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

Physicist Aguirre borrows from the Zen Buddhist tradition of koans, or contemplative riddles, to present some of his field’s most esoteric concepts. Gemma Tarlach, Discover Magazine, "The Best Science Books to Read For Summer 2019," 7 May 2019 Her Comme des Garçons shows became Zen koans—assemblages of bulbous shapes meant to challenge our preconceptions about garments, fashion, the establishment. Steff Yotka, Vogue, "Rihanna, Celine, and That Versace Deal—The 10 Biggest Stories of the Spring 2019 Season," 5 Oct. 2018 Like so many other questions in this book, this one is posed as a head-scratching koan. Benjamin Moser, New York Times, "Did He Really Say That? On the Perils and Pitfalls of Translation," 28 June 2018 Eating it is contemplative, a Zen koan of the mouth. Devra First, BostonGlobe.com, "How does Fenway Eventide stack up to the original?," 4 June 2018 Also judging by the trailer, no characters are wearing conceptual outfits inspired by the unknowable truth of Zen koans. Steff Yotka, Vogue, "There’s a New Comme des Garçons Movie—But It’s Not About What You Think It Is," 22 Apr. 2018 Yes, there are 100 grandiose, koan-laden blurbs about the year's very important newsmakers, but also, each one is written by another one of the year's very important newsmakers. Jay Willis, GQ, "Ted Cruz's Write-Up on Trump for the TIME 100 Is an Event Horizon for Utter Self-Humiliation," 19 Apr. 2018 Andre’s self-deprecating asides have the wisdom of Buddhist koans. Patty Rhule, USA TODAY, "Review: New Oprah pick 'An American Marriage' is brilliant, timely," 6 Feb. 2018 In the process, antidisestablishmentarianism became the longest non-technical word in the English language—and a nebulous koan with which to shake a fist against the Man. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "The Nomad Who’s Exploding the Internet Into Pieces," 22 May 2017

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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Last Updated

23 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for koan

The first known use of koan was in 1945

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with koan

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about koan

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showing courage and determination

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