Definition of koan in English:


Pronunciation /ˈkəʊɑːn/ /ˈkəʊan/


  • A paradoxical anecdote or riddle without a solution, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and provoke enlightenment.

    • ‘Like the ponderer of a Zen koan, the viewer must come to terms with this paradox.’
    • ‘The goal of the Zen koan is enlightenment, which is a profound change of heart.’
    • ‘Let's take a look at one of the classic Zen koans, the one about wild geese.’
    • ‘Don't think that the koan and its solution are themselves wisdom and truth.’
    • ‘Zen masters often use nonsensical or unsolvable riddles, or koans, to bring about enlightenment.’
    puzzle, conundrum, brain-teaser, Chinese puzzle, problem, unsolved problem, question, poser, enigma, mystery, quandary, paradox


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



/ˈkəʊɑːn/ /ˈkəʊan/