Kōans
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Kōans

Japanese Zen Buddhist Philosophy

A kōan is formulated like a riddle or puzzle and is designed in such a way that intellectual reasoning alone cannot solve it without breaking through the barrier of ego-consciousness by driving it to its limit.

According to Hakuin (1685–1768), who systematized kōans, there are formally seventeen hundred cases of kōans, and if sub-questions are added to them, a total number of cases comprising the system would be roughly three thousand. The Zen practitioner of the Rinzai school is required to pass them all in a private consultation with a Zen master who checks the practitioner’s state of mind before he or she is granted a seal of transmission. This transmission is said to occur “only from a Buddha to a[nother] Buddha” (yuibutsu yobutsu).