View Full Version : A Zen Glossary

08-22-2020, 07:46 AM
Dear All,

The following is a glossary of some very basic Zen terminology that might lead to head scratching, especially for new folks.

For any further details or research, the best "Zen dictionary" these days is the internet (especially if from reputable sites, not just somebody's blog). :p However, you can also post in this Treeleaf Forum and open discussion about any term or other topic that is still unclear to you.

Also, feel free to suggest in this thread other terms that you think should be included in our glossary.

Gassho, Jundo



Ango: (Lit., “dwelling in peace” ). The summer and winter training seasons, with their origins in the rainy season meditation retreats at the time of Shakyamuni, and often undertaken for 90 days in the Zen tradition as a period of concentrated zazen and dedicated practice. (Pronunciation = off/ON + "Let's GO")

Bodhi: Wisdom, a profound understanding of Emptiness and Buddhist insight, the understanding possessed by a Buddha regarding the true nature of things. Besides "wisdom," Bodhi is sometimes translated into English with other words such as "enlightenment" or "awakening." (Pronunciation = BOW and arrow + a b c D)

Bodhi Tree: The tree under which the Buddha Shakyamuni is said to have sat and realized awakening in India upon seeing the morning star, some 2500 years ago.

Bodhidharma (or "Daruma"): According to traditional histories of the Zen lineage, Bodhidharma was the 28th ancestral teacher of the lineage in India and the first ancestor of the lineage in China, who brought the Zen teachings to China. He is known as the ‘First Ancestor’ of Zen. (Pronunciation = BOW and arrow + a b c D + rhymes with "PHARMAcy")

Bodhisattva: An awakened or enlightened being who renounces passing fully into nirvana and leaving this world of suffering in order to remain with unenlightened, suffering beings and work for the liberation of all in this world. The bodhisattva ideal is closely associated with Mahayana Buddhism including Zen Buddhism. The great "Mahasattva-Bodhisattvas" are mythical symbols and paragons of the best in Buddhist and human qualities (read more here: https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/foru...isattva-Basics). However, a bodhisattva can also be any of us when we manifest the good qualities, wisdom and compassion of a bodhisattva in our own lives. (Pronunciation = BOW and arrow + a b c D + SAT down + VAcume)

Bodhisattva Precepts: A set of precepts (such as the avoiding of the taking of life, avoiding of anger, avoiding stealing and others) common in Mahayana Buddhism to guide us in living with the qualities of a bodhisattva. In Soto Zen, the founder Dōgen established a set of Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts for undertaking by both priests and lay followers.

Body, Speech, and Mind: The three modes of karma (actions) by which humans, in their volitional behavior, sometimes do good and sometimes harm: physically, verbally, and mentally.

Bow: A practice of greetings, gratitude and humility, ranging from simple palms together and a lowered head, to full prostrations. We sometimes say that a bow down is also, from other perspective, the world raising up and supporting us.

Buddha: "Awakened One," a word sometimes referring to the man (often also referred to as Shakyamuni or Gautama Buddha) who lived in India some 2500 years ago and originated the teachings of Buddhism. As well, the word "buddha" sometimes is used to refer to other figures (likely mythological) said in traditional writings to have shared the ideal qualities of a buddha in other places and ages. "Buddha" is also sometimes used as an all-encompassing term for all of reality itself.

Buddhadharma: The way and teachings of the Buddha; see, "Dharma." (Pronunciation = Dharma rhyme with "PHARMAcy")

Buddha Nature (Busshō): The potential in all of us to become or act as a buddha, and also the nature of buddha that is everywhere in this world. One’s own true nature, True Self.

Buddha Statue: A statue of a Buddha (or sometimes a Bodhisattva) which serves as an artistic and symbolic reminder of our practice and the teachings. In fact, a "Buddha statue" can be any such reminder, including an empty space.

Buji-Zen: "All is well Zen", ”nothing to do Zen”, frivolous zen. A tendency attributed to some practitioners to convince themselves that, since all beings possess Buddha-nature, they are already enlightened and hence have no need to exert themselves further. It can also refer to meditation and other practices undertaken, nor for realization and awakening, but primarily just to relax and feel nice. (Pronunciation = rhymes with Mount FUJI)

Cause and Effect: See, "Karma."

Ch’an: The Chinese word for "Zen." It derives from the Indian word Dhyāna, which means meditation. (Pronunciation = rhymes with "off and ON")

Chant Sutras: A powerful practice, much like any singing or dance, to fill and move oneself with sound and rhythm, beyond mere intellectual study of the words of the recited teachings themselves (although it is important to study meaning too at other times).

Chiden: The person who cleans and takes care of altars. (Pronunciation = CHEEse + fox's DEN)

Compassion (Karuna): Concern toward all sentient beings for their suffering, which concern arises naturally out of zazen and in the heart of the Bodhisattva; Compassion is as vital to our practice as Bodhi (Wisdom).

Cosmic Mudra: See, "Hokkai-jōin."

Dai-Osho: A title for a particularly honored lineage ancestor. "Dharma." (Pronunciation = life and DIE + l m n O + t.v. SHOW )

Dana: The virtue of charity and giving. "Dharma." (Pronunciation = sounds like woman's name "DONNA")

Dedication of Merit: See "Eko."

Dharani: A kind of traditional magical spell common in Buddhism, often seeking health or other protection from a buddha or deity. We generally do not chant Dharani at Treeleaf. (Pronunciation = throw a DArt + man's name "RONNY")

Dharma: The word "dharma" can have several meanings in Buddhism: The individual phenomena of the universe are each a "dharma," and the Buddha's teachings about the nature of that reality of the universe, are the two most common usages. (Pronunciation = rhymes with "PHARMAcy")

Dharma Heir: A student who is the recipient of "dharma transmission" from a teacher in a particular dharma lineage, thus authorizing the student to teach and act as a priest independently.

Dharma Name: A Buddhist name given to a priest upon their ordination as a monk, as decided by the teacher ordaining them, or to a lay person upon receiving the Bodhisattva Precepts in Jukai.

Dharma Talk (Teisho): An informal talk given, often during a zazen gathering, on the Buddhist teachings or "dharma".

Dharma Transmission: The act of a teacher designating a dharma heir, thereby passing on or transmitting to a successor the "dharma" that has previously been inherited from earlier teachers in the particular dharma lineage, thus a master affirms that a students’ training is complete and that he or she is ready to begin to teach the Dharma independently.

Doan: The person who rings the bells during service or zazen. (Pronunciation = bread DOE + off and ON)

Dōgen: Dōgen Kigen, (1200-1253), who brought the Soto Zen lineage and teachings from China to Japan, and who is the author of Shōbōgenzō among many other works.(Pronunciation = bread DOE + do it aGAIN)

Dōjō: A room or hall (do-) of the way (-jo). Dōjō is often used interchangeably with "zendo." In Japanese, dojo can also refer to a room where any art is taught, such as chado (the way of tea), karate or judo, for example. For our purposes, however, it refers to a room or building in which zazen is practiced. (Pronunciation = bread DOE + man's name JOE)

Dokusan: A private interview between a student and a zen teacher. As a general rule, dokusan discussion in Sōtō Zen pertains to the student’s personal practice and experience in general, rather than formal Kōan introspection work as is common in lineages of Rinzai zen. (Pronunciation = bread DOE + pigeon's COO + poetic SONNet)

Doshi: The priest who officiates at zazen or ceremonies. (Pronunciation = bread DOE + he and SHE)

Dukkha: "Suffering" in a Buddhist sense, but perhaps best translated as "dissatisfaction." It is important to realize that pain and other human suffering are not "Dukkha" in a Buddhist sense until the mind resents and resists such conditions or circumstances. (Pronunciation = royal DUKE + dentist says to say "AH")

Eightfold Path: The Fourth Noble Truth, which prescribes the way to transcend suffering (Dukkha), includes eight aspects of the Path of practice common to all Buddhists: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right zazen (More information here: https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/foru...-Buddha-Basics ).

Eihei Kōroku (Dōgen's Extensive Record): A much treasured collection essays, talks, poems and letters by Dōgen, the founder of the Sōtō line in Japan. (Pronunciation = letter A b c + horse eats HAY + CO-pilot + ROW a bot + pigeon's COO)

Eihei Shingi (Dōgen's Rules for the Zen Community): A collection of essays and talks by Dogen, the founder of the Sōtō line in Japan, specifically on the rules of conduct within a monastic community. (Pronunciation = letter A b c + horse eats HAY + leg's SHIN + flying GEEse)

Ekō (Dedication of Merit): The dedication read after recitation of a sutra or other ritual or practice activity, to direct the merit gained from the recitation and aspirations of the participants to a certain person or group. We recite an Eko as our aspiration that our practice should ultimately work to benefit other sentient beings. Also, see "Merit," below. (Pronunciation = sounds like mountain ECHO)

Emptiness (Śūnyata): The experience that nothing stands alone as an independent and permanent self. (Pronunciation = later not SOON + YADA yada yada)

Enlightenment: Seeing things in their timeless wholeness and inter-identity, then living accordingly.

Ensō: The ink drawn circle which symbolizes the absolute enlightenment and the void. The circle executed with a single fluid brush-stroke is a popular theme in Zen painting. (Pronunciation = letter N m o + SEW a thread)

Five Aggregates (Skandhas): Five aspects or factors that make up what is conventionally called the "self," including physical form and our sense and mental responses. (Pronunciation = SCAN the x-ray + cute panDA)

Four Noble Truths: The truth of Dukkha (Buddhist "suffering", not simply the ordinary pain and suffering of life; See above "Dukkha"), as well as its cause in desire, its having a cure and the way thereto.

Four Vows: Vows commonly recited by Zen practitioners promising to keep walking this path, and to rescue all sentient beings, although a way that goes on and is never ending.

Fukanzazengi: An essay containing some of Master Dogen’s basic instructions on sitting Shikantaza Zazen. It is thought to be his first written work on the practice of Zen and composed in 1227, upon his return from China. (Pronunciation = eat FOOd + tin CAN + ZAZEN + flying GEEse)

Gaman: A term of Zen Buddhist origin which means to endure the hard with patience and dignity. The term is generally translated as "perseverance" or "patience". (Pronunciation = GOd+ Jamaican "hey MAN")

Ganbaru: Lit., ”stand firm”, also romanized as gambaru, a ubiquitous Japanese word which roughly means to work on tenaciously and with persistence through tough times. The term has a unique importance in Japanese culture including in Zen.

Gasshō: Lit., "palms together". A mudra (hand gesture) expressing greetings, nonduality (as two hands join as one), welcoming and respect. The palms are joined so that the fingertips are at the height of the nose, often accompanied by a small standing bow. (Pronunciation = GOd + t.v. SHOW)

Greed, anger, and ignorance: The three root mental afflictions which cause suffering in this world through excess desire, anger and violence, jealousy and other like examples of divided thinking.

Haishiki: The raised platform or mat in front of the Altar where the priest who is celebrant (see, Doshi) stands for ceremonies. (Pronunciation = low and HIGH + he and SHE + lock and KEY)

Han: In Zen monasteries, a wooden board that is struck with a mallet to summon monastics to the zendo or other practice hall, as well as serving as a time-keeping signal during the monastic day. The pattern of strikes often includes three “roll downs”, a series of strikes gradually becoming accelerando and crescendo. (Pronunciation = rhymes with "off and ON")

Hanka fuza: See, "Lotus Posture." (Pronunciation = rhymes with "off and ON" + go-CArt + eat FOOd + ZAzen)

Hannya Shingyō: See, "Heart Sutra." (Pronunciation = rhymes with "off and ON" + woman's name soNIA + leg SHIN + "biG YO-yo" toy)

Heart Sutra (Hannya Shingyō): A sutra particularly cherished by Buddhists in China, Tibet, Vietnam, Korea and Japan for its teachings on Emptiness. (Pronunciation = rhymes with "off and ON" + woman's name soNIA + leg SHIN + "biG YO-yo" toy)

Hīnayāna: Literally: “Small Vehicle”. A pejorative term (now avoided by many modern Buddhists) for one of the three main branches of Buddhism, the other two being the Mahayana (the "great vehicle," to which Zen belongs) and the Vajrayana (the “diamond” vehicle, most commonly associated with Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Shingon). Many followers prefer to use the term Theravada, one branch of Buddhism under this category (Teaching of the Elders), to describe their beliefs, or more generally, "South Asian Buddhism."Although considered by adherents to be closest to the “original” form of Buddhism, South Asian Buddhism has also developed and been interpreted and reinterpreted in many ways through the centuries, such that all Buddhisms might be seen as "original" in their own unique ways. (Pronunciation = she and HE + tie a KNOt + German yes is "YA" + tie a KNOt )

Hokkai-jōin: The “cosmic mudra“– the positioning of the hands during traditional zazen practice. To perform the cosmic mudra, the left-hand typically rests on the right-hand, with the tips of the thumbs lightly touching. The open roundness stands is much like the mind in zazen. (Pronunciation = HOE the field + fly a KIte + JOIN together)

Hui-neng: (638-713 C.E.) the Sixth Chinese Ancestor in our Ancestral Line and legendary author of the Platform Sutra, a symbol of practice open to anyone despite education or lay status. (Pronunciation = WAY to go! + rhymes with "RUNG the bell")

Hungry Ghost: In traditional Buddhist imagery, a symbol of one filled with desires which can never be satisfied.

Impermanence (anicca): The impermanence of all things (dharmas), and the realization that clinging to things causes suffering, are basic Buddhist teachings.

Ino: Traditionally in a monastery, the zazen hall manager and supervisor of monk’s conduct, one of the seven positions of the senior staff. However, in Zen communities, the Ino role also involves the recitation of chants and dedications of merit during ceremonies, and is often combined with the role of Doan.

Inkin: A portable bell which usually sits atop a lacquered wooden handle, often with a drape of material that covers the user’s hand. It is used in ceremonies and in any service where a portable bell is needed. (Pronunciation = IN and out + family is KIN)

Jiki-jitsu (also "Jiko"): The timekeeper for a sesshin or for any meditation gathering.

Jizo Bodhisattva: (Kṣitigarbha in Sanskrit). A symbol of rescue from suffering, a patron of the vulnerable, including women in childbirth, those who have died in childbirth, and aborted or miscarried children and those who have died after birth. (Pronunciation = JESus + OH my!)

Jundo: Broadly speaking, ‘jundo’ can mean any ritual circuit or circumambulation for ceremony or practice. This is a different Japanese word from the "Jundo" of Jundo Cohen, which is a Dharma Name that means "Pure Way." (Pronunciation = month of JUNE + bread DOE)

Jukai: Bestowing and Undertaking the Bodhisattva Precepts, a central practice of the Way. Jukai is a significant step marked by a ceremony of the same name, and signifies a serious commitment to the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts and practicing the Zen path as a way of life. (Pronunciation = JEWish + fly a KIte)

Juzu (Beads): More common in chanting sects of Buddhism, less employed in Zen, but often found simply as a worn symbol of living in a Buddhist way. (Pronunciation = JEWish + lion at the ZOO)

Karma: The Buddhist doctrine of cause and effect. Generally, good actions help bring good results, and harmful actions tend to cause harm. The effect of an action taken today might be immediate, or sometime in the future or (in common traditional Buddhist beliefs) even during some future life. The important point to remember is that no actions are isolated and independent; all are tied together in cause and effect. (Pronunciation = drive a CAR + pa and MA)

Kalpa: An eon. In the ancient Indian world view, the incredibly long length of time that a universe exists. (Pronunciation = CALifornia + PA and ma)

Kannon: A shortened form of "Kanzeon Bodhisattva," a symbol of compassion, also called "Avalokiteśvara". (More on Kannon, and other Bodhisattvas, here: https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...Long-Series%29 ) (Pronunciation = tricky CONman + catholic NUN )

Keizan: Keizan Jōkin 1264-1325), a fourth generation dharma heir of Dōgen, the founder of the Soto lineage in Japan, and often heralded as a co-founder with Dogen of Soto Zen in Japan because of his great work of popularizing and spreading the Soto teachings widely throughout Japan. Among other texts, he is credited with writing Zazen-Yōjinki (Notes to be Aware of in Zazen) (Pronunciation = possessive letter "K's" + off and ON)

Kekka fuza: See, "Lotus Posture."

Kenshō: (lit. “seeing the nature”) A glimpse of one’s own original nature and the true nature of reality. Some approaches to zen practice and zazen strive to bring about deep kenshō experiences, although such experiences are never the “end” of practice, and simply an important insight as we continuing our practice on the way. Eihei Dōgen, the Japanese founder of Soto Zen, did not use this term, however, to refer to an individual’s momentary experience, but rather as a term for coming to understand the nature of self and reality through practice at any moment. (Pronunciation = man's name KEN + t.v. SHOW)

Kesa: (From the Sanskrit “Kashaya”). A rectangular ceremonial vestment that is worn draped over the left shoulder by Buddhist monks in East Asia, and which is emblematic of the robes originally worn by Buddhist monks in India. A kesa is said to symbolize and embody the Buddhist teachings and our tradition. It is given to a new priest during the priest ordination ceremony, but can also be sewn and worn by lay practitioners in the Nyoho-e tradition (see, "Nyoho-e"). (Pronunciation = rhymes with GUESS + dentists says say "AH")

Kinhin: Walking meditation. When practicing kinhin in Sōtō zen style, walk slowly around the room, with a small one half-step at the top of each breath, holding your hand in shashu position (See "shashu" below). The inner attitude is the same as in "goalless" seated zazen, with each step complete, its own arrival and no other place to go. (Pronunciation = family is KIN + give me a HINt)

Kōan: (Ch. kung-an) A “public record,” a term derived from being much like a precedent in a Chinese legal case. Most Kōans, although depicting events of centuries earlier, were developed in the rich Zen literary tradition that flourished in Sung Dynasty China. Rinzai Zen teachers Ta-Hui and Hakuin advocated Kōan introspection focused on a Kōan story or phrase from a Kōan during Zazen, often quiet intensely. In Soto Zen, however, Kōans are typically approached more as teaching stories, using music, poetry, creative gestures and frequent humor to express some difficult to express aspects of Zen teachings beyond ordinary words and logic. Kōans are a rich repository of Ch’an and Zen teaching, and are used as such throughout the Zen traditions. (Pronunciation = CO-pilot + off and ON)

Koromo: The dark, long sleeved robes typically worn by a Zen priest under the Kesa robe. Unlike the Kesa, which is a symbol of our Teachings, the Koromo is merely formal clothes worn to honor tradition. (Pronunciation = CO-pilot + ROW a boat + man's name MOE)

Kyosaku: (often called "Keisaku" in Rinzai Zen lineages), a stick used by a hall monitor to strike the shoulders of Zazen sitters and wake them when they are dozing, or to correct posture. The striking is thought to stimulate the body, and is not intended as an act of violence. However, we tend not to use the Kyosaku at Treeleaf. (Pronunciation = toKYO + bag is a SACK)

Lineage: The line of generations of teachers who have developed and kept the flame of the Zen teachings alive through the millennia. Although the very early history is largely mythological, it stands for the very real men and women who walked this path and nurtured it. In addition to the traditional lineage celebration in Sōtō Zen, our Sangha (Community) also celebrates the lineage of women and differently-abled ancestors who must also be remembered.

Lotus Posture: To sit with the left foot on the right thigh and the right foot on the left thigh, the so-called "full lotus" position (kekka fuza), or with one foot on the opposite thigh and the other foot under the opposite thigh, the so-called "half lotus" position (hanka fuza). Although the Lotus Postures are traditional for Zazen, we recommend the "Burmese Posture" with both ankles on the ground rather than the thigh, or sitting in a chair or on a seiza bench.

Lotus Sutra (Sanskrit: Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra): A Mahayana Buddhist scripture which teaches that all living things have the Buddha Nature and can attain Buddhahood, and which contains many parables and images much prized by Master Dōgen and other Zen teachers.

Mahāyāna: Literally: “Great Vehicle”. One of the three main branches of Buddhism, the other two being the South Asian "Hīnayāna" (the "lessor vehicle," a pejorative term now avoided by many modern Buddhists, and most commonly associated today with the Theravada schools of Buddhism), and the Vajrayana (“diamond” vehicle, a form of tantric practice most commonly associated with Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Shingon). In the Mahāyāna, less emphasis is typically placed on nirvana as individual salvation, and more emphasis placed on saving all sentient beings. Although Mahāyāna is the branch to which zen belongs and zen traces its origin back to the Buddha himself, in fact Mahāyāna, Hīnayāna /Theravāda and Vajrayāna are each their own flowerings and developments of Buddhism, each developing in the centuries after the time of Buddha. (Pronunciation = pa and MA + laugh HA + german yes "YA" + tie a KNOt)

Maitreya Buddha: Usually considered in traditional Buddhist mythology as the "future buddha" to someday come, a symbol of hope for the future. (Pronunciation = yours and MY + silver TRAY + german yes "YA")

Makyō: Unpleasant or distracting thoughts or illusions that occur during zazen, usually occuring just as a passing and temporary distraction as the mind plays tricks. (Pronunciation = pa and MA + toKYO)

Manjushri (Ma˝juśrī) Bodhisattva (or Monju): The bodhisattva of wisdom, Manjushri, is often the central point of altars in the Zen tradition, depicted usually as a monk seated in zazen or as a figure sitting astride a lion. (Pronunciation = jamaican "yes MAN" + orange JUICE + REAd a book )

Master: A traditional term for a teacher of Zen, much like a "master carpenter" or "master musician" who embodies a traditional skill. However, mastery is living, and never an end.

Menpeki: (Jap., ‘facing the wall’). Zen description of the nine years which Bodhidharma spent ‘facing the wall’ in zazen. Soto Zazen sitters typically sit facing the wall, rather than facing into the room as do most Rinzai Zen sitters, while sitting zazen. (Pronunciation = boys and MEN + bird's PECK + letter E f g)

Merit: Literally the "virtue" or "power" of "good deeds," including sitting zazen or performing a ceremony or other practice, which merit can be given away (transferred) to others for good karmic effect. At Treeleaf, we tend to speak more of a dedication of our aspirations for the welfare of others, and the hope that our acts will have good effects in the world to help other sentient beings.

Middle Way: The Way beyond the opposites and extremes.

Mindfulness: Awareness; remembering that all things are interrelated; living with care and awareness.

Mokugyo: (Literally: ‘wooden fish’) A traditional Japanese temple instrument played during services to set the pace of certain chants, and often decorated with a fish design. (Pronunciation = man's name MOE + weather is COO+ "biG YO-yo" toy)

Mokusho: See, “silent illumination”.

Mondo (Questions & Answers, usually on the theme of a Kōan, and sometimes called "Dharma Combat"): Aggressive and playful Dharma combat on Kōans is typically most common in the Rinzai Zen tradition, although Soto folks do wrestle with the Kōans and teachings too. (Pronunciation = jamaican "hey MAN" + bread DOUGH)

Monk (Sanskrit, bhikkhu): Someone residing primarily in a monastic setting, so generally not a term for priests living in households out in the world. However, priests may sometimes reside in a monastery for their training, during which time they can be described as "monks."

Mudra: A position of the hands which is symbolic of a certain attitude or activity, such as teaching or protecting. Although mudra can refer to the whole body, in common usage this term most often refers to the hand positions chosen for statues of the Buddha, as well as those adopted by Buddhist practitioners in ritual settings and during zazen. Each hand position is symbolic of certain characteristics such as supreme wisdom or serenity. The most common mudra in Soto Zen are the "Gassho" and "Hokkai-jōin" (see above). (Pronunciation = in the MOOD + cheer "RAH rah rah")

Mushotoku: No profit, no goal, no object. The essential attitude of not running after, not grasping in Zen practice. (Pronunciation = cow's MOO + t.v. SHOW + foot TOE + weather is COOl)

Nine Prostrations (Bows): A particularly large number of bows, over the usual three, showing particular veneration.

Nirvana (Pali, nibbana): Literally: cessation or extinction. Nirvana simply means an end to samsara, or cyclic existence, i.e. the rounds of suffering in this life and, perhaps, the end of need to return for any future lives. In the Mahayana tradition, the Bodhisattva postpones entry into nirvana until all sentient beings are saved. However, "final nirvana" can mean the ultimate escape from the round of rebirth that Shakyamuni Buddha attained upon his death, as opposed to the "nirvana with remainder" that was attained upon awakening and becoming a buddha in life. "Final nirvana" can thus be a euphemistic reference to the death of any Buddhist monk.

Nishijima Gudō Wafu Roshi (1919-2014): The teacher of Jundo Cohen.

Niwa Rempo Zenji: The teacher of Nishijima Gudo Wafu, and former Abbot of Eiheiji Head Temple as well as Head of the Soto Zen sect in Japan.

Nyohō-e: A school and way of sewing the Kesa and Rakusu robes as an embodiment of the buddhadharma. (Pronunciation = "tiN YO-yo" toy + HOE the ground + man's name "E"dward)

Okesa: See, "Kesa."

Oryoki: (lit. “just enough”) A formal, ritualized eating practiced for meals in a monastic or retreat setting. The word "oryoki" actually refers to the specific collection of napkins, utensils and especially bowls used for this style of eating. This set is traditionally given to a monk upon ordination. Oryoki is a beautiful practice of grateful, sacred eating. (Pronunciation = OH my gosh + brazil RIO + lock KEY)

Osho: A general, respectful title in Soto Zen for any priest who has received Dharma Transmission; Unlike in Rinzai Zen lineages, in Soto Zen lineages it generally does not denote a particular rank. (Pronunciation = OH my gosh + t.v. SHOW)

Pāramitā ("Perfection" of "Virtue") The Paramitas are the qualities that arise and represent the life of the Bodhisattva, and include (1) giving (dāna) (2) keeping of the Precepts (sīla) (3) patience (kṣānti) (4) vigor (vīrya) (5) zazen (dhyāna) and (6) wisdom (praj˝ā). (Pronunciation = PARAchute + gathering to MEET + dentist says say "AH")

Perfections: See, "Paramitas."

Practice: To learn the teachings, and to engage in actions to embody and master those teachings, including especially the sitting of Zazen, and to put all into practice in life.

Praj˝ā: “Wisdom,” seeing clearly. Wisdom and insight into the nature of reality, arising naturally from zazen and all practice. (Pronunciation = rhymes with TAJ mahal + tie a KNOt)

Praj˝āpāramitā: The perfection or virtue of insight into Praj˝ā, wisdom. See, "Pāramitā" and "Praj˝ā".

Pratyekabuddha: One who becomes enlightened as a result of his/her own efforts, but does not share his/her understanding with others. Such practice is generally not considered in keeping with the bodhisattva vow to rescue all sentient beings.

Precepts: Rules of moral behavior that are guides for individual Buddhists in their life and practice. See, "Bodhisattva Precepts."

Prostration: A full bow onto the knees or floor, meant as an act of humility and gratitude.

Rakusu: A small version of Buddha’s patched robe, the "Kesa," suspended from cloth straps and worn around the neck. Usually, each recipient sews his or her own and receives it from the Preceptor during a Jukai ceremony. See, "Jukai" and "Kesa." (Pronunciation = coat RACK + pigeon COO + woman's name SUE)

Retreat: A gathering, typically of a day or several days, for the concentrated practice of zazen. See, "Sesshin."

Rinzai-shu: One of the three schools of Zen still active in Japan, the others being Sōtō and Obaku (a Chinese branch of Rinzai). The Rinzai tradition places more emphasis on kōan introspection work during seated zazen than the Soto tradition. (Pronunciation = rhymes with "LYNN'S EYE" + wear a SHOE)

Rōhatsu: (lit. “8th Day of the 12th Month”) A period of the calendar year approaching New Years, marking Buddha’s Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Often, a rōhatsu sesshin (zazen retreat) early in December is held in celebration of this auspicious occasion. In our Treeleaf community, we celebrate together a rōhatsu retreat each year. (Pronunciation = ROW a boat + plural "colds and HOTS")

Rōshi: (lit. “old teacher”), usually a senior teacher in the Zen tradition. The term is often misunderstood in the West to mean “enlightened being”. In fact, it is a term of respect often used for any older teacher. (Pronunciation = ROW a boat + he and SHE)

Samādhi: Literally “concentration, meditation”. Originally samadhi, like dhyāna, referred to a deep state of concentrated or one-pointed meditation, almost a trance, but later in Mahayana Buddhism and Sōtō Zen, it came to mean the open, fluid, clear, choiceless state of mind common in zazen. (Pronunciation = season SUMMEr + letter c D e)

Saṃsāra: In Buddhist thought, this is the continuing cycle of birth, death and rebirth, but it can also mean just this confused and messy, day-to-day world in which we live. All beings are trapped in this difficult cycle or state of confusion until see beyond the same in enlightenment. Samsara is looked upon in a negative light because of all the suffering that life entails (as elucidated in the First Noble Truth; See, "Four Noble Truths"), the suffering of existence in the ordinary world of self-interest, greed, hate, and delusion. In Zen, when one finds the wisdom of Buddha within Samsara, then Samsara and Nirvana are seen as one. (Pronunciation = christian PSALM + spanish "que SARA")

Samu: Work Practice. This is labor, usually physical, done in a mindful and aware manner. Periods of samu are often part of monastic life or a sesshin (See, "Sesshin") or other zen retreat, although it can be performed at any time, and can even include child-care, cooking at home or work at our ordinary jobs. Samu can be understood as a form of "zazen in motion" done while working. (Pronunciation = christian PSALM + cow MOO)

Samu-e: Japanese style working or everyday clothes for a Zen Buddhist monk or lay person. (Pronunciation = Christian PSALM + cow MOO + man's name "E"dward)

Sandokai (The Identity of Relative and Absolute): A Zen scripture written by Ancestor Sekito Kisen (Chinese: Shitou Xiqian) which emphasizes the identity and harmonising of the all is one and the all is different, often chanted in Zen ceremonies. (Pronunciation = rhymes with "james BOND" + OH my! + fly a KIte)

Sangha: Zen community practicing together. In its largest sense, all living beings everywhere make up our universal sangha, though when commonly used, sangha means our fellow Buddhists everywhere, or the particular people in the Zen community with whom we practice. [See, “Three Treasures”] (Pronunciation = spanish SANGria (pronounced correctly!) + dentist says say "AH" )

Sange: Literally "contrition" or "repentance." The sincere recognition of harm done to others and oneself through greed, anger and ignorance in our acts, words and thoughts. (Pronunciation = spanish SANGria (pronounced correctly!) + man's name "E"dward )

Satori: A deep state of insight in which notions of duality, self and indeed all concepts drop away; the distinction between satori and kenshō is a matter of some disagreement. Satori need not be just an experience in a single moment, but a gradual, subtle yet profound awareness and understanding. (Pronunciation = rhymes with HOT + foot TOE + REAd a book )

Sawaki Kōdō ("Homeless Kōdō," 1880-1965): One of the great teachers of Shikantaza Zazen, and a teacher of Nishijima Rōshi, with much influence upon our practice in our Sangha.

Seiza: A sitting position where one kneels and sits back onto the heels. The traditional Japanese posture of seiza is a bit different from what westerners typically think of as "seiza" on a "seiza bench" (see "seiza bench," below), for in Japan on typically sit directly on the heels without use of a bench. (Pronunciation = "SAY hello" + ZAzen)

Seiza Bench: A wood bench, very common in the west, for sitting zazen in a comfortable, balanced, crouched position.

Service: A period of bowing, chanting, and making offerings to the Buddhas and Ancestors.

Sensei: A term often used for a Zen priest in the west, although not so common in Japan. In fact, "Sensei" is a Japanese word which can also refer to any senior expert or teacher more generally, and is used in Japan to refer to medical doctors, lawyers, politicians or the like. In the west, "Sensei" and "Rōshi" are often used to denote particular ranks of Zen teachers, but they are not traditionally used in such sense in Japan or China. (Pronunciation = dollars and CENts + "SAY hello")

Sentient Beings: Generally, human beings and those animals which are self-aware and can self-reflect. In some interpretations, even the "insentient" things of the world, such as trees and stones, are "sentient" in some sense.

Sesshin: (Literally: ‘gather or touch the mind’) An intensive meditation retreat often lasting a week or longer, but sometimes just a few days, when the ordinary schedule of daily observance is adjusted to maximize the hours spent in zazen and dedicated practice. (Pronunciation = SAId is past say + leg SHIN)

Shakuhachi: A Japanese flute, traditionally made of bamboo. It was used by the monks of the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism in the practice of "suizen" (blowing meditation), often while wandering.

Shakyamuni: A name for the Buddha before his enlightenment (although he is often referred to as "Shakyamuni Buddha"), meaning "the Sage of the Shakya Clan." (Pronunciation = electric SHOCK + german yes "YA" + full MOON + leg KNEE)

Shashu: A mudra (see "mudra") used when standing or walking in formal practice situations. The left hand gently makes a fist around the thumb and is held against the body at the solar plexus (right below the breastbone); the right hand gently covers the left. (Pronunciation = SHOpping + wear a SHOE)

Shravaka One whose understanding of the Dharma (Buddhist Teachings) is merely intellectual.

Shihō: See, "Dharma Transmission." (Pronunciation = he and SHE + HOE the ground)

Shikantaza: (“just sitting that hits the mark”) A form of zazen in which no mental aids such as counting the breath, a Kōan or mantra are depended upon, whereby one sits in the open awareness of just sitting as a complete and fulfilling act without other goal or need but to sit. (Pronunciation = razor SHICK +philosopher KANT + road TAr + ZAzen

Shōbōgenzō ("The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye"): A much treasured collection of essays and talks by Dōgen, the founder of the Sōtō line in Japan. (Pronunciation = t.v. SHOW + tie a BOW + "do it aGAIN + clown boZO)

Shoshin: A concept in Zen Buddhism meaning "beginner's mind". It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. (Pronunciation = t.v. SHOW + leg SHIN )

Shuso: The Head Monk of an Ango practice period. (Pronunciation = wear a SHOE + SEW a thread)

Siddhartha Gautama: A name for the Buddha in India prior to enlightenment (although he is often referred to as "Gautama Buddha"), consisting of his first name and family name.

Silent Illumination: The style of "just sitting" Zazen common in China from which Master Dōgen developed his "Shikantaza" expression of the same. See, "Shikantaza."

Sōryo: The Japanese term for a Buddhist monk/priest, and preferable in many ways to those terms (priest, nun, monk) inherited from other religions as Buddhism came west; it means “sangha companion.” See, "sangha." (Pronunciation = SEW a thread + brazil RIO)

Sōtō: One of the three schools of Zen in Japan, the others being Rinzai and Obaku (See, "Rinzai-shu"). In this tradition, brought from China in the 13th century by the monk Eihei Dōgen, the primary emphasis is placed on shikantaza zazen (See, "Shikantaza). (Pronunciation = SEW a thread + foot TOE)

Śūnyatā: See, "Emptiness."

Sutra: A scripture regarded as having been spoken by the Buddha.

Taku: Wooden clappers, two pieces of hard wood, held parallel and struck together, making a sharp clack as a signal during various ceremonies. (Pronunciation = mexican TACo + pigeon COO)

Takuhatsu: Monastic begging rounds. (Pronunciation = mexican TACo + pigeon COO + plural "colds and HOTS")

Tan: The raised platform for sitting zazen in a zendo, as seen at Treeleaf Zendo in Japan. (Pronunciation = rhymes with man's name "RON")

Tathāgata: Literally, "thus come," an epithet for a Buddha.

Teisho: (lit. “demonstrate the shout”). Commonly: a Dharma talk by a Zen teacher giving original commentary on a Zen story. (Pronunciation = rhymes with month of MAY + t.v. SHOW)

Tendō Nyojō (Tiantong Rujing, 1163-1228): Dōgen's teacher in China.

Tenzo: The Head Cook of the monastery. Dōgen's writing "Tenzo Kyōkun" (Instructions for the Cook) is much cherished in Sōtō Zen as a guide, not only to the attitudes of temple cooking, but in all of our tasks in life. (Pronunciation = many numbers 10's + OH my)

Threefold prostration [Sanpai]: An expression of humility and gratitude through full body prostration three times. ((Pronunciation = almost sing a SONg + eat PIE)

Three Treasures: The Buddha, Dharma (the Teachings), and Sangha (community of practitioners) honored in Buddhism.

Tokudo (Ordination, "Taking the Way") or Shukke Tokudo (Homeleaving Ordination): The Ordination of a new novice priest-in-training.

Unsui. A priest in training. A novice priest undertaking training after ordination. It means "clouds and water," indicating the flexible and fluid mind which such training requires. (Pronunciation = (Pronunciation = spanish 1 is UNo + SWAY the swing

Upaya: Expedient or skillful means. The ability of a buddha or bodhisattva to preach the dharma in a manner that is appropriate to the level of understanding of the listener, and to skillfully assist all living beings in overcoming suffering and delusion. (Pronunciation = me and yOU (without y) + eat PIE + german yes "YA")

Verse of Atonement (San Ge Mon): A recitation in which we reflect upon the acts, words and thoughts of excess desire, anger, jealousy and other divided thinking which we have committed, vowing to do better for the future.

Vesak: The celebration of the Buddha's birthday, more commonly known in Japan as "Hana Matsuri" (the Flower Festival), and celebrated each year on April 8th in Japan (unlike in the rest of Asia, where it is usually a different date each year).

Vimalakīrti and Vimalakīrti Sutra: A great lay bodhisattva and his Sutra, a symbol of the power of lay practice.

Virtues: See, "Pāramitās."

Wisdom: See "Bodhi."

Zabuton: A large, rectangular mat made of fabric-covered cotton batting, usually placed under the zafu. See, "zafu." (Pronunciation = ZAzen + ghost says BOO + throat TONsile)

Zafu: A round cushion used to support the spine during zazen. (Pronunciation = ZAzen + eat FOOd)

Zagu: A rectangular cloth carried by priests and spread out to sit or make prostrations upon. (Pronunciation = ZAzen + sticky GOO)

Zazen: Our central practice. Literally “seated zen”, zazen can refer to several practices, but in the Soto Zen tradition almost always equates with Shikantaza (See above). As well, "zazen" in wide meaning is sometimes said to be all our daily activities, not just seated meditation, when undertaken with the attitude of zazen. (Pronunciation = shop at the bazZAr + ZEN)

Zazenkai: A group gathering devoted to zazen.

Zen: Zen, or Ch’an as it was called in China, is a branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism that first arose in China in sixth and seventh centuries after Buddhism had earlier come to China from India, the birthplace of Shakyamuni Buddha. When Mahāyāna Buddhism was introduced it was influenced by the indigenous Chinese traditions of Confucianism and Taoism. Some scholars believe, for example, that it was from interaction with aspects of Taoism that Zen developed its particular approach to traditional Buddhist teachings. From China, Zen spread to Japan, Korea and Vietnam, and now to the west.

Zendō: Zen room or hall. This is the main room, whether it be in a monastery, a Zen center or your own home, where zazen and other Zen practices are observed. (Pronunciation = ZEN + bread DOUGH)

08-22-2020, 08:00 AM
This is tremendous. Thanks Jundo
Sat today

08-22-2020, 01:07 PM
Thanks, Jundo for putting this together. I'm always going to the glossary in the back of whatever book I'm reading. Very nice.


08-22-2020, 01:45 PM
Thank you



08-22-2020, 03:22 PM
Thems a lot of big words around sitting [claps]

Thanks I will refer back here.


08-22-2020, 04:28 PM
I can't help but wonder of there is some techno-voodoo-magic that Sekishi can do to turn this glossary into more of a searchable repository as opposed to just a message thread? Just a thought.


I am not sure how searchable you wish it to be, but besides the "search function" for the whole forum toward the top right corner of each page, there is a "search thread" (search within in this thread) function in the bar at the top of the thread above.

Would that do it?

Gassho, J


08-22-2020, 05:02 PM
This will be very helpful, thank you.


08-22-2020, 05:59 PM
What a nice reference.

Sat. LAH.

08-22-2020, 06:06 PM
I can't help but wonder of there is some techno-voodoo-magic that Sekishi can do to turn this glossary into more of a searchable repository as opposed to just a message thread? Just a thought.



Good suggestion I hope it comes to be.


08-23-2020, 02:49 AM
I can't help but wonder of there is some techno-voodoo-magic that Sekishi can do to turn this glossary into more of a searchable repository as opposed to just a message thread? Just a thought.



Good suggestion I hope it comes to be.


I fear we are spoiled by google. Jundo painstakingly arranged it in alphabetical order. I won't complain:p


08-23-2020, 03:11 AM
I fear we are spoiled by google. Jundo painstakingly arranged it in alphabetical order. I won't complain:p


Yes, good point. I just stumble finding things again:)


08-24-2020, 02:36 PM
This is awesome - thank you Jundo



Tai Shi
12-07-2020, 03:00 AM
When I was new to our Zendo, I stumbled along. I have since grained computer skills. I don't believe, more system would have made learning easier.
Tai Shi
sat lah

Sent from my SM-T113 using Tapatalk

Kevin M
12-10-2020, 12:59 AM


01-14-2021, 12:07 AM
Thank you for this, Master Jundo. This has been very helpful for me.


01-14-2021, 12:17 AM
Nice Jundo gassho1. You might want to show pronunciation - you know "Rakusu" (RAK-OO-SOO) is challenging with my heavy "up North" UK accent! [morehappy]

My "Unsui" (UN-SOO-EE) is even worse!

Gassho, Chris sat/lah

01-14-2021, 12:38 AM
Thank You,

I will keep it handy and bookmark it for future reference when unsure.


01-14-2021, 04:12 AM
Nice Jundo gassho1. You might want to show pronunciation - you know "Rakusu" (RAK-OO-SOO) is challenging with my heavy "up North" UK accent! [morehappy]

My "Unsui" (UN-SOO-EE) is even worse!

Gassho, Chris sat/lah

Your wish is my command. I just did almost all of them. If anyone has a better suggestion for any, let me know.

For example: Oryoki (Pronunciation = OH my gosh + brazil RIO + lock KEY)

Mahayana (Pronunciation = pa and MA + laugh HA + german yes "YA" + tie a KNOt)

Gassho, J


PS - There is actually an old Buddhist tradition of teaching pronunciation this way. Do you know about the old pictorial Heart Sutras? Some could be a little bawdy ... e.g., a dog peeing (4th column from left) in the below makes a "sa" sound in Japanese, used for the "sa" sound in "bodhiSAttva" in this Heart Sutra. It was mostly for people who were not Kanji literate in old Japan. A couple of boxes above that, are two breasts for the "chi" sound (breasts = "chichi" in Japanese). All the objects are from samurai days, so even many modern Japanese would have to guess what some of the pictures represent.


A scholar's paper on the topic


01-14-2021, 07:17 AM
Thank you Jundo! [morehappy]gassho1

When I say
RACK + pigeon COO + woman's name SUE you burst out laughing though!

Gassho, Chris sat/lah