t Communist, far from what Marx or Mao envisioned, with its state-sponsored capitalism, and keeping up with the Joneses…

And Communism tried non-aggression, too, but couldn’t keep a lid on it when the Digital and Consumer Revolutions came along, and they just couldn’t keep the peasants down on the farm any longer with a bottle of Stolichnaya and a pocket full of tissues. That’s what Khrushchev first meant when he said, “We will bury you;” i.e. you will bury yourselves. He was right, of course, but impatient. We all are. If you can’t beat them—join them…

Primum Non Nocere

I think we Buddhists feel the same way, even if we don’t say it much. We’re too nice and polite. But we know that aggression is feudal—and futile. It is based on the false assumption that might makes right. It doesn’t, even if it might appear so from a superficial reading of history. On first glance it might appear that to the victor go the spoils, but are those spoils sustainable? I doubt it…

Where are those once-mighty Romans now? They’ve gone the way of all flesh, of course. Modern Italians don’t even remotely resemble them, though Sicily might come closest. Once again the example of China is instructive. They have been conquered and occupied many times, yet every time they end up swallowing the conquerors whole and assimilating their former territory into what is now Chinese, with very few exceptions, i.e. Mongolia and Vietnam, word to the wise…

Implicit to every doctor’s Hippocratic Oath is the dictum to “First, do no harm,” i.e. if you don’t know what to do, then at least don’t make things worse. Still they do, cutting and hacking, dicing and splicing—genes–that is, determined to one-up Mother Nature, or go dying trying. This is all wrong. What’s your hurry? Take it slow, better safe than sorry…

Emptiness, Nothingness, and Zero

The Buddhist concept of Emptiness probably needs some explanation. The Sanskrit word shunyata is the key concept here, and the translation of that word determines your ultimate disposition of it. The concept of emptiness usually gets fleshed out in modern Western Buddhism as emptiness of self, rejecting that Hindu, and later Greek, ‘soul’, that would come to define religion, and its superstitions, such as the transmigration of that same soul…

But it also has other connotations, and those connotations get complicated. I prefer ‘zero’ as the best definition of the Sanskrit word, since that is the way it has entered modern languages such as Nepali and Thai, among others. And that emptiness also includes the plethora of gods that defined pre-monotheism. With the exception of the Tantric-Vajrayana gods borrowed from Hinduism, it also defines Buddhism, which I believe is no accident…

For not only is that zero a convenient number of gods, i.e. none, but it also has meaning in itself, just like the ‘one’ of monotheism. As in mathematics it defines space, without claiming it. This is the Source of all things. This is our Supreme Being. No, we are not atheists. We believe in a higher power. We just don’t want to brush his teeth every night before putting him to bed. The zero is the greatest invention in mathematics—and religion—ever…

Yes, We ARE all one(s)…

The other great invention is One, of course, and from those two numbers, all others follow. In many languages, there is zero, one, and more than one. That’s all you need to know, for purposes of logic and reason. We use a decimal system of numerical place notation for everyday use, but it doesn’t have to be that way, and wasn’t always, hence dozens, and handfuls, and the result of them as multiplier and multiplicand: the base-60 of the Sumerians…

But the Digital Age confirms the primacy of the binary, and that is the modern method. The Source is O and the world—samsara—is 1. That’s another word that gets connoted and denoted out of existence, as the cycle of rebirths, etc. In modern Nepali, sansar is the world. But that’s the subject of a later blog post. “You have zero. You Buddhists are lucky, because you have zero.”

That’s the best quote I took away from my recent week at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, and that’s the one I’ll remember. Now that doesn’t mean that Buddhists invented–or discovered–zero, but it certainly came to fruition in the same early CE Indian milieu as the Buddhist florescence there, and it may be more than coincidence. Bottom line: nobody loses if the score is tied. That’s the important thing: it’s not whether you win or lose…

Advertisements