Wisdom Library Logo

Koan, 3 Definition(s)


Koan means something in Buddhism, Pali. Check out some of the following descriptions and leave a comment if you want to add your own contribution to this article.

In Buddhism

General definition (in Buddhism)

Kōan Jap., lit., “public notice”; the Chinese kung-an originally meant a legal case constitut­ing a precedent. In Zen a kōan is a phrase from a sūtra or teaching on Zen realization, an episode from the life of an ancient master, a mondō or a hossen—whatever the source, each points to the nature of ultimate reality. Essential to a kōan is paradox, i.e., that which is “beyond” (Gk., para) “thinking” (Gk., dokein), which transcends the logical or concep­tual. Thus, since it cannot be solved by reason, a kōan is not a riddle. Solving a kōan requires a leap to another level of comprehension.

Kōans have been used in Zen as a systematic means of training since around the middle of the 10th century. Since the kōan eludes solution by means of discursive understanding, it makes clear to students the limitations of thought and eventually forces them to transcend it in an intuitive leap, which takes them into a world be­yond logical contradictions and dualistic modes of thought. On the basis of this experience, students can demonstrate their own solution of the kōan to the master in a dokusan spontaneous­ly and without recourse to preconceived no­tions. The word or expression into which a kōan resolves itself when one struggles with it as a means of spiritual training is called the wato (Chin., hua-tou). It is the “punch line” of the kōan. In the famous kōan “Chao-chou, Dog,” for example, mu is the wato. Many longer kōans have several watos.

In general, kōan practice is associated with the Rinzai school, however kōans have also been used, both in China and Japan, in the Sōtō school. To begin with, kōan practice prevents a student from falling back after a first enlightenment ex­perience into “everyman’s consciousness”; beyond that, it helps the student to deepen and extend his or her realization.

Source: Shambala Publications: General

A seemingly paradoxical riddle or statement that is used as a training device in Zen practice to force the mind to abandon logic and dualistic thought.

Source: Mokurai's Temple: A Buddhist GlossaryA Japanese term taken from the Chinese Kung an.Source: Buddhist Door: Glossary

Relevant definitions

Search found 5 related definition(s) that might help you understand this better. Below you will find the 15 most relevant articles:

1a) Saṃyama (संयम).—The son of Dhūmrākṣasa and father of Kṛśāśva and Devaja.** Bhāgavata-...
(ca. 470-543) Considered the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism; according to legend, he was the &...
Shikantaza Jap., lit., “nothing but (shikan) precisely (ta) sitting (za)”; a for...
Zazen Jap. (Chin., tso-ch’an), lit., za, “sit­ting” and zen, “ab...
Japanese; Lin chi (Chinese); one of the two major schools of Zen Buddhism; it was founded by th...

Relevant text

Search found 5 books containing Koan. You can also click to the full overview containing English textual excerpts. Below are direct links for the 20 most relevant articles:

- Was this explanation helpufll? Leave a comment:

Make this page a better place for research and define the term yourself in your own words.

You have to be a member in order to post comments. Click here to login or click here to become a member.