Monday word of the Week – koan

art by Deb Prewitt

art by Deb Prewitt

I ran across this word while reading – koan. I jotted it down for later. I know I have seen it used before, but really didn’t know exactly what it meant. Even knowing the definition, it can still be confusing. Some words are like that.

  1. Merriam-Webster dictionary: a paradox to be meditated upon that is used to train Zen Buddhist monks to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to force them into gaining sudden intuitive enlightenment.
  2. a nonsensical or paradoxical question to a student for which an answer is demanded, the stress of meditation on the question often being illuminating.
  3. Oxford dictionary: a paradoxical anecdote or riddle without a solution, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and provoke enlightenment.


Japanese, literally ‘matter for public thought’, from Chinese gōngàn ‘official business’

In Zen Buddhism, a brief paradoxical statement or question used as a discipline in mediation. The effort to solve a koan is designed to exhaust the analytic intellect and the will, leaving the mind open for response on an intuitive level. There are about 1,700 traditional koans, which are based on anecdotes from ancient Zen masters. They include the well-known example “When both hands are clapped a sound is produced; listen to the sound of one hand clapping.”

Wow. Very deep. Very thought-provoking, which is the intention of the word, right? Is this a word you knew? Do you know any good koans? The one that pops into my head is ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a noise?’. Please share any koans you can think of below.



About Deb Prewitt

I am an aspiring artist. I love all things creative and enjoy the people around me who are artistic. I live in Colorado which is a great place to be. I enjoy lots of different things and plan on exploring those things in this blog.
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5 Responses to Monday word of the Week – koan

  1. This my favourite Koan ( below).
    It’s not so easy to apply in life. I like it because it makes me smile in recognition of what is so simple yet so hard at times to do. I’m not a student of Zen but I do like many aspects of it.
    Thank you for sharing. I’ve enjoyed this blog.

    Learning To Be Silent

    The pupils of the Tendai school used to study meditation before Zen entered Japan.
    Four of them who were intimate friends promised one another to
    observe seven days of silence.

    On the first day all were silent. Their meditation had begun auspiciously, but when night came and the oil lamps were growing dim one of the pupils could not help exclaiming to a servant: “Fix those lamps.”

    The second pupil was surprised to hear th first one talk.
    “We are not supposed to say a word,” he remarked.

    “You two are stupid. Why did you talk?” asked the third.

    “I am the only one who has not talked,” concluded the fourth pupil.

  2. This would be a bit too complicated to think about even in my own language,LOL! I’m drinking my morning coffee and maybe that’s why. Still sleepy. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Robert JR Graham » What Is Koan Meditation?

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