Just from this answer - is it a good idea to provide koan answers or not? Or should we provide them with a health warning? Do koans even really have answers? I'm not a Zen practitioner so a don't personally have an issue with these questions but should we just be closing them down since we don't want to spoil them in some sense?
From a purely academic point of view (not mine!), koans are an interesting subject; just google around and you'll find plenty examples of people explaining various koans. When I was in university I remember attending a guest lecture on this very topic; whether "mu" really did just mean "no" (spoiler: it did).
Again, on this site, we have to be able to take off our Buddhist hats and put on our Internet beanies; the information is out there, it is up to us to provide the best version of it. If that equates to an explanation that Zen koans are not meant to be examined, then so be it, but I strongly disagree that a question should be closed simply because that is the correct answer; it is only an invalid question from a sectarian point of view, not from an objective, academic point of view.
It would be similar to asking "What did the Buddha say about the beginning of samsara?" The fact that the answer is "he didn't" doesn't invalidate the question.
I agree with the answer of yuttadhammo. Answers to koans are already available on the internet, why don't we try to give the best possible explanation.
I would like to add that it is possible to give an answer to a koan, but make it invisible for people who don't want to see it. This can be done with the special 'spoiler quote' >! It will make the quoted text invisible unless you hover on it with your mouse pointer. I'd suggest we use this when providing koan answers and answer explanations, for example:
Spoiler alert! Koan answer below is visible if you hover on it with your mouse!
This is the spoiler text.
This a pretty tricky issue. By not discussing them, there is the danger of undermining their importance. If we are to talk about them, there is also the risk of really messing up someone's practice. How to reconcile the two!
Some koans can be accessed at multiple levels. I think so as long as the answers address these koans intellectually, there's no foul. For instance, when asking about the 'meaning' of the mu koan, an acceptable answer might mention something about the koan's use in providing a first glimpse into the nature of emptiness. A safe discussion on 'Ummon's Dried Shit Stick' might mention something about not becoming attached to form. On the other hand, other koans simply defy intellectual exegesis. As an example - it would be very difficult, and not even particularly worthwhile, to discuss 'Echu's three calls' at a superficial level. There's no good way of talking about those sorts of koans without bringing personal experience into the conversation.
So my opinion - as long as meditative experience isn't being brought up, discussing koans is fine.
Is it a good idea to provide koan answers or not?
Voting will decide.
Or should we provide them with a health warning?
Nah. No more than any other advice on the internet.
Do koans even really have answers?
I'm pretty sure the point is to keep thinking and looking for the answer but to never find it. The role of the teacher is not to ever tell you, "You figured it out!" Their role is to eternally say, "Nope, you still haven't figured it out". (This may be a DT Suzukism, now that I'm reading some of the literature about Chan, the Koans seem to be puzzles with a solution, "Who am I?" would be fundamental question and that has a Buddhist answer that isn't "Dunno" and isn't "Well logical thought and reasoning is so useless!")
This also happens to square with that Stephen Batchelor seems to have gotten out of his time doing Zen, working on the koan "What is this?"
I'm not a Zen practitioner so a don't personally have an issue with these questions but should we just be closing them down since we don't want to spoil them in some sense?
I do get the impression that in Zen people care about "quality control"-- that teaching come from someone with suitable lineage and transmission. But I don't see so much about secrecy, or hints of danger, like you see in Vajrayana, where learning something without abhisekha and without being reading for it is reputed to be dangerous. I would say in the Zen world, teaching from somewhat without lineage and transmission are somehow less authentic and useful.
This seems to be a heated debate as if there is a right way to deal with koans and a wrong way. Reading Dogen's book of koans, there are often multiple avenues in different directions. It is never one answer, it is usually a question by Dogen! The koan does not have an answer that will give you the aha, otherwise it would not be a koan. The aha must come from practice within. The koan is a tool to practice. If we think we can get the answers to the koan "test" or spoil someone's experience, are we not overestimating our own self importance?
Please let us not take stands "over my corpse" or with over confidence in any one position. How can we say we are compassionate when we dig in our heels demanding the rightness of one way or another? If we take a position against one another, all is lost.
Ha, for a second there I thought you meant koan-like answers!
"Are all Buddhists vegetarian?"
"...Are all vegetables Buddhist?"
To answer your question, though I have little experience with the use of koans in my practice, I believe we shouldn't, and should warn them off looking for explanations in other parts of the internet: is not the whole point of koans that they can't be answered? I'd imagine that providing some sort of analysis is just going to strongly bias people's meditations on them, and possibly discourage certain people from using them in the first place, thinking that they already "understand" them.
Perhaps if the asker clearly states that they desire an academic understanding in this area, but for regular practitioners looking to progress in their practice, I cannot see the benefit.