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Mu (negative)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Japanese name
Korean name
The character 無 in cursive script. See also an animation showing the stroke order for calligraphy.
The character 無 in seal script.

Mu (Japanese/Korean), and Wu (Chinese traditional: , simplified: pinyin: Jyutping: mou2), is a word which has been roughly translated as "no", "none", "null", "without", and "no meaning". While used in Japanese and Chinese mainly as a prefix to indicate the absence of something (e.g., 無線/无线 musen or wúxiàn for "wireless"), in English it is better known as a response to certain koans and other questions in Zen Buddhism, intending to indicate that the question itself was meaningless.

The best-known mu koan is as follows: A monk asked Zhaozhou Congshen, a Chinese Zen master (known as Jōshū in Japanese), "Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?" Zhaozhou answered, "Wú" (in Japanese, Mu).[1] Some earlier Buddhist thinkers maintained that animals did have the Buddha-nature, others believed that they did not.[citation needed] Therefore, to answer "no" is to deny their wisdom, whereas to say "yes" is to blindly follow their teachings. Zhaozhou's answer has been interpreted to mean that such categorical thinking is a delusion, that yes and no are both right and wrong. This koan is traditionally used by Rinzai school to initiate students into Zen study.[citation needed]

Cultural references

For example, it's stated over and over again that computer circuits exhibit only two states, a voltage for "one" and a voltage for "zero." That's silly! Any computer-electronics technician knows otherwise. Try to find a voltage representing one or zero when the power is off! The circuits are in a mu state. [2]

  • 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?"[3] 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, some Discordians proposed "mu" as the correct answer, which to them means, "Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions."[3]

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  1. ^ Aitken, Robert, ed. and trans. (1991). The Gateless Barrier: The Wu-men Kuan (Mumonkan). San Francisco: North Point Press. ISBN 0-86547-442-7. 
  2. ^ Pirsig, Robert M. (2000). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: Harper Perennial. p. 328. First Perennial Classics edition. ISBN 0060958324. 
  3. ^ a b Mu. The Jargon File 4.4.7 (2003).




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