One of the “namas” in the Sahasranamam that I’m always intrigued by is the name “shunyah” given to Vishnu, which appears in sloka No. 79:
suvarnavarno hemango varangas chandhanangadhi
viraha vishamaha sunyo grithasirachalaschalaha
The Sanskrit word “sunya” means “zero”, “nullity”, “cipher”, “emptiness”.
It would strike anyone as extremely odd that the Sahasranamam should choose to call Lord Vishnu as Zero! You can understand God being called “ekaha”, the One Supreme Being. The essence of all monistic theism lies in the belief that God is One (the Upanishad says, “sayaschayam purushe; yaschasavadhithye; sa ekaha”).
You can understand too God being addressed as “ananthaha” the Infinite, as in the Sahasranamam stanza 70:
kamadhevaha kamapalaha kami kanthaha krithagamaha
anirdhesya vapurvishnuhu viro ‘nantho dhananjayaha
Since God is Immeasurable it seems plainly alright to name Him “ananthaha” the Infinite. But how is one to explain hailing the Almighty as “shunyah” the Cipher?
There is a view that “If Infinity is immeasurable, so is Zero”. Mathematically speaking, one could define zero to be anti-infinity. If “Infinity” is immeasurable plenitude, “Zero” is immeasurable emptiness. If you were to imagine, say, an interminable series of values, from zero to infinity, floating somewhere out there in endless space, then, surely, Zero would be at one end of it while Infinity would be found at the other end, wherever, that is, the two ends may be found, if at all. And if you reflect upon it deeply, that would make out “Zero” and “Infinity” to be two sides of the same un-graspable coin.
By the same logic, you might say the Sanskrit “ananthaha” and “shunyah” might seem antonymous but in reality they mean the same thing. Hailing God Almighty as “Lord Infinity” is hence no different from hailing Him “Lord Zero”.
Incredible logic notwithstanding, we know for a fact however that the “Infinite” and the “Cipher” are never really the same thing. None of us would be willing to exchange one for the other if it came to a real choice between the two. If I go up, for instance, to a venerable “acharya” or “guru” and prostrate at his feet, I would expect him to shower his benediction upon me saying, “May you be blessed in life, my son, with Gods infinite Grace!” If instead the man were to say, “May Gods zero grace be thine in life!”, the blessing would stand transformed into a vicious curse, wouldnt it?
So then, why is God, who is Infinite Being, being called “sunya”, a Zero – the very opposite of infinity? The traditional commentators of the Vishnu-Sahasranamam offer us some explanation in their respective “bhashyas”.
Lets take up Adhi Sankara’s “Sahasranama bhashya ” first.
In his commentary, Sri Sankara (6th CE) explains “sunya” as an apt “nama for God, the Supreme Brahman, who is “nirguna ” – i.e. the Being who is totally devoid of any qualities or attributes. In other words, according to Sankaras school of metaphysics, God is “guna sunyan”.
According to this explanation, God transcends all attributes. His qualities like omnipotence, omniscience etc. only serve to help us in ascertaining His reality but they do not “per se” define Him. The truth of Gods existence cannot be grasped by us with reference to His qualities or “guna ” alone, says Sankara. Brahman is to be apprehended as an Absolute Being who stands far apart from and quite beyond any of His infinitely (“ananthaha”) great qualities – i.e. He is “nirguna brahman”, a Being without qualities, a Being with “zero” qualities. Hence it is fit to call Him “shunyah”
Lets turn to the other explanation found in the commentary of Sri Parashara Bhattar (11th CE) on the Vishnu Sahasranamam titled “bhagavadh guna dharpanam”.
Bhattar explains “shunyah” in the typical way of the school of Visishtadvaitha theology. According to this school, God is the Supreme Abode of all auspicious attributes. The Almighty is full of innumerable good qualities like “gny+an+a”, “bala”, “aiswarya”, “virya”, “shakthi” and “thejas”. In Visishtadvaitha, God is “ananthakalyana guna ganan+” (to use a famous expression of Sri Ramanujacharya) – i.e. Brahman is Being with infinite number of happy and wholesome attributes. The theology next states that God, by corollary, is also totally devoid of inauspicious, un-wholesome or negative qualities.
According to Bhattar, in so far as, Brahman is replete with infinitely good attributes, He is to be known as “ananthaha”. And in so far as He is absolutely bereft of defective qualities, He is to be known as the God of “zero-defects” – in other words, He is “shunyah”.
From a purely theological standpoint both explanations above are equally valid and wholly satisfying (depending, of course, upon which school of Vedanta – Sankaras or Ramanujas – one is predisposed towards). All the same, for one who is not steeped in the various nuances and niceties of Vedhantic theology, (especially for one who cannot really appreciate the technical difference between the metaphysical “nirguna” and “savisesha” Brahman), the explanations of Adhi Sankara and Parashara Bhattar for “sunya” might only seem to resemble the case of the proverbial bottle that got described as “half-empty” by one and “half-full” by another.
Even leaving theological considerations aside, one can still regard Zero to be a remarkably apt “nama” for the Almighty. Common knowledge of the world around us reveals how allpowerful the concept of Zero, “sunya”, truly is. When we look at the history of Zero, we realize why “sunya” is almighty indeed!
Until about 1500 years ago nobody in the world outside India could count numbers beyond 9 without enormous difficulty. The entire Graeco-Roman Western world knew nothing about the Hindu-Arabic system of numerals that prevails in the entire world today. The Romans depended upon alphabets to denote numbers – such as I, X and C or with V, L and D. In their system the number 32 had to be written, for example, as XXXII but writing a number like 3200 or 32000 for the Greeks and Romans presented a huge, often insurmountable problem! For several centuries the Graeco-Roman civilization struggled with this cumbersome system of numbering. It was the principal reason why for almost a thousand years Western mathematics hardly advanced beyond being a method of elementary counting and mensuration using crude devices like the abacus. The Greeks and Romans had no knowledge of how to deal with large numbers, ratios, series, complex algebraic functions and calculations – all childs play for any high-school student today. Western thought simply stagnated for ages since it could just not grapple with the mathematical problem of large numbers and calculations.
Somewhere between 1000 and 1200 AD, the Western world came in contact with the Arab world and that was when the Hindu-Arabic system of numerals opened the eyes of the Europeans to a whole new world of mathematical thought.
The Arabs had for long borrowed and been using the Hindu system of numerals that had been in use in ancient India for more than a thousand years earlier. The Hindu system did not use alphabets but a simple but versatile scheme of numeric symbols starting from “Zero” – the famous “sunya” – and ending with 9. These symbolic numerals made it so easy to represent and calculate numerate values anywhere from zero to infinity in quick time. They enabled complex functions and calculations. They made it possible to represent the most formidable series of values by a mere formula which in turn facilitated further complex mathematical functions! The Western world realized – for the first time ever – the power of the Hindu numeral system: a power that became the inspiration for all the mathematical advancements to later come out of Europe: algebra, ratios, surds, functions such as squares, cube and root, series and progressions, logarithmic tables, quadratic equations… and so on and so forth.
It was the power of Zero, “sunya”, indeed, that made the European Renaissance possible – the Renaissance that eventually gave birth to all the wonderful discoveries of modern mathematics such as Fibionacci series, Pascals Probability theory and even Newtons Calculus! “The concept of Zero unleashed something more profound than just an enhanced method of counting and calculating”. Zero revolutionized the old modes of human thought. It meant firstly people could use only ten digits, from 0 to 9, to perform every conceivable calculation and to write any conceivable number. Secondly, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for abstract human thinking that had been simply unthinkable before!
How did the ancient Hindus discover such a powerful concept as “sunya” while the rest of the world remained ignorant of “Zero” for ages?
To grasp the concept of “sunya” required a very high level of intellectual and spiritual advancement as what prevailed in India during and after the Vedic period. As the English philosopher, A.N.Whitehead wrote: “The point about zero is that we do not need to use it in the operations of daily life. No one goes out to buy zero fish or eggs. (But) It is in a way the most civilized of all the cardinals, and its use is only forced on us by the needs of cultivated modes of thought”. Vedic mathematics and astronomy of those ancient times clearly bear evidence to the highly sophisticated conceptual and ideological skills that our Indian forbears possessed. There was no doubt at all that the ancient Vedic Indians who gave to the whole world the idea of “sunya” were indeed masters of the most civilized and “cultivated modes of thought”.
There was a great mathematician in India who lived in the 10th century CE, He was Bhaskaracharya. He wrote several pioneering treatises (in Sanskrit) on Vedic mathematics. In one of the treatises, it is said, he wrote a small dedication: “To the Supreme Brahman, who is Infinity, I offer my salutation”. Bhaskaracharya used the Sanskrit word “khahara” to denote God as “Infinity” in the dedication. It is derived from “kham” which means “Zero” and “hara” meaning “divided”. The word “khahara” was meant to indicate that God who is Infinity is related to Zero.
Bhaskaracharya was the first mathematician to reveal to the world the intimate relationship between “sunya” and “ananthaha”, between Zero and Infinity. Any quantity divided by “sunya” is equal to Infinity, he said. Take a value like 16 and divide it (“haraha”) with progressively decreasing divisors. What happens? The quotient progressively enlarges. For e.g. 16 divided by 4 = 4; and 16 divided by 2 = 8; and eventually when 16 is divided by 0 it equals “Infinity!” Every quantity, every value in the world, when divided by “sunya”, results in the same quotient or result viz. Infinity, “ananthaha”
Such is the mighty power of Zero that it can raise and relate all values on earth to the exalted state of Infinity – that very same state in which God Almighty, the Vishnu of the sacred “Sahasranama”, is said to eternally reside and rule!
Would it possible to publish sahasranama etc in devanagari script also?
Digital tenhnology has shown us that zero and one are the two basic numbers, and everything can be represented using the two.
Shankaracharya if you are that great, don’t make comments about Sai Baba, he is not hear to protect himself.
What a disgraceful situation.
“0” (shuneo/zero) hails but get power only after “1” can never be called as non-existance as Lord being primarily “Ekhaha” & even though “1” gets emanated only out of “0” to prove that existance duly got originated out of only “Non-Existance” & thus “HE IS NOTHING BUT EVERY Other “O N E” is also “H E” only !
A very valuable comment. Now, I can visualise what is ‘shunya’ and it’s enormity and the almighty God’s supreme form.
Thanks for the explanation. Daily I utter vishnu sahasranamam twice but did not think of this high value meaning.
Thank you once again.
Could you please translate the words of the sloka word by word ?
suvarnavarno hemango varangas chandhanangadhi
viraha vishamaha sunyo grithasirachalaschalaha
Great article. Complete knowledge about ‘0’- shunya. I just shared with all my friends.
Very Good Article Very good know resources at our door step
very interesting. It would solve the Physics issue: the Singular – “from ‘nothing’ the re was the Big Bang”. He would be the singular – the ‘nothing’
No doubt, sheer brilliance in illustrating the various aspects of Shunya.
Who else could have discovered and defined it, if is true, than a Brahmin Aryabhatt.
You have mentioned Adi Sankara’s commentary and Parashara Bhatt’s commentary. One that is not in your article is Acharya Madhwa’s commentary on ‘Shunya’. That is as follows. In sanskrit, ‘Sham’ is Happiness ( e.g Shamkara means one who gives happiness!) ‘Shuna’ means ‘una sukha’ i.e ‘lower pleasure (we humans, who think the worldly pleasures are all the pleasures). ‘ Shunam yamayate iti Shunyaha’, one who controls us all is Shunya!
Hare Krishna, I am what Prabhupada calls jnana-misra-bhakta, or a devotee whose devotional service is mixed with empiric knowledge. I studied alot of math and physics and interpret the teachings through those filters.
The way I interpret Vishnu being zero, is that as you climb up through the chain of demigods, Vishnu is the first entity who is truly not of the material world, that is, He has ZERO MASS, and is truly transcendental. I often think of this fact when I chant Om. I often speculate that a truly great civilization preceeded us, and correctly taught that Vishnu has ZERO MASS, or 0m in scientific
terms. 0(zero) can easily be mis-interpreted as O(capital o), by less knowledgable humans. I think of that everytime I chant Om, I am chanting to attain the zero-mass state of existence, which starts with Vishnu. 0m.
This is in reply to a request to translate the words of the sloka word by word
“suvarnavarno hemango varangas chandhanangadhi
viraha vishamaha sunyo grithasirachalaschalaha”
It is like this:
SUVARNA VARNAHA :Gold coloured (Appearance)
HEMANGA : Gold limbed
VARANGA : In the form as requested
CHANDANANGADI : Decorations (on the body)
which are eye-pleasing.
(Note: Here Chandana should not be taken as Sandal wood/paste)
VIRAHA : Destroyer of Mighty Demons
VISHAMAHA :He,who will not appear in the same form to every body.(He appears as per the thoughts or wishes of the Individuals)
SUNYAHA :He, who doesn’t have any negative Attribute/Quality.
GHRITASI : 1) He, who intends to make the universe wet with his affection.
2) He, who desires to eat the ghee in other’s houses.
ACHALA : HE.who is immovable to any situation.
CHALAHA :HE,who moves from his stand(for the sake of his devotees)
The author gave wrong dates for Adi Sankaracharya (2BC) and Bhaskaracharya (2 AC). Why to still follow British-manufactured Historical dates?
Afret a long time we have a good article explaining the Shunya attributes of the Lord. The effort behind this article reflects amply in the writing. The author Mr. Sudarshan, Sir, thank you.
My sincere Namaskaram to Sri P. S. N. Acharyulu of Vizag, AP for his excellent translation of this sloka.
Thank you Sudarshan,Sir,able to know the real meaning of the sloka.As good no of your site members are from North please publish some good article from Kanda Puranam .How much Lord Karthik is worshipped in Tamil Nadu
Nice to read this . But don’t forget Chinmayananda ji’s BMI theory. One has to rise above BMI. ( body, mind, intellect) to understand ” Shunyam/ Mahashunysm'” .
So , friends, I feel that instead of deciphering things by intellect, why not follow grt ones , who have found answer of ” Koham” to ,” So- hum”.
GOD has three attributes…. Jyoti, Dwani, Kampan”. It’s only matter of feeling , beyond Intellectual ciphering and deciphering. It is combo of Vedanta and Yoga. Both are needed to understand the subject. So, find a true Guru and learn how to Feel the Shunya and Mahashunysm’.
Bh. Geeta CH 9 , ” Maya tatmidam sarvam…..” Pl refer .
instead of breaking head on theory and who
said what ! …… Acharya Hiralal. PS… ‘An ounce of practice is more than tons of theories’
As I opened the article I noticed that at the beginning the number of the shloka is given as 79, but in the booklet published by Gita Press Gorakhpur the shloka is seen at no. 92. I request that you may also please look into this.
On going through the pages I discovered that 79 is correct. 92 comes in when Vishnu Sahasranama is preceded by 13 other slokas
Words have different meanings in different contexts. and Samskrita words have many many meanings. When we enter a room where there is nothing, no person or furniture, etc. we say there is nothing in the room, it is shunya. Go slightly deeper and we say there is air, no doubt. Even air can be taken away and we say there is vacuum, shunya. Thinking a little deeper we get there is space, which we cannot take away, not only physically, but not even by our imagination.
Many who commented above have taken the meaning of shunya as zero, which is only a mathematical analysis. The word ‘zero’ cannot contain all the meanings of ‘shunya’.
Bhagawan Krishna says in the Geeta: “Arjuna! there was never a time when we did not exist, nor will be a time when we will not exist”, in other words we existed before our birth (the birth or our bodies) and will exist even after our death, or the death of our bodies.
When we cannot perceive anything by our indriyas we say there is nothingness, shunya. But the Primordial Energy has always been there from which everything, the universe, matter and energy, Space and Time sprouted. When our mind and intellect fail to see anything else than nothingness, shunya, the only ONE that existed, the Primordial Energy is YOU and nothing else. Hence we name you as ‘shunya’.
Though not 100% the knowledge that God the infinite is also equated to Zero answered my 50+ years old quest for the philosophical significance of assigning to Infinity the Symbol ∞ which is Just 2 Zeroes which means again Zero.
Can anyone enlighten about the origin of this Symbolic symbol for Infinity – why it was not Ø or α etc.?
…….. Contd. Sir ji , reading recipes of making Sweets doesn’t give you taste of Sweet ! So, theoretical descriptions doesn’t give one ” taste of divine”. Prem and Bhakti are required . Be like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Tulsidas ji, Soordass ji, Meerabai and many more !
On top of all these , don’t forget Bhakta Shiromani Hanuman gosain ! ( people affected by English , take pleasure in calling Him ‘ Monkey God ?’)…chhe…chhe..
Shunya as a name connotes more than zero, cipher, emptiness or nothingness, etc. Shunya can mean that which exists when we mortals perceive only emptiness or nothingness.
In the Bhagawad Geeta, Bhagawan Krishna says that everything, i.e. the whole of the universe came from that which is imperceptible.
Philosophers say that only nothingness can come out of nothingness. Therefore shunya never existed. Bhagawan Krishna has also said that “Arjuna, you and I existed even before our birth and will continue to exist after our death.”
We would generally say that a bottle is empty when it contains air and nothing else. The scientist would admit it to be shunya only when the air also is taken out, or when a vacuum is created. Going still further, the philosopher would say though the air is taken away, it contains space which can never be taken away.
And the ancient rishis of Bharata maintain that before the creation of even the space, there was the Primordial Energy.(space is also a created matter being one of the five basic elements, viz., space, air, fire, water and earth). And hence the author of Sahsra nama named that Primordial Energy, which is vishnu (vishnu means omnipresent) as Shunya, to indicate that which existed when nothing else existed, not even space. —- P.K.P. Nambiar is a teacher of Bhagawad Geeta, Sreemad Bhagawatam, Narayaneeyam, etc.
Beautiful article with good insights….God starts from nowhere and ends nowhere…he is omnipresent and blesses all of us with his grace…
a very wonderful article. I enjoyed reading it. I hope to read more such articles in future.
above topic very interesting , please send me some more articles on this subject .
please convert Indian conversion for donation
The Almighty God,” GOD ” is Hero…….. and ……Lord Vishnu is Zero, because …..He is Achieve God.
Hero is Zero .
” Hero is Zero
Zero is not Hero ”
Because Zero is owner of divine Virtues here as a Divine RING. Being virtuousless,here Zero means Ring disappeared and then there will behind HERO. Hero mean only ” DOT ” Sunya .
Das Anudas Rohtas
In Hinduisum Spiritually
So, The Almighty God,” God ” is
In this beautiful world Lord Shree Vishnu Ji is Hero, not Zero as explain in Vishnu Sahasarnama.
The Vishnu Sahasranama attributes SHUNYA (ZERO – MATHEMATICAL DEFINITION) and ANANTHA (INFINITE – MATHEMATICAL DEFINITION) to Lord Sriman Narayanaa to glorify his null and full features, before mathematics explained zero and infinity in a limited way.
Hence equating the qualities of Parabrahman, what Bishmacharya meant through these attributes, in front of Lord Krishna, Himself, cannot be limited to the limited scope of explanation as given by mathematics of this era.
Hence this SHUNYA gives more philosophical meaning as “Aathi” the BEGINNER or CREATOR (SHRUSHTI) AND “end” DESTRUCTOR (SAMHARA), from STHULA – SHUSHMA – STHULA cycle as his LEELA VIBHUTHI.
His, Parabrhman” existence in the Sthula-Sushma (end to end) form may be meaningfully entrenched in the words “Anantha – Shunya”, by Bhishmacharaya.
Maha Kaala, beyond death is Lord Siva the Rudra. The destroyer.
Siva: Si “in whom everything thing lies” and Va “the embodiment of grace”
So once after destruction of everything, it becomes Nothing, NO-THING, SI-VA, that is Zero I.e. Soonya.
Now Lord Vishnu has been called as Soonya, cause there is no difference that he is the destroyer of the all creations at the end of all yugas.
This is: “Sivaya Vishnu Rupaaya, Siva Rupaaya Vishnave”. No difference between Siva and Vishnu, both are same.
Siva – Rudra – the destroyer – Nothing – Zero – Soonya is none other than the other form of Vishnu.
Also OM POORNAMADA POORNAMIDAM POORNAATH POORNA MUDHACHYATHE POORNASYA POORNA MAADHAAYA POORNAMEVAVASHISHYATE.
Simple Meaning for above: If you take infinity from Infinity then Infinity remains, if you take Zero from Zero then Zero remains.So is the God the Infinity / Zero. If you need Infinity you need to divide it with Zero. Its what we understand the God. If you divide Infinity by Infinity, the result is Not Defined. So the truth is God is what cannot be difined. Only it (God) can be Understood (I.e. like Infinity divided by Zero is Infinity) but God cannot be defined. As he is everywhere(vasudeva) and he is in all forms (sarveswara) and he is of SHOOKSHMA roopa (refer Bhagavath Geetha). SHOOKSHMA is which cannot be seen – that is very minute, and it can be also called as “Soonya”. ParamAatham is of No Form, SHOOKSHMA Roopa, so he is Soonya – Zero. But present everywhere unlimitedly.