Zen Glossary

Abbreviations: C. – Chinese; J. – Japanese; P. – Pali; S. – Sanskrit

Dana – (S.) Charity, giving, relinquishment (and their perfections)

Dharma – (S.) Religious, secular, or natural law; the Law of Karma; Buddha Dharma or Tao; teaching; the Dharmakaya With a lower-case “dharma”: a phenomenon or thing

Dojo – (J.) Bodhimanda. The training hall or Zendo. One’s own place of Realisation

Dokusan – (J.) To work alone; personal interview with the Roshi during formal Practice

Inkin – (J.) A small bell used mainly by the Ino

Ino – (J.) Head of ceremonies and leader of chanting in the Zendo

Hojo – (J.) The Abbot, or the Abbot’s quarters in a temple. For the purposes of the Zen group, it is the meeting room with the teacher

Gassho – (J.) To join the palms (in reverence or respect)

Gatha – (S.) Verse of praise or succinct restatement of major points of the Buddha’s Dharma (teaching)

Jikijitsu (Jiki) – (J.) Head of training and timer of Zazen periods in the Zendo

Jisha – (J.) Head of logistical arrangements in the Rinzai Zendo

Jukai – (J.) The ceremony of accepting the Buddha as one’s teacher and the Precepts as guides

Keisu – (J.) Bell used in chanting or in beginning and ending a period of Zazen

Kinhin – (J.) Sutra walk; the formal group walk between periods of Zazen

Koan – (J.) Literally, an official (legal) case. Relative/absolute; an expression of harmony of empty oneness with the world of particulars; a theme of zazen to be made clear. A classic Mondo (dialogue), or Zen story

Kuan Yin (Guanyin) – (C.) or Kannon (J.) also known as Kuan Shih Yin or Guanshiyin (C.) or Kanzeon (J.); they are the various names of Avalokiteshvara (S.). One who perceives sounds of the world; the incarnation of compassion; a bodhisattva of Mahayana Buddhism

Kyosaku – (J.) or keisaku, cautionary device, the flat, narrow stick carried by the monitor during Zazen

Metta – (P.) Concern for the welfare of others. Loving-kindness, Maitri

Mokugyo – (J.) Literally, wooden fish. The wooden beater used for chanting, fashioned in the shape of a fish

Mudra – (S.) Seal; hand position

Oryoki – (J.) or Patra (S.) Name for the begging bowl of monks and nuns. Literally, “vessel appropriate to (one’s) appetite”. In the context of the zen group, it refers to either the bowls set used for mindful eating during Sesshin, or to the meal ritual of mindful eating

Precepts – In Mahayana, the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts are: The Three Vows of Refuge in the Three Treasures; the Three Pure Precepts of avoiding evil, practicing good, and saving the many Beings; and the Ten Grave Precepts of not killing, not stealing, not misusing sex, not speaking falsely, not giving or taking drugs, not discussing faults of others, not praising oneself while abusing others, not sparing the Dharma assets, not indulging in anger, and not defaming the Three Treasures (which are, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha)

Raihai – (J.) Prostration before the altar or the Roshi

Rakusu – (J.) Literally,“patchwork (su) of ease and joy (raku)”; a rectangular piece of fabric composed of “patches”, which is worn around the neck on a cord or a cloth halter. It symbolises the patchwork robe of Shakyamuni Buddha and his disciples and is worn by monks and lay followers of Mahayana Buddhism. In the Diamond Sangha, a Jukai postulant mindfully sews his/her own rakusu, which is then inscribed on the reverse side by his teacher and later officially conferred as part of the Jukai ceremony

Rinzai Zen Buddhism – Today, the Zen sect in which Koan study is used in conjunction with Zazen

Roshi – (J.) Honorable teacher. Now the title of the confirmed Zen teacher

Samu – (J.) Work ceremony. Temple maintenance as part of formal practice

Sangha – (S.) Aggregate. Buddhist community; any community, including that of all Beings

Sensei – (J.) Teacher, master, instructor

Sesshin – (J.) To touch, receive, and convey the Mind; the intensive Zen retreat of three to seven days

Shikantaza – (J.) Literally, “just sitting”. Body and Mind dropped away in Zazen. A form of the practice of Zazen in which there are no use of techniques such as counting the breath or a Koan. Zazen itself is the practice, with no theme

Sosan – (J.) Refers to the first and final formal interviews with the teacher during Sesshin

Soto – (J.) The Soto Sect; traced from the Chinese master Tung-shan Liang-chieh (Dongshan Liangjie), 840-901 C.E.. The Japanese master Dogen belongs to this school

Sutras – (S.) Classcal works; sermons attributed to the Buddha; Buddhist scriptures

Tanto – (J.) The person-in-charge. In the context of the zen group, it refers to the practice leader of the dojo. She or he circumambulates the room periodically with the kyosaku, and addresses the students briefly and extemporaneously during zazen, to hearten them in their practice

Teisho – (J.) To present the shout; the roshi’s Dharma talk

Tenzo – (J.) Head cook, which is a very responsible position in a Zen temple

Zabuton – (J.) Sitting mat

Zafu – (J.) Sitting cushion

Zazen – (J.) Seated meditation; dhyana (S.); Zen meditation

Zazenkai – (J.) Zazen meeting; a lay Zen group

Zendo – (J.) Meditation hall

Main sources: Robert Aitken, Taking the Path of Zen (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1982);
—-, Encouraging Words: Zen Buddhist Teachings for Western Students (New York and San Francisco: Pantheon Books, 1993).