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Patriarchs on PaperA Critical History of Medieval Chan Literature$
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Alan Cole

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780520284067

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520284067.001.0001

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Koans and Being There

Koans and Being There

Chapter:
(p.252) 10 Koans and Being There
Source:
Patriarchs on Paper
Author(s):

Alan Cole

Publisher:
University of California Press
DOI:10.1525/california/9780520284067.003.0011

This chapter focuses on koans. The English word “koan” comes from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese gong'an, which means “public case” in the sense of a legal precedent. The term gong'an begins to appear in Chan texts in the first half of the twelfth century as a technical term for a particular literary gesture that had already been in vogue in the eleventh century, one in which an author first selected a particular vignette or dialogue from some older strata of Chan literature and then offered commentary on it, or a poem about it, or often both. Thus, it took at least two Chan masters to make a koan—the one who supposedly first said or did something that was recorded in a Chan text, and a later one who took interest in just that account and developed it with his own commentary and/or poems.

Keywords:   koans, gong'an, Chan texts, Chan literature, Chan masters

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