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Power of zero, power of nothingness

Naseem Akhter Hussain | December 11, 2018 00:00:00

It is difficult to imagine today how we can have mathematics without zero. The invention of zero in ancient India was revolutionary in mathematics. This invention simplified computation, algebra, algorithms and calculus. Addition of zero to the positional number system unleashed the invisible power of numbers. Addition of zero at the end of a number increases its magnitude while addition of zero at the beginning decreases the magnitude. Zero also leads to infinity because placing infinitely many digits to the right of the decimal point corresponds to infinite precision. It means continuous change towards infinity. However after the invention of zero in ancient India it took almost one thousand years for the Europeans to accept it. Zero was accepted in China and Middle East before that. Western Philosophy was influenced by misconceptions and negative views about nothingness. In ancient Greece people believed that nothing can not exist.

The English word zero is originally derived from the word sunnyata which means nothingness. Two major questions were raised in the west. How can you do something with nothing? How can you find what does not exist? Indian philosophy looks for an answer to the question, how nothing can be something. To them sunnyata or void appears to have positive value. They find that without zero it would not be possible to invent negative numbers. Not only nothing is something to them, but something can dissolve into nothing as well as arise from it. But where is the actual place of nothingness? Between inner and outer there is the centre which is the void of nothingness just waiting to become something. Between non-being and being exists the space for becoming. Moreover there is potentiality within this becoming. Those who can tap the power of zero can obtain the key to outer world. Spiritual life in the West is about what happens from the plane of being into the plane of manifestations. Alternative spiritual teaching of India looks for invisible substance of the Absolute. This is both here and not here, which is the hidden face of God. For centuries mystics have worked between the worlds at the intersection of nothing and something.

Like the power of zero the concept of narishakti is an affirmation of women's strength in the belief system of Bengali villagers and in Indian thought in general. In the concept of narishakti action and idea are not separated, rather its meaning is union of action and idea. The mutual creation of action and belief is where people live their lives, acting and thereby creating themselves on the basis of what they believe, and learning to believe on the basis of past actions and their consequences. Another meaning of narishakti is that it is believed to be acquired from nothingness through sufferings leading to the contradiction between women's possession of shakti and their subordinate role as females. In fact, shakti comes as a consequence of the sufferings in subordination. Similarly, poor women can have shakti as they belong to the class of the downtrodden or the sharbahara. Narishakti also means the power of union that holds family, kin groups, society together and, of course, unity among women themselves forming power of solidarity. More importantly, narishakti means ability to act, to make others act and to make things happen. Thereby narishakti appears to be closely linked with the belief in the moral superiority of the underdog and their right to fight against marginality. Thus women who occupy an inferior role and are tied to the sufferings implicit in their subordination can lead rebellion against patriarchal oppression. Now rebellion is possible because women have the moral power of becoming that goes with the status of sufferers and there is a social sanction behind it. Therefore, the concept of narishakti can construct a dynamic and complex situation.

This indicates the positive side of otherness of being excluded, disadvantaged, unprivileged, rejected, unwanted and marginalised. The major theme is deconstruction. The major argument is anti-essentialist. This is women's transformation from nothing to something guided by the spirit of zero without fear of losing anything. As Persian poet Rumi said- Through emptiness the blossoms can fall like rain. Through silence the song of the night birds rings out. In the nothingness the heart of the world has space to spin and has silence to sing.

Dr. Naseem Akhter Hussain is a Professor at the Department of Government and Politics, Jahangirnagar University. naseemahussain2003@yahoo.com

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