Zero and the Mathematics of Spiritual Awakening

My father went to M.I.T. and my uncle Frank taught math for over 50 years at the Boston Latin, a premier preparatory school. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit their math genes and couldn’t begin to solve the math problems with which Uncle Frank was always testing me when I was a teenager. So it is not without some irony that I find myself relating math functions to spiritual awakening.

For me, an awakening can be a change in your point of reference, a change in perspective. The most fundamental of all awakenings involve our identity; changes in how we see ourselves. Am I a Red Sox fan or a college student, a meditator or a performer, or all of these together? These changes in identity are the product of many experiences which at some point generate this updating or reprogramming. In each case, we add or subtract perspectives to a personal identity, the identity associated with our name.

In 1999, while in the midst of a personal inquiry session, an impersonal Absolute identity came to awareness which was so uniquely fundamental and familiar as to call into question the primacy of my personal identity itself. This was not a spiritual experience that I could add to my long list of other experiences, nor was it a peak experience. It was just the opposite because nothing really happened other than in one moment I was Fax Gilbert having thoughts and in the same moment my “I” was identified with an all-inclusive point of reference from which all personal identity became unsubstantial.

A few months later, while describing this shift, I found myself referring to the zero as a symbol for this Absolute identity because it was beyond the field of duality, neither plus nor minus. I then began to see the correlations between zero in its relation to other numbers and my Absolute identity in relation to all the personal identities represented by my name.

Numbers have identities signified by their names. These numbers relate to each other through varying perspectives or functions. In the simplest terms, a function could be to add or subtract them or multiply or divide them. Their value can be added to or diminished from, and their relationships can be described through mathematical laws.

Then there is the zero. The zero doesn’t act like the other numbers because it’s not really a number. It’s more like a point of reference whose presence and placement effects numbers in major ways. In terms of placement, if you want to see a big increase, place a zero at the end of your tax return. Your $900 jumps to $9000. If you want to see a big decrease, place a zero at the beginning of your .95% money market yield. It diminishes to a paltry .095%.

The effect of zero on numbers (identities) that come into relationship with it is far more magical than its face value, which is generally seen as just nothing or nada or zilch. Another way to perceive zero is as a magical presence. If you’re adding or subtracting zero to a number then the zero disappears (2 + 0 = 2), but if you’re multiplying or dividing a number by zero then the number itself disappears and only the zero remains (200/0 = 0). It doesn’t matter how big or small these numbers are, their interaction with zero is absolute. One or the other disappears. In one relationship the zero is as if hidden within every number, in the other the numbers are hidden within the zero. The function (relationship) determines the reality.

From the point of reference of who I saw myself to be before awakening, there was no absolute identity. It was as if hidden within all of my experiences, memories, and relationships in the same way that zero hides itself within all numbers. Once awareness dawned, looking at my self from that Absolute point of reference was like dividing or multiplying my personal identity by zero. It disappeared, of no more substance than a thought.

In order for mathematics to adhere to its laws, it had to awaken to an abstract wholeness fundamental to the functioning of its numbers, the zero. Similarly, a spiritual recognition of an Absolute identity is fundamental to the wholeness of our Being and the range of identities it embodies. The zero, in life as in math, can never again be seen as just “nothing” but as that which represents a “fullness beyond emptiness” whose awakened presence connects us to every particle in the universe.

Fax Gilbert © 2016

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