What Is A Koan?

A koan is a multi-level structural device that is used in Zen practice to help a person expand their awareness. Koans can be long or short, verbal or non-verbal. Probably the most famous Zen koan in the West is: "The sound of one hand clapping."

At first glance a koan often appears to be a meaningless phrase. What great insights can be gained by thinking about the sound of one hand clapping? However when you focus intently on a koan for extended periods of time, the nature of reality can be revealed to you.

Koans often juxtapose two or more incongruous concepts. Normally we think that it takes two hands to clap. How can one hand clap? What does it clap against? Your finite mind can think about this, analyze it and get frustrated.

Unlike your finite mind, your infinite mind is not bound by the rules of time and space. It has ten thousand states of mind to view and examine experience through. With the use of your infinite mind you can understand the clapping of one hand and many other things that would seem incomprehensible to your finite mind.

Reprinted from "The Zen Experience"
© 1987 Rama Seminars Inc.