"I pity the fool who does not recognize a joke when he hears it." --Rev. Dr. David Scaer, circa 1996.Wikipedia defines a kōan as "a story, dialogue, question, or statement in the history and lore of Chán (Zen) Buddhism, generally containing aspects that are inaccessible to rational understanding, yet may be accessible to intuition. A famous kōan is: 'Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?'"
Kōans - serious and facetious - make interesting reading. But perhaps there should be a wider definition of the kōan, one that opens the field to non-Buddhist teachers. For example (here I go, inviting heresy charges): Jesus.
Jesus was, apart from everything else (God incarnate, Savior of the world, miracle worker, resurrection pioneer, etc.), a literary genius. I have already remarked that his parables are a tour de force of theological profundity distilled into tightly worded, crystal-clear analogy. But even some of his literal statements are mind-blowing. With biting irony, breathtaking paradox, intricate logic, and at times unsettling directness, Jesus pronounced teachings that anyone, to this day, can marvel at, consider endlessly, accept on faith, and even sort-of understand on an intuitive level -- but never fully and rationally comprehend. In brief, Jesus was the Master of the pre-Buddhist kōan. Here are some examples.
And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind."
Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things, and said to Him, "We are not blind too, are we?"
Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains."
And they came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all."
"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged."
And when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?"
And Jesus answered and said to them, "I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?"
And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Then why did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet." And answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know."
He also said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
And a certain ruler questioned Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone."
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
"Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force."
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, "What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?" They said to Him, "The son of David."
He said to them, "Then how does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying, 'The Lord said to my LORD, "Sit at My right hand, Until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet"'? If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his son?" And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.