Mu Answer

From , and :

 A monk once asked master Chao-chou, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"
 Chao-chou said,

[The character "Wu" or "Mu" can be translated as "has not", "is without", "without", "lack of", "absence", "null", "nothing", "emptiness", "vacuum", or "void".]

At first the answer to the query posed by the monk seems obvious. A central tenet of Buddhist thought is the belief that all sentient beings have Buddha-nature, so to that extent that a dog is sentient, a dog has Buddha-nature. That this answer is so obvious suggests that this is not the response the monk is looking for: The question is not to be interpreted literally and [instead] responded to conceptually. In fact, rather than a straightforward question the utterance by the monk to Chao Chou constitutes a ZenKoan?.

For discussion of several possible meanings of the Koan see .

Mu is supposed to lead you into junking your existing mode of thought and seeing what happens then.

Course it's all nonsense. --EasternWuss

"Mu" is also considered by Discordians to be the correct answer to the classic trick question "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?". Assuming that you have no wife or you have never beaten your wife, the answer "yes" is wrong because it implies that you used to beat your wife and then stopped, but "no" is worse because it suggests that you have one and are still beating her. As a result, various Discordians proposed "mu" as the correct answer, which was a Japanese word alleged by them to mean "Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions". Hackers tend to be sensitive to logical inadequacies in language, and many have adopted this suggestion with enthusiasm. The use of "mu" in this way probably derives from a misunderstanding of Zhaozhou [Chao-chou]'s answer, as its original meaning is "nothing". This means that native speakers of Japanese may not recognise its use in this way.

-- Adapted from the Jargon file,

The most common intended meaning of "mu" in hacker circles is "UnaskTheQuestion" or "the question is unanswerable". It is not at all clear how close this is to any of the meanings intended by Chao-Chou, but it's certainly a useful one. Its current popularity may have come from the following passage in ZenAndTheArtOfMotorcycleMaintenance:

Yes and no ... this or that ... one or zero. On the basis of this elementary two-term discrimination, all human knowledge is built up. The demonstration of this is computer memory which stores all its knowledge in the form of binary information. It contains ones and zeros, that's all.

Because we're unaccustomed to it, we don't usually see that there's a third possible logical term equal to yes and no which is capable of expanding our understanding in an unrecognized direction. We don't even have a term for it, so I'll have to use the Japanese mu.

Mu means "no thing." Like "Quality" it points outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Mu simply says, "No class; not one, not zero, not yes, not no." It states that the context of the question is such that a yes or no answer is in error and should not be given. "Unask the question" is what it says.

Mu becomes appropriate when the context of the question becomes too small for the truth of the answer. When the Zen monk Joshu [= Chao-Chou] was asked whether a dog had a Buddha nature he said "Mu," meaning that if he answered either way he was answering incorrectly. The Buddha nature cannot be captured by a yes or no question.

While in some sense clever, the answer which regards the question as incorrectly asked or unanswerable in the yes or no is not at all related to what Chao-Chou was talking about. One of the many ways in which ZenAndTheArtOfMotorcycleMaintenance has nothing to do with Zen.
No, that is correct: the question is improperly asked. Many people interpret the answer to mean "go beyond dualistic thinking" --- which is of course good advice. However, there is a clear and simple interpretation of this koan. The question is improperly asked because it implies that Buddha nature is a property of a "thing" which one could call a "dog." The dog does not "have" Buddha nature --- even the Buddha does not "have" Buddha nature. This is not to say the dog, or Buddha, lacks Buddha nature, either. The question itself is improperly asked, because it assumes a mistaken view of "dog", "have", and "Buddha nature."
Some use this topic marker in a fashion that I find rather rude. Fill in any missing information by asking smart questions, not by calling statements by others "mu". It's a case of substituting insults for work.

I'll have you know that it takes a lot of work to arrive at these insults!

It certainly seems to be where you spend your time. I can arrange for some toddlers to give you lessons in low-thought insults. ;-P

Touche -- I didn't expect my retort to have a double-meaning. I was playing off the whole zen and zen meditation aspect of MuAnswer, and how one had to meditate for great lengths of time to arrive at such insults. But, yeah, I can see how you arrived at your interpretation too. ;)

Mu is also explored in GoedelEscherBach.
See also ThreeValuedLogic, TetralemmicLogic, WhatIsNull, DoNt, ExcludedMiddle, BifurcationFallacy, FalseDichotomy, ThisOrThatFallacy.
CategoryEasternThought [or is it?]

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