Defintion of Zen terms



 What is enlightenment?
Understanding enlightenment is too complex to address here but you should understand the terms satarie and Kensho this refer between  differences in enlightenment between a teacher and a student.

Understanding Sempai and Kohai and why it's a special relationship.
  The rare relationship between  Student and Teacher Japanese tradition.

Jukai literally means "to receive" or "to undertake the Precepts".

prajñā (wisdom or insight). Wisdom in this context means the ability to see reality as it truly is.

The Tripitaka  (the three baskets) is in three parts and written in the Pali language,

Bodhisattva – An awakened or enlightened being who renounces the experience of nirvana in order to remain with unenlightened beings and work for the liberation of all.

Chiden – This is the person who takes care of altars.

Densho: The large bell used to announce services and lectures. Dharma –

The dharma

is thought of variously as the Way,and Universal Truth.

The dharma is often thought of as the teachings of the Buddha, and this is a legitimate view, but it's important to note that the Buddha didn't create the dharma; it was always there.


kinhin (walking meditation).

Doan-ryo – The group of people who serve in temple roles, including the doan, the fukudo, the chiden, the jisha, and the kokyo.

Dojo – Literally: the room or hall (do-) of the way (-jo). Dojo is often used interchangeably with zendo,also used in martial arts

Dokusan – A private interview between a student and a zen teacher or master. The format and length of the interview, and whether it revolves around koan work or involves another kind of exchange, varies depending on the teacher.

Dokusan is a critical element of zen training and an important part of sesshin, though it is by no means limited to sesshin: some modern teachers have expanded the practice of dokusan to include communication by telephone and e-mail.

Doshi – In Soto Zen, the Doshi is an ordained person who leads the service by offering incense and leading prostrations and bows.

Eightfold Path – The Eightfold path was given by the Buddha as part of the Four Noble Truths and as such, as the main way out of suffering. 1. Right View (or Understanding) 2. Right Thought (or Resolve) 3. Right Speech 4. Right Conduct 5. Right Livelihood 6. Right Effort 7. Right Mindfulness 8. Right Concentration Fukudo – In Soto Zen, this is the person who strikes the han (see definition of han). During sesshins (retreats) the Fukudo, also rings the large bell in the foyer to summon participants to the zendo. Four Noble Truths –

duhkha (suffering) and find a solution to suffering. The Four Noble Truths are the answer that came to the Buddha as part of his enlightenment. 1. Suffering is all around us; it is a part of life 2. The cause of suffering is craving and attachment 3. There is a way out; craving can be ended and thus suffering can be ended 4. The way to end craving is the Eightfold Path

Gassho: A mudra or bow with palms together, it signifies gratitude. Gatha – A short sutra. As an example, here is a meal gatha often spoken before eating: We venerate the three treasures, And are thankful for this food; The work of many hands, And the sharing of other forms of life. Han – In Zen monasteries, a wooden board that is struck with a mallet announcing sunrise, sunset and the end of the day.

Hinayana – Literally: "Small Vehicle". One of the three main branches of Buddhism, the other two being Mahayana (great vehicle) and Vajrayana (indestructable vehicle). Considered by most to be the oldest form of Buddhism. Because 'small vehicle' has at times been used as a derogatory term by other traditions, many followers prefer to use the term Therevada (Teaching of the Elders) to describe their beliefs.

Ino – In Soto Zen, the Ino is in charge of the zendo (meditation hall). As well, the Ino is one of the four or five main leaders of a sesshin, the others being the jiki-jitsu, jisha, tanto and often the tenzo.

Jiki-jitsu (also Jiko) – The timekeeper for a sesshin or for any meditation gathering. All matters having to do with time are the responsibility of the "jiki" (provided the decisions do not conflict with the activities or wishes of the roshi). The jiki usually leads kinhin as well. Jisha –

Kensho – An enlightenment or awakening experience. It is folly to try to describe this experience in words, however, a kensho reportedly gives one a glimpse of one's own nature and the true nature of reality. It is said that koan work can lead to kensho, though koan work is not the only way.

Kinhin – Walking meditation. Although its meditative aspect is of prime importance, kinhin also serves the purpose of moving one's legs after a long period of zazen,

Koan – Originally: a public record. A zen paradox, question or episode from the past that defies logical explanation. Koans are sometimes thought of as zen riddles, but this is not entirely accurate since most riddles are intended to be solved through reason. A student undertaking koan work is meant rather to exhaust the use of reason and conceptual understanding; finally making an intuitive leap (see kensho).

Kokyo – This is the Soto Zen term for the person who leads chanting during service.

Kyosaku – Wake-up stick or encouragement stick. Used during long periods of zazen (mainly during sesshin) to strike practitioners on the back or on the part of the shoulders close to the neck. The kyosaku is not used for punishment: this is made clear by the fact that receiving the kyosaku is voluntary;

Mahayana – Literally: "Great Vehicle". One of the three main branches of Buddhism, the other two being Hinayana (small vehicle) and Vajrayana (indestructable vehicle). Although this is the branch to which zen belongs and zen traces its origin back to the Buddha himself, generally Mahayana is considered to be a newer form than Hinayana. There is less emphasis placed on nirvana and individual salvation in this tradition and more emphasis placed on saving all sentient beings.

Mindfulness – Awareness; remembering that all things are interrelated; living in the present moment.

Mondo – A short zen dialogue between master and student, usually from the past. The student asks a question that is troubling him or her, and the master responds not with theory or logic, but instead in a way that encourages the student to reach a deeper level of perception.

Mudra – A position of the body which is symbolic of a certain attitude or activity, such as teaching or protecting. Although mudra technically refers to the whole body and the body does not have to be that of the Buddha, in common usage this term most often refers to the hand positions chosen for statues of the Buddha. Each hand position is symbolic of a certain characteristic such as supreme wisdom or serenity.

Nirvana – Literally: cessation or extinction. Although nirvana is the ultimate goal of many Buddhists it should never be confused with the Western notion of heaven. Instead, nirvana simply means an end to samsara.

Okesa – A large patched robe made like Buddha’s robe, worn by priests.

Oryoki – This has come to mean a certain kind of formal, ritualized eating, but the word oryoki actually refers to the specific collection of napkins, utensils and especially bowls used for this style of eating.

sesshin (retreat).

Rakusu – A small patched neck robe made like Buddha’s robe, worn by people who have received precepts in an ordination.

Raihai – Also known as deep bows or prostrations. Normally done in a set of three and normally done towards the altar, these are bows that lead immediately into a kneeling position and then quickly into a position with one's forehead gently touching the floor. The hands, palms upwards, are raised in a gesture symbolic of lifting the Buddha's feet over one's head. It's appropriate to cultivate an attitude of emptying, letting go, receptivity and gratitude.

Rinzai – One of the two main schools of zen still active in Japan, the other being soto. The rinzai tradition places more emphasis on dokusan and koan work than the soto tradition. this zen "holiday."

Roshi – Venerable master of zen. A roshi can be a man or a woman, a monk or a layperson. Although the approach has varied down through the centuries, certainly many years of training and some degree of "enlightenment" are required before becoming a roshi is even considered.

Samsara – In Buddhist thought this is the continuing cycle of birth, death and rebirth. All beings are trapped in this unpleasant cycle until they reach enlightenment. Samsara is looked upon in a negative light because of all the suffering that life entails (as elucidated in the First Noble Truth).

Samu – Work Practice. A very plain gi is often worn for this, This is work, usually physical, done in a mindful and aware manner. Tasks should be carried out in silence, though speaking in hushed tones is permitted when clarification or further instructions are needed. Simply stated, samu is a form of meditation done while working.

Sangha – Zen family, community or group practicing together. In its largest sense, all living beings make up our sangha, though when commonly used sangha means our fellows in the local zen center or the group in our area with whom we practice.

Satori – A very deep state of meditation in which notions of duality, self and indeed all concepts drop away. Profound satori is very close to an enlightenment experience (see kensho).

Sensei – A recognized teacher of zen. The title sensei, like the title roshi, traditionally is positioned after the teacher's name rather than

Sesshin – Most easily translated as a meditation retreat, though the wrong impression may be given by using this 'shorthand' definition.

Shashou (also Shashu) – The position in which to hold the hands for kinhin and whenever moving about in the zendo. To form this position, first one hand should gently be made into a loose fist with the thumb held inside. The other hand is then wrapped around the fist with the thumb resting in the slight indendation at the top of the first hand. Together the hands are held at the upper part of the stomach area, near the base of the ribs.

Shoten – The person who sounds the densho to announce events in the Buddha Hall.

Soto – One of the two main schools of zen in Japan, the other being rinzai. The tendency towards caution (one could even say mistrust) regarding words and concepts which is a common thread in zen finds its greatest expression in the soto school.

Zen practiced this way is sometimes called mokusho, which means the zen of silent enlightenment.

Shuso – The head student for a practice period.

Soji – A brief period of mindful work; temple cleaning.

Sutra – A Buddhist canon written in prose form. The chanting of sutras can at times be a form of singing, but more commonly it is done in a rhythmic way in a normal tone of voice. Some sutras are intentionally recited in a monotone. Sutras are chanted as part of most zen gatherings, whether the occasion is for a special ceremony or regular weekly zazen meeting. One of the best known is the Heart Sutra. A short sutra is often called a gatha.

Tan – The raised platform for sitting in the zendo.

Tanto – One of the main leaders of a sesshin, the tanto is in charge of the smooth running of the zendo. The tanto is usually an experienced senior student

Teisho – Literally: presentation of the shout. Commonly: a talk by a zen teacher (a sensei or roshi). The talk is not a sermon or an academic lecture; it is more a presentation of insight than an exposition of factual knowledge.


Vesak – The celebration of the Buddha's birth, which traditionally is set in May on the day of the full moon. This is a very important holiday to Therevadans (see Hinayana), and in that tradition vesak is considered more that just a commemoration; it's a celebration of the dharma and a day to remember the entire life of the Buddha, including his birth, enlightenment and death.

Zabuton – A rectangular, flat cushion used for zazen, usually found underneath the zafu.

Zazen – Seated still meditation, usually on a cushion on the floor. Unlike meditation done in some other spiritual traditions, zazen usually does not involve concentrating one's mind on a subject, nor is the aim to blank out one's mind completely.

Zazen – “Total awareness in an upright posture,” aka meditation, zen-style.

Zen – Zen, or ch'an as it was called originally, is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism that first appeared in China in sixth and seventh centuries.



The word ch'an is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word Dhyana, meaning concentration (i.e. meditation). zen offers meditation (zazen) as the best way to discover things directly for oneself. Another distinctive chracteristic of zen is that the person of the Buddha is regarded with somewhat less reverence than in most other Buddhist traditions.

Zendo – Zen room or hall. This is the main room, whether it be in a monastery, retreat center or residential home, where zazen and other zen practices are observed.