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1.a paradoxical anecdote or a riddle that has no solution; used in Zen Buddhism to show the inadequacy of logical reasoning
Battle of Kōan • Emperor Koan of Japan • Emperor Kôan of Japan • Emperor Kōan • Hacker koan • KOAN (AM) • Koan (disambiguation) • Koan (first) • Koan (program) • Koan (second) • Koan Ogata • Kôan (second) • Kōan (Kamakura period) • Kōan (Muromachi period) • Ogata Koan • Ogata Kōan • Wild fox koan • Zen koan
muck-up; problem; mess; muddle; tangle[ClasseHyper.]
état embrouillé (fr)[Classe]
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A kōan ( //; Chinese: 公案; pinyin: gōng'àn; Korean: 공안 (kong'an); Vietnamese: công án) is a story, dialogue, question, or statement, which is used in Zen-practice to provoke the "great doubt", and test a student's progress in Zen practice.
The word koan, literally "public case", comes from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters (公案).
Chung Feng Ming Pen (中峰明本 1263–1323) wrote that kung-an is an abbreviation for kung-fu an-tu (公府之案牘, Pinyin gōngfǔ zhī àndú, pronounced in Japanese as kōfu no antoku), which referred to a "public record" or the "case records of a public law court" in Tang-dynasty China.[a] Kōan/kung-an thus serves as a metaphor for principles of reality beyond the private opinion of one person, and a teacher may test the student's ability to recognize and understand that principle.
Commentaries in kōan collections bear some similarity to judicial decisions that cite and sometimes modify precedents. An article by T. Griffith Foulk claims
Kung-an was itself originally a metaphor — an article of furniture that came to denote legal precedents. A well-known example of this legal usage is The Cases of Judge Dee (狄公案 Di Gongan in Chinese), a Ming dynasty novel based on a historical Tang dynasty judge. In the same way, Zen kōan collections are public records of the notable sayings and actions of Zen disciples and masters attempting to pass on their teachings.
Before the tradition of meditating on kōans was recorded, Huangbo Xiyun (720–814) and Yun Men (864–949) are both recorded to have said, "Yours is a clear-cut case (chien-cheng kung-an) but I spare you thirty blows," seemingly passing judgment over students' feeble expressions of enlightenment.
By the Sung Dynasty, the term kung-an had taken on roughly its present meaning. According to Foulk, Xuedou Zhongxian (雪竇重顯 980–1052) — the original compiler of the 100 cases that later served as the basis for the Blue Cliff Record — used the term kung-an just once in that collection, in Case #64.
Yuanwu (圜悟克勤 1063–1135), compiler of the Blue Cliff Record (碧巌録) in its present form, "gained some insight" by contemplating (kan) kōans. Yuanwu may have been instructed to contemplate phrases by his teachers, Chen-ju Mu-che (dates unknown) and Wu-tzu Fa-yen (五祖法演 ?-1104).
Kōans and their study developed in China within the context of the open questions and answers of teaching sessions conducted by the Chinese Chán masters. The recorded encounter dialogues, and the koan collections which derived from this genre, mark a shift from solitary practice to interaction between master and student:
The essence of enlightenment came to be identified with the interaction between masters and students. Whatever insight dhyana might bring, its verification was always interpersonal. In effect, enlightenment came to be understood not so much as an insight, but as a way of acting in the world with other people
This mutual enquiry of the meaning of the encounters of masters and students of the past gave students a role model:
Koan practice developed from a literary practice, styling snippets of encounter-dialogue into well-edited stories. It arose in interaction with "educated literati". There were dangers involved in such a literary approach, such as fixing specific meanings to the cases. Dahui Zonggao is even said to have burned the woodblocks of the Blue Cliff Record, for the hindrance it had become to study of Chán by his students Kōan literature was also influenced by the pre-Zen Chinese tradition of the "literary game" — a competition involving improvised poetry.
The style of writing of Zen texts has been influenced by "a variety of east Asian literary games":
- The extensive use of allusions, which create a feeling of disconnection with the main theme;
- Indirect references, such as titling a poem with one topic and and composing a verse that seems on the surface to be totally unrelated;
- Inventive wordplay based on the fact that kanji (Chinese characters) are homophonic and convey multiple, often complementary or contradictory meanings;
- Linking the verses in a sustained string based on hidden points of connection or continuity, such as seasonal imagery or references to myths and legends.
Study of kōan literature is common to all schools of Zen, though with varying empahsises and curriculae. A kōan or part of a kōan may serve as a point of concentration during meditation and other activities, often called "kōan practice" (as distinct from "kōan study", the study of kōan literature). Kōan may consist of a perplexing element or a concise but critical word or phrase (話頭 huàtóu) extracted from the story. It may also refer to poetry and commentary added to the story by later Zen teachers.
A qualified teacher provides instruction in kōan practice in private.
In the Wumenguan (Mumonkan), public case #1 ("Zhaozhou's Dog"), Wumen (Mumon) wrote:
...concentrate yourself into this 'Wú'... making your whole body one great inquiry. Day and night work intently at it. Do not attempt nihilistic or dualistic interpretations."
Arousing this great inquiry or "Great Doubt" is an essential element of kōan practice. To illustrate the enormous concentration required in kōan meditation, Zen Master Wumen commented,
It is like swallowing a red-hot iron ball. You try to vomit it out, but you can't.
A kōan may be used as a test of a Zen student's ability. For monks in formal training, and for some laypersons, a teacher invokes a kōan and demands some definite response from a student during private interviews. Kōans are often presented with the teacher's unique commentary. A kōan may seem to be the subject of a talk or private interview with a student. The dialog, lecture, or sermon involving the kōan may resemble a performance, ritual duty, or poetry reading.
Teachers may probe students about their kōan practice using "checking questions" to validate an experience of insight (kensho) or awakening. Responses by students have included actions or gestures, "capping phrases" (jakugo), and verses inspired by the kōan.
The meaning of a kōan can only be demonstrated in a live experience. Texts, including kōan collections and encyclopedia articles, cannot convey that meaning, though understanding the context from which koans emerged can remove some of the mystery surrounding a kōan. For example, when a monk asked Zhaozhou (Joshu) "does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?", the monk was referring to the understanding of the teachings on Buddha-nature, which were understood in the Chinese context of absolute and relative reality.[c]
Appropriate responses to a kōan vary, since different teachers may demand different responses to a given kōan, and the answers may vary by circumstance. One of the most common recorded comments by a teacher on a disciple's answer is: "Even though that is true, if you do not know it yourself, it does you no good."[who?] The master is not looking for a specific answer but for evidence that the disciple has grasped the state of mind expressed by the kōan itself.
Therefore, although there may be "traditional answers" (kenjo 見処 or kenge 見解) to many kōans, these are only preserved as exemplary answers given in the past by various masters during their own training. In practice, many answers could be correct, provided that they convey proof of personal realization. Kōan training requires a qualified teacher who has the ability to judge a disciple's depth of attainment. In the Rinzai Zen school, which uses kōans extensively, the teacher certification process includes an appraisal of proficiency in using that school's extensive kōan curriculum. In Japanese Zen, Chinese Ch'an, Korean Seon, Vietnamese Thien, and Western Zen, kōans play similar roles, although significant cultural differences exist.
In Chinese Chán and Korean Seon, the primary form of Koan-study is hua-tou, "word head". In this practice, a fragment of the koan, such as "mu", or a "what is"-question is used by focusing on this fragment and repeating it over and over again:
Who is it who now repeats the Buddha's name?
Who is dragging this corpse about?Who am I?[web 1]
What is this?
What is it?
What was the original face before my father and mother were born?
This koan becomes a touchstone of our practice: it is a place to put our doubt, to cultivate great doubt, to allow the revelation of great faith, and to focus our great energy.
Koan practice starts with the shokan, or "first barrier", usually the mu-koan or the koan "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" After having attained kensho by studying , students continue their practice, investigating subsequent koans, following a fivefold classification system:
1. Hosshin, dharma-body koans, are used to awaken the first insight into sunyata. They reveal the dharmakaya, or Fundamental. They introduce "the undifferentitated and the unconditional".
2. Kikan, dynamic action koans, help to understand the phenomenal world as seen from the awakened point of view; Where hosshin koans represent tai, substance, kikan koans represent yu, function.
3. Gonsen, explication of word koans, aid to the understanding of the recorded sayings of the old masters. They show how the Fundamental, though not depending on words, is nevertheless expressd in words, without getting stuck to words.
4. Hachi Nanto, eight "difficult to pass" koans. There are various explanations for this category, one being that these koans cut off clinging to the previous attainment. They create another Great Doubt, which shatters the self attained through satori.  It is uncertain which are exactly those eight koans. Hori gives various sources, which altogether give ten hachi nanto koans:
According to Akizuki there was an older classification-system, inwhich the fifth category was Kojo, "Directed upwards". This category too was meant to rid the monk of any "stink of Zen". The very advanced practitioner may also receive the Matsugo no rokan, "The last barrier, and Saigo no ikketsu, "The final confirmation". "The last barrier" when one leaved the training hall, for example "Sum up all of the records of Rinzai in one word!" It is not meant to be solved immediately, but to be carried around in order to keep practising. "the final confirmation" may be another word for the same kind of koan.
After completing the koan-training, Gogo no shugyo, post-satori training is necessary:
[I]t would take 10 years to solve all the kôans [...] in the sôdô. After the student has solved all koans, he can leave the sôdô and live on his own, but he is still not considered a roshi. For this he has to complete another ten years of training, called "go-go-no-shugyô" in Japanese. Literally, this means "practice after satori/enlightenment", but Fukushima preferred the translation "special practice". Fukushima would explain that the student builds up a "religious personality" during this decade. I would say it is a kind of period that functions to test if the student is actually able to live in regular society and apply his koan understanding to daily life, after he has lived in an environment that can be quite surreal and detached from the lives of the rest of humanity. Usually, the student lives in small parish temple during this decade, not in a formal training monastery.[web 3]
Hakuin Ekaku recommended preparing for kōan practice by concentrating on qi breathing and its effect on the body's center of gravity, called the dantian or "hara" in Japanese — thereby associating kōan practice with pre-existing Taoist and Yogic chakra meditative practices.
Though few Soto practitioners concentrate on kōans during meditation, the Soto sect has a strong historical connection with kōans, since many kōan collections were compiled by Soto priests.
During the 13th century, Dōgen, founder of the Soto sect in Japan, quoted 580 kōans in his teachings. He compiled some 300 kōans in the volumes known as the Greater Shōbōgenzō. Dōgen wrote of Genjokōan, which points out that everyday life experience is the fundamental kōan.
However, according to Michel Mohr,
Many members of Japan's Sanbo Kyodan sect, and of various schools derived from that sect in North America, Europe, and Australia, use kōans in their meditative practice. Sanbō Kyōdan was established in the 20th century and has roots in both the Soto and Rinzai traditions.
English-speaking non-Zen practitioners sometimes use kōan to refer to an unanswerable question or a meaningless statement. However, in Zen practice, a kōan is not meaningless, and not a riddle or a puzzle. Teachers do expect students to present an appropriate response when asked about a kōan.
Kōans collectively form a substantial body of literature studied by Zen practitioners and scholars worldwide. Kōan collections commonly referenced in English include the Blue Cliff Record (Chinese: Bìyán Lù; Japanese: Hekiganroku), the Book of Equanimity (also known as the Book of Serenity; Chinese: Cōngróng Lù; Japanese: Shoyoroku), both collected in their present forms during the 12th century, and The Gateless Gate (also known as The Gateless Barrier; Chinese: Wúménguān; Japanese: Mumonkan) collected during the 13th century). In these and subsequent collections, a terse "main case" of a kōan often accompanies prefatory remarks, poems, proverbs and other phrases, and further commentary about prior emendations.
The Book of Equanimity or Book of Serenity (Chinese: 從容録; Japanese: 従容録 Shōyōroku) is a collection of 100 Kōans compiled in the 12th century by Hongzhi Zhengjue (Chinese: 宏智正覺; Japanese: Wanshi Shōgaku) (1091–1157).
The Gateless Gate (Chinese: 無門關 Wumenguan; Japanese: Mumonkan) is a collection of 48 kōans and commentaries published in 1228 by Chinese monk Wumen (無門) (1183–1260). The title may be more accurately rendered as Gateless Barrier or Gateless Checkpoint).
Five kōans in the collection derive from the sayings and doings of Zhaozhou Congshen, (transliterated as Chao-chou in Wade-Giles and pronounced Jōshū in Japanese).
The True Dharma Eye 300 (Shōbōgenzō Sanbyakusoku) is a collection of 300 kōans compiled by Eihei Dōgen.
Other kōan collections compiled and annotated by Soto priests include:
("Zhaozhou" is rendered as "Chao-chou" in Wade-Giles, and pronounced "Joshu" in Japanese. "Wu" appears as "mu" in archaic Japanese, meaning "no", "not", "nonbeing", or "without" in English. This is a fragment of Case #1 of the Wúménguān. However, another koan presents a longer version, in which Zhaozhou answered "yes" in response to the same question asked by a different monk: see Case #18 of the Book of Serenity.)
If you meet the Buddha, kill him.
Kill the Buddha if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha, because you should resume your own Buddha nature.
One is only able to see a Buddha as he exists in separation from Buddha, the mind of the practitioner is thus still holding onto apparent duality.
Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?
Victor Hori comments:
...in the beginning a monk first thinks a kōan is an inert object upon which to focus attention; after a long period of consecutive repetition, one realizes that the kōan is also a dynamic activity, the very activity of seeking an answer to the kōan. The kōan is both the object being sought and the relentless seeking itself. In a kōan, the self sees the self not directly but under the guise of the kōan... When one realizes ("makes real") this identity, then two hands have become one. The practitioner becomes the kōan that he or she is trying to understand. That is the sound of one hand.