Also found in: Thesaurus, Medical, Acronyms, Encyclopedia.
A puzzling, often paradoxical statement, anecdote, question, or verbal exchange, used in Zen Buddhism as an aid to meditation and a means of gaining spiritual awakening.
[Japanese kōan : kō, public (from Middle Chinese kəwŋ; also the source of Mandarin gōng) + an, matter (from Middle Chinese ʔan`; also the source of Mandarin àn).]
(Buddhism) (in Zen Buddhism) a problem or riddle that admits no logical solution
n., pl. -ans, -an.
a nonsensical or paradoxical question posed to a Zen student as a subject for meditation, intended to help the student break free of reason and develop intuition in order to achieve enlightenment.
[1945–50; < Japanese kōan, earlier koũ-an < Middle Chinese, < Chinese gōngàn public proposal]