Many of the following Buddhist terms and definitions have been taken from the more extensive list contained in the glossary of Zen is Eternal Life by Roshi Jiyu-Kennett, Dharma Publishing 1979.
You may scroll down the list or click on the first letter of the word (below) to jump to that alphabetical section within the glossary.
Abbot/Abbess The head of a monastery.
Acharya Sanskrit for “teacher”; in Zen monasteries, a polite form of address for a monk with at least five years of training; applied to a disciple advanced enought to teach monks and laity, but not yet deemed a Master.
Ananda The Buddha’s cousin and personal chaplain. One of the Great Disciples of the Buddha.
Anatta Literally, “no self”. The Buddhist teaching that there is no permanent soul or self within the skandhas that transmigrates at death to another body.
Ancestor Refers to any teacher, male or female, who has fully understood Buddhism and who is in the line of succession.
Anicca Literally, “impermanence”. Transience. The Buddhist teaching that all things are impermanent and subject to change.
Arhat (or Arahant) In Zen, one whose heart is cleansed of all greed, hatred and delusion but who has not yet fully realized wise discernment or compassion.
Asura An inhabitant of one of the six Worlds of Existence; before conversion, a heaven stormer, one who is so absorbed in attaining power that he cannot hear the Dharma, much less comprehend It; after conversion, he becomes a guardian of Buddhism.
Avatamsaka (The Flower Ornament Sutra) One of the most influential Mahayana Sutras of East Asian Buddhism. The title is rendered in English as Flower Garland Sutra, Flower Adornment Sutra, or Flowers Ornament Scripture. This text describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing each other.
Avalokiteshwara The Bodhisattva who hears the cries of the world; the embodiment of compassion.
Bodhicitta (Sanskrit “Awakened Heart”) The innermost nature of all beings that underlies all our experience.
Bodhidharma (lived during the 5th/6th century C.E.) The Indian Patriarch who brought Zen teaching to China, known to the Chinese as the First Patriarch.
Bodhisattva Literally, “Enlightened Being”. When not capitalized, it refers to one who is attempting to follow the Mahayana as the Buddha Path; when capitalized, the personification of some aspect of Buddha Nature.
Bodhisattva Vow See Four Vows.
Bow An act of respect and gratitude. “As long as bowing lasts Buddhism will last. When bowing ceases, Buddhism is destroyed” (Manzan Dohaku)
Buddha Literally, Enlightened One, Awakened One. A person with direct understanding of the Truth. A completely awakened individual.”
Buddha Mind The mind without attachment and discrimination which is the real mind of all beings, although they themselves may not recognize it; another name for the Buddha Nature.
Buddha Nature One’s own true nature, True Self. ” All beings without exception have the nature of Buddha.” (Shakyamuni Buddha)
Buddhism A religion founded by Shakyamuni Buddha in the 6th century BC in India which teaches the path to enlightenment.
Buddhist Rosary See Rosary.
Bursar Sometimes referred to as the Cellarer, the Almoner or the Treasurer. The monk responsible for managing the finances of the monastery, including receiving alms and distributing them to the monks.
Chi Grass, Five Tastes of Refers to the five houses of Zen in China during the T’ang dynasty. The chi grass reference expresses that although there were five different approaches to the Buddha Mind, they are all essentially one.
Chief Cook The monk responsible for providing food for the Three Treasures in the monastery as described in Great Master Dogen’s Instructions for the Chief Cook.
Chief Monastic Instructor The monk responsible for the day-to-day instruction of monks within the monastery.
Compassion Loving kindness towards all living things which arises naturally out of meditation.
Cosmic Buddha THAT which appears in every place and time and in all beings; also called by various other names such as Vairochana Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, Dharmakaya, Buddha Nature and Lord of the House. IT can be revealed through genuine training but cannot be explained as existing or not existing being beyond dualism.
Dana Generosity of spirit.
Denkoroku Literally, “The Book of the Transmission of the Light”. The Denkoroku was written by Keizan; in fifty-two biographical chapters it shows how the Truth was passed down from master to disciple from Shakyamuni Buddha to Dogen.
Dharma Law, Truth, the Teachings of the Buddhas and Patriarchs, religion.
Dharmachakra Literally, “The Wheel (chakra) of the Law (Dharma)”. An eight-spoked wheel symbolizing the eightfold path and the flow of the teaching (turning the wheel of the Law).
Diamond Scripture One of the Great Wisdom Scriptures which succinctly deals with the training of the Bodhisattva especially relating to the awakening of True Wisdom and to the practice of the Six Paramitas. The Diamond Scripture is widely used in all Mahayana traditions and it was this scripture which Daikan Eno used to teach his disciples.
Discriminatory Mind The attitude of mind of duality which fails to realize the all-is-one and is caught in differentiating between like and dislike, good and evil.
Dogen (1200 – 1253 C.E.) Founder of the Soto Zen school in Japan. High-born and orphaned young, he entered the priesthood at twelve, studied Tendai at Mt Hei, then went on to study under Myoa Eisai at Kennin-ji Temple. In 1224 he journeyed to China with Eisai’s disciple, Myozen, to study Zen, eventually entering Tendozan Keitoku-ji where he became the disciple of Tendo Nyojo Zenji, one of the great Soto Zen teachers. He became Nyojo’s Dharma Heir, receiving the Transmission from him. He returned to Japan in 1227; he was the Abbot of Kennin-ji and Kosho-ji and later founded Eiheiji in 1244. His main disciple was Koun Ejo. His major works are the Shobogenzo, the Eiheiroku and the Eiheishingi. He was given the posthumous title of Koso Joyo Daishi. He is widely acknowledged to be Japan’s greatest religious thinker.
Eightfold Path The Fourth Noble Truth, the way to transcend suffering. The eight steps on the Path are right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Zen training is the practice of the Eightfold Path in daily life.
Enlightenment Seeing things as they truly are; religious realization or understanding.
Extern Sacristan The monk responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the monastery buildings and grounds.
Faith In Soto Zen, faith is of the greatest importance as it provides the entrance to training. It is not directed to any external deity, doctrines, or persons, but rather inward to one’s own Buddha Nature. The faith is the belief that one can directly realize Buddha through sincere training. Faith gives rise to true conviction, to humility and eventually to true wisdom and certain knowledge.
Feeding of the Hungry Ghosts See Segaki.
Five Laws of the Universe The operation of the universe divides into five laws. The laws, in one form, are: (1) the laws of the physical world – that the world is not answerable to one’s will; (2) the laws of the organic world – that all things flow; (3) the laws of morality – that karma is inexorable; (4) the law of the Dharma – that evil is vanquished and good prevails; (5) the laws of mind – that of the will to enlightenment.
Five Thoughts The Five Thoughts are part of the mealtime ceremonial, which encourages trainees to reflect carefully on their attitude of mind. In Chinese temples, the Dining Hall is called the “Hall of the Five Thoughts”. They are: (1) We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come; (2) We must consider our merit when accepting it; (3) We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds; (4) We will eat lest we become lean and die; (5) We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.
Four-fold Sangha The traditional division of the Sangha that includes male monastics, female monastics, male laypeople and female laypeople.
Four Guardian Kings Four deities in the lowest heaven who guard the four directions: Bishamon-ten (Vaisravana) the north; Zojo-ten (Virudhaka) south; Jikoku-ten (Dhrtarastra) the east; and Komoku-ten (Virupaksa) the west. They represent the protection of the Buddhas and Patriarchs in all directions. The square pieces on each corner of the zen priest’s kesa and rakhusu represent the Four Guardian Kings.
Four Noble Truths The summary of the Dharma taught by Shakyamuni Buddha soon after his enlightenment: (1) All existence is filled with suffering; (2) Suffering is caused by clinging to things material, spiritual or sensual; (3) Suffering can be transcended and Nirvana realized here and now, and (4) the way to end suffering is by the daily practice of the Eightfold Path, that is serious religious training and the keeping of the Buddhist Precepts.
Four Requisites The four traditional needs of a monk that are met through offerings of alms: food, clothing, medicine and shelter.
Four Vows (or the Bodhisattva Vows) (1) However innumerable beings may be, I vow to save them all, (2) However inexhaustible the passions may be, I vow to transform them all, (3) However limitless the Dharma may be, I vow to comprehend it completely. (4) However infinite the Buddha’s Truth is, I vow to realize it. The Four Vows are an expression of endless training.
Fugen The Japanese name for the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra “Full of Virtue”.
Fukanzazengi Dogen’s “Zazen Rules” or “Rules for Meditation”, the basic instructions for Zen meditation. Recited for Evening Service in Soto temples.
Gassho The Anjali mudra which expresses gratitude and humility. It consists of placing the palms of the hands together, the right hand representing the holy, or higher nature and the left the world, or lower nature; the two together express One Mind. The gassho is also a symbol of collecting one’s mind.
Great Matter From the Shushogi “The most important question for all Buddhists is how to understand birth and death completely for then, should you be able to find the Buddha within birth and death, they both vanish.”
Hui-neng (638-713 C.E.) The Sixth Chinese Ancestor in our Ancestral Line. Author of the Platform Sutra.
Hungry Ghost One who resides in one of the three negative modes of existence, pictured as a being who is suffering from a hunger for the Dharma and has some metaphorical deformity, such as lacking a mouth, which makes it impossible to absorb It.
Infirmarian The monk responsible for the medical care of monks in the monastery.
Jizo (Kshtigarbha in Sanskrit) The Earth Store Bodhisattva who has taken a vow to remain in hell until all have been released. The patron of the vulnerable, including women in childbirth, those who have died in childbirth or through abortion, children.
Jukai Refers to the taking of the Ten Precepts and formally becoming a Buddhist. At Shasta Abbey Jukai is a week-long retrea that includes the ceremonies of Taking the Precepts, Lay Ordination, Sange, Ketchimiyaku, and Recognition.
Kalpa An endlessly long period of time, roughly equivalent to an eon.
Kanzeon Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Kuan-shi-yin, Kuan Yin. “She who hears the cries of the world.” Kanzeon is the Bodhisattva who personifies the Great Compassion which arises as a result of true Training. She is depicted on the right hand of Amitabha Buddha often holding a lotus blossom. There are also Kanzeon statues with many arms expressing the different ways in which trainees must help other beings and with many heads, symbolizing total awareness; the Heart of Kanzeon is the third stage in Zen training and is the beginning of real spirituality.
Karma Action or cause and effect. The laws of MORAL cause and effect; the third of the Five Laws of the Universe. All action of body, speech and mind produce karma which continues in the future and which may be seen as good (kusala karma) or bad (akusala karma) The Law of Karma is inexorable but there is no external lawgiver; each person is totally responsible for all of his actions and their consequences.
Keido Chisan Zenji or Koho Zenji, (1879-1967 C.E.) Former Chief Abbot of Soji-ji and Reverend Master Jiyu-Kennett’s Master.
Keizan Jokin (1268 -1325 C.E.) The 54th Ancestor in our Ancestral Line. Developed much of the ceremonial used in the Soto Zen tradition. Author of the Denkoroku (The Record of the Transmission of the Light).
Kensho The experience of seeing into one’s true nature, that is, one’s Buddha Nature.
Kesa The Buddhist priest’s robes. When Shakyamuni Buddha left his palace, he crossed the river and threw off his royal garments. He then took some rags, sewed them together to form a simple square robe worn over the left shoulder, and called it a kesa. The kesa symbolizes departing from the world in order to realize Nirvana. Priests in all the Buddhist traditions wear some form of kesa. The robe is always made up of small rectangular pieces of material sewn together and may have five, seven, nine or more stripes depending on the tradition. In Soto Zen temples, a seven-striped kesa is worn during meditation, formal meals, and services. During work, a rakhusu – a smaller version of five stripes worn around the neck – is worn. Junior trainees normally wear black robes. At Transmission trainees are given a colored kesa, usually brown or orange. Abbots often wear purple or on special occasions, gold brocade. The colors, however, vary greatly from temple to temple. The wagesa is another form of kesa.
Ketchimyaku Literally, “blood line”. A list of the unbroken lineage of teaching from Master to disciple, from Shakyamuni Buddha to the present, graphically depicted as an endlessly flowing, circular red line, The keeping of the Precepts is called “the Blood of Buddha”. A paper Kethimyaku is given to all lay Buddhists at Jukai.
Kshtigarbha (Jizo in Japanese) The Earth Store Bodhisattva who has taken a vow to remain in hell until all have been released. The patron of the vulnerable, including women in childbirth, those who have died in childbirth or through abortion, children.
Koan Literally “public case”. A statement or story used by a Zen Master as a teaching device to help a disciple realize his True Nature. By extension, any spiritual barrier or fundamental problem in one’s training which one needs to face, penetrate, clarify and transcend. A koan must never be understood as a philosophical, intellectual or metaphysical question; it is often a matter of spiritual life or death. In Rinzai formal koans are used in Zazen; however, in Soto, the emphasis is on the Genjo-koan, the naturally arising koan of everyday life. In Soto, the old koan collection are not studied in their entirety; when situations arise appropriate illustrations are used.
Kyojukaimon Great Master Dogen’s explanation of the Buddhist Precepts.
Lankavatara Sutra Literally “The Enlightening Lanka Scripture” A Mahayana scripture widely studied by Zen trainees from the time of Bodhidharma.
Lord of the House The Buddha in each being; Buddha Nature: the Cosmic Buddha; That which is not explicable in terms of existence and non-existence or self and other. Another term for Buddha Mind.
Lotus Blossom A Buddhist symbol for training, enlightenment, compassion and purity. Its roots in the mud represent the suffering of daily life, its stem represents the spiritual training, and its blossom symbolizes enlightenment. Kanzeon is often portrayed carrying different colored lotus blossoms and Buddhas are often depicted sitting in lotus blossoms. The Zen celebrant often carries a ceremonial implement called a nyoi which represents the lotus, sending forth seeds of compassion to all bering.
Lotus Scripture The Lotus of the Good Law Scripture. A Mahayana Buddhist scripture which teaches that all living things have the Buddha Nature and can attain Buddhahood. Shakyamuni Buddha teaches that in reality there is only the One Buddha Vehicle and all other teachings are merely skillful means, the parable of the burning house and three carts is used to illustrate this teaching. The Scripture of Kanzeon Bosatsu is the twenty-fourth chapter of this scripture.
Lumbini The grove of trees at Kabira where Shakyamuni Buddha was born.
Mahakala The kitchen guardian who represents gratitude and plenty. He is usually portrayed happily carrying full bags of rice.
Mahasattva An outstanding bodhisattva.
Mahayana Literally, “Greater Vehicle”. One of the two major divisions of Buddhism, which stresses the Bodhisattva ideal of saving all living beings instead of simply saving oneself. Its primary concern is compassion, active love and wisdom. Mahayana Buddhism is dominant in northern Asia.
Maitreya The Buddha who is to come. In Zen, to realize one’s own Buddha Nature is to bring Maitreya here.
Mandala A Sanskrit word that literally means “circle”. In Buddhism it generally refers to geometric pattern or images that are used for meditation. They expresses a religious view of the universe by means of symbols or portraits of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Mandalas are said to be the visual counterpart of mantras.
Manjusri Bodhisattva Manjusri personifies meditation and great wisdom (prajna). He is usually depicted sitting in meditation on a lion (representing the wild self which meditation transforms) and is often shown holding the sword of Budda’s Wisdom which cuts through all delusion. He is featured in many scriptures. Statues of him sitting on the beast of self are found in Zen meditation halls.
Mantra Literally “true words”. A very short scripture, similar to a dharani, usually of a few Sanskrit words; their primary meanings are not cognitive, but on a spiritual level that transcends ordinary linguistic understanding. Mantras are not magical, but rather express the essence of a scripture or attitude of mind. For example “Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu” is used to encourage faith and compassion.
Mara The personification of all temptations to evil and distractions from training.
Matter (The One Great Matter) The goal of spiritual training, namely, the realization of the highest Truth.
Meditation Hall Director The monk responsible for the meditation and ceremonies that occur within the monks’ Meditation Hall, as well as the physical environment of the Hall.
Middle Way The Way beyond the opposites.
Monjin The act of bowing from the waist with hands in gassho.
Nagyaarajuna The Fourteenth Patriarch of the Chan School in India and the founder of the Emptiness (Madhyamika) School of Mahayana Buddhism. He probably lived during the second century C.E.
Nirvana The extinction of attachment to desire and delusion.
Novice Master The monk responsible for the training and instruction of postulants (those exploring monastic life before being ordained) and novices (those ordained but have not yet received Dharma Transmission) in the monastery.
Ox-Herding Pictures A series of ten pictures depicting Zen training using the symbols of a man and an ox. The drawings are attributed to Kaku-an Shi-en, a Chinese Zen priest of the twelfth century.
Pali The language of the Theravadan Buddhist Canon. Pali was originally a natural, spoken dialect closely related to Sanskrit.
Paramita Literally “reaching the other shore” The Paramitas are the qualities that arise out of the mind of meditation and represent the life of the Bodhisattva. They are the signs of enlightenment. The Six Paramitas are (1) giving (dana) (2) keeping of the Precepts (sila) (3) patience (kshanti) (4) vigor (virya) (5) meditation (dhyana) and (6) wisdom (prajna). The list sometimes includes (7) skillful means (opaya) (8) committment (pranidhana) (9) strength (bala) and (10) knowledge, understanding (jnana). The Paramitas are fully discussed in the Diamond and Great Wisdom Scriptures.
Parinirvana Literally “complete, all, round (pari)Nirvana”. Parinirvana means the full completion, final extinction, rest or eternal meditation. Refers to the death of Shakyamuni Buddha or any Patriarch.
Parinirvana Scripture The scripture of the last words of Shakyamuni Buddha before his Parinirvana.
Platform Scripture A collection of sermons delivered by Daikan Eno (Hui-neng), the Sixth Patriarch of Chinese Zen, compiled by his disciple, Fa-Hai. This scripture is widely studied in all schools of Zen. It teaches the importance of contrition, the Refuges, the Bodhisattva’s Vow, awakening true wisdom and samadhi. The primary emphasis throughout is that enlightenment can be attained suddenly.
Prajna Literally “wisdom”. Seeing clearly. Wisdom which is beyond discriminatory thought arising naturally from meditation and diligent training. The fifth stage of Zen training (the Heart of Manjusri) which flows from the activity of compassion and love.
Prajnaparamita Literally “the perfecting of wisdom”. (1) The training of seeing clearly and the fruits of faith, compassion, and the keeping of the Precepts in daily life. It is meditation in its deepest sense of non-attachment and awareness. The sixth Paramita. (2) Also refers to the Great Wisdom Scriptures, a large collection of Mahayana scriptures on the nature of realizing wisdom and applying this understanding for the benefit of all beings.
Pratyekabuddha One who becomes enlightened as a result of his own efforts but does not share his understanding with others.
Precentor The monk responsible for leading the chanting or singing in monastic ceremonial.
Precepts The ways of living that are in accordance with the Dharma. One of the fundamental practices of the Bodhisattva training along with meditation, compassion and wisdom. The Sixteen Precepts in our tradition include:
Three Treasures Precepts I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.
Three Pure Precepts Cease from evil. Do only good. Do good for others.
Ten Great Precepts Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not covet. Do not say that which is not true. Do not sell the wine of delusion. Do not speak against others. Do not be proud of yourself and devalue others. Do not be mean in giving either Dharma or wealth. Do not be angry. Do not defame the Three Treasures.
Prior The monk responsible for the administrative operation of the monastery.
Quietism A spiritual disease which arises as a result of an improper attitude of mind. In Zen it is characterized by attachment to sitting meditation, inefficiency in work and irresponsibility. It is also characterized by lack of will and spirit and a desire to retreat from life.
Rakhusu A type of kesa (priest’s robe) worn around the neck. Traditionally made of five stripes, the smaller rakhusu is worn outside of formal meditation and ceremonies while the large kesa is usually worn during them. Junior trainees usually have black rakhusus, while senior priest were colored ones, usually brown or orange gold.
Revolving the Scriptures By tradition, the huge Buddhist canon should often be recited in its entirely. This enormous task has been shortened to a custom of taking one volume of the scriptures, printed on fan-folded paper, and displaying it fanned-out and running it between the two hands; this is known as”revolving the scriptures”. Revolving the scriptures has thus come to mean setting the Teaching and training into motion, turning the Wheel of the Law.
Rinzai Zen One of the five schools of Zen in China, and one of the three present-day Zen traditions in Japan. It was founded by the Chinese Zen Master Rinzai Kigen and is known for its use of the koan technique of meditation. It was brout to Japan by Eisai in 1191. Eventually fourteen lines of Rinzai evolved in Japan. Hakuin Ekaku, a Zen teacher of the eighteenth centuy restored the Rinzai school which was at that time in a serious state of decline. Rinzai in the second largest school of Zen in Japan.
Rosary Rosaries come in three forms: l08 beads, 54 beads, and 27 beads. All have at their base either a manji, representing the primal movement of the spirit within the heart; or a pagoda, representing the storehouse of the scriptures, which the turning of the rosary causes to be revolved; or a fish biting an iron ball which it can neither swallow nor spit out; or a tassel or pair of tassels, representing the roots of the Lotus, the symbol of enlightenment, with its roots in the mud of human suffering. No matter what may be at the base of the rosary, it is always a symbol of activity and movement, whether the movement of the heart, i.e. the manji; the turning of the scriptures, i.e. the pagoda; the struggle of the koan, i.e. the fish with the iron ball; or the nourishment of enlightenment from suffering, i.e. the tassel. Immediately above this symbol are three beads representing the Three Refuges: Homage to the Buddha, Homage to the Dharma, Homage to the Sangha. A l08 bead rosary is divided into 6 groups of l8 with a divider between each. A 54 bead one has 6 groups of 9 with a divider between each, and a 27 bead one, 2 groups of 6 and l of l5 divided by 2 dividers. All divider beads in a rosary represent points of pause for silent meditation, the putting of the hands in gassho while holding the rosary, or the putting of the brain, as it were, into gassho.
Roshi Literally “reverend master”. A title of a Zen Master.
Sacristan The monk in charge of the altars, shrines and ceremonies.
Sacristy The monastic office responsible for the monastic and public ceremonies held at the monastery
Samadhi Literally “concentration, meditation”. One-pointedness of mind. The eighth step of the Eightfold Path. Originally samadhi, like dhyana, referred to a deep state of seated meditation, almost a trance, but later in Mahayana Buddhism it came to mean the awakened state of mind beyond all dualistic thought. There are many different samadhis mentioned in Buddhist scripture, all different aspects of the Buddha Mind. Keizan says that pure Zazen is the king of all samadhis.
Samantabhadra Literally Universal Worthy. A Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism associated with loving kindness. He is the patron of the Lotus Sutra and, according to the Avatamsaka Sutra, made the ten great vows which are the basis of a bodhisattva. In China he is associated with action, whereas the bodhisattva Manjusri is associated with wisdom. He is traditionally pictured riding an elephant.
Samsara Literally “transmigration; life and death;going or wandering”. This world of life and death. The suffering of existence in the ordinary world of self-interest, greed, hate, and delusion. In Zen, when one finds the Buddha within Samsara (birth and death), Samsara and Nirvana are seen as one.
Sandokai A Zen Scripture written by Sekito Kisen which emphasizes the harmonising of the all is one and the all is different.
Sange Literally “contrition, “confession”, “repentance”. The sincere recognition of all that is wrong within oneself and the acceptance of one’s past karma. Sange is the true source of religious humility and a principal gateway to enlightenment. Zazen opens the door to Sange, since by sitting still within one’s own heart, one ceases to turn away from seeing one’s own true nature. The Sange verse found in Dogen’s “Shushogi” and the ordination ceremonies, come from the Fugen chapter of the Avatamsaka Scripture and says, “All the evil committed by me is caused by beginningless greed, hatred and delusion. All the evil is committed by my body, speech and mind. I now confess everything wholeheartedly.” The formal Sange ceremony is done during Jukai.
Sangha Literally “the community”; “the Buddhist order”; “those who follow the Buddha’s Teaching”. Narrowly, it can refer to the Buddhist priesthood, but the term usually applies to the community of all Buddhists and broadly, to all living things. The Sangha is the third of the Three Treasures. “Harmony is the Sangha Treasure” Dogen.
Sanskrit The classical language of ancient India. Buddhist texts in India were written either in Sanskrit or in closely related spoken languages like Pali.
Sanzen Spiritual counseling with a Zen Master. Another term for dokusan “spiritual counseling with a Master.
Shariputra One of the ten great disciples of the Buddha who was known for his great wisdom.
The Scripture of Great Wisdom Sometimes called the Heart Sutra, this scripture is considered to be the essence, or heart, of the Great Wisdom Scripture.
Segaki Literally “feeding of the hungry ghosts (gakis)”. It is a large memorial ceremony and festival for the transference of merit performed in memory of the dead. In Japan Segaki is celebrated during the Obon festival, July 15th; at Shasta Abbey it is held on Halloween, October 31st. Segaki may also be held immediately after a funeral ceremony.
Segaki Toro A ceremony held after Segaki the formal Segaki Ceremony.
Self Refers to the worldly mind dominated by self-interest, greed, hate and delusion which gives rise to a false notion of a permanent ego. If “Self” (with a capital S) is used, it refers to the True Self or Buddha Nature.
Sesshin Literally “to search the heart”. An intensive week of meditation in Zen monasteries.
The Seven Buddhas The historical Buddha and the six Buddhas that preceded Him.
Shakyamuni Literally “sage of the Shakya clan”. Refers to the historical Buddha after his enlightenment.
Shashu The way that the hands are held when doing walking meditation. There are various forms of shashu, but most involve one hand being wrapped around the fist of the other.
Shikan-taza Literally “just sitting”. The form of meditation done in Soto Zen emphasizing “… just sitting with no deliberate thought…”. The full instructions for “just sitting” are to be found in Dogen’s Rules for Meditation (Funkanzazengi).
Shin Literally “heart, mind or will”. True Self or Buddha Nature.
Ship and Three Drums An old Buddhist symbol representing the ship of the Mahayana by which all beings can reach the other shore of enlightenment. The three drums are the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, or the three Bodies of the Buddha. The symbol is closely related to the Chinese character “shin” meaning heart/mind/will.
Shobogenzo Literally “The Treasure Eye of the True Teaching”. The phrase originated from the story of Shakyamuni Buddha’s Transmitting the Dharma to Makakashyo. “I have the Right Law (Shobogenzo). Now I have transmitted it to great Makakashyo.” Shoboggenzo, therefore, is the very essence of the Dharma which is understood from heart to heart. It is the title of Dogen’s great work comprising ninety-five chapters.
Shravaka One who, upon hearing the Dharma, affirms his allegiance to It but may not yet try to put It into practice, or may try to reduce It simply to a rigid code of “right” and “wrong” behaviors.
Siddhartha Gautama The given name of Shakyamuni Buddha. Often in Buddhism usage, to make a distinction, “Gautama” refers to before his enlightenment and “Shakyamuni Buddha” refers to after.
The Six Worlds of Existence Those of celestial beings, humans, asuras, hungry ghosts, beasts and those in hellish states.
Skandhas Literally “aggregates”. In Buddhism, all existence is categorized into five aggregates or “heaps”. They are (1) form or matter; (2) sensation or feelings; (3) thoughts or perceptions; (4) impulses and activity; (5) consciousness. When the skandhas are viewed through ignorance a false notion of a self is created. Seen through the eyes of meditation, the five skandhas are “void, unstained and pure”.
Skillful Means (In Sanskrit “upaya”.) The seventh Paramita. Because there are many spiritual diseases, Buddhist teachers use various ways to cure their students; this is known as skillful means. Developing skillful means is considered very important in the training of the Bodhisattva. It requires great insight to see clearly the problems, true causes and remedies. The rich diversity of the many schools of Buddhism, the wide variety of teaching and approaches are all aspects of the use of skillful means applied to different peoples with differing spiritual situations. The parable of the burning house and the three carts in the Lotus Scripture illustrates skillful means.
Soto Zen The oldest of the five schools of Zen in China. It was established by Tozan Ryokai and his disciple Sozan Honjaku. THe name Soto is derived from the So in Sozan and the To in Tozan. This school flourished in China until the thirteenth century. In 1222, Dogen brought the Soto teachings from China to Japan. The Soto school is the largest Zen school in Japan. Its Teachings emphasize every minute meditation, the unity of training and enlightenment, and the keeping of the Precepts in daily life.
Stupa A mound, usually made of earth, erected over the relics of a Buddha or saint or to mark a consecrated place. Literally, a reliquary for the ashes of a Buddhist, and mataphorically, the body of a Buddha.
Sumeru Mount Sumeru is the symbol for the universe in Buddhism, with all the various worlds located somewhere on or around the mountain. It is sometimes used as a symbol for vastness, or as representing the self.
Sunyata Literally “emptiness” The primary teaching of the Prajnaparamita which stresses that there is no self anywhere, nor is there anything to be attached to and that all things are in their self-nature empty and immaculate. See also Prajnaparamita.
Surangama Sutra A Mahanyana Buddhist scripture which discusses many of the obstacles that arise in training as well as the various states one can fall into as a result of confusion and attachment.
Sutra A Buddhist scripture attributed directly to Shakyamuni Buddha. The first division of the Tripitaka.
Sweet Gate Scripture The scripture is recited during the Segaki ceremony. The Sweet Gate is the Gateless Gate to enlightenment.
Tathagata Literally “thus comes one or thus gone one”. An epithet for a Buddha.
Ten Buddhas The names of the Ten Buddhas are recited in many Zen ceremonies. Note that the “Ten Buddhas” include scriptures, Bodhisattvas and Patriarchs, indicating every form of Buddha.
Ten Directions The Ten Directions, or Quarters: up and down; north, south, east and west; northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest. In other words, everywhere.
Theravada Literally “teaching of the elders”. The only surviving school of Hinayana Buddhism. It is found primarily in Ceylon, Burma and Thailand.
Third Refuge The Sangha, the third of the Three Refuges. Also, a the name of local groups of Sangha members who are willing to help each other when need in medical emergencies and other life challenges.
Thought, Natural and Deliberate These terms are used to point the way to the mind of meditation. When a thought arises by itself, this is natural thought; when we ponder, stew over and get entangled in ideas and emotions, this is deliberate thought. In Shikan-taza, natural thoughts come and go without disturbing meditation.
Three Pure Precepts Cease from evil. Do only good. Do good for others.
Three Refuges (The Three Treasures Precepts) I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.
Three Treasures The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
Three Worlds The world of desire, the world of form and the formless world.
Transmission In the Zen tradition, the Truth is passed down heart to heart and this has been called the Transmission of Mind or Dharma. This Transmission is beyond all words and concepts and only takes place when the Master and disciple are One in the Buddha Mind.
Tripitaka Literally “three baskets”. The collection of canonical Buddhist scriptures consisting of the Vinaya (monastic rules). Sutras (teaching, scriptures) and Abhidharma (philosophic treatises).
Triple Treasure See Three Treasures.
True Nature The Buddha Nature.
Uji Literally “existence time”. A word used to express the flow of endless training and the unfolding of the Buddha Mind. The title of a chapter of Dogen’s Shobogenzo.
Unborn That which is unborn, undying, unchanging, uncreated.
Uses of the Buddhist Rosary Rosaries may be used in the following ways: a) for beginning Buddhists, to quiet the mind by counting the breaths, one bead for an in-breath, one bead for an out-breath, and a gassho at the spacer. b) They may be used for the transfer of merit for sick or dying persons or any other cause whatsoever by thinking of the purpose for which the recitation is to take place when holding the symbol, reciting the Three Refuges, pausing on the center spacer for a moment of silent meditation, reciting the name of a Bodhisattva on each bead, with pauses for silent meditation at each spacer, a return to the recitation of the Three Homages at the end of one full circuit and again the thought of the purpose of the recitation on the symbol. Example: The person who wishes to transfer the merit to a dying relative would first hold the manji while thinking of turning the merit of the wheel by the love in his heart towards that person. He would then take the Three Refuges for that person and for himself, reflecting silently on the center spacer and, if his rosary were a 27 bead one, recite “Hail to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva” on each of the first beads, meditate silently for a moment on the spacer, recite “Hail to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva” on the next l5 beads, reflect silently on the spacer, and then recite “Hail to Avalokitesvara” on the last 6, pause silently on the center spacer for thoughtful meditation, again take the Three Refuges and pause on the symbol to think on the way in which he can best transfer the merit by the movement of his heart, if the symbol be a manji, or the turning of the scriptures, if it be a pagoda. This procedure is followed for all size rosaries; obviously there are other purposes for which you would wish to transfer merit. Perhaps you would wish merit for yourself, for which it is equally permitted to recite a rosary, or to calm your own mind or to keep it from wandering while on a bus or other public transportation. The uses of the rosary are too innumerable to give all of them here. The sincere Buddhist will discover many for himself. One more example can be given: a person who wishes to transfer the merit of wisdom on a 27 bead rosary could recite “Hail to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva” on the first 6 beads (transferring compassion), “Hail to Samantabhadra Bodhisattva” on the next l5 (transferring love) and “Hail to Manjusri Bodhisattva” on the last 6 (thus transferring wisdom which is the child of Avalokitesvara and Samantabhadra).
Vairochana (The Cosmic Buddha) The Buddha who is the personification of spiritual Light and Truth, the one who represents the Pure Buddha Mind.
Vajra Literally “diamond”. Refers to a religious object which represents different aspects of the Buddha’s wisdom. It can have one, three, or five prongs, and is usually made of copper or iron. It is also called the “thunderbolt” because as a bolt of lightning the Dharma crashes through all obstacles. It is called diamond because, like a diamond, the Buddha nature is indestructible.
Vesak See Wesak.
Vespers The evening scripture recitation chanted prior to retiring at Shasta Abbey.
Vigil A ceremony held on the eve of a festival involving chanting of scriptures and bowing.
Vimalakirti Literally “spotless reputation.” A layman during the time of Shakyamuni Buddha who was considered to be a highly enlightened Bodhisattva. He represents the ideal layman in Buddhism because he was able to train successfully in everyday life.
Vimalakirti Scripture A scripture consisting of the discourses of Vimalakirti. It is studied by many different schools of Mahayana Buddhism.
Vinaya The collection of the monastic rules formulated in India during and after the life of Shakyamuni Buddha. A section of the Tripitaka, or Three Baskets.
Wagesa Literally “circular kesa”. A form of kesa further simplified from the rakhusu. A wagesa is a strip of cloth with its ends connected by a decorative knot, worn around the neck.
Wesak The most significant event in the Buddhist calendar, Wesak marks the beginning of the Buddhist New Year. Wesak celebrates the events in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha and expresses gratitude for his timeless teaching.
Zafu Literally “sitting cushion”. A meditation cushion used in Zazen, usually made of black cloth about six inches high and ten inches in diameter, stuffed firmly with kapok. It is believed that Shakyzmuni Buddha fashioned the first zafu out of eight handfuls of grass to help support his back during the long hours of meditation under the Bodhi Tree.
Zabuton Literally “sitting mat”. A cushion, sometimes used in Zazen, which is placed under the zafu to cushion the knees. Usually a zabuton is about three feet square and an inch thick, padded with cotton batting.
Zazen Literally “sitting (za) meditation (zen)”. Seated meditation.
Zen in Japanese (or dhyana in Sanskrit, ch’an in Chinese) Literally “meditation”.