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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G110-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

A Japanese word originating in Buddhism, mujō means impermanence, transience or mutability. It characterizes all phenomena of experience, but is especially significant for human endeavours to achieve happiness. In the Buddhist analysis of existence, all things arise and perish through dependent origination; they are impermanent, without substance and continually subject to change. This presents human beings with an imperative existential problem, for they ignore or fail to realize the pervasiveness of impermanence. Endeavouring to secure lasting satisfaction, they cling to what is transient and mutable. The result is suffering, the unsatisfactory nature of ordinary – unenlightened – human existence.

The problem of impermanence is fundamental to Buddhism from its inception, but interpretations of the concept varied with the evolution of other doctrines, most notably the Mahāyāna notion of emptiness. The indigenous Japanese sensitivity to the transience of life and nature interacted with Buddhism to articulate, often in aesthetic terms, not only the threats but also the contributions of impermanence to meaningful human existence. The most thorough examination of mujō is offered by the Zen Buddhist Dōgen, who in his exposition of the radical temporality of existence as being-time identifies the full realization of impermanence with Buddha-nature or enlightenment.

Citing this article:
Hull, Monte S.. Mujō, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G110-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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