American Koans

A kōan in Zen Buddhism is a short story, dialogue, question, or statement that is used to teach. The meaning of kōans often fly in the face of Western “rational thinking” because that meaning is not obvious and there is no “right answer.”

I have been posting some kōans here and most have been classic/traditional ones. Lately, I have come across some writing that seem koan-ish to me in books that I am reading. I thought I might call these “American koans” so I did a search to check the originality of my idea.  As is often the case, others have been down the road before me.  I found several sites and books that have American koans.

I’m still going to post some along with the traditional type. They will be American stories, questions and quotes that, hopefully, lead you to some further thinking.

Here is one from one of my favorite non-fiction books, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

…an Eskimo hunter asked the local missionary priest

“If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”
“‘No,’ said the priest “not if you did not know.”
“Then why,” asked the Eskimo earnestly, “did you tell me?”


Thirty-Three Fingers: A Collection of Modern American Koans

The Gateless Gate: The Classic Book of Zen Koans
Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life
The Zen Koan: Its History and Use in Rinzai Zen
The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans


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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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