Amitabha: Sanskrit; Amida (Japanese); one of the major buddhas of Mayahana school; His Pure Land is free from suffering. the devotee is reborn there by sincerely calling out his name.

Arhat: Sanskrit; literally, "worthy one"; one who has attained the highest level in the Theravada school; the fruition of arhatship is nirvana.

Avalokitesvara: Sanskrit; Kannon (Japanese), Chen Resig (Tibetan), Kwan Um (Korean); the bodhisattva of compassion.


Bodhidharma: (ca. 470-543) Considered the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism; according to legend, he was the "Barbarian from the West" who brought Zen from India to China; "Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?" is a famous koan in Zen Buddhism.

Bodhisattva: Sanskrit; Bosatsu (Japanese), Bosal (Korean); one who postpones his or her own enlightenment in order to help liberate other sentient beings from the cycle of birth and death. Compassion, or karuna, is the central characteristic of the bodhisattva; important bodhisattvas include Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, and Jizo.

Buddha: Sanskrit; literally, "awakened one"; a person who has been released from the world of birth and death (within samsara) and attained liberation from desire, craving, and attachment in nirvana; according to the Theravadins, Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, is considered to be the first Buddha of this age and was preceded by many others. He will be followed by Maitreya; Mahayanists believe that there are countless Buddhas for every age.


Dharma: The laws of the mind to which the Buddha was awakened; the laws governing the existence with which each person is endowed. While each person is still individually different, each also has a unifying, undifferentiated mind.

Dogen: (1200-1253) Credited with bringing the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhism to Japan; he stressed shikan taza, or just sitting, as the means to enlightenment.

Dzogchen: Tibetan; literally, "great perfection"; the supreme teachings of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism; its adherents believe these teachings are the highest and therefore that no other means are necessary; also known as ati-yoga.

Dojo: A Zen monastery; a place to clarify the Buddha nature.


Enlightenment: The word used to translate the Sanskrit term bodhi ("awakened"); generally used by Mahayanists instead of the Theravada term nirvana; it connotes an awakening to the true nature of reality rather than the extinguishing of desire implied by the term nirvana.


Jodo-shin-shu: literally, "True School of the Pure Land"; a school of Japanese Buddhism founded by Shinran; it has no monastic aspect and is purely a lay community; its emphasis on relying on the power of Amida Buddha (Amitabha) for salvation is more extreme than that of the Jodo-shu school; it is the largest school of Buddhism in Japan today.

Jodo-shu: literally, "School of the Pure Land"; a school of Japanese Buddhism derived from the ideas of the Pure Land School of China which were brought to Japan in the ninth century; it was officially founded by Honen in the twelfth century as a means to open up an "easy path" to liberation by calling out the name of Amida Buddha (Amitabha); in contrast to the Jodo-shin-shu school, its adherents enter the monastic life and consider calling out the name of Amida to be an act of gratitude rather than a means to strengthen trust in Amida.


Karma: Sanskrit; literally, "action"; universal law of cause and effect which governs rebirth and the world of samsara.

Kensho: Enlightenment; the awakening to one's true nature, prior to ego. Ego is like the transient waves on the water's surface; one's Buddha nature is the entire body of water.

Ki: A universal force that constitutes, binds, and moves all things. In the human body it manifests as vitality. This vitality may be enhanced by good nutrition and breath work, through Tanden breathing and other exercises.

Koan: Specific words and experiences of the ancients that cannot be solved by logic or rational thought. People of Zen training use them to cut dualistic thinking, awaken to their Buddha nature, and rid themselves of ego.


Mahayana: Sanskrit; literally, "the Great Vehicle"; one of the three major schools of Buddhism which developed in India during the first century.; it is called the "Great Vehicle" because of its all-inclusive approach to liberation as embodied in the bodhisattva ideal and the desire to liberate all beings; the Mahayana school is also known for placing less emphasis on monasticism than the Theravada school and for introducing the notion of sunyata.

Maitreya: the Buddha expected to come in the future as the fifth and last of the earthly Buddhas; it is believed that he will reside in the Tushita heaven until then (about 30,000 years from now); the cult of Maitreya is widespread in Tibetan Buddhism.


Nirvana: Sanskrit; literally, "extinction, blowing out"; the goal of spiritual practice in Buddhism; liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering.

Nichiren: (1222-1282) Japanese monk who believed in the supreme perfection of the Lotus Sutra; he advocated the devout recitation of "Namu myoho renge kyo, " the title of the sutra, in order to attain instantaneous enlightenment.


Osesshin: One week of continuous Zazen with breaks only for sutras, eating, and sleeping. Its purpose is to enable the practiser to cut away all the normal distinctions of daily life in order to clarify one's true nature.


Pure Land: A realm free from suffering in which it is easier to attain nirvana; the most famous one, Sukhavati, is the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha and requires only calling out his name in order to be reborn in it; "Pure Land Buddhism" refers to this devotion directed towards Amitabha.


Rinzai: Japanese; Lin-chi (Chinese); one of the two major schools of Zen Buddhism; it was founded by the Chinese master Lin-chi I-hsuan (Japanese; Rinzai Gigen) and brought to Japan by Eisai Zenji at the end of the twelfth century; it stresses koan Zen as the means to attain enlightenment.


Samadhi: States in which the persistent mentation associated with daily life are dropped enabling the practiser to become and circumstances; becoming one with what one is doing; that which comes forth when one lives each moment fully.

Samsara: Sanskrit; the cyclic existence of birth, death and rebirth from which nirvana provides liberation.

Sangha: Sanskrit; a term for the Buddhist monastic community which has recently come to include the entire community of Buddhist practitioners; it is considered one of the three jewels of Buddhism (along with the Buddha and the Dharma).

Shakyamuni: (ca. 563-422) The historical Buddha; Theravadins believe that he was the first to attain enlightenment in this age.

Shinran: (1173-1262) Founder of the Jodo-shin-shu school of Japanese Buddhism; he taught that attempting to attain enlightenment through one's own effort is futile; instead liberation can be attained exclusively through the help and grace of the Buddha Amida (Amitabha); he advocated calling out the name of Amida as the only practice necessary in order to be reborn in his Pure Land.

Soto: Japanese; Ts'ao-tung (Chinese); one of the two major schools of Zen Buddhism; it was brought to Japan by Dogen in the thirteenth century; it emphasizes zazen, or sitting meditation, as the central practice in order to attain enlightenment.

Sunyata: Sanskrit; sunnata (Pali); literally, "emptiness"; a central Buddhist idea which states that all phenomena are "empty," i.e. dependent and conditioned on other phenomena and therefore without essence; Theravadins applied this idea to the individual to assert the non-existence of a soul; Mahayanists later expanded on this idea and declared that all existence is empty; emptiness became the focus of the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism; the notion of emptiness has often led to Buddhism being wrongfully confused with a nihilistic outlook.

Sussokukan: This method of Zazen of involves counting one's breath.

Sutra: Sanskrit; a discourse attributed to the Buddha; sutras comprise the second part of the Buddhist canon, or Tripitaka; they traditionally begin with the phrase "Thus have I heard. . . " and are believed to have been written down by the Buddha's disciple Ananda one hundred years after his death.


Tanden: A point in the body, approximately one and a half inches below the navel and one and a half inches deep, considered the physiological, psychic, and spiritual center. Tanden cultivation is closely related to breath and mind-intent for the development of Ki.


Vajrayana: Sanskrit; literally, "the Diamond Vehicle"; one of the three major schools of Buddhism; this form of Buddhism developed out of the Mahayana teachings in northwest India around 500 CE and spread to Tibet, China and Japan; it involves esoteric visualizations, rituals, and mantras which can only be learned by study with a master; also known as Tantric Buddhism due to the use of tantras, or sacred texts.


Zazen: Meditation; sitting in which one cuts all connections with the external world and lets go of all concerns within.

Zen: Japanese; Ch'an (Chinese); a branch of Mahayana Buddhism which developed in China during the sixth and seventh centuries after Bodhidharma arrived; it later divided into the Soto and Rinzai schools; Zen stresses the importance of the enlightenment experience and the futility of rational thought, intellectual study and religious ritual in attaining this; a central element of Zen is zazen, a meditative practice which seeks to free the mind of all thought and conceptualization.

Zendo: The meditation hall in which monks live and people practice Zazen.


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