The Buddha as Zero Man

Tom, Dick, Harry and the Buddha



The Tathagata (later renamed the Buddha) took no fixed position (to wit, opinion) in relation to any formation, be it physical, emotional perceptual, mental (i.e. as an opinion or view) or of consciousness.


In short, if ‘positions’ are represented (hence identified) by numbers, then he operated as the zero (and which as no own (or self); if represented by playing cards, then he functioned as the joker. Neither the zero in maths nor the joker in a game of cards actually belong to the game, though they do not - not (Sanskrit: neti neti) belong to the game.



Tom, Dick and Harry represent, indeed, believe themselves to be fixed positions (i.e. having true real, substantive ‘selves’). Note the white point at their core.

What the Tathatgata did in relation to a fixed position was to relativise it. First he showed that every fixed position happens as after-affect of an uncontrollable (because not own) cluster of ever changing conditions. In other words, the holder of the position (in fact, fixation), and who reifies it as a real thing/self, neither owns the cluster, nor does the cluster last. The consequence of clinging to something one does not own and which does not last results in pain (Pali: dukkha).


Basically the Tathagata operated as a spoiler. He demonstrated the futility of attachment to something that wasn’t one’s own and didn’t last.

He did not actually take a position himself, though sometimes he made his non-position look life one for tactical reasons. That is why he, the Tathagata (indeed all Tathagatas), could not be grasped. Nor did he make any comment about the origin of the temporary cluster that appeared as a fixed position (allowing its ‘owner’ (actually only a temporary user) to say of it: ‘This is I, this is mine, this is own (to me)’).


In a word, the Tathagata operated like a smart defence lawyer. He did not need to prove his case (i.e. my client is innocent, i.e. ‘there is something (one can) own (i.e. is atta) and that is not impermanent, and this is it’). All he needed to do was to show that the prosecution had no case (i.e. that the presented form (or identity) is neither ‘own’ (usually misrepresented as ‘self’, sometimes even as ‘soul’) nor permanent, hence should (like the his client) be ‘let go’).


Since the Tathagata took no position, since he operated as a zero man, he could not be ‘bested’. And since he could not be ‘bested’, he was ‘fearless’.


Once Gautama intruded his personal beliefs (i.e. as fixed positions) into his ‘content free’ deconstruction operation he ceased to function as a Tathagata, but become a great religious leader.


Understanding the meanings of the ‘name’ Tathagata