Zen Buddhism

“Zen”. Very oriental and mysterious, ain’t it? Well, in some way yes it is. But look beneath the covers and you will find treasure-loads of logic, or is it un-logic?

The Buddhist Dogmap

If you have ever studied Formal Systems, you ‘ll know that no formal system can be consistently complete. For others who haven’t here’s a gist:

Any system that is based on simple operations that a machine can do can never produce all the truths in the world without contradicting itself.

In other words, no rigorous system like mathematics can prove every truth.

This is a widely acknowledged theorem in mathematics (rather in meta-mathematics), proved by Kurt Godel. Buddhism intends to go down to the core of this problem and hack at the root of the tree. Buddhism intends to hack down this problem at the root.

Core Philosophy

At the core of Zen Buddhist philosophy is the concept of dualism. Dualism is dividing the world into separate entities. The notion of things being separate objects or entities leads to the creation of Formal Systems. By considering everything as the same, not separate, Buddhism avoids creating such systems and hence, prevents contradictions. The Buddhist struggle against Dualism is the path to enlightenment. But if everything is the same thing then everything is the path but everything is also not the path.

1 | 0

No, I ‘m not going to pass a judgement on one of the fundamental questions that arise within Buddhism. Is everything one and the same? Or is everything nothing? If so what is everything? or for that matter what is nothing?

There are some questions that cannot be answered because they themselves stand on such shaky grounds. That is so with the above ones. Zen Buddhism is averse to systems in all forms, and language to is a system. It wishes to say that language cannot convey all. This is painfully evident through a study of Zen koans which are the traditional way to Zen.

So all is not 1 nor is it 0 for 1, 0 and all are abuses of the language system that we use. They are meaningless in Zen and not without reason are they so. A colleague of mine once suggested that Zen could be i, the imaginary number whose square is -1 . A great idea that Zen cannot be equated to something real. However, it suffers from the same fallacy of being an abuse of the language in the use of terms like imaginary and number.

Zen wishes to say that one doesn’t need a purpose to live. To live for the sake of living, to just “be” is the concept of Zen. For then one is like the rest of the universe that exists just for the sake of existence. To search for a purpose for the universe’s existence is to take away the essential beauty of it. Perhaps we can extend the anthropic principle to all observable entities by saying that the reason they are in such a state as they seem to be, is because they “are”.

Buddhist masters are often averse to answering questions such as ‘What is the meaning of life?’ and ‘Does this have Buddha-nature?’,  because they realize that by attempting to answer such questions they enter into dualistic thinking. It is therefore better to ‘un-ask’ the question, to ignore the question or answer ‘MU’ (nothingness).


To study Zen is to study the “be” verb. Used mostly as an accessory by the uninitiated, yet forming the most crucial and powerful word in language. To attain enlightenment is to come to terms with one’s own Godel statement, to realize the inherent oneness and nothingness of oneself with the rest of the world.

By attempting to write this all down, I ‘m perhaps violating the Buddhist principles. But every path to Buddhism is contrary to Buddhist beliefs. The masters have wisely said –

If you are studying it, then you are far from the Way.

Further Readings

  • Godel, Escher, Bach – An Eternal Golden Braid – Douglas Hofstadter
  • Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem


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