from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. A puzzling, often paradoxical statement or story, used in Zen Buddhism as an aid to meditation and a means of gaining spiritual awakening.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. A story about a Zen master and his student, sometimes like a riddle, other times like a fable, which has become an object of Zen study, and which, when meditated upon, may unlock mechanisms in the Zen student’s mind leading to satori.
- n. A riddle with no solution, used to provoke reflection on the inadequacy of logical reasoning, and to lead to enlightenment.
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.
- n. a paradoxical anecdote or a riddle that has no solution; used in Zen Buddhism to show the inadequacy of logical reasoning
Japanese kōan : kō, public (from Middle Chinese kəwŋ) + an, matter.(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Japanese 公案 (こうあん), which was from Sinitic 公案 (gōng'àn, "official business"). (Wiktionary)