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Sunya and Nothingness (In Science Philosophy and Religion)

Sunya and Nothingness (In Science Philosophy and Religion)
Item Code: IHE025
Author: Jayant Burde
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788120833432
Pages: 310
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.8” X 6.5”
From the jacket

In this book the author analyzes the concepts of sunya (zero) void nothing and other similar notions found in various fields Mysticism, religion, philosophy, science and mathematic. This exploration reveals a strange but fascinating world of nothingness: a weird world with its mind-boggling contradictions and irrationalism conveying the central message of nihil where one finds prophets and philosophers trying to harmonize contraries, non sequiturs and irreconcilables.

Author of the Book

Jayant Burde holds academic professional qualifications in physics mathematics law and banking. His published papers contain mathematical models in finance costing and organizational structure. He has authored three books. Rituals Mantras and science (2004), Philosophy of number (2007) and the Mystique of Om (2007).


“You have been standing there grazing at the empty glass for half an hour, what’s the matter?”

“The glass is not empty it is full of air Even if you remove the air you will find an electromagnetic field in the glass”

The answer may appear facetious but need not be. It is quite possible that the glass gazer is a physicist who is wondering what will happen if by some means even the electromagnetic field is removed. Will the glass be empty? In Fact he/ she may be thinking of the metaphysical riddle of nothing which science has led him/her to the puzzle humankind may never be able to solve.

In our day to day life we frequently use such words as zero, sunya, nothing, nihil, nonbeing nonexistence void and emptiness. We know they are not synonyms but believe that there is a common kernel which conveys the sense of “no thing”. We are aware that these words differ from one another in meaning and also that a given word has different connotations depending on the context. What we do not know is that the entire range of their meaning is almost infinite.

This book analyzes the notions of sunya nothing and other similar concepts found in various fields mysticism, religion philosophy science and mathematics. This exploration reveals a strange but fascinating world of nothingness a weird world with its mind- boggling contradictions and irrationalism contradictions and irrationalism conveying the same central message of nihil a world where one finds prophets and philosopher trying to harmonize the contraries non-sequiturs and irreconcilables

The book is aimed at the general reader who is assumed to have the knowledge of school mathematics. Most of the new mathematical concepts can be appreciated can be appreciated intuitively. The proofs of most result are not given since the work is not addressed specifically to the students of mathematics.

I hope that apart from the general audience the serious students of religion philosophy and science, too, will find the work interesting. To them the book will present new dimensions; it will enable them to see how the idea of nothing in their fields is connected with similar concepts in other disciplines.

The tortuous journey of this book work right from the stage of its conception was beset by many hurdles which could only be overcome with the help of my friends and the staff of MLBD. I am grateful to all those who were helpful one way or another. I must particularly mention Mr. Rajendra P. Jain of MLBD without whose perseverance and suggestions, the book may not have seen the light Dr. Sambhaji Bhavsar’s excellent guidance was of great help. My sister Meena went through the entire manuscript and offered many suggestions Mr. Yashwant dusane prepared the manuscript and designed the figures.


Zero, sunya, nihil, nonbeing, non-existence, void, emptiness, nothing. All these words seem to convey some common meaning. They certainly have a common core, “no thing” However, we are aware that they are not synonyms. There are many differences which appear in their usage. Moreover any one of these given words can have different meaning depending on the context.

In this book we shall analyze these concepts to find out how they are inter- related. The analysis will reveal the entire range of possible meanings. To our astonishment we will find that some of these meanings are diametrically opposite to one another.

All of us zero in school mathematics. There is a perception that mathematics is an exact science. It will surprise you to know that the word “zero” has different meanings in modern arithmetic – a fact we were not aware of when we struggled with numbers in school. For most of us zero is a number which roughly means “nothing” and which has specific properties. When added to another number we get the same number when multiplied by any number we get back zero.

Mathematicians develop a system of numbers logically with some assumptions or axioms which need not be proved. The natural numbers consist of 0,1,2,…or 1,2,3..etc. There is no unanimity about whether 0 should be considered a natural number. There are many methods of “designing” the natural numbers. In most of these methods the numbers can be interpreted in infinitely many ways. Consequently zero when considered as a number has countless meanings.

Mathematics “derive” the integers on the basis of the natural numbers. They then proceed to construct the rational numbers with the help of the integers. Finally the real numbers are built using the rationals as raw material. This leads to a hierarchy of numbers. The natural numbers 0,1,2..are not the same as integers 0,1,2.. The real numbers again are not the same as the rational numbers. For example the real 5/3 is different from the rational 5/3 Consequently we also have a hierarchy of zeroes: natural, integral, rational and real. Fortunately in practice we can forget the different avatars of zeroes (or for that matter any other number) and work out our calculations ignoring their existential status as we did when we were in school. How this is possible will be clear later.

In our daily life we use many of the words such as zero and void metaphorically. “From hero to zero” is a common expression in which zero means worthless. When a great person dies, his obituary usually contains the words “the void created by his death cannot be filled” When we have a severe setback in our life we feel that we are reduced to nothing. Elderly people especially those who have lost their spouse feel that there is nothing left in life They feel a void and often wish they were dead.

Some psychiatric patients who suffer from severe psychosis have many delusions. One of them is that of nihilism. Life or the world appears strange or meaningless to them. However the word “nihilism” is often used in social science to indicate the attitude which denies all authority.

In law the words “null” and “void” are quite common. A void contract is a dead contract or no contract in the eyes of law. However the phrase “null” and “void” is ubiquitous in legal parlance. When a lawyer tells you that a particular section of a legal acts is null and void. Many lawyers appear to think that “null” and “void” have no independent existence and unless they use the emphatic “null” and “void” their arguments may not carry weight with the judiciary.

In the Eastern mysticism and philosophy, sunya (zero, nothing) and Akasa (sky, ether, void) have great importance. But sunya can mean many things. Some theologians have interpreted as infinity. For example Krtsnam sukham sunyam means wholeness brightness and infinity though sunya literally means zero. A school of Buddhism is called sunyavada (literally “zeroism”). Its adherents will tell you that sunya does not connote “nothing”, but implies “indescribable” Nirvana etymologically conveys nothingness but to the sunyavadins it means the state of enlightenment which cannot be verbalized.

Sunya can also mean Brahman or the Ultimate Reality in the philosophy of Vedanta. Many Indian philosophers believe that emptiness is not nothing it has own fullness. It is also believed that in order to be free or liberated we have to empty our mind or whatever humankind has learnt for millions of years. This alone can lead us to insight and the universal mind.

In Tantra sunya is the great void which exists below the sahasrara and is the Parama Siva’s (who is identified with Brahman) adobe. In fact the great void is Siva himself. Akasa ( space, void, ether) is also identified with Brahman.

The word sunya is often used t denote a mystical experience that is indescribable. Along with sunya, mysticism and religion often use contradictions: “Brahman is finite as well as infinite”. “In that state the yogi feels neither happiness nor misery”.

In fact contradictions go hand in hand with zero and nothing. A corollary of this thought is the assertion that in any creation or substance there are male/female or positive/negative aspects. The conscious purusa (male principle) and unconscious Prakrti (female principle) provide an illustration from Samkhya philosophy.

In Taoism one finds the principle of yang (male) and yin (female). Both Taoism and Zen appear quaint or bizarre in which opposites are involved. The Zen trainee is exposed to weird experiences: apparently meaningless riddles, merciless humiliation, ostensible blasphemy and so on. The Zennists however, maintain that the training is calculated to expose the student to apparent contradiction and nothingness which ultimately leads to unity in emptiness. Taosim contends that its teachers “action in inaction” thus reconciling contradictions

It is interesting to compare the concepts of zero and infinity in eastern mysticism and modern mathematics. In both zero (sunya) and infinity are closely related. In mathematics they are opposites but go hand in hand. If a quantity x is made smaller and smaller its reciproca 1/x becomes larger and larger and “tends to infinity” when “x tends to zero”. This has made some mathematicians posit that a/o is infinity when is not equal to 0. But while in mathematics there is only as association of these extreme concepts in mysticism one finds their fusion: the void has an infinite potential for creativity and the bindu which is a dimensionless point is an endless source of enormous power.

The western philosophers too, are aware of contradictions in life. Their reaction is usually confusion and pessimism which leads to the philosophy of nothingness. This is reflected in sophism, cynicism, skepticism and stoicism. A few philosophers like Hegel try to synthesize the opposites by eliminating what is unnecessary and absorbing what is constructive so that the encounter between thesis and antithesis takes us to a higher level of knowledge viz synthesis.

The western philosophers also consider such concepts as being and nonbeing, becoming, existence, and nonexistence. However all these ideas appear to be controversial.

The existential philosophy is centered around human existence, limitations of rationality and primacy of feelings. Many existentialists treat nonbeing as an entity. Some of them like Sartre perceive a confrontation between being and nonbeing. Nonbeing is identified with consciousness which continually desires to be, but its pursuit of being is futile .Some existentialists view nonbeing as a threat to being and a source of different types of anxieties. In existentialism one finds subjectivism, abstruseness, yearning for freedom, all expressing a multiplicity of reactions to contradictions. Many existentialists deal with the problem of nothingness of human existence and assert that existential predicament should be accepted through authentic living. The existentialists are more like creative artists than the cogitating philosophers.

In science we usually find two types of zero: the zero of the scale which is relative, and the quantitative zero. The origin of coordinate axes in geometry, the instant with respect to which the time of an event is measured the zero of the temperature scales (Celsius or Fahrenheit) are a few examples of the relatives zeros. These zeroes can be shifted and are fixed according to our convenience. On the other hand we have quantitative zeroes which imply “nothing” zero grams, zero meter etc. A question which is philosophically important is whether all quantitative zeros constitute only one zero or whether their description is complete only when the physical units of measurement are specified. You will recall that your physics instructor insisted that when you write a magnitude you should also state the units grams per cc, meters per sec etc.

Logical and epistemological approach to zero, nothing and null class reveal interesting facts. “Not” appears almost equivalent to “false”. Negative statements lead to contradictions and we resolve them only when we assume a hierarchy of words. The null class and zero are closely related: the cardinal number of the null class is zero.

The concepts of “nothing” and “void” have become extremely nebulous. Relativity and quantum theories have left scientists utterly confused. According to relativity theory the world of phenomena can be completely described without any reference to absolute space and absolute time. What matters is the relation between different events. What we call “void” is not really void even if there is no air in it. There is always electromagnetic radiation in any given region of space. What’s more mass can be converted into energy and vice versa under suitable conditions.

At the subatomic level the world appears weird due to quantum phenomena. In what seems to be void “virtual particles” may suddenly appear as if by sleight of hand and soon vanish.

Another quantum phenomenon that baffles scientists is the dual nature of subatomic existents which may behave either as waves or particles. “Interference” is a well known phenomenon displayed by interacting waves. A stream of electrons also can produce interference. What is astonishing is that a single electron can produce this effect. This apparently leads to the conclusion that an electron can be at two palaces at the same time.

The subatomic world often involves the “pairs of opposites” which are either created from nothing or annihilate each other. Many scientists have been fascinated by these phenomena which have parallels in eastern mysticism which not only finds the pairs of opposites everywhere but attempts to reconcile them. The puzzled scientists hope to find answers to the riddles of modern science in Eastern mysticism.

Conceptually they appear to believe that both mysticism and modern science contain some such general law as.

A+a – 0 Where a’ is a negative of the phenomenon a, and the double arrow shows the two – way possibility. Whether this apparent parallelism in such diverse fields is really significant will be discussed in the last chapter.


Preface ix
The Pronunciation of Sanskrit/ Indic letters and wordsxiii
Part I – Elementary Concepts
1. Zero in Arithmetic3
2. Commonsense Zero and Relatives zero13
3. The Null Class 17
4. The Void and Science25
5. The Void in Darsanas31
6. Nihilism37
Part II – Zero in Mathematics
7. Zero and the grammar of Numerals 47
8. The Variable Zero55
9. Relations61
10. The Commonsense Zero71
11. The Natural Numbers without Zero79
12. The Derived Zero85
13. The Hierarchy of Zeroes95
14. Other Mathematical Zeroes 107
Part III – Philosophy and Religion
15. Infinite Void of Consciousness117
16. Superconsciousness beyond Void 125
17. Buddhism and Sunyavada133
18. Fullness in Emptiness145
19. Taoism and Zen153
20. Sunya and Void in Tantra 161
21. Being and Nonbeing167
22. Existentialism175
23. Consciousness and Nothingness179
24. Nonbeing and Anxiety189
25. Conflict and Contradictions195
26. Cynicism and Scepticism 203
27. Space and Time209
Part IV –Science
28. Epistemology219
29. Quantity and Magnitude231
30. Mysticism and Non-science 239
31. Void in Modern Physics245
32. Science and Mysticism255
Chapter Notes 265

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