Is seeking an explanation for life’s deepest mysteries a worthy pursuit? Many scientists and theologians would say yes. Zen Buddhists practising in China from the 9th to 13th centuries CE, however, believed that it was important to embrace uncertainty instead of always seeking answers. For these monks, achieving enlightenment meant resisting the urge to know the seemingly unknowable. To foster this way of thinking, they meditated on paradoxical riddles called kōans to raise doubts about the very meaning of knowing and, through this, find deeper truths about existence. This playful animation from TED-Ed provides a brief history of kōans, and offers two rich examples from the roughly 1,700 kōans written to illustrate the key role of ambiguity on the path to enlightenment.
The irreverent duo who thumbed their noses at the Soviet Union and the US art world
Thinkers and theories
Henri Bergson on why the existence of things precedes their possibility
Why mathematical truths exist with or without minds to consider them
The ancient world
Meet the absentee gods and nefarious spirits of ancient Mesopotamia
How Jewish leaders in the US are fighting abortion bans on religious grounds
Liberal democracies are backsliding worldwide. Could anarchy help?
Values and beliefs
How the plight of holy cows is used to radicalise teenagers in small-town India
Even in modern secular societies, belief in an afterlife persists. Why?
Trek alongside spiritual pilgrims on a treacherous journey across Pakistan