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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

(p.252) 10 Koans and Being There
Patriarchs on Paper

Alan Cole

University of California Press

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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