What are Koans?

I have stumbled upon a set of stories by Anthony de Mello. Some people might call them koans. Koans are stories that come from many different traditions, most notably Zen, but others are Buddhist, Christian, Hasidic, Russian, Chinese, Hindu, Sufi. They can be ancient or contemporary. As de Mello writes, they “have a special quality: if read in a certain kind of way, they will produce spiritual growth.” They also might just make a mystic out of you.

De Mello suggest that these stories should be reflected upon. He recommends to:

Create a silence within you and let the story reveal to you its inner depth and meaning: Something beyond words and reflections… Or carry the story around all day and allow its fragrance, its melody to haunt you. Let it speak to your heart, not to your brain.

De Mello also cautions, “Beware of applying a story to anyone other than yourself. If you do so, the story will do you damage. Every one of these stories are about you, no one else.”

I would add that these stories should not become a foundation or a basis for your spirituality. Each story, for a lack of a better term, is an insight or a path to something deeper. It is that deeper, wordless something that should become a tiny part of your total spirituality. It is also my opinion that your reactions to these stories tell us more about you than they tell us about the stories themselves.

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