We define a koan as a riddle, but the article on Koan in Wikipedia specifically states that "a koan is not a riddle or a puzzle." There is a lengthy foot note justifying the statement. I'm no student of Zen, and cannot make a good judgement on this point. Ben 12:42, 14 March 2007 (UTC)
I think the idea of koans is bound to be puzzling to Westerners firstly because it's a technical concept coming from a very different perspective and secondly because they are puzzling. A couple of differing views that may help are below. I think the first one is probably better for Zen students but I recommend stealing the second one if that's kosher.
"Koans are examples drawn from the awakening of past practitioners and often seem to be illogical or intuitive. But they are not puzzles to be solved or intuited. They are expressions of awakening." [A discussion comparing Rinzai and Soto Zen]
"Japanese Koan, in Zen Buddhism of Japan, a succinct paradoxical statement or question used as a meditation discipline for novices, particularly in the Rinzai sect. The effort to “solve” a koan is intended to exhaust the analytic intellect and the egoistic will, readying the mind to entertain an appropriate response on the intuitive level." [Britannica online] AlMaki16:31, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
Do Koan's necessarily involve a Zen Master and student as protagonists?Edit
The definition here (at this time) specifically lists a koan as "A story about a Zen master and his student, sometimes like a riddle, other times like a fable, which has become an object of Zen study, and which, when meditated upon, may unlock mechanisms in the Zen student’s mind leading to satori." When people say Koan, I think of "what is the hand of one hand clapping?" or "what did you look like before you were born?" While these both have basic setups that involve Zen Masters and students, isn't the koan the actual anti-riddle? I mean, isn't the part that shows the fallacy of "militant rationalism" the koan? --18.104.22.168 21:41, 28 May 2011 (UTC) Sorry, not logged in --Mrcolj 21:43, 28 May 2011 (UTC)