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Does "Zero" have any value?

This could be a trick question if you look at it from a certain perspective. However, this is not a math question. In math zero is important in relation to numbers having value as a placeholder, and in other ways. There would be no computers as we know them without zero etc. Anyway I never liked math, which says something about me I suppose. One thing it says is I am not good at finances, but that is of no importance for this discussion.

My question is in regard to the goal of religious or philosophical paths. Some interpretations of the Vedas arrive at a conclusion of no eternal individual soul, but one supreme formless energy that temporarily manifests as individuals. Another popular conception posits that there is reincarnation, and suffering, yet ultimately all there is, is matter, and liberation or nirvana really amounts to.....well nothing---to be straight. Impersonal destinations for the soul, or "voidistic" ocean doctrines, though in modern times put in flowery language, like cosmic oneness, or all love, are really saying that our individuality is zero, and our love, feelings etc. are in the ultimate sense also zero.

Even beginners on the path of Bhakti, or cultivating the service and love of the Supreme Lovable, Shri Krishna find such doctrines, very unattractive. Great devotees in their Bhava (spiritual emotion) or love for Krishna have spoken very harshly of such depictions of their Lord, the love of their life, who is also none other than the Supreme Brahman. Should we, who are beginners, also speak in such harsh ways to those we meet who expose such doctrines? Sometimes devotees can be quick to condemn others with impersonal views without relating to them on the human level, and giving them some credit for their spiritual search.

Although there are many verses in the Upanisads and other Vedic literature that apparently speak of the ultimate truth as impersonal, the overwhelming evidence of the Vedic literature as a whole is that the ultimate reality, or the primal source of everything is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, with his diverse energies or saktis though which he expands himself and accomplishes his purposes.

Such depictions of the Supreme Truth as having no eyes, nose, face etc., are really to distinguish him from material eyes, ears, noses, etc, since he has a purely spiritual form and personality. The innumerable references for that are throughout Shrila Prabhupada's books, and the writings of the main followers of Lord Chaitanya, the famous six Gosvamis of Vrindavana. Their arguments will be accepted by devotees, or personalists, but not by those who have a bias for impersonalism or voidism. They are not charmed by Krishna like the devotees.

Nowadays devotees are often involved in some type of inter religious dialog where we try to connect with different groups to promote more religious understanding and acceptance. I think this is good, yet it can be a test. Once in the Washington D.C. area a friend of ours was hosting one such gathering at his house, with a number of different groups attending, including devotees. One of the groups of Western followers of Tibetan Buddhism, lead the group in a chant first in Sanskrit, and then in English, that "Nothing is everything, and everything is nothing." I wasn't able to hide my disgust, and my wife looked at my expression and had to elbow me.

I have to admit that when I first began my spiritual search almost 40 years ago, I used to say this.....but that was a long time ago, and much has changed in my life and heart. It was hard for me on this occasion to be neutral to hearing that chant in the name of political correctness. Nevertheless in other circumstances, remembering my own history as well as how many paths are in the market place today, I recommend that we should be understanding and accommodating of people we meet or who ask us questions. This means to be tactful and respectful in presenting our views.

Our KC philosophy is strong about the superior spiritual position of personalism, and we can find many reference to take a strong stance to explain it. Yet at the same time we don't want to be like so many groups who are known for their religious fanaticism, extremism, and intolerance of other views. This is called in our tradition, "kanistha adhikari", or those of weak faith who have to make others wrong in order to be right.

So do these paths having what to us is a goal of "zero" have any value? How should we present it to others? Here is one way: If the plane of karma, which means taking from the environment and incurring a debt(reaction) for it, is taken as the path of negative numbers (causing samsara or birth and death), then coming to "zero" has a positive value. While giving appreciation for zero here, we question now, are there are any positive numbers?

Ending suffering is good. If we are being chased by those wanting to harm us, and we find shelter in a room and lock the door, then our hiding has positive value. However, how long can we do nothing or hide? Eventually we will want some positive activity. Our positive activity, or the plane of positive numbers, is devotional service. Being in the plane of negative numbers (karma) is only bondage. Although coming to zero has positive value in relationship to karma, from the devotional perspective, having a positive relationship to the most positive person, Krishna is really the best option. Krishna consciousness is the process of becoming convinced of this positive truth, and acting on it--positively. This is the life of devotion or Bhakti-yoga.

Combined comments from old site

Mon, 12/03/2007 - 11:46 — Radhikesh
Philosophy vs Personal

I again like your post. You always deal with how to apply the philosophy practically. This time you have addressed the question of how to deal with people of other faiths without being fanatical.

From practical experience, I can tell you that it is very difficult not to get angry at the person who is espousing views different from me - and especially the all-pervasive Mayavada. It is said that the majority of the Vedic followers are Vaisnavas, but my experience has been otherwise.

I liked what Srila Prabhupada did: he used to ask 'whats his philosophy?' and defeat that, without attacking the person. It is essential that we distinguish the two - the philosophy versus the person.

I try to see the good aspects of the philosophy. The Mayavadis also accept the transmigration of the soul and worshipping the Lord. Even among Vaisnavas there are differences. For example, the Madhvas do not accept Lord Caitanya and His followers. They dont consider there is a fifth purusartha - love of God, nor Krsna is the Original personality of Godhead. Usually when dealing with such a question, I follow what is said in Caitanya Caritamrta: some say Krsna is an avatara of Vishnu, and some say Vishnu is an avatara of Krsna. All the devotees are right.

Thanks again - we indeed need to see the value of zero.

Radhikesh das


Mon, 12/03/2007 - 20:47 — Karnamrita.das

Pranams dear Prabhu:

I orginally thought of this topic after attending a Sunday feast class where the speaker was rather unnecessary harsh and "over the top" with a guests' impersonal statement. I have personally had the opportunity to kindly deal with impersonal views in class, saying, "Yes, that is one perspective. However, our philosophy includes this, yet develops the idea further" etc. I was respectful, yet I didn't compromise and tried to speak so I could be heard. My comments were appreciated by some guests as not being condemning. I will certainly admit that there will always be people who can be quite difficult, but you will learn to deal with them with experience and understanding.

I don't proclaim to be an expert, yet I do have the benefit of years of dealing with all types of people and philosophies. As an energy healer, I am quite at home with "New Age" people. Their good aspect of accepting many views is also what can frustrate one, since they are apt not to accept any one doctrine, but to be eclectic. If you can accept that it is easier to deal with them. For the hard core Mayavadis, we just accept them as that with respect, and not waste time arguing.

Also we have to distinguish Mayavadis (very rare) who are against the form of Krishna from just your more typical impersonalist types. Most people are not philosophers like many of us devotees, and are more apt to feel something then to be convinced by our philosophy. Again how we speak to them is more important than our clever arguments. We have to really listen to people and have a genuine interest in them, and we have to walk our talk and be real devotees. Like you do we have to find points of similarity and build on that.

And you have to ask yourself why you are angry?

Is it because they won't listen to what you consider reasonable arguments? If so remember that people are born with different preferences from past lives. We don't make devotees but uncover them. Only the devotees will be charmed by the KC philosophy---though it can take time, and your affection and care of them will see them to that point. Others are predisposed to some other logic. Our scriptures say that all logic is an imperfect attempt to explain ultimate reality. To us our philosophy is the best, but not everyone will agree!

There could be so many reasons you are angry at them. For being dull headed, sentimental, or if it causes you do doubt the philosophy in some way, "If our philosophy is perfect why can't people accept it", etc. I obviously have no idea. You have to search it out.

When Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur would sometimes speak his face would become red with emotion, and he would pound his fist on the table at the thought that people would get less than complete Krishna consciousness that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came to give, and thus miss the real truth. Some of his disciples would become disturbed, "Guru Maharaja is getting angry--not good!" But one disciple, upon looking at face of his guru in anger from concern for others said, "Upon seeing the beautiful face of Guru Maharaja, tinged pinkish out of anger---now I know the meaning of "lotus face"." So he thought his gurus anger an ornament. The point being that not all anger is bad. We have to always be self reflective to understand our motivation in our actions and responses to others. In that sense we are taught about our self by all types of people! Is our conflict more about us?

Your friend in Krishna,



Thu, 12/06/2007 - 10:26 — NityānandaChandra
Wonderful post Karnamrita

Wonderful post Karnamrita Prabhu, thank you


Thu, 12/06/2007 - 11:01 — Karnamrita.das
One good turn deserves another

"Thank yous", deserve appreciation, so I do appreciate your taking time to read what I wrote and expressing your thanks. So much of Krishna consciousness is feeling and showing our appreciation. Appreciation fosters love.

Krishna consciousness is like an ocean, and there are unlimited subjects to think about from the Krishna conscious perspective. Although I am an average writer with much to learn, I do love to write and I am philosophical by nature. Todays' blog will show what I found while at Hilton Head Beach in South Carolina.

Your friend in Krishna,



Tue, 12/04/2007 - 09:32 — Radhikesh

This is really mind blowing. I made the "mistake" of reading it after 10 pm last night, and that too while listening to a lecture by Gopiparanadhana Prabhu. That messed up my sleep as I was thinking about it quite a bit. Thanks Prabhu for making me do some self analysis.

It is nice the way you handle impersonal views. Yes, our philosophy is all inclusive and yet distinctive. Actually thinking about it, it ties in well with whats said in the Gita:maya tatam idam sarvam...Nothing is different from Krsna, yet nothing is Sri Krsna save and except his primeval personality.

And I agree wholeheartedly what you wrote: "Most people are not philosophers like many of us devotees, and are more apt to feel something then to be convinced by our philosophy. Again how we speak to them is more important than our clever arguments. We have to really listen to people and have a genuine interest in them, and we have to walk our talk and be real devotees".

It is more important to take genuine interest in people and not catch hold of their ears to dump whatever we know.

I need to think more about why I get angry. May be its because I am not able to come up with a smart repartee. I think its more to do with my ego that I forget even the basics of our philosophy. Most of the times I am silently angry. For example recently there was this party with friends and families. I sat surrounded by people eating meat, who were extolling the glories of meat eating. I dare not say a word because I thought I will sound like a fanatic. This happens many times - either surrounded only by demigod glorifiers or by meat eaters. I find it difficult to say anything with no other person support.

And is it possible to be like Arjuna - who had a tiny army but had Krsna on His side to come out victorious?

Radhikesh das

Mon, 12/03/2007 - 04:21 — Navasi
Wrongs & Rights

Hare Krishna, Dear Karnamrita Prabhu,
Well, this is a really wonderful post you've made here!
I just loved reading all of it!
I really really appreciate what you are saying about being respectful of the views of others.
Also what you said about Intolerance, Fanaticism, & Extremism, is fantastic!
I think that there is only One Thing that kind of attitude/behavior leads to:


What is that going to accomplish for anyone or anything???

Alienation creates enemies.
Alienation creates wars.
Alienation creates lack of understanding.
Alienation creates lack of respect.

(it also creates a general lack of harmony, compassion, love, humanity)

It creates a lot else too, but that's enough to make my point here.
So, thank you for this very wonderful blog you have written, I personally hope it gets read very well and very carefully by everyone....
Navasi devi dasi


Mon, 12/03/2007 - 10:22 — Karnamrita.das
Positive conviction is different from doubtful fanatism

As always, thanks for your appreciation, and taking the time to comment. I wrote the above partly in response to some tendencies of certain devotees to what I consider immate Prabhupada without having the realization or knowing how to make KC points according to time and place. "Smashing" opposing views is not the sum and substance of KC. We don't want to preach "at" people but relate to them very individually. Many people who put forward impersonal or voidist doctrines haven't really thought it through very carefully. Neither have they heard the personal Vaishnava philosophy. One thing is for sure, if they don't feel we actually care about them and are just speaking dogmatically, they most likely won't be receptive to whatever we say, no matter how elequent. HOW we say something, is more important than WHAT we say. And WHO we are is much more important than what we say. Here is a great quote by Thoreau: "WHO YOU ARE IS SCREAMING SO LOUDLY I CAN'T HERE WHAT YOU ARE SAYING".

When I was a new devotee distributing Back to Godhead magazines on the street someone replied to my preaching to them, "Are you trying to convince me---or yourself?". Wow! That feedback took my back, and I really had to think about how convinced I was or wasn't, that someone might have felt my doubt. So if we are truly convinced, we don't need anyone else to confirm it. We don't need everyone else to agree with us, or to make everyone else wrong. Our Krishna consciousness will be enough for us, and out of our true compassion we will share with others what we have. In the beginning that can mean sharing what we like about KC. Prabhupada advised us to preach according to our realization. That will have power. Otherwise we are speaking dogma. Of course we make like Krishna lila, and have some faith in it though not realization, and be able to share our enthusiasm, but I am talking about trying to defeat someone when we haven't defeated our own doubts.

Your friend in Krishna,



Mon, 12/03/2007 - 08:30 — vikasmalhotra
vikasmalhotra's picture
Hare Krishna

Hare Krishna, Dear Karnamrita Prabhu

This is a wonderful Blog and in fact has answered a couple of questions which i had with regard to Intolerance, Fanaticism, & Extremism. I was extremely worried about these points.

I always have thousand thoughts going in my mind. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.