Mu (negative)

Missing image
Traditional Han character
(used in Japanese)
for mu
Missing image
Simplified Han character
(used in modern Chinese)
for w

Mu (Japanese), W/Mou5 (Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese); , simplified: , Cantonese: ) is a word which can be roughly translated as "without". While typically used as a prefix to imply the absence of something (e.g., 無線 musen for "wireless"), it is more famously used as a response to certain koans and other questions in Zen Buddhism, intending to indicate that the question itself was wrong.

The 'Mu' koan is as follows: A monk asked Zen master Zhaozhou, a Chinese Zen Master (in Japanese, Jōshū): "Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?", Zhaozhou answered: "W".

Some earlier Buddhist thinkers had maintained that creatures such as dogs did have the Buddha-nature; others, that they did not. Zhaozhou's answer has subsequently been used by generations of zen students as their initiation into the zen experience.

For example, see the accounts of student's struggles with resolving the question of 'Mu' as described in Philip Kapleau's book Three Pillars of Zen.

Since the expression 'wu' in Chinese is similar to the sound the Chinese use to imitate a dog's 'woof', an alternate 'explanation' of the utterance has been proposed suggesting that Zhaozhou was imitating a dog in reply, i.e. he answered the question by 'being' the dog. This is consistent with the general principle that Koan 'answers' usually involve adopting radical change of perspective, instead of a logical or linguistic 'answer'.

Mu in hacker culture

According to the Jargon File, a collection of hacker jargon and culture, Mu is considered by Discordians to be the correct answer to the classic logical fallacy of the loaded question "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" [1] ( 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 once and are still beating her. As a result, various Discordians proposed "mu" as the correct answer, alleged by them to mean "Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions". An equivalent English reply would be 'not', instead of 'yes' or 'no', as 'not' is one possible meaning of 'mu'. Hackers tend to be sensitive to logical inadequacies in language (one anecdote relates of Richard Stallman that he once was asked, in regard to the Editor Wars, if he prefered Vi or Emacs; he answered "Yes."), and many have adopted this suggestion with enthusiasm.

External links

fr:Mu (zen)


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