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Kōan facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
For other uses, see Koan

The kōan (Chinese: 公案; Korean: 공안 ) are groupings of related questions and answers which are a paradox. The kōan may be a story which cannot be understood or explained easily.

The kōan can be a special kind of metaphor with a hidden meaning, such as "the sound of one hand clapping".


Kōans originate in the sayings and events in the lives of wise men and legendary figures.

A kōan can refer to a story selected from Buddhist historical records and sutras.

The kōan is a fundamental part of the history and practice of Zen Buddhism.

Select examples

  • "Firewood becomes ash and it does not become firewood again".
  • "The verbal and the nonverbal are like vines clinging to a tree".

Classical kōan collections

  • Blue Cliff Record or Account of the Blue Montains Chinese: 碧巖錄; Japanese: Hekigan-roku, is a collection of 100 kōans compiled in 1125 by Yuanwu Keqin (圜悟克勤 1063–1135).
  • The Book of Equanimity or Book of Serenity Chinese: 從容録; Japanese: 従容録 is a collection of 100 Kōans compiled in the 12th century by Hongzhi Zhengjue (宏智正覺 1091–1157)
  • The Gateless Gate or the Gate with no Entrance Chinese: 無門關; Japanese: Mumonkan is a collection of 48 kōans and commentaries published in 1228 by Chinese monk Wumen (無門 1183–1260). The title may be more accurately rendered as Gateless Barrier or Gateless Checkpoint.
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