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Note: A number of words and their uses are important to the study
of Zen and Ch'an and these have been gleened from a number of sources.
Keeping in mind that the visitors to this page are likely to be beginners,
laymen, and loners, and equally likely that they will be exposed to a wide
number of sources on their own, this glossary has been assembled. When a word
might hold special significance to the home-practitioner a footnote has ben
alaya: spiritual storehouse of all the potentialities of life, regarded as our true home and our ultimate destination; the infinitely existent self-nature experienced directly by the Buddha, that is possible for everybody.
anatta: the "not-self" idea of man's true nature, not conceivable my the human mind, because that mind knows only objects, and therefore what men call "myself" is not in any respect themselves, but a bundle of five tendencies called skandhas (heaps)
Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi: unexcelled complete enlightenment, an attribute of every Buddha, the highest, correct and complete or universal knowledge or awareness, the perfect wisdom, omniscience.
Avalokitesvara: Kanzeon, Kwannon, etc. Bodhisattva of compassion, benevolence, portrayed as a female or a male
Avatamsaka Sutra: (Kegon) Mahayana sutra embodying the sermons given by the Buddha immediately following his perfect enlightenment. Known as the "King of Kings" of all Buddhist scriptures because of its profundity and great length (81 rolls - 1500 pages), this Sutra contains the most complete explanation of the Buddha's state and the Bodhisattva's quest for Awakening.
Awakening of Faith: (Mahayana-Sraddhotpada-Sastra or Ta-ch'eng Ch'i-Hsin Lun) attributed to Asvaghosha, a comprehensive summary of Mahayana Buddhism, a discourse on one mind, two aspects, three Greatnesses, Four Faiths, Five Practices. Recommended.
Bodhidharma: the 28th Patriarch in line from the buddha, and the 1st Patriarch of Zen in China; came from China to India; did steady "wall gazing" zazen for nine years in the mountains in a cave.
Bodhi-mind: intrinsic wisdom; enlightened heart/mind
Bodhisattva: a Mahayanist seeking enlightenment to enlighten others, an enlightened one who devoid of egoism and is dedicated to helping others attain liberation; a high stage of Buddhahood through self-mastery, wisdom and compassion, but not yet supremely enlightened or fully perfected; persons and/or personifications of abstract principles realized in humanity; an enlightened being who renounces entry into nirvana until all other beings are saved.
Bodhisattva of Compassion: Avalokiteshvara, Kanzeon, Kwannon, Kuan Yin, Kannon; all embracing love and benevolence
Buddha: Sanskrit, 1) ultimate truth or absolute Mind, and 2) awakened one or enlightened one to the true nature of existence. The Buddha refers to a historical person, Siddhartha Gautama of the Shakyas or Shakyamuni, a tireless teacher, who suited the teaching to his audience. Eventually his sermons and dialogues were recorded as sutras or scriptures which now comprise the doctrines. The Zen sect accepts the historic Buddha neither as a Supreme Deity nor as a savior, but venerates him as a fully awakened, fully perfected human being who attained liberation of body and mind through his own human efforts. In other epochs there were other Buddhas who walked the same path, attained to the same level of perfection, and preached the same Dharma. That we are all Buddhas from the very first refers to our equal potential for such realization. One who has experienced one's own Buddha-nature realizes the first stage of Buddhahood, but the degree of enlightenment and perfection of a Buddha is vastly different than the man of average enlightenment. Various classifications of the stages are expressed in the sutras. The Buddha attained enlightenment on his home in a forest. The "forest tradition" is an inspiration to the Zen practitioner practicing on their own in the footsteps of the Buddha.
Buddha-Karita Sutra: Mahayana sutra, the life and teachings of the Buddha to his entrance into Nirvana
Buddha-nature: our true, perfect, complete, underlying nature; intrinsic to sentient and insentient beings.
Buddhism: the Buddha's Dharma; 1) southern tradition, Theravada or Hinayana or "Small Vehicle" and 2) northern tradition, Mahayana, or "Great Vehicle."
Bhutatathata: The Absolute. The ultimate state of reality, where even the state of absoluteness disappears.
Ch'an or Chan: Name of mind; Ch'an being name and mind being substance; ( wrongly interpreted merely as meditation, abstraction or dhyana).
Dana: the first paramita; charity, almsgiving, generosity of money, goods, or doctrine.
Delusion: deception, contrary to true reality and the real meaning of existence; ignorance, unawareness, due to sense consciousness that accepts the phenomenal world as the whole of reality.
Dharma: universal Law, phoenomena or things when without a capital, Truth, reliogion, Buddhist doctrine, teachings of the Buddha, anything Buddhist, the second of the 3 Treasures or the Triple Jewel..
Dharma combat: a joust or battle of "wits" involving words and demonstrative actions beyond conventional meaning and pointing to one's understanding Truth or realization of enlightenment. Stems from a Chinese tradition of testing one's understanding by traveling from master to master in pilgrimages and engaging in tests and challenges.
dharmadhatu: dharma realm, the unifying underlying spiritual reality, regarded as the ground or cause of all things, the absolute from which all proceeds.
dharma door: any doctrine, method, school, etc. of the Buddha or of Buddhism regarded as a door to one's enlightenment.
Dharma-Master: A master of the Law who is qualified to explain and comment on the sutras in the Dharma hall.
dhyana: Sanskrit, meditation, abstract contemplation; method of attaining enlightenment by means of correct meditation or contemplation, the fifth of the six paramitas.
dhyana-samadhi: Ch'an's samadhi, or state of imperturbability reached in the successful practice of Ch'an.
Diamond Cutter of Doubts: A commentary on the Diamond Sutra by Ch'an master Han Shan (Ming Dynasty)
Diamond Sutra: Vajracchedika Prajna Paramita, Mahayana sutra, One of the most profound of all sutras.
diamond prajna: diamond wisdomm, the wisdom inherent in man's nature which is indestructable, like a diamond.
dokusan: ("going alone to a higher one") a one-to-one encounter with a Zen master in his chamber in which the student's understanding is probed and stimulated and in which a student may consult the teacher on any matter arising directly out of practice. A key element of Rinzai Zen. Typically, there is no dokusan when practicing alone at home or in small groups.
dukkha: Sanskrit, suffering, misery, being a nessary attribute of sentient existence; the first of the Four Noble Truths.
ego: awareness of oneself as a discrete individuality; delusion; resulting from dualistic conception of myself (subjective) and not-myself or other (objective) that culminates in endless rounds of suffering or samsara.
ego and dharma: ego and things, the most subtle dualism which must be wiped out before enlightenment can be obtained.
enlightenment: self-realization; Tozan identified 5 degrees from lowest to highest: 1) the world of phenomena is dominant, but perceived as a dimension of self; 2) diversity recedes into the background and the undifferentiated aspect comes to the fore; 3) no awareness of body or mind remains; 4) the singularity of each object is perceived at its highest degree of uniqueness; 5) form and emptiness mutually penetrate to such a degree that no longer is there consciousness of either. Ideas of satori or delusion vanish in this stage of perfect inner freedom.
Four Vows: 1) "Sentient beings are countless, I vow to save them all. 2) Tormenting passions are innumerable, I vow to uproot them all. 3) The gates (i.e., levels of truth) of the Dharma are manifold, I vow to pass through them all. 4) The Buddha's Way is peerless, I vow to realize it." In the Zen temple they are recited three times in succession after the close of zazen.
gassho: the hands are placed palm to palm about a fist away from the face with elbows out horizontally in a bow that indicates respect, gratitude, humility. As recognition of the oneness of all things, it is a bow to oneself, or in recognition of Buddha in all things.
great mirror wisdom: perfect, all-reflecting Buddha-wisdom.
guest and host: the phenomenal and the fundamental (subjective, objective).
hara: a center or source of energy and stability one to two inches below the navel; a person's spiritual center.
Heart Sutra: (Prajnaparamitahridaya or Shingyo), Mahayana sutra, short, important, and central to Zen, and chanted; explains the meaning of Prajna-paramita, the perfection of wisdom that is able to clearly perceive the emptiness of all phenomena
Hinayana: "Small Vehicle." Only existing school is Theravada, a school dedicated to preserving the Buddha's original teachings.
hishiryo: thinking without thinking, beyond thinking.
hua t'ou: literally, a word's or thoughts head, ante-word or ante-thought; the mind before it is stirred by a thought. A technique devised by enlightened masters who taught their disciples to concentrate their attention on the mind for the purpose of stopping all thoughts to attain singleness of mind and thereby realize if for the perception of their self-nature.
Hui Neng: the 6th Patriarch of Zen or Ch'an. His story is particularly noteworthy to laymen and those practicing at home alone.
inka: seal of approval; formal acknowledgment by the master that a disciple has fully completed his training under him -- in other words, "graduated," signifying passage through all the koans or satisfaction of understanding.
iron wall and silver mountain: metaphors pointing to the sense of frustration of those who reach a certain poin in their practice beyond which they cannot penetrate. This is to be expected practicing alone. The value of faith is that it can keep one practicing even when such frustrations arise.
jiriki: "one's own power," referring to a person's endeavor to attain enlightenment through his or her own efforts.
karma: moral action and reaction causing future retribution, and either good or evil transmigration; rounds of cause and effect; the present is a product of past thoughts and actions, and the future is preconditioned by our present thoughts and actions.
Kaatz!: A guttural upheaval or thunderous shout. Used to halt all dualistic, ego-centric, or discursive thoughts. Japanese: Katsu!; Chinese: Ho!
kensho: "seeing into one's own nature"; same as satori only implied to be not as deep; self-realization.
kinhin: walking zen practiced between individual sitting periods. Approximately 10 minutes between 50 minute periods of zazen, slow and synchoronized with in- and out-breathing. This is a practice that can be adapted at home alone or in small groups.
koan: Japanese, kung an (Chinese), kong-an (Korean), (pronounced in two syllables, ko-an, originally kept as "cases," or "public records"of enlightenment), a formulation, often in baffling language, pointing to ultimate Truth. All instructions given by enlightened masters are often viewed as koans; sometimes anything trying to be "solved" or "understood" or "seen" in terms of Zen. Koans can't be solved by recourse to logical reasoning but only by awakening a deeper level of the mind beyond the discursive intellect. A knot of doubt that results when a koan is grappled with can lead one to have a breakthrough ("let go" "make a leap") and "see" their Original Mind (see hua tou). There are several sources: Mumonkan, Hekigan-roku, Blue Cliff Record or Pi Yen Lu. Though it is possible to study and attempt to "solve" a koan in zazen practice on one's own, there is no way to check or receive verification without a Zen master. This line of practice is not recommended on one's own, at least not for the beginner.
Lankavatara Sutra: Mahayana sutra; an encyclopedia of Mahayanist thought and practice, including the bodhisattva vows, discipline, and compassion.
Lord of the House: Buddha in each being, Buddha Nature, Cosmic Buddha, Who is not explicable in terms of existence and non-existence or self and other.
Lotus Sutra: (Saddharma-Pundarika) Mahayana sutras (three in one), the core and culmination of the Buddha's teaching toward the end of his forty-year teaching ministry. At the heart: 1) All sentient beings can attain Perfect Enlightenment -- that is, buddhahood -- and nothing less is the appropriate final goal of believers; 2) The Buddha is eternal; and 3) The noblest form of Buddhist practice is the way of the bodhisattva, one who devotes himself to attaining enlightenment not only for himself but for all sentient beings. Usually includes the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings and The Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue.
Mahaparinirvana Sutra: a Mahayana sutra, (sometimes called the Nirvana Sutra), a sutra expounded by the Buddha after the Lotus Sutra but before his Nirvana.
Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra: a Mahayana sutra, said to have been expounded by the Buddha over several times, consisting of 600 rolls of text in 120 volumes, and considered to be the fundamental work on Wisdom.
Mahayana: the "Great Vehicle" which indicates Universalism, or Salvation for all, for all are Buddhas and will attain enlightenment. Of particular interest to students of Zen, recommended for those practicing alone, several of the sutras are listed here in this glossary.
Maitreya: the next Buddha, to come 5000 years after the historical Buddha. It is not recommended that you wait for this one.
makyo: appearance phenomena, often distracting, pleasant or unpleasant manifestations, feelings, visions, or halucinations during the practice of zazen; a mysterious apparition, particularly a vision or dream arising out of meditation. General advice is to not attach oneself to them, but to return to the focus of zazen. This is common and should be expected in home practice. Common advice is "cut it off" or "just let it go," but at this site we prefer to advise that if one observes this, just return to the focus of your zazen. Don't pay it any mind.
Manjusri: Bodhisattva of Wisdom (prajna) and meditation, often depicted sitting in meditation on a lion, which represents the wild self which meditation transforms, often shown holding the sword of Buddha's Wisdom which cuts through all delusion; placed on the Buddha's left with Samantabahdra on the right.
Marga: the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the extinction of suffering; the last of the Four Noble Truths.
mind: mind, heart, spirit, psyche, soul. Mind with a capital "M" is used for absolute Reality, total awareness, just hearing when listening, only seeing when looking, the experience of satori or self realization, often referred to as Big Mind, Unborn Mind, No-Mind, etc.
mind lamp: the lamp of the mind, inner light, wisdom.
mondo: a unique Zen dialogue between master and student, where the student asks a deeply perplexing question for clarification, or to test understanding akin to Dharma-combat, or a dialogue about Buddhism among masters.
monk: also priest, ordained disciples of Buddha, including novice trainees in a monastery, the master of a temple, but generally signifying one who has taken the Mahayana vows, although married people may be included.
monkey mind: the manifestations and phenomena (thoughts) of an active or "busy" mind that arise during zazen, often attributed to the struggling ego. Here is a humorous article that shows beautifully what monkey mind is like during zazen:
Mu!: Nothing, Not, Un, usually the first and most famous koan from the Mumon-kan or the Gateless Gate(48 koans).
mudra: manual gesture or form in yoga.
mushin: no-mind, or detachment of mind; complete freedom from dualistic thinking.
nirvana: complete extinction of individual existence; cessation of rebirth and entry into bliss;satori, pari-nirvana, nibbana, realization of the selfless "I"; the experience of Changelessness, of inner Peace and Freedom, a return to the original purity of Buddha-nature after dissolution of the physical body, i.e., to the Perfect Freedom of the unconditioned state.
one more step: a phrase used by the master that implies that the mind has reached a point where it needs one final thrust or leap to come to its own Self-realization. Practitioners at home without a master must induce themselves to always take one more step, in other words to continue practice.
oneness: with a small "o" this word means absorption to the point of self-forgetfulness. With a capital "O" it refers to the experience of the Void or Emptiness.
paramitas: The six methods of attaining enlightenment: dana (charity), sila (discipline), ksanti (patience or endurance), virya (zeal and progress), dhyana (meditation), and prajna (wisdom). The Zen method is traditionally involved with zazen (dhyana) but embraces a life of practice involving all six. Practitioners on their own at home should make every effort to include them all.
Patriarchs: the great masters who received and transmitted the Buddha's Dharma, 28 in India and 6 in China with Bodhidharma being both the 28th in India and the 1st in China.
Platform Sutra or Altar Sutra: (Tan-ching) Sutra spoken by the 6th Patriarch of Ch'an or Zen, Hui Neng or Eno, on the High Seat of the Treasure of the Law. Contains the essence of Buddhism, extending a call to Enlightenment, in, of, and through one's own understanding. The sutra consists of several addresses: his life, wisdom (prajna) questions and answers, samadhi and prajna, dhyana, repentance, temperament and circumstances, the gradual school and the sudden school, and final instructions. Recommended.
Pratyeka-Buddha: one who lives apart from others and attains enlightenment alone, or for himself, in contast with the altruism of the Bodhisattva principal.
prajna: insight, intuitive wisdom into the emptiness or the true nature of reality.
Rinzai: the sect of Rinzai or Lin Chi famous for his vivid speech and forceful methods, characterized by koans, one sits facing the room instead of the wall.
rohatsu: the sesshin of December 8 commemorating the Buddha's enlightenment.
roshi: venerable spiritual teacher, who's function is to guide and inspire disciples along the path to Self-realization without attempting to control or direct private lives, whether a monk or a layperson, a woman or a man.
Sanpo Kyodan: a growing sect of Zen that combines Rinzai and Soto practice and technique in the lineage of masters Yasutani, Harada, and Yamada. characterized by both shikantaza and koan practices.
samadhi: Sanskrit, equilibrium, tranquility, one-pointedness, a state of intense yet effortless concentration, of complete absorption of the mind in itself, of heightened and expanded awareness. Samadhi and Prajna are indentical from the view of the enlightened Bodhi-mind. Seen from the developing stages leading to satori awakening, however, samadhi and enlightenment are different; collected concentration in which subject is no different from object.
Samantabhadra: Bodhisattva of the fundamental Law, dhyana, and practices of all Buddhas, seated at the right hand of the Buddha with Manjusri at the left hand.
samsara: successions of birth and death, the world of relativity, the transformation which all phenomena, including our thoughts and feelings, are ceaselessly undergoing in accordance witht the law of causation. Birth and death have been compared to the repeated rising and falling of waves on the ocean where each wave preconditions the subsequent ones.
satori: Japanese, the experience of enlightenment, i.e., Self-realization, opening the Mind's eye, awakening to one's True-nature and hence of the nature of all existence; a state resulting from the realization of one's own enlightenment particularly the enlightenment experienced by the Buddha.
sealing of the mind: indicates the intuitive method of Zen or Ch'an which is independent of the spoken or written word.
seiza: the traditional Japanese posture of sitting, with the back straight and the buttocks resing on the heels.
Self-realization: the realization of Mind; satori.
Shastra: Literally "essays", these are writings that have been accepted as Mahayana or Zen canonical works.
shikantaza: "just sitting," zazen itself, without supporting devices such as breath-counting or koan study, characterized by intense, nondiscursive awareness, "zazen doing zazen for the sake of zazen."
shunyata: emptiness or void, without essence; a key notion of Buddhism.
Soto: one of several Zen sects that came to Japan from China. Founded by Dogen, characterized by "just sitting" or shikantaza, and one sits facing the wall instead of toward the room.
sila: precept, prohibition, command, discipline, rule, morality; the second paramita. To the extent that is possible within the laymen's life, one should adopt the precepts (some have been laid down for monks, others for laypeople, etc.) Any sincere home practice should include precepts.
skandhas: five aggregates of existence: form, feeling, ideation, reaction, consciousness, often called heaps. Zen practice is designed to help you beyond the hangups that develop from our attachments to these. The teachings of Mahayana doctrines is that these are all empty, null, and void.
subject and object: active and passive ideas that result from the formulation that begins with "I" and "other." Zen practice is an invitation to breaking down this thinking. The Zen koan usually works around problems arising from our stubborn attachment to this kind of thought and halts it or raises a doubt. During zazen "observing" the mind before such thinking arises is recommended in addition to merely counting breaths.
sutras: Sanskrit for "a string of jewels," Buddhist scriptures, dialogues and sermons of the Buddha, one of the twelve divisions of the Mahayana canon. The Pali canon were originally recorded in Pali, and the Mahayana in Sanskrit. Zen, unlike other sects, is not associated with any one sutra, giving the masters freedom to use as and if they see fit. The statement that Zen is a special transmission outside the scriptures, with no dependence on words or letters, only means that for the Zen sect Truth must be directly grasped and not taken on the authority of even the sutras, much less sought in lifeless intellectual formulas or concepts.
Sukhavati-Vyuha Sutra: Mahayana Sutra, late teachings of the Buddha on how to be born in the Pure Land and three kinds of good actions: world goodness, morality (sila), and practice.
Surangama Sutra: Mahayana sutra dealing at length with successive steps for the attainment of supreme enlightenment. The Buddha revealed the causes of illusion causes of illusion leading to the creation of all worlds of existence and the methods of getting out of them. The most detailed explanation of the Buddha's teachings concerning the mind. It includes an analysis of where the mind is located, an explanation of the origin of the cosmos, a discussion of the specific workings of karma, a description of all the realms of existence, and an exposition on the fifty kinds of deviant samadhi-concentrations, which can delude us in our search for awakening.
tatami: a woven rice mat used as a ground or floor covering for sitting zen or zazen. Recommended.
tathagata: "thus come one," he who came as did all Buddhas; who took the absolute way of cause and effect, and attained to perfect wisdom; one of the highest titles of the Buddha.
teisho: a talk presented by the Zen master usually relating to practice or a point of practice within one's life, sometimes as an explanation, a commentary, or an expository talk.
tenzo: head cook in a Zen Center, temple, monastery.
Three Treasures or Jewels: In reality they are one: (1) the Buddha, representing the realization of the world of Emptiness, of Buddha-nature, of unconditioned Equality; the Historic Buddha, Shakyamuni; includes iconography; (2) the Dharma, the Law of beginningless and endless becoming to which all phenomena are subject according to causes and conditions; the spoken words, discourses, and sermons of Shakyamuni Buddha; and (3) the Sangha, which is the interfusion and reciprocal interaction of the preceding two, which constitutes total reality as experienced by the enlightened; the immediate disciples of the Buddha Shakyamuni and his followers, who heard, believed, and made real in their bodies the teachings; the contemporary disciples. Ultimately the Three Treasures in none other than one's own self.
Tripitaka: Literally "The three Baskets", the Tripitaka comprises the Sutras, Vinaya and Commentaries.
Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra: a Mahayana sutra, that reveals the importance of inner commitment to the spiritual life; of special interest to those practicing at home alone as it expounds the practice that a layman may follow. Vimalakirti, the Bodhisattva of "spotless reputation" represents the ideal layman in Buddhism because he was able to train successfully in everyday life.
Vinaya: The disciplinary code of the Sangha.
void-patience: patience or endurance attained by regarding all things as void or unreal. Zazen becomes much easier with cultivation, and out of this grows a patience for what seems like "doing nothing." Again, faith is very helpful until this develops in practice.
wisdom of equality: the wisdom rising above such distinctions as I and Thou, thus being rid of the ego idea, and wisdom in regard to all things equally and universally.
yaza: zazen done after 9p.m., the usual bedtime hour in the Zen monasteries.
yoga: used in the widest sense, embracing spiritual disciplines for achieving unity and universal Consciousness, emphasizes breathing exercises and postures, for physical and mental health. Several methods are employed and recommended for readiness and conditioning for zazen, especially for the full lotus position (most difficult).
zabuton: the larger, thinner, bottom pad upon which the zafu or bench is placed. It in turn is placed on a tatami mat or directly on a carpet or bare floor.
zafu: the meditation cushion that one sits directly upon during zazen, that sits on the zabuton.
zazen: sitting zen practice or zen meditation, a state of inner collectedness, in absorption.
zazenkai: a full one-day devotion centered around several periods of zazen practice.
Zazen Yokinki: (Precautions to Observe in Zazen), a well know writing on the practice of zazen by Keizan-zenji, of the 14th century.
Zen: Japanese, short for Zen Buddhism, called Ch'an by the Chinese, and dhyana in India. A sect of Buddhism not identified or connected with any given sutra as other sects are, but with freedom, uses all or any or none of the sutras as needed. Nevertheless, some sutras have become closely related and helpful to Zen practice, particularly those of the Mahayana canon, like the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra. It is recommended that one studying at Zen at home on their own become familiar with the Mahayana sutras, many of which are listed here.
zendo: a large hall or room or structure where zen training and practice takes place, particularly zazen, typically in the presence of the Sangha and under the direction, guidance and teaching of a Zen master.
Taken from No Zendo with minor alterations and additions.