Koans and Meditation

In Chinese Chan or Japanese Zen Buddhism, a koan is a mysterious statement or a paradoxical dialogue between master and disciple. It is not accessible to our mind because the statement is contrary to the usual logic.


Thus a koan shows us the limits of our rational cognition and we are forced to find the solution to the riddle on another level. And can thereby transcend our dualistic attitude and way of thinking. Such an excursion needs a lot of patience, but it is worth it.


After the meditative exhaustion in which our thinking has run dry, there can be a Satori moment, a moment of deep realisation, in which the truth emerges in response to the koan.
The effect of koans is not limited to the sphere of meditation; it also reaches us later, surprisingly, in everyday life.


Two such paradoxical dialogues, which I like very much, now illustrate this:


An important Chan master of China of the Tang dynasty was Zhaozhou Congshen. He was once asked by a monk, “Ten thousand things go back to One. To what does this One go back?” And he replied, “When I lived in Ch’ing-chou, I made myself a robe that weighed seven pounds.”


A celebrated Buddhist of Chinese Chan was Yun Pang. He asked Mazu Daoyi, an equally eminent Chan master of the Tang dynasty, “Who is he who does not depend on the Ten Thousand Things?”. And the latter answered him, “I will tell you when you have drunk up the waters of the West River in one draught.”


In addition to these traditions, here is a selection of significant koans that I would like to recommend to you for your meditation:


• Who am I?
• What is Buddha?
• What do you know for sure?
• What was your original face before your father and mother brought you into this world?
• A sound is produced when two hands are struck together, what sound is produced when one hand is struck together?


Try meditating with the help of a koan and answer these unsolvable questions spontaneously. Have fun!