The Theory of Nothing

It’s the space between the bars that cages the tiger, it is the silence between the notes that makes the music


I’ve been thinking about this particular Zen Koan, the moment it entered my conscious world. After reading nearly thousands of blogs with each of them having their own perceptive translation, I decided to just let it be. I am not saying any of these interpretations were right or wrong, but didn’t satiate my understanding. And as they say when you cannot find a solution to a problem, just let it be and let the solution find you; so it happened! I stumbled upon by chance on another great philosophy from the Japanese treasury of wisdom known as the ‘MA’ (pronounced ‘maah’) and as I studied it further, I found it no different than the Sanskrit word Ma for mother: that which is responsible for our existence!


In an utter emptiness, anything can take place


So Japanese MA is described as the void or space between things that makes them tangibly existential and noticeable.  It is not the things that exist in space; it is this space that exists between things that gives them their true purpose and physical definition like shape and unique properties. To understand it lets take an example of how we were taught different states of the matter in elementary Chemistry. Solids have very little space between its particles (little MA); liquids have little yet more space between their particles that they can slide over each other (moderate MA); and gases have a lot of free space between their particles that they move freely (maximum MA). This can also be compared with the rigidity or flexibility we adopt in our own ideologies and perceptions in life. The concept of MA is principally based on the ideologies of minimalism i.e. less materialistic stuff means more MA and vice versa.


Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions fuelled by procrastination

-Christina Scalise



Whether we believe it or not but subconsciously all the clutter that surrounds us is essentially responsible for all the negativities in our lives. As you must’ve heard many times that a clean closet is reflective of a happy state of mind and vice versa. To check the levels of your own mental MA right now, look at your office desk or your wardrobe at home.  Just look at it, just the way it is. The more the clutter on/in it, the less is the MA i.e. empty space between stuff present; and lesser the clutter, more is the MA present. This also represents the inner mental state of our being that manifests itself physically around us. So the first step towards a positive state of mind is: Increase the MA around your materialistic surroundings!

Here is a very popular and vague Zen short story that hints on this theory of emptiness that surrounds the entire consciousness.

The emperor, who was a devout Buddhist, invited a great Zen master to the Palace in order to ask him questions about Buddhism. “What is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?” the emperor inquired.

“Vast emptiness… and not a trace of holiness,” the master replied.

“If there is no holiness,” the emperor said, “then who or what are you?”

“I do not know,” the master replied.

As with all the Zen stories, this one is also open to one’s own interpretation. But I feel, saying nothing here describes it the best!


Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful

Cut doors and windows for a room; It is the holes which make it useful

Therefore benefit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there

-Lao Tzu



This MA or void is like a blank canvas on which masterpieces are painted, it is an empty space which makes everything else stand-out, it is a distance between two infinities that carry within it, infinite other possibilities to manifest and co-exist with everything else, a pause between the words that makes them legible, a silence between the notes that makes a music melodious, a gap between two breaths that makes each breath valuable. If there was to be no MA, everything that exists would have been nothing but imperceptible pure noise. Coming back to the first Koan, it is not the bars that cages the tiger, it is the possibility of an alternate existence that lies between them, that does!


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