Take the 2-minute tour ×
Buddhism Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people practicing or interested in Buddhist philosophy, teaching, and practice. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I keep seeing the following koan:

A monk asked Zhàozhōu, "Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?" Zhaozhou said, "Wú".

What does this mean and why is it important?

More specifically: Does "Wú" mean "no" in this context, or does it mean "the question doesn't make sense and therefore cannot be answered"? I've seen both interpretations, which one is correct?

share|improve this question

1 Answer 1

We should really have a rule on here not to provide koan answers! It's so important that you figure them out for yourself! Written out, the answers become hollow and never approach their true 'meaning'. That said (and no spoilers follow!)...

Mu does mean no, but it also can translate as blankness, voidness, or absence. That should ring a bell regarding the concept of emptiness or shunyata. The koan really doesn't have anything to do with dogs or whether or not they have a Buddha nature. It has more to do with this idea of emptiness - what it is and the initial experience of it. The monk in this koan is all caught up in scholasticism and conceptualism. He's using his small mind to try and understand a concept that it's just not capable of of apprehending. Zhaozhou's answer is an attempt to shake that monk out of his smaller way of thinking and point him instead to mu - the true essence of Zen.

share|improve this answer
PS - mu is Japanese. Same word, though. –  enenalan Sep 2 at 16:08
+1 for your first paragraph –  Andrei Volkov Sep 2 at 16:09
Does it mean that a dialogue involving any random question, e.g. "What time is it?" "Wú" would be just as good a koan? –  michau Sep 2 at 16:13
Not providing koan answers seems like one for meta so I've asked the question there meta.buddhism.stackexchange.com/q/271/157 –  Crab Bucket Sep 2 at 16:56
@michau - Possibly, but that's actually a whole other topic - namely how the hua-t'ou (repeated phrase) operates in Zen meditation. While the important part of the koan is the hua-t'ou mu/wu, I doubt that another random yes/no question would have the impact as the original or garnered the same reputation. –  enenalan Sep 2 at 17:42

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.