Beyond Mimesis: Unnatural Narrative in Ch‘an Kōans

Amiao Wu , Ellen Y. Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Ch’an (Zen), as a face-to-face transmission of the dharma outside the Buddhism sutras, is also a discourse on “how not to say”. For transcending words and pointing directly to the human mind, Ch’an Buddhism defies the parameters of usual interaction by employing Kōan system —an unusual Ch’an teaching system, to provoke “great doubt” and test a disciple’s progress in practice. Throughout history, researchers have been interested in Ch’an text all along, and an extensive research from different perspectives help foster the development of interpretive approaches to Ch’an study. But none of the academic research has delved into the relationship between Kōan and its unnatural narrative structure so far, and how its peculiar practice may help disciples realize the mind and seeing self-nature. Through the lens of unnatural narratives, this paper seeks to present an exploratory study of new paradigm in analyzing Ch’an Kōans, and to demonstrate another effective way of probing and understanding Ch’an text. The paper will sketch out basic concepts, scholarly origin, research aims, and point out directions for an interdisciplinary study of religious text within the framework of unnatural narratology. By drawing on unnatural narrative theories for Kōan cases, we aim to show possibilities of application of unnatural narratives to Ch’an tradition and what fresh vitality this approach can bring into the study of religious texts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-111
Number of pages4
JournalInternational Journal of Languages, Literature and Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

User-Defined Keywords

  • Ch’an Kōans
  • interdisciplinary study
  • religious texts
  • unnatural narratives


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