The practice of Zen entails the unraveling of a koan: a master’s statement, anecdote, or question, designed to provoke a student and test their progress.

Koan, Japanese Kōan, in Zen Buddhism of Japan, a succinct paradoxical statement or question used as a meditation discipline for novices, particularly in the Rinzai sect. The effort to “solve” a koan is intended to exhaust the analytic intellect and the egoistic will, readying the mind to entertain an appropriate response on the intuitive level. Each such exercise constitutes both a communication of some aspect of Zen experience and a test of the novice’s competence.

A characteristic example of the style is the well-known koan “When both hands are clapped a sound is produced; listen to the sound of one hand clapping.” Sometimes the koan is set in question-and-answer form, as in the question “What is Buddha?” and its answer, “Three pounds of flax.” “Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica”  


Please note, the illustration above is from my own personal collection of Asian Art and is listed for sale on eBay right now at