Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A puzzling, often paradoxical statement, anecdote, question, or verbal exchange, used in Zen Buddhism as an aid to meditation and a means of gaining spiritual awakening.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun Zen Buddhism 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.
  • noun 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.

  • noun a paradoxical anecdote or a riddle that has no solution; used in Zen Buddhism to show the inadequacy of logical reasoning

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Japanese kōan : , public (from Middle Chinese kəwŋ; also the source of Mandarin gōng) + an, matter (from Middle Chinese ˀan`; also the source of Mandarin àn).]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Japanese 公案 (こうあん), which was from Sinitic 公案 (gōng'àn, "official business").

Examples

  • The Zen scholar and teacher, Daisetz Suzuki (1870 - 1966), once explained that the origin of the term koan was a kind of certifying document that, in ancient times, was used to test one's understanding of Zen.

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  • 4 The koan is the principal form of meditation practiced by the Rinzai sect.

    Notes on 'Kafka and the Coincidence of Opposites'

  • Whether you think of it as a Buddhist riddle termed a "koan", a mystical allegory, or an inner-world travelogue; if you're in the right frame of mind, you will surely be fascinated by Bae's highly intelligent, visually arresting film.

    John Farr: Getting Religion: The Ten Best Films on Faith

  • Whether you think of it as a Buddhist riddle termed a "koan", a mystical allegory, or an inner-world travelogue; if you're in the right frame of mind, you will surely be fascinated by Bae's highly intelligent, visually arresting film.

    John Farr: Getting Religion: The Ten Best Films on Faith

  • Whether you think of it as a Buddhist riddle termed a "koan", a mystical allegory, or an inner-world travelogue; if you're in the right frame of mind, you will surely be fascinated by Bae's highly intelligent, visually arresting film.

    John Farr: Getting Religion: The Ten Best Films on Faith

  • Whether you think of it as a Buddhist riddle termed a "koan", a mystical allegory, or an inner-world travelogue; if you're in the right frame of mind, you will surely be fascinated by Bae's highly intelligent, visually arresting film.

    John Farr: Getting Religion: The Ten Best Films on Faith

  • Whether you think of it as a Buddhist riddle termed a "koan", a mystical allegory, or an inner-world travelogue; if you're in the right frame of mind, you will surely be fascinated by Bae's highly intelligent, visually arresting film.

    John Farr: Getting Religion: The Ten Best Films on Faith

  • A koan is a Zen riddle, the answer to which—if, in fact, there is an answer—is largely immaterial.

    Mother of the Unconventional

  • Whether you think of it as a Buddhist riddle termed a "koan", a mystical allegory, or an inner-world travelogue; if you're in the right frame of mind, you will surely be fascinated by Bae's highly intelligent, visually arresting film.

    John Farr: Getting Religion: The Ten Best Films on Faith

  • I suppose you could say that it was like the sudden solution to a koan, which is not an intellectual affair, but more of a breakthrough into the ground of being.

    One Cosmos

Comments

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  • "He stood there by the fence. The night had been quiet. In freezing temperatures everything becomes stiff and silent. Stina had explained the reason to him; all the surfaces that reflect sound become both hard and elastic, like ice and glass. Hence the frost-night koan: Everything can be heard and there is not a sound."

    - 'The Quiet Girl', Peter Høeg.

    March 18, 2008

  • Does Wordie have the Buddha nature?

    April 3, 2009

  • Yes, seanahan. See verity.

    June 16, 2011