ko·​an | \ ˈkō-ˌän How to pronounce koan (audio) \

Definition of koan

: 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

Examples of koan in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web To me, Ritual’s products sounded like one hand clapping: a cocktail koan. John Seabrook, The New Yorker, 20 Sep. 2021 The answer is a Zen koan: wide enough to accommodate all the passengers that flow through at peak times. Justin Davidson, Curbed, 5 May 2021 But insights can also be found in the very act of solving the puzzle itself, just as illumination may come from contemplating a Zen koan. Quanta Magazine, 10 Feb. 2021 His answer is also a Zen koan that tells a lot about him: Walking functions as a metaphor for life. Aaron Gilbreath, Longreads, 9 Apr. 2020 Officials and researchers alike were speaking in paradoxes akin to Zen koans. Kitty Morgan, SFChronicle.com, 19 Apr. 2020 There is plenty of time to ponder koans these days at the animal park, where the coronavirus pandemic has left the sea lions, and the rest of its roughly 6,000 creatures, without an audience. New York Times, 3 Apr. 2020 But there is enough evidence to suggest this isn’t a koan—an unanswerable Zen riddle. Nick Ravo, WSJ, 7 Feb. 2020 Its underlying nutritional philosophy is similar to the famous koan from nutritionist Michael Pollan: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Megan Mccarthy, USA TODAY, 9 Jan. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'koan.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of koan

1945, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for koan

Japanese kōan, from public + an proposition

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Cite this Entry

“Koan.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/koan. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on koan

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about koan


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