In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, sage Yajnavalkya was asked by his pupils to explain the nature of Brahman, Universal Consciousness. The sage replied: "Neti Neti - neither This nor That - such is Brahman."
This definition sounds enigmatic. But within this mysterious concept lies the profound philosophy of existence, which can be understood in terms of mathematics. If we look for a mathematical numeral equivalent to the Upa-nishadic 'Neti Neti', it is zero, because zero is neither This nor That; it is neither positive nor negative. Therefore, the Vedas proclaim: "Aum Kham Brahman", meaning Brahman is shunya or zero! Hence Brahman = 0.
Literally, it seems zero is nothingness. However, from an elemental perspective, it is not so. Otherwise 10s and 1,000s would have never been quantified. The figures would have remained simply '1'! A zero placed before the numeral '1' would not have added value to it.
According to Panini, zero is "Adarshanam Lopah". It indicates an entity that does exist, but it is invisible. Zero, therefore, represents a mysterious element that has an unseen and unfathomable existence.
In the Chhandogya Upanishad, sage Udyalak asks his son Shvetketu to cut the seed of a fruit of a banyan tree into two halves. ''Could you see anything inside it?'' Shvetketu replies, "I can see nothing in it." The sage remarks, "What you call as nothing is actually the source of everything. From this shunya springs a huge banyan Tree." From shunya or absolute zero springs the entire Universe. Zero is unmanifest Brahman.
Look at the other perspective of zero. We know that the value of a standalone zero remains unmanifest. It gets manifested or quantified only when it combines itself with other numerals. Similarly, Brahman alone remains avyakta or unmanifest. It is only in unison with matter that it manifests itself. Only then, nirguna, the unmanifest, becomes saguna, the manifest, quantifiable or qualitative. A couplet says, "Brahman bole kaya ke ole"- Brahman reveals its presence in the guise of matter, just as zero reveals its presence in the presence of other integers.
Zero is neutral. It never adds charge to an integer. It simply quantifies the integer combined with it, be it a positive or negative one. If it is combined with -1, it quantifies it to -10; with +1, it makes it +10.
Quite analogous to it is the nature of Brahman. It is nirguna, neutral. But at the same time, it is the universal energy, the consciousness that drives or quantifies all our actions; the whole existence. If we employ it with negative mental propensity, it leads to wrong actions or destruction; with positive mind-set, it leads to goodness or construction.
The barriers running between the two realms - academics and spirituality - could be mitigated to some extent after pondering over the above-mentioned aspects. However, it is also true that the theoretical integration of spirituality with any secular knowledge cannot reap fruits unless spirituality is realised and experienced in person. Who is Brahman? What is Universal Consciousness? What is the absolute zero or shunya state in terms of spirituality? Neither theory nor language alone can answer these questions. They are the subject of Self-experience through the Third Eye. Krishna says spirituality is sovereign knowledge, the secret of all things, meant to be experienced and practised through Brahm Gyan (Divine Knowledge).