Solving Your Life Koans

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Many books have been written about so-called “kung-ans” or “koans”, their underlying purpose and interpretation. A koan is a question, enigma, paradox, statement, story or dialogue expressing the mysteries of life which cannot be solved logically by the rational or intellectual mind. Zen has many ways of showing this. One is the iron flute, a type of flute without holes or a mouthpiece to blow. This symbolizes the vain attempts of people to understand the inherent mysteries of life using logic. But what about life koans?

 Purpose of koans

Koans are tools designed to help penetrate people’s cognitive armor and get them to abandon their dependence on logic and reason. Dealing with hopelessly unsolvable and seemingly unanswerable questions can serve as an alarm clock helping us to wake up to the present moment. Koans are a traditional tool that is still used in the Rinai school of the Chan masters to help liberate people’s minds. The logical mind on which we are so dependent cannot grasp the Absolute Isness.

Your intellect does not possess the capability required to figure out the koan for you. It was never conceived for this purpose. To provide an analogy, you would be equally incapable of measuring the size of a table by using such a high precision, technically advanced device as a blood pressure monitor, for the simple reason that the latter wasn’t designed to fulfill this specific task.

Prominent examples

You may have already heard of some of the prominent koans. Here are a few examples:

Show me the sound of one hand (clapping)?

What is the taste of green?

What was your original face before your father and mother were born?

Does a dog have the Buddha nature?

How do you take the first step from the top of a 60-foot flagpole?

If all discursive things ultimately go back to the One, where does the One go back to?

Life koans

In addition to the koans used by Zen Masters throughout the centuries, most people also have our own “life koans” to deal with, even though we may not be aware of their existence. According to Zen Master Genro Xuan Lou, Laoshi, they may well be the most difficult ones to solve, as difficult as cracking a hard nut. This is because they consist of personal challenges to be mastered, past experiences to be dealt with, problems to be solved, and obstacles to be overcome before we get to experience inner peace and serenity, and to move ahead on the path. Life koans are among the most challenging things our ego throws at us to keep us dependent on it and deny our true nature.

Dealing with koans

Absorb this problem like a glowing sphere in order to learn how to spit or vomit it out. Once you get rid of it because of the pain it triggered, once you finally learn the trick inside of it, realization will finally burst out of you, and will do so without your having even thought about it. The solution is letting go and detaching yourself from everything. There are no logical solutions to mysteries.  Being encompasses logic but logic cannot encompass being.  But there is a way to transcend the logic of the mind and penetrate to all these koans – and ultimately to “solving” your own life koans.


If you want to know more about how to solve your life koans, read “Find the Seeker” available as a paperback or e-book. Continue your adventure and read the book at


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