A Koan is a question or a puzzle given to a meditator to contemplate during a meditation session. The object is to think long and hard about the question and try to solve the puzzle. It does not matter whether you are right or wrong in your conclusions, only that you have tried to solve the puzzle in depth. Even if you believe you have the right answer to the puzzle, you need to continue contemplating it from all angles not previously considered. Koan Meditation is an exercise in just being.
Contemplating Koans is said to lead the practitioner to Enlightenment or a state of being fully aware. Meditating on a Koan focuses the mind on one single task. During the meditation, you are expected to ask yourself many questions related to the Koan in attempting to solve the puzzle. The Koan itself is just a tool used to understand the true nature of yourself and all that is.
Examples of puzzles you can ponder on are as follows
1. What did you look like before you were conceived?
2. When clapping with two hands, a sound is made. What is the sound of one hand clapping?
3. How can the eyes see themselves without using a mirror?
4. If a tree falls in the woods and there is nobody there to see it fall. Does it make a sound?
5. Does the mind create all things?
6. Without speaking, without words. How can the truth be expressed?
7. What came first, the chicken or the egg?
8. Show me the source of Earth, Wind, Fire and Water?
9. Is half a cup of water, half empty or half full?
10. Does a dog have Buddha nature?
Koans can also be short stories or parables to contemplate. They are not rational questions with rational answers. They are used as catalyst to understand the nature of reality and the self. They are impossible puzzles that can’t be solved but the journey we take when pondering them leads to great understanding and knowledge in a very profound way.
A Koan is designed to make the mind and ego very unhappy through the frustrating and deep contemplative path we follow in attempting to solve the puzzle. Koans make the brain back flip and leads the practitioner to a place beyond the mind and ego. Upon reaching this point in the meditation, one experiences enlightenment.
To prepare for a Koan Meditation you need to sit comfortably either cross legged on the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes and take three long deep breathes to relax. Follow your respirations with your mind until you reach a point of calmness, effortless breathing and relaxation. Then bring the Koan into focus and contemplate the puzzle from as many angles as you possibly can. If you think you have the correct answer, contemplate it some more. Your objective is to exhaust the mind and your ego of all possibilities until you reach the point of blissful silence. Then you may indeed attain enlightenment.