The Japanese Word, Mu

Robert Pirsig


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Yes and no…this or that…one or zero. In the basis of this elementary two-term discrimination, all human knowledge is built up. The demonstration of this is the computer memory that stores all knowledge in the form of binary information. It contains ones and zeroes, 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 our understanding in an unrecognized direction. We don't even have 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 and a 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 was asked whether a dog had Buddha nature he said "Mu," meaning that if he answered either way he was answering incorrectly. The Buddha nature cannot be captured by yes or no questions.

That Mu exists in the natural world investigated by science is evident. […] The dualistic mind tends to think of Mu occurrences in nature as a kind of contextual cheating, or irrelevance, but Mu is found through all scientific investigation, and nature doesn't cheat, and nature's answers are never irrelevant. It's a great mistake, a kind of dishonesty to sweep  nature's Mu answers under the carpet. […]

When your answer to a test is indeterminate it means one of two things: that your test procedures aren't doing what you think they are or that your understanding of the context of the question needs to be enlarged. Check your tests and restudy the question. Don't throw away those Mu answers! They're every bit as vital as the yes and no answers. They're more vital. They're the ones you grow on.

--Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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8 Previous Reflections:

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    On Aug 28, 2020 Sathyakama Sharma K wrote:
    In the same book, the author has delved on something called arteas a philosophyridiuling specialization etc etc. I vaguely remember that. Please elaborate it.

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    On Sep 6, 2019 Mansi wrote:
    Seems so right!!

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    On Oct 19, 2011 Michael Nu'u wrote:

     When I was seven, I took for myself the name Arimu. It always felt like a better fit than Michael to me. In felt sense that is.

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    On Oct 23, 2008 susan beryl andreassend wrote:
    In-reply, to Ganoba Date's post.........Oct 21st 2008................Thank You..I cannot say it any better, than the words you relationship to the following statement.."I am the Spirit of "seshat""Frequency carrier of the emerald tablet's",that were the base for The Secret DvD. created by Rhonda Byrne in 2006. My Home Powerful>>>>>>> this makes no sense what I have just said,,Please go and read the above mentioned post from Ganoba Date. Namaste to you who are reading this at this moment.

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    On Oct 21, 2008 Ganoba Date wrote:
    I have lived the mu way for many years now and while i am blessed with the wonders of love, many people at least at first sight think I am a joke.
    That is fun too.

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    On Oct 21, 2008 Rebecca wrote:
    mu is a great way of saying things its true there is somethings that there is no yes no answer.

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    On Oct 21, 2008 jamie wrote:
    there it is...

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