K is for Koan

| April 29, 2014

Merriam-Webster defines a koan (pronounced ko-ahn) as “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.” The Concise Encyclopedia adds that “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.” Often couched in the form of anecdotes or questions, koans are somewhat akin to parables or riddles in their use as a tool for teaching and individual mind-expansion.

Some fairly well-known koans include:

*What is the sound of one hand clapping?

*Does a dog have Buddha-nature?

*Q: What is the secret to enlightenment?

A: You are putting frost on top of snow.

…and the most famous three of all:

What is education? What are aesthetics? What is “an experience”?

Given the inherently open-ended nature of these questions, the various interconnected conundrums they’ve spawned over the course of this semester, and the continued lack of any cohesive answers, I’d venture we’re all a little closer to enlightenment.