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Yoga Practice

About Koan Meditations

What is a Koan?

You’ve probably heard the term “Zen koan,” perhaps used in the sense of a riddle or something confusing or paradoxical. Perhaps you didn’t know that they’re also a practice, a kind of meditation. Some are like poems, some are like little stories or conversations, some are like jokes, and they all are a kind of can-opener for the mind, a way to get free of the conventional tangle of thoughts and feelings, and into a world that’s more free. In this world things, including joy, seem more possible and closer than you expected.


Working With A Koan

If a koan has grabbed your attention, or you’ve received one from a teacher, let yourself be open to it at first. Maybe you understand it immediately. Good. What else is there for you? How does it enter your life? Maybe you want to take it deeper. Sit with a koan in your meditation and also let it accompany you wherever you go and whatever you do.

Here are some ways to keep company with a koan:  Read More


Meditation With Koans

With a koan it’s different. You just keep company with the koan, and it draws your attention to something you already have but might not have valued. Reality is on your side.

There are many koans. If you have heard of a koan and it stayed with you, you can try that one out. It can be like an ear worm—it seizes you and won’t go away. In this way, a koan can choose you. It is for you the way your life is for you. No one else’s opinion really counts. If no koan has already grabbed hold of you, here’s one to try:

The coin lost in the river is found in the river.

How do you work with this koan?

1. First of all, don't try too hard

Just repeat the words of the koan to yourself a bit. Read More


What a Koan Does

A koan may take many of your thoughts and assumptions away. It may show you that you stand on an emptiness, a mystery. And you may find this freeing. When you witness things as they emerge from emptiness you may find that you too are just emerging, and are essentially unknown. You are a something, vast and infinite, not limited by having a self. When you do not hold onto a set belief about who you are, many things are open and possible. You may also find that kindness just arrives by itself without effort.


A Koan Defined

noun, plural ko·ans, ko·an. from Zen.

a paradoxical question or riddle to a student from a book or teacher, for which an answer is requested during the course of a meditation leading to the the illumination of knowledge.

Couple Meditating

Introducing The Koan

The Koan:

The coin lost in the river is found in the river.


A koan is a little healing story, a conversation, an image, a fragment of a song. It’s something to keep you company, whatever you are doing. There’s a tradition of koan study to transform your heart and the way you move in the world. 

The path is about learning to love this life, the one you have. Then it’s easy to love others, which is the other thing a practice is about.

Koans don’t really explain things. Instead, they show you something by opening a gate. You walk through, and you take the ride. Before anything is explained, there is the sky, the earth, redwood forests, pelicans, rivers, mice and your city. And you are part of all that. We’re all part of that. In the land of koans, you see that everything that happens in your life is for you. There is no one else it can be for. Your life counts.

It’s familiar to reach for things you already know about, and meditation means stepping beyond that. It’s not training your mind because that is something you already know about. What’s required is more strange and also less effort; it’s outside of easy or hard, yesterday or tomorrow.

You might think meditation is difficult—that your job as a meditator is to change your mind about reality and see through your illusions. But the ambition to improve your state of mind is part of the consciousness that finds fault with itself and lives in pain.

John Tarrant

Lion's Road September 7, 2018

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