In the unanswered questions Buddha asks "Is the world eternal? or not? or both? or neither?". Logically it is either eternal or not. What does he mean by the other 2 options? Those 2 sound illogical. He gave a similar answer for the question "Does the Tathagata (Buddha) exist after death?"

Theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer said:

If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether the electron's position changes with time, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say 'no'. The Buddha has given such answers when interrogated as to the conditions of a man's self after his death; but they are not familiar answers for the tradition of seventeenth and eighteenth century science.

Such an answer only makes sense when talking about quantum observables. Such answers make no sense to the unanswered questions. Does anyone know what Buddha might have meant?

1 Answer 1


One rationalistic interpretation of these kinds of questions (or statements) is that they represent category errors -- that the phrasing of the question (or statement) contains an internal inconsistency. This view most closely aligns with the idea that there is no answer.

This brings to mind the Zen koan: A monk asked the priest Jōshū, “Does a dog have buddha nature, or not?” Jōshū replied, “Mu!” -- the answer isn't yes or no, the answer lies in re-conceiving what the question is.

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