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.