An Introductory Diamond Sangha Glossary

A guide to certain words, names and terminology encountered at

zazen, zazenkai and sesshin with the Melbourne and Adelaide Zen Groups

•    Much of the following material is derived from copyright sources, without acknowledgement, but it may be used for the purposes of private study.


Aitken:   Robert Aitken (born 1917) was first intro­duced to Zen while detained in a Japanese intern­ment camp during World War II. A student of Yamada Koun Roshi, within the Sanbo Kyodan, Aitken was authorised to teach in 1974. In 1959, he and his wife, Anne, established the Diamond Sangha, a Zen Buddhist society in Hawaii, where he con­tinued to teach and practise.

     Through his writings and teaching, he has provided an intro­duc­tion to Zen practice at once faithful to Eastern tra­di­tion and res­ponsive to Western problems and attitudes.


All Buddhas throughout space and time:   see Buddha. These countless buddhas, past and future, and in all possible universes, are somehow considered to be present with us right now, ready to protect and aid us. They make up the sambhogakaya, according to one inter­pretation: see Buddha bodies.


Amitabha:   Skt., lit. “Boundless Light”; one of the most import­ant and popular buddhas of the Mahayana, un­known in early Buddhism. Also known as Ami­tayus, “Infinite Life”. Amitabha saves sen­tient beings and is ruler of the western para­dise Sukhavati (“Bliss”). See also Pure Land, Pure Land School, Nembutsu. Amitabha sym­bolises mercy, wisdom and Discriminating Awareness.


Ancestral Teachers:   Teachers in the traditional Zen line­age; also called founding teachers or patri­archs. In the Zen tra­dition, the first is Kashyapa and the second is Ananda. See Daiosho, Transmission.


Ancient Seven Buddhas:   The Buddha Shakyamuni and the six Buddhas who preceded him, according to Zen folklore and the early Theravada texts.


Anguish:   See Duhkha. Robert Aitken proposes that the term “anguish” be used, rather than “suffer­ing”, as a trans­lation of duhkha.

    The expression “no anguish, cause of anguish, cessation, path” refers to the Four Noble Truths, the basic teaching of the Buddha.


Anuttara samyak sambodhi:   Skt., lit. “perfect uni­versal en­lightenment”; supreme perfect enlightenment; en­lightenment of a complete buddha.


Atonement:   “at-one-ment”, overcoming separation. Not to be confused with legalistic ideas of punishment, suffering, reparation, etc. See also Precepts, Purification.


Attachment:   (Skt upadana); also called “clinging” or “grasping”, an intensified form of craving, which eventually drives behaviour and leads to suffering. It is said to have four forms: clinging to pleasur­able sensual experiences, clinging to views and theories, clinging to rules and rituals, and clinging to belief in a soul or self. The opposite of attachment is not “detachment”, but liberation and equanimity. See also Greed, Chain of causation.


Attained the Way:   (Chinese, te tao) achieved enlightenment or nirvana.


Avalokiteshvara:   Skt., usually interpreted as lit. “The One Who Hears the Sounds of the World”. One of the principal bodhisattvas in the Zen tradition, the personification of great compassion and mercy. Originally said to be a man who achieved enlighten­ment through medi­tating on sound, Avalokiteshvara also became a female fig­ure, first in China (where the name was translated as Quan-Shi-Yin, Quan Yin or Kuan-yin) and then in Japan (where the name was transliterated as Kanzeon, Kwannon or Kan­non).

    There is a rich iconography and body of folk-beliefs about Ava­lo­ki­teshvara/Quan Yin/
Kuan Yin/Kanzeon in various cultures. This bodhisattva is said to hear all cries of distress and to be alert to respond to them; hence Avalokiteshvara is often represented with multiple heads or eyes (to be aware of all cries) and multiple arms (to respond to all needs).


Beings:   All entities that exist (Jap. shujo), the “many beings” of the world, of which senti­ent be­ings are one subset; see also Ten Thousand Things.


Bell:   There are many different types of bell among the percussion instruments used in a Zen dojo. See e.g. Densho, Inkin, Kansho, Keisu, Shijo. See also Umpan.


Birth-and-death:   See Life-and-death.


Board:   Dojo percussion instrument; see Han.


Bodhidharma:   (in Japanese, Bodaidaruma or Da­ru­ma); (ca. 470–543?); the 28th patriarch after Shakyamuni Buddha in the Indian lineage. Semilegendary figure; archetype for steadfast practice.

Buddhism was already established in China when Bodhidharma arrived, but he placed special emphasis on meditation practice (dhyana), and displayed a special outlook (for example, when the emperor asked him what was the first principle of the Buddhist teaching, he replied “Vast emptiness, nothing holy”). These formed the basis for a new tradition: Bodhidharma is thus the first patriarch of Ch’an (Zen). The four slogans adopted by Zen in the 11th Century to differentiate itself from other sects were retro­spec­tively attributed to him. (Some of them are adumbrated in texts attributed to Bodhidharma.) Bodhidharma is also said to have taught Kung Fu to the monks of Shaolin Temple, where he resided.


Bodhisattva:   Skt., lit. “enlightenment being”; Jap. bo­satsu; an enlightened being who dedi­cates himself or herself to helping others attain liberation. In his self-mastery, wisdom and compassion a bodhisattva rep­resents a high stage of buddhahood, but he is not yet a sup­reme­ly enlightened, fully perfected buddha. In Zen, anyone sincerely working on himself or herself and for the sake of others is often called a bo­dhisattva.

    Although the Mahayana claims to be based on the bodhisattva as an ideal, it also includes teachings that consider this aim to be inferior to that of directly attaining buddhahood: see  the Heart Sutra, Hakuin’s “Song of Zazen” and Not two, not three.

    The Mahayana, including Zen, also recognises “tran­s­cend­ent” bodhisattvas who have actualised the paramitas and attained buddhahood, and are no longer subject to samsara (see Life-and-death), but have postponed their en­try into complete nirvana. They appear in the most various forms in order to lead beings on the path of lib­er­ation. Transcendent bodhi­sattvas are the object of veneration of believers, who see them as showing the way and help­ing in time of need. They include Avalokiteshvara, Mañjushri and Samantabhadra. Mahayana practitioners likewise see themselves as bodhisattvas with the desire and the power to “save” others.


Bodhisattva’s Vow:   in Japanese, Bosatsu Gangyo Mon; a homily by Torei Zenji (1721–1792). Or­ig­inally in prose, it is set in verse form to facilitate chant­ing. Not to be confused with the Four Great Vows (or Bodhisattva Vows).


Bonno:   Jap., lit. “worldly care, sensual desire, pass­ions, unfortunate longings, suffering, pain” (Skt, akushala); the (world­ly) cares, suffering and passions that arise out of a deluded view of the world. Bon­no is generally translated by “passions”, but that, as the above-listed meanings of the Japanese word indicate, is too narrow a word. In the Four Great Vows an adherent of Zen vows to eliminate or abandon these “passions”, which ob­struct the path to the attainment of enlightenment. In the Diamond Sangha, this term is usually translated as “greed, hatred and ig­norance”. See also Greed, Chain of causation.


Bowl:   see Oryoki.


Bows:   see Sampai, Raihai.


Buddha:   Skt., Pali, “enlightened one”; term that can refer to the historical Shakyamuni, any enlightened person, a fig­ure in the Buddhist pantheon, or any being; basically, anyone who has awakened in some meas­ure to the true nature of existence. Inasmuch as the mind of a full buddha is illumined to an immeasurable degree and encompasses the infinity of all universes, “bud­dha”, in the Mahayana, also carries the meaning of ultimate truth, or absolute mind.

    A fully perfected buddha is said to appear only once each world cycle. In our age this was Siddhar­tha Gau­tama, or Shakyamuni Buddha, who “founded” Buddhism in India and is often referred to as “the Buddha”. Of the non-historical buddhas, identified with different worlds and realms and symbolic of particular spiritual forces and powers, only Vai­ro­chana and, less frequently, Amitabha are alluded to in Zen. The Mahayana teaches that there is an infinite number of buddhas, “throughout space and time” (see All Buddhas).

    The Zen sect, in common with other Bud­dhist sects, accepts the historic Buddha neither as a Supreme Deity nor as a saviour who rescues men by tak­ing upon himself the burden of their sins. Rather, it venerates him as a fully awakened, fully perfected hu­man being who attained liberation of body and mind through his own human efforts and not by the grace of any supernatural being. On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhism does not look upon Shakyamuni as the only true Buddha. Just as in previous world epochs other sages had trodden the same path, attained the same level of perfection, and preached the same Dharma (see Ancient Seven Buddhas), so would there be Buddhas in sub­se­quent world cycles (see Buddhas of the Three Times) to lead men to liberation. The historic Bud­dha, in other words, is but a link in a chain of Bud­dhas extending from the remotest past to the immeas­urable future, and throughout all possible universes.

    The familiar statement of the Zen masters that we are all buddhas from the very first must be un­der­stood in the sense that potentially everyone is a buddha, that is, inherently endowed with the unblem­ished buddha-nature,  but that the candi­date for buddhahood must follow the arduous road to en­lightenment if he would realise his innate Per­fect­ion.

Various classifications of the stages of bud­dha­hood are to be found in the sutras. For the Mahayana, anyone who has experienced his buddha-na­ture, however faintly, has realised the first stage of bud­dhahood, since in substance this realisation is no dif­ferent from the Buddha Shakyamuni’s. However, in the degree of his enlightenment as well as in the per­fection of his character and personality—that is, in his equanimity, compassion and wisdom—Shakyamuni Buddha towers above the man of aver­age enlightenment (see Anuttara samyak-sambodhi).

    When in Zen the question is posed, “What is a buddha?” this is a question concern­ing the eternal, or time­less, truth of buddha-nature, the absolute, ultimate re­ality devoid of form, colour and all other prop­er­ties.


Buddha Bodies (Skt. trikaya, lit. “three bodies”); re­fers to the three modes or dimensions in which a buddha can manifest himself, accord­ing to the Mahayana view. The basis of this teach­ing is the conviction that a buddha is one with the absolute, becomes manifest in the dharma teachings, and also appears materially in the relative world in or­der to work for the welfare of all beings. In Zen the three bodies of buddha are three levels of reality, which stand in reciprocal relationship to each other and constitute a whole. Japanese Zen has a term “tai-so-yu”, lit. “essence–form–action” to express this idea. Briefly, as taught in the Dia­mond Sangha, the three bodies are the dharma­kaya, the dharma or law body of essential nature; the sam­bho­ga­kaya, the bliss body of mutual inter­dependence; and the nirmanakaya, the trans­forma­tion body of uniqueness and variety. The identification of dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya with Vairochana, Lochana and Sha­kya­muni respectively is a teaching of the esoteric Tendai school.

    The dharmakaya (Skt., lit. “law-body”) buddha is the body of reality, buddha as the in­conceivable formless absolute, the one reality, the ground of all particular being; the cosmic con­scious­ness, the unified existence that lies beyond all con­cepts. Out of this substrate arise all animate and inan­imate forms as well as the moral order. Vairo­chana, the “All-Illuminating One”, embodies this aspect of universal con­scious­ness.

    The sambhogakaya (Skt., lit. “body of de­light”, “bliss body”) buddha is the reward body, the body of enjoyment. Multiplicity and participation are also aspects of the sambhogakaya. Arising from the dharmakaya, sambhogakayas take on sublime celestial form as the many different Buddhas in their various Pure Land paradises, surrounded by hosts of bodhisattvas and supernatural beings, mentioned in the Mahayana scriptures. They teach the dharma and are also available to protect and save living beings.

    The nirmanakaya (Skt., lit. “body of trans­form­ation”) buddha is the transformation body or emanation body, in which a buddha takes material form and appears in the world to provide whatever is needed by living be­ings. Shakyamuni, the Tathagata, personifies this buddha-body.

    The reciprocal relationship between the three bodies is illustrated in Zen by the following an­alogy: the dharmakaya can be compared to med­i­c­al knowledge; the sambhogakaya to the education of the doctor through which he or she gains this know­ledge; and the nirmanakaya to the application of this knowledge in treating patients, who through it are changed from sick to healthy persons.


Buddha-nature:   a concrete express­­ion for the substratum of perfection, of complete­ness, intrinsic to both sentient and insentient be­ings; self nature, true nature, true self. Awakening to one’s true nature (buddha-nature)—and a living and dy­ing that is a spon­ta­neous expression from moment to moment of one’s identity with buddha-nature—is the goal of Zen. Another goal of Mahayana practice is to see the inter­relationship of all things in the world based on the commonality of buddha-nature.

    The interpretation of the essence of buddha-nature varies in different Mahayana traditions. As expounded by the Zen master Yasutani Roshi (following the Mahayana Nirvana Sutra), buddha-nature is identical with that which is called emptiness or the final nature of reality. According to this sutra, buddha-nature is an active force at work the world, expressing itself in living (and inanimate) beings; it is even spoken of as an actual substantial presence endowed with positive attributes, a view which has been denounced by some as re-introducing an eternal, autonomous substratum or “self” that is denied in standard Buddhist teachings (see Jo raku ga jo).


Buddhas of The Three Times:   buddhas of the past, present and future: Kashyapa, Sha­kyamuni and Mai­treya. In most pictorial representations of the bud­dhas of the three times, Dipamkara is the buddha of the past.


Buddha Way:   (Jap., butsudo); basically the same mean­ing as Dharma, though with more of a sense of actually setting foot on the Path. See Butsudo.


Butsudo:   Jap., lit. “buddha way”;

    (1) the teachings of the Buddha, Bud­dhism; often used as a synonym for Buddha Dhar­ma, but stressing more strongly the aspect of practical training on the path of enlightenment;

    (2) the path to enlightenment or bud­dha­hood;

    (3) complete enlightenment, buddhahood. In Zen, butsudo is particularly used in the last sense (for example, in the Four Great Vows or shi­gu­sei­gan).


Cause and Effect:   one explanation of karma. See also Inga.


Chain of Causation:   (Skt pratitya samutpada); also called the chain of De­pend­ent Ori­gin­a­tion or Twelve-Linked Chain of Caus­ation. This is one of the earliest and most im­port­ant teachings of the Buddha; it is said that his disciples rejoiced at hearing it, and that some of them became enlightened on the spot. Early sources indicate that the Buddha himself became enlightened, under the bodhi tree, when he fully realised the profound truth of Dependent Origination.

    This doctrine describes how all psychological and phys­ical phenomena con­stituting indi­vidual existence are interdependent and mutually con­dition each other; this at the same time entangles sentient beings in samsara. With no liberation from this causal chain, suffering is endlessly perpetuated.  The Mahayana usually tends to set aside such details of the teaching, preferring to emphasise instead the general, overall idea of the inter­dependence of all things.

The twelve-step sequence unfolds as follows: (1) ignorance—lack of recognition of the Four Noble Truths, ignorance of the suffering-rid­den nature of ex­istence—conditions (2) mental formations or impulses, which precede actions. These can be good, bad or neu­tral, and are related to physical, verb­al and psycho­logical actions. In turn they con­di­tion (3) consciousness. This consciousness instigates the arising of (4) “name and form”, the psychological and physical fac­tors, i.e. a new empiri­cal being constituted by the state of the five skandhas. In­ter­de­pend­ently with “name and form”, (5) the six bases arise. These are the six object realms of the senses, which con­dition (6) contact with the environment. This contact in­vokes (7) sensation, out of which de­vel­ops, for some­one who is ignorant in the Buddhist sense, (8) crav­­ing. Ignorance and craving lead to (9) clinging, where (10) a new state of becoming is set in motion. This is followed by (11) birth of a new state, which again comes to an end in (12) old age and death. This sequence may be inter­preted as referring to successive “rebirths”; or it may be seen as describing the suc­cessive, con­di­tioned, arising and passing away of per­cep­tions and emo­tional states in a per­son’s life, which perpetuate duhkha. However, this chain can be broken by acceptance of the Four Noble Truths (thus removing ignorance) and then applying meditative awareness to the nexus between links 7 and 8, so that in contact with a sense object desire and clinging no longer arise. Buddhist psychology therefore emphasises the need for constant mindfulness in order to monitor the sequential arising of links in the chain.


Chanting:   “The profound benefits of singing and chanting play themselves out in phys­ical health and well-being, and indeed… chanting, singing and recit­ing aloud (and hearing this vocal­is­ing) lie at the very well-springs of human integration and inspiration.” (Robert Aitken) See also Dharani, Kichijo-ten. In the Melbourne Zen Group, we chant in a monotone, but each person may chant on a different pitch, as it natural to his or her voice, while harmonising with the group. “Chant with your ears, not with your mouth. When chanting, be aware of the others who are also chanting.” (Maezumi Roshi)


Child of a wealthy home wandering among the poor:   refers to a parable from the Lotus Sutra. The deluded son starves in poverty while being entitled to a rich inheritance; such is the man with buddha-nature who fails to recognise or use it.


Choro Nyogen:   see Senzaki Nyogen Sensei.


Circle:   see Enso.


Clappers:   see Taku.


Colour, sound, scent, taste, touch, thought:   see Dhatu.


Compassion:   (Skt karuna); an awareness of and loving response to other people’s suffering. It is distinguished from loving-kindness (metta) by its added awareness of suffering (duhkha). In the Mahayana, compassion is a form of the virtue of generosity (dana: see Paramita, 1), a necessary comple­ment to wisdom (Prajña), and an essential ingredient in the perfection of the fully enlightened. The firm conviction that there is no distinction or separa­tion be­tween onself and others is the basis for the compassion that determines the action of a bodhi­sattva. The first of our Four Great Vows is an expression of this compassion.

Despite sectarian propaganda, the Mahayana does not have a monopoly on compassion, any more than the Theravada has a monopoly on loving-kindness. Both qualities are deeply rooted in the basic Buddhist tradition. Along with equanimity and altru­istic joy in the happiness and accomplishments of others, they make up the four “sublime states” or “divine abodes”, and all four may be cultivated and reflected upon by the same style of meditation (see Metta).

In Buddhism, compassion has to be distinguished from feeling sorry for someone, or any hint of being patronising or emotionally superior, however well-intentioned one might be. It is more to do with empathy, recognising that someone else’s suffering is akin to one’s own suffering and wanting to do something about it. Compassion can take active forms—helping others who are having difficulties of whatever kind (mental, emotional, physical)—but can also be seen as a broad approach inherent in all that one does. When you know that all beings are suffering in some way, compassion can become a permanent part of one’s mindset.

Some Mahayana sources go so far as to allow com­pass­ion to override all other consider­a­tions, and en­join the commission of immoral or otherwise for­bid­den actions if the bodhi­sattva sees them as skilful means that would reduce suffering. For example, a bodhisattva might kill a pirate about to slaughter pas­sen­gers, and accept the karmic consequences of his action as a price he is pre­pared to pay in order to save others.

Chögyam Trungpa coined the term “idiot compassion” to refer to the impulse to make people happy by giving them what they want, instead of using wisdom to see what they really need. Being “nice” may bolster your self-image, or relieve your own distress in the face of great suffering. But sometimes the compassionate thing to do is to say no. On the other hand, “tough love”, without adequate wisdom, may be self-protection or an ego-trip, rather than true compassion.


Conditioned arising:   see Chain of causation.


Conduct, speech and thought:   According to general Buddhist teachings, body, speech and mind (giving rise to actions, words and thoughts) are the three vectors through which karma is created.

In esoteric Buddhism, body, speech and mind are used ritually with mystical or sacred intention, as mudras (posture, gestures), mantras (sounds, chanting) and meditation, and are seen as being thereby transformed into the corresponding body, speech and mind of a buddha.


Consciousness:   (Jap. shiki). As a technical term in Buddhist discourse, “consciousness” includes both the active, discriminative form of knowing, and its sub­lim­inal or un­conscious bodily and psychic functions. It thus means much more than the stream of mental aware­ness which the English word “consciousness” pri­ma­rily denotes, and encompasses both the Western terms “conscious” and “unconscious”.

    Zen adopts the Yogachara Buddhist analysis of eight con­sci­ous­nesses

The first five consci­ous­nesses are those associ­ated with the sense faculties of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell; the sixth conscious­ness is the con­ceptual faculty (intellect, thought) that dis­tinguishes and classifies the data of experience; the sev­enth con­sci­ousness synthesises perceptual forms into conceptual images, acts as a two-way conveyor between sensory input and the “seed repository”, includes value judgments and hence moti­va­tions to action, and is the source of the persistent illusion of “I”; the eighth con­scious­ness, known as the storehouse conscious­ness, contains the seeds (Skt bija) resulting from all past experiences and actions, as well as the seeds of all possible future mental states, perceptions and responses. “Seeds” from past actions are seen as latent energy, imprinted in the subject’s “seed repository” (also called “storehouse consciousness”) as habitual tendencies (Skt vasana) which may grow and bear fruit in the form of parti­cular mental states or patterns of behaviour in the future. This schema is the basis for the psycho­therapy practised and taught by the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The wave-like shape in the diagram also illustrates Thich Nhat Hanh’s often repeated teaching that the human person as not just a brief-lived individual wave, but one with the water of the vaster ocean. See also DhatuKarma, Skandha.

The Yogachara school further teaches that, at enlightenment, the various as­pects of consciousness change into totally new sorts of Awareness, all of them non-conceptual­is­ing, non-dual, and able to experience reality directly and authentic­al­ly.


Cook:   see Tenzo.


Cushion:   See Zafu.


Daiosho:   Jap., lit. “great priest”; an honorific title of Zen masters (usually posthumous).

    In the framework of the daily recitations in a Zen monastery, the lineage of the tradition that runs from Shakyamuni Buddha to the current Zen mas­ter of the monastery is recalled by reciting the names of the patriarchs and their dharma successors in the order of “trans­mission from heart–mind to heart–mind”. In this recitation, the title daiosho is at­tached to the names of the Zen masters. Although, historically, the lineage is flimsily constructed in places, it is of great importance in the Chinese and Japanese cultures, where ancestors are highly valued. For Zen, the historicity of the early patriarchs is irrelevant, but they are revered as having transmitted authentic enlightenment through the ages.

    In the lineage chart given to some Diamond Sangha students at their Jukai cere­mony, the list of our double lineage (Rinzai and Soto) includes over 100 names. The Dedications recited in the Diamond Sangha are a much truncated version of this list, up to and including the immediate teachers of Robert Aitken. A number of these teachers are not actually priests, and are referred to in some Diamond Sangha groups as “Dai Koji” (“Great Lay­person”) or “Daishi” (“Great Teacher”). However, in the Melbourne Zen Group they are all given the title “Dai­osho”.


Daiun Sogaku:   see Harada.


Dana:   see Paramita, (1).  More specifically, money voluntarily offered to a Zen teacher by a student, as a spontaneous expression of grati­tude for teachings just received.


Darani:   Jap. for Dharani.


Dedication:   In the Mahayana, compassionately and generously transferring one’s merit (or “auspicious power”) to another so that they may gain enlightenment; more specifically, transferring the merit of a sutra recitation to bud­dhas, bodhisattvas and Ancestral Teachers, or to friends and sangha members who are ill or who have recently died “Dana, the gift and its cir­cu­lation, is the rationale of the [Dedication]. We send out whatever auspicious power we have accumu­lated, and by that act we are empowered further for our bodhi­sattva work”. (Robert Aitken)

    In the Diamond Sangha tradition, the “First Sutra Service Dedication” honours the Soto lineage, and the “Second Sutra Service Dedication” honours the Rinzai lineage. See Sanbo Kyodan, Diamond Sangha.


Deepest samadhi:   Skt mahasamadhi; it is often said, when a great saint dies, that he has gone into, or is resting in, deepest samadhi.


Demons and Spirits:   see Hungry ghosts.


Densho:   Jap., “Bell of the Hall”; a large bell, 45 cm or more in height, suspended over­head just outside the dojo. It is struck by the Jikijitsu with a long mallet for ten minutes before each block of zazen periods. The sequence includes three accelerandi—the blows coming faster and faster until they merge to a point—by which the students can tell how much time is left before the zazen begins. The Melbourne Zen Group uses the wooden han for this purpose, at sesshin.


Dependent origination:   see Chain of causation.


Dharani:   Skt., lit. “holder [feminine]”; a poetical in­vocation of praise; the verbal seal of a rite; short sutras that contain ma­gic­al formulas comprised of syllables with symbolic content. They are in general longer than mantras. They can convey the essence of a teaching or a particular state of mind that is cre­ated by repetition of the dharani. In esoteric Buddhism, dharanis are also used for worldly purposes, such as averting calamities.

        “Dharani are rationally almost meaningless incanta­tions, and D.T. Suzuki’s efforts to translate them, he admits, are problematic. Nonetheless, they are mean­ing­ful to those who gather to recite them, simply, it seems, by the chanting itself.” (Robert Aitken) See also Chanting.


Dharma:   Skt., lit. “carrying, holding” (Jap. ho or dat­suma). Central notion of Buddhism, one of the Three Treasures. The term is used in various mean­ings, referring to religious, secular or natural law.

    (1) The cosmic law, the “great norm”, un­der­lying our world; above all, the law of kar­mically determined rebirth.

    (2) The teaching of the Buddha, who rec­og­nised and formulated this “law”; thus the teach­ing that expresses the universal truth. The dharma in this sense existed already before the birth of the historical Buddha, who is no more than a mani­fest­ation of it. It is in the dharma in this sense that a Buddhist takes refuge.

    (3) Norms of behaviour and ethical rules.

    (4) Manifestation of reality, of the general state of affairs; thing, phenomenon. All phe­no­mena are seen as subject to the law of causation.

    (5) Mental content, object of thought, idea—a reflection of a thing in the human mind.

    (6) Term for the so-called factors of ex­ist­ence, which the Theravada considers as building blocks of the empirical personality of the world.

    Vasabandhu (who is considered to be the 21st patriarch in the Indian lineage of Zen) pro­posed ten definitions: know­ledge, the path, merit, scripture, certainty, nir­vana, a men­tal event, lifespan, learning, a school of doctrine. Al­so: existence, reality, mean­ing, phenomena and medi­tation practice. The Dharma is an instant of sen­sory experi­ence. It is also the Buddha’s teaching, his scripture, his word, his message, his vibration and his energy.

    See also Dharma Gates, Rarely encountered.


Dharma Gates:   (Jap. homon); the teachings of the Bud­dha. These teachings are here com­pared to a gate through which the practitioner enters the world of enlightenment. How­ever, the practi­tioner must be aware that the gate does not lead from one world into another.

    In the Diamond Sangha, we make the under­taking: “Dharma gates are count­less; I vow to wake to them” (Four Great Vows). As Robert Aitken explains it, dharma gates are any in­ci­dents or particulars that can enable one’s realisation. This in­cludes, for example, simple sensory ex­pe­ri­ence, arche­types and metaphors, or reading. See also Vairochana. More parti­cu­lar­ly, Hui-hai said: “The gate to the Dharma is relinquish­ment”.


Dharmakaya:   See Buddha bodies.


Dharma Sharing:   In the Melbourne Zen Group, this is an opportunity for sangha members to get to know each other on a deeper level than social chit-chat, intellectual discussion or exchange of information. With­in careful and supportive guidelines, modelled on the Quakers’ “Faith Sharing” practice, participants are en­couraged to speak from the heart about their per­sonal experi­ence as it relates to a given dharma topic. This gives us, as listeners, valuable practice in not rushing to judgement, and may also helpfully challenge our cherished personal opinions.


Dhatu:   Skt, Pali. The perceptual bases or elements, of which there are eighteen in all, consisting of three groups of six. These are the six sense-faculties, their six corresponding objects, and the six perceptual aware­nesses, hence: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body mind; colour, sound, scent, taste, touch, thought; see­ing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking.

    This form of analysis, designed to provide a com­prehensive account of the elements pres­ent when perception occurs, is used in the Buddhist analysis of perception to show that all the elements involved in the process are impermanent, unsatisfactory and with­out autonomous existence, i.e. “empty”. See Emptiness. It should be noted that the dhatus are a different analytical grid from that of the Five Skandhas, although their purpose is the same.

    Robert Aitken Roshi, as part of a Zen “syllabus” out­lined in his book Encouraging Words, includes the eighteen dhatus among the lists of fundamental con­cepts, precepts, vows and teachings which he calls “The Lattice of the Dhar­ma”. In the Platform Su­tra, Hui-neng recom­mends them as part of the ess­en­tial teachings that should be passed on in the Zen tra­di­tion.


Diamond Sangha:   Initially, a Zen Buddhist society of lay mem­bers, established in Hawaii in 1959 by Robert Aitken and his wife Anne. The name derives both from the Diamond Sutra and from Diamond Head, a crater near Waikiki beach. The Diamond Sangha follows the Harada–Yasutani stream of Zen, and initially arose within the Japanese Sanbo Kyodan, from which it became independent in 1995. It incorporates elements of both Rinzai and Soto Zen.

The name Dia­mond Sangha is now extended to cover an un­struc­tured network of auto­nomous, affiliated lay Zen groups in various countries, all of which follow to some extent the Honolulu Dia­mond Sangha model. This is based on lay Zen Bud­dhist practice with a lineage protected by a tra­di­tional teacher-to-student transmission of the Dharma. Rit­ual, forms and tradition are seen as helpful ele­ments creat­ing a sense of con­tinuity, but are not in­tended as a means of imposing uniformity, so that affiliate groups are free to make adaptations appro­pri­ate to their own locality, culture and preferences.


Dipamkara:   Skt., lit. “kindler of lights”. Legend­ary buddha who is said to have lived an endlessly long time ago. He symbolises all the buddhas of the past and, particularly in China, he is depicted together with Shakyamuni and Maitreya, the buddha of the future, as one of the “buddhas of the three times” (past, present, future).


Dogen Kigen: See Dogen Zenji.


Dogen Zenji:   also Dogen Kigen or Eihei Dogen, 1200–1253. After training for several years, first as a Tendai monk and then under a Rin­zai teacher, Dogen travelled to China, where he stud­ied further and became a Dhar­ma successor in the Chinese So­to Zen lineage. Considered the founder of the Japan­ese Soto school, Dogen established Eihei-ji, which is still today an important monastery of Ja­pan­ese Soto Zen. Dogen’s principal work, a collection of Dharma essays, Shobo-genzo, is con­sidered one of the most profound writings of Japanese Zen li­terature and as the most outstanding work of the re­ligious literature of Japan. Here he also turned his mind to philosophical problems of an extremely speculative nature, such as the relation of time to existence, and the nature of change and stability in the world. His writings, re­dis­covered in the 20th Century, seem to presage develop­ments in modern Western philosophy. After further study, however, Western scholars are now beginning to admit that Dogen’s thought is also at times idio­syncratic, narrow-minded, elitist, fundamentalist, even violent at times in its expression.

    Although he collected, commented on and used koans for his students, Dogen em­pha­sised shikantaza (“just sitting”), and placed great stress on the tenet that “practice and en­light­enment are one” (see also Inga), as well as on the necessity for “sustained ex­ert­ion”.


Dojo:   Jap., lit. “hall of the way”; a training centre; a hall or room in which one of the Japan­ese “ways” (do) of spiritual-practical training is practised. The term is also used as a synonym for zendo. More gen­erally, it can refer to one’s own place of realisation.


Dokusan:   Jap., lit. “go alone [doku] to a high one [Sino-Jap., san]”; meeting of a Zen student with his or her master in the seclusion of the master’s room. Do­­kusan, although optional, is among the most import­ant elements in Zen training. It provides the student with an oppor­tu­nity privately to present to the mas­ter all problems relating to his practice and to dem­on­strate the state of his practice in the encounter with the master so as to test the pro­fund­ity of his Zen experience. The practice of giving individual instruct­ion in this manner began, accord­ing to Zen tra­di­tion, with the “secret teachings” of Shakyamuni Bud­dha and has been preserved in this “school of Buddha-mind” ever since.

    The content of dokusan, for several reasons, is subject to strict secrecy. For example, it is gen­er­al­ly the case that the instruction of the master ac­cords with the particular situation of an individual stu­dent; he might respond to externally similar ma­ni­fes­tations of different students in entirely different ways, which might be a source of confusion for stu­dents who have not yet reached an understanding with the master.

    In the Diamond Sangha, dokusan can be given only by a per­son who has received official transmission from an authentic master and who has been confirmed by him as a dharma successor.


Doubt:   “Great doubt” (Jap. dai-gidan), an inner condition of doubt-ridden questioning, is one of the three foundations of the practice of zazen. In Zen, doubt does not mean scep­ticism but rather a state of perplexity, of intense prob­ing inquiry. This is a doubt about everything one thinks to be true, including the efficacy of Zen prac­tice itself. The other two essentials for zazen, as taught by Hakuin Zenji, are  “Great faith” and “Great resolve”.

    In his Introductory Lectures on Zen Train­ing, Yasu­tani Roshi said about “Great doubt”:

Not a simple doubt, mind you, but a “doubt-mass”—and this inevitably stems from a strong faith. It is a doubt as to why we and the world should appear so im­perfect, so full of anxiety, strife and suffering, when in fact our deep faith tells us exactly the opposite is true. It is a doubt which leaves us no rest. It is as though we knew perfectly well we were millionaires and yet inexplicably found our­selves in dire need with­out a penny in our pock­ets. Strong doubt, there­fore, exists in proportion to strong faith.


Drum:   see Taiko; see also Mokugyo.


Dualism:    Dualism can mean the tendency of humans to perceive and understand the world as being divided into just two categories. In this sense, it is dualistic when one perceives a tree as a thing separate from every­thing surrounding it, or when one perceives a “self” that is distinct from the rest of the world. In tra­di­tions such as Zen, a key to enlightenment is “over­com­ing” this sort of dualism, without merely replacing it with monism or pluralism. “The world in which birth and death, good and bad, and being and non­being are opposed exists only for those who do not live an awakened life.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)

    Beyond this, the rejection of the dualism between duality and non-duality means the in­tegration of awakening and ordinary life. As Dogen puts it: “The Buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many and the one”.


Duhkha:   Skt; a central concept in Buddhism, which lies at the root of the Four Noble Truths; usually translated as “suffering”, but denoting such a wide range of meanings that it is per­haps best left un­translated. Aitken Roshi uses the term “anguish”, and defines it as “a response to the re­ality of mor­tality and dependence; the conse­quences of re­sist­ing or deny­ing that reality”.

Duh­kha not only signifies suffering in the sense of un­pleasant sensa­tions; it also refers to everything, both material and mental, that is conditioned, imper­ma­nent and unsatisfactory. Specifically, it relates to the Five Skandhas and the problems arising from the associated delusional ego. Even pleasant things are duhkha, since they are subject to end­ing, and, if desire and craving attach to them, they give rise to painful fear of loss (see Greed). The means to bring about the ex­tinction of duhkha is shown by the Eightfold Path. See also Chain of causation.


Effort:   As part of the Eightfold Path, right “effort” (Skt vyayama) means directing the mind towards spi­ritual goals and the production and fostering of whole­some states of mind. It is to be noted that this aspect of the Path refers not to the amount of effort, but to the direction in which it is applied. Cf Virya.


Ego:   Buddhist psychology teaches that the sense of self-identity corresponding to the Western concept of the “ego” is an intellectual construct. Other aspects of the English concept of “ego” are not denied by Bud­dhism, nor does Buddhism seek to eliminate them.

One of the central teachings of Buddhism is the doctrine (anatman), which says that no self exists in the sense of a permanent, eternal, integral and in­de­pend­ent substance with­in an individual existent. The apparent “ego”, in Buddhism, is no more than a tran­sitory and change­­able empirical personality put together from the five skandhas.

In the Ma­ha­yana, this analysis is applied to all con­di­tionally arising pheno­mena. This freedom from self-nature is called in the Ma­hayana emptiness. If one does not apprehend the im­per­son­ality of exist­ence, does not recognise existence as a flux of arising and pass­­ing away of physical and mental phe­no­mena in which there is no constant self, then one is unable to attain the insight that is essential for liberation. Our dichotomising intellect (see Dualism) sets up an “I” as opposed to everything else “out there” (see Consciousness), and then expends much energy anxiously defending, or compulsively satisfying the cravings of, this delusional entity. In the course of Zen train­ing, the dom­inance of the ego illusion over the prac­ti­tioner’s think­ing and aspirations is gradually overcome. In pro­found enlightenment the ego in this sense is an­ni­hil­ated; it dies.

However, the Mahayana Nirvana Sutra does accept the existence of some form of the self, often identified with buddha-nature. See also Jo raku ga jo.


Eightfold Path:   the path leading to release from suffering (duhkha), the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. The eight aspects of the path are usually translated as: (1) right view (based on understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the nonindividuality of existence); (2) right resolve, in favour of good will and non-harming; (3) right speech; (4) right conduct, by keeping the precepts; (5) right livelihood, one that does not harm others; (6) right effort; (7) right mindfulness; and (8) right meditation, training the mind in focused attention. This is a cumulative programme in which all eight factors are to be practised simultaneously.

    Some translations prefer to speak of “perfect” views, resolve etc. The Sanskrit word here (samyak) conveys the sense of wholeness or completeness, not any opposition between “right” and “wrong”.

    The Mahayana has its own modified interpretations of the Eightfold Path, to make room for the important Mahayana concept of emptiness. For example, according to an Indian com­men­t­ator in the 6th Century c.e., right view is insight into the dharmakaya (see Buddha bodies); right conduct is abstention from all deeds directed toward karmic gain; right mindfulness means giving up pondering on being and nonbeing; and right meditation means not grasping onto ideas.


Emptiness:   (in Sanskrit, shunyata; ku in Japanese); the funda­mental nature of all phe­no­me­na, the dynam­ic sub­stratum of all existence. All phenomena are essentially empty, or devoid of self-substance, in the sense that they are but fleeting manifestations in a stream of endless trans­formation. Though empti­ness is without form, it informs every­thing: for the Mahayana, to see into this no-thingness of things is awaken­ing. See enlightenment.

    Emptiness, as it is spoken of in Zen, has nothing to do with the purely philosophical con­cept of nothingness, a negation of all existence, nor with empty space. It is an empti­ness that is not the op­po­site of the existence of all things and their properties but rather the basis of this existence, that engen­ders and bears it and, from the standpoint of com­plete en­light­enment, is absolutely identical with it. Thus it says in the Heart Sutra: “Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form”.

    The emptiness experienced in Zen en­light­en­ment is some­thing unperceivable, unthinkable, un­feel­able and endless beyond existence and non-existence. Empti­ness is no object that could be ex­pe­ri­enced by a subject, since the subject itself is dis­solved in the emptiness. Some Zen teachers use the term “empty oneness”.


Enlightenment:   the word used to translate the San­skrit term bodhi (lit. “awakened”) and the Japan­ese satori or kensho. In Zen, a person awakens to a now­ness of emptiness which he him­self is—even as the entire universe is emptiness—and which enables him to com­prehend the true nature of things.

    “Awakening” is perhaps a preferable translation, since “enlightenment” is, on the one hand, often mis­understood as an experience of light (and vice versa); and on the other hand, it may become confused with certain beliefs and attitudes current during the historico–cultural period that English-speakers call “the Enlight­en­ment”. (In other languages, these are two different terms.)

    Enlightenment (bodhi) marks the culmination of the Buddhist religious path. See Medita­tion. The definition of enlightenment varies widely between schools (the Theravada and the Mahayana differ as to the content and nature of the Buddha’s own enlightenment), between teachers and over time: for example, some see it as a form of gnosis, others as a transient state of altered consciousness. To call it an “experience” (often nowadays implying some emotional thrill) is a 20th Century Western construct. Any assumptions that a practitioner makes about en­light­enment will inevitably shape his practice and its outcomes.

For the Diamond Sangha, Robert Aitken defined enlightenment as beginning with kensho: “A glimpse of empty or unitive possibilities; prajña experienced through one of the senses, acknowledged by a confirmed teacher. Understanding.” This glimpse can, with further deep­ening prac­tice, lead to a pro­found and perma­nent trans­formation of the human being. Thus, enlighten­ment does not mean the sudden acqui­si­tion of omni­science, infal­libility, unerring judgement or emotional invul­ner­­a­bil­ity. After initial enlightenment there is still much work to do: ingrained habits of thought and be­ha­viour do not vanish overnight.

    There are dif­fer­ent de­grees of enlightenment. If we com­pare the process to breaking through a wall, then it can vary between a tiny hole in the wall and the total demolition of this wall as in the com­plete enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha—and all the degrees in between. In profound enlightenment, the ego is annihilated, it dies. The result of this “great death” is “great life”, a life of freedom and peace.

    In the Mahayana tradition, Buddha’s enlightenment day is celebrated on 8 December (see Rohatsu); in the Theravada, it coincides with Wesak.


Enso:    Jap., lit. “circle”. The circle executed with a single fluid brush­stroke is a popular theme in Zen painting. It is said that only someone who is inwardly collected and in equi­librium is cap­able of painting a strong and well-balanced circle. The enso symbolises fullness and emptiness, the absolute, true reality and enlightenment. The Melbourne Zen Group includes in its logo and letterhead an enso painted by Meg Irwin.


Entered nirvana:   Died; see Nirvana.


Equanimity:   (Skt upeksha, “looking on”). The state of one who witnesses or experiences without becoming emotionally entangled. It is a state that is neither joy nor suffering but rather is independent of both, one where the mind is in equilibrium and elevated above all dis­tinc­tions (see Dualism). It is not simply indifference or lack of interest, but one of the fourSublime States”, a virtue that is to be cultivated. It means that the Chain of causation linking sense-contact to attachment and suffering, through an overvalued and deluded sense of self, has been broken.


Essential Nature:   the pure and clear void that is charged with potential; self-nature, true nature, buddha-nature.


Evening Meal: see Yakuseki.


Evil:   harmful, destructive. Distinguish from immoral. See Morality.


Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind:   see Dhatu.


Faith:   (Skt shraddha); the inner attitude of trust and confidence toward the Buddha and his teaching. Faith is the basis of the first two elements of the Eight­fold Path, perfect view and perfect resolve.

    Zen is often presented as not requiring “faith”. As introduced to the West by the Theosophical Society at the turn of the 20th century,  Buddhism and Zen were said to be “natural” (i.e. with no super­natural elements), and “reason”-based. Olcott, a leading Theosophist, gained endorsement from Buddhist leaders in many countries for fourteen Fundamental Prin­ciples of Bud­dhism, in­cluding the following: “Buddhism dis­cour­ages super­stitious credulity. The Buddha taught it to be the duty of parents to have his child educated in sci­ence and literature. He also taught that no-one should believe what is spoken by any sage, written in any book, or affirmed by tradition, unless it accords with reason.” Westerners are often told that Buddhist faith consists rather in the con­vic­tion that grows in students when they try living with the teaching; that is, a faith tempered by critical reflection and tested against one’s own expe­ri­ence.

    However, many Mahayana doctrines cannot be confirmed in this way, including some funda­mental teach­ings of Zen Buddhism, such as “All beings by nature are buddha”. On the other hand, it is sometimes sug­gested that non-verifiable teachings may be adopted pro­vi­sionally as “skilful means”, subject to experi­en­tial confirmation that they lead to positive outcomes in one’s life and practice. Then again, for some practitioners faith plays a devo­tion­al role, being regarded as the virtue out of which all the others develop and which may thus open the door of libera­tion.

    “Great faith”, according to Hakuin Zenji, is one of the three “pillars” of zazen practice (along with Great doubt and Great resolve). Yasutani Roshi wrote that this faith

is firmly and deeply rooted, immovable, like an immense tree or huge boulder. It is a faith, more­over, untainted by belief in the supernatural or the super­stitious. Bud­dhism has often been des­cribed as both a rational religion and a religion of wisdom. But reli­gion it is, and what makes it one is this el­e­ment of faith, without which it is merely philosophy. Bud­dhism starts with Buddha’s supreme en­light­en­ment… Our deep faith, there­fore, is in his en­light­en­ment, the sub­stance of which he proclaimed to be that human nature, all exist­ence, is intrinsically whole, flawless, omni­potent—in a word, perfect. With­­out unwavering faith in this the heart of the Bud­dha’s teaching, it is im­possible to progress far in one’s practice.


Feelings:   What Westerners call “feelings” (or emo­tions) are, in Buddhism, considered to be “mind states”, psycho-physical experiences arising from attaching a “story” to initial basic sensations of liking or aversion.

In Buddhism, on the other hand, “feelings” (Skt vedana) is a technical term, referring to those basic sensations themselves; that is, the simple feeling tone (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) which follows immediately upon a perception, before any further mental elaboration gives rise to clinging or emotional distress (see Chain of causation, 7). Awareness of these often subtle sensations is most important, as it gives a moment of choice before “emotions” take over and dictate one’s responses.

In the meditation practice known as the Four Founda­tions of Mindfulness (see Vipashyana), contemplation of “feelings” (vedana) thus involves simple aware­ness of the pleas­ant, un­pleasant or neutral flavour of one’s sensations, while contemplation of “mind” involves (among other things) awareness of one’s emotional states and their accompany­ing stories.


First taste is to cut off all evil…:   the Diamond Sangha sesshin meal ritual includes here a reminder of the Three Pure Precepts taken at our Jukai ceremony. In their original form, these precepts  refer to avoiding evil, practising good and saving the Many Beings.


Fish:   See Mokugyo.


Flavours:   see Six Flavours.


Food:   see How it came to us.


Form is no other than emptiness: In this affirmation from the Heart Sutra, “form” refers specifically to the human body as the first of the five skandhas. Nowadays, “form” [Skt rupa] in this context is often interpreted in the West as standing more generally for the material substrate of all phe­nomena; however, in the Heart Sutra this generalised application of “emptiness” is stated later on, as “all things are essentially empty”. See also Emptiness. However, in contexts other than the Heart Sutra, and not referring to the five skandhas, “form” [rupa] can indeed have the wider meaning of that which has shape and manifests itself to the senses as substance.


Founding Teachers:   see Ancestral Teachers.


Four Blessings:   teachers, parents, nation, and the Many Beings.


Four Foundations of Mindfulness:   see Vipashyana.


Four Great Vows:   (Jap., shiku seigan): variously translated, these vows are: (1) Sentient beings are count­less, I vow to save them all; /The many beings are numberless, I vow to save them; (2) Tormenting passions are innumerable, I vow cut through them all; /Greed, hatred and ignorance rise endlessly, I vow to abandon them; (3) The gates (levels of truth) of the Dharma are mani­fold, I vow to pass through them all; /Dharma gates are countless, I vow to wake to them; and (4) The Buddha’s Way is peerless, I vow to realise it; /Buddha’s Way is un­surpassed, I vow to embody it fully. The vows, in the form that we use, have been traced to Chih-i (6th century), founder of the T’ien-t’ai [Jap. Tendai] tradition, and are based line by line on the Four Noble Truths.


Four Noble Truths:   These are the basis of the Bud­dhist teaching. The perception of the Four Noble Truths by the Bud­dha constituted, according to the earliest tradition, his actual enlightenment. Buddha expounded these truths in the Benares discourse as his first teach­ing im­me­di­ately after his enlightenment.

The four noble truths are: (1) the truth of suffering (duhkha); (2) the truth of the ori­gin of suffering; (3) the truth of the cessation of suffer­ing; and (4) the truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering.

    The first truth says that all existence is charac­terised by suffering and does not bring satis­faction. The second truth gives as the cause of suffer­ing craving or desire. This craving binds beings to the cycle of exist­ence (samsara). For the Mahayana, craving is seen as secondary to ignorance (of emptiness of self and of phenomena); cf. Chain of causation. The third truth says that through remainderless elimi­na­tion of craving (or, for the Mahayana, by eliminating ignorance through awareness of emptiness), suffering can be brought to an end. The fourth truth gives the Eightfold Path as the means for the ending of suffering.


Four Vows:   see Four Great Vows.


Fusho:   Jap., lit. “unborn”; Zen expression for the absolute, the true reality, in which there is no birth, no death, no becoming nor passing away, and no time in the sense of before and after.


Gassho:   Jap., lit. “palms of the hands placed together”; Zen expression for the ancient gesture of greeting, request, gratitude, veneration or suppli­ca­tion common in many cultures (particularly in the East). The hands are held before the lower part of the face, with the tips of the fingers level with the nose. On some occasions, the gesture may also be accompanied by a bow from the waist.

    In this gesture of “palms of the hands together”, a state of mind is spontaneously mani­fested that suggests the unity of the antithetical forces of the phenomenal world.


Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha:   The “Prajñaparamita mantra”, in what Robert Aitken calls “bastard Sanskrit that nobody translates satisfactorily”. One possible version is: “Gone, gone to the other shore, completely crossed over, enlightenment, hurrah!” “Para”, the other shore, is nirvana; this shore is the life of samsara and duhkha, separated from the other by the stream of karma. Prajñaparamita is the raft of wisdom that ferries one to the other shore. The final “svaha” is an exclamation of joy. Hence Robert Aitken calls this mantra “a kind of Ode to Joy”.


Gatha:   Skt; verse, usually of four lines, that sums up an aspect of the dharma and expresses insight into Buddhist teaching. As songs, they are often inter­polated into sutras. In the Maha­yana, a gatha often has the form of a vow.


Gong:   see Keisu, Umpan.


Great Vows for All:   see Four Great Vows.


Greed:   (Skt trishna); affinity exploited to serve the self; attraction to a gratifying object.

    Greed (thirst, craving, longing, desire) is a central notion of Buddhism. It is the desire that arises through the contact between a sense organ and its corres­ponding object (see Chain of causation. It is the cause of attachment and thus of duhkha; it binds sentient beings to the cycle of suffering existence.

    The Mahayana further brings in the notions of egolessness and emptiness: erroneously seeing the personality as an independent self-existing “I” or ego leads to placing special value on every­thing connected with it, and this is what gives rise to desire or greed. Liberation results from recog­nis­ing as inessential (empty) everything that is erro­neously regarded as pertaining to an in­dependently existing ego. This causes greed to fall away.

    The expression “Greed, hatred and ignorance rise endlessly” refers to the Chain of causation. In its Sino-Japanese version, the second of our Four Great Vows speaks of “cut­ting through” this process, to achieve liberation.


Guardians:   (Chin., t’ien-wang; Jap., shi-tenno; Skt, devaraja); “celestial kings”, also called world protectors; four demonic-looking figures, images of which are to be found in every Chi­nese and Japan­ese monastery. The celestial kings, who according to myth dwell on the world mountain Meru, are guardians of the four quarters of the world and of the Buddhist teaching. They fight against evil and protect places where goodness is taught. Their bodies are protected by armour and they wear helmets or crowns on their heads.


Hakuin Zenji:   also Hakuin Ekaku (1689–1769), one of the most important Japanese Zen masters of the Rinzai school. He is often referred to as the father of modern Rinzai Zen, since he reformed the school and gave it new impetus. He system­atised koan training and empha­sised once again the import­ance of zazen. His koan “What is the sound of one hand?” is one of the best known. Hakuin Zenji was also an important painter, master of calli­graphy and sculptor.

    Hakuin’s poem Song of Zazen is frequently chanted in the Zen monasteries of Japan. It begins with the words “All beings are fundamentally Buddha” and continues by praising the practice of zazen as the most effective means to awaken to this basic truth of Buddhism.

    According to Hakuin, there are three essen­tials of the practice of zazen: great faith, great doubt and great resolve. He stressed the import­ance of koan practice and arranged the tra­di­tional koans into a system in which the practitioner has to resolve koans in a particular order according to their level of difficulty. He considered the koan Mu and later his own “One Hand” as the most useful.

    Hakuin also stressed the importance of a strictly regulated monastic life and daily physical work. He regarded this work (samu) as part of medi­tation practice, which should continue during the everyday activity of the monastery and outside the monastery. “In order to pene­trate to the depths of one’s own nature and realise a true living quality that is pre­served under all circumstances, there is nothing better than still absorption in the midst of activity.”


Hakuun Ryoko:    see Yasutani.


Han:   Jap., lit. “board”; a wooden board measuring about 45 x 30 x 8 cm used in Zen monasteries, on which a rhythm is beaten with a wooden mallet three times a day: at dawn, at dusk and before going to bed. See also Densho. Often one of the following verses appears on the han:


    Heed, monks!

    Be mindful in practice.

    Time flies like an arrow;

    It does not wait for you.


    Completely freed from yes and no;

    great emptiness charged within;

    no questions, no answers;

    like a fish, like a fool.


Hannya Gempo:   see Yamamoto Gempo Roshi.


Hannyaharamita shingyo: See Heart Sutra.


Hara:   also kikai-tanden, Jap., lit. “underbody, belly, gut”. Physiologically, the hara refers to the area of the loins, including the stomach, abdomen and hips, and the functions of digestion and elimination connected with them. In esoteric Buddhism, the hara (as the lower abdomen) is recognised as the body–mind’s vital centre, and it is believed that by learning to focus the mind there and to radiate all one’s activities from that region, one develops greater mental and physical equi­li­brium and a re­serve of energy.


Harada Roshi:   also called Daiun Sogaku Harada or Harada Sogaku-roshi (1870–1961), one of the most important Zen masters of modern Japan.

    At the age of seven, he became a monk in a monastery of the Soto school, and trained later at a monastery of the Rinzai school. Eventually, he blended the best of each school into an integral school now referred to as the “Harada-line”. Under his forceful leadership as abbot, the Hosshin-ji monastery became a stronghold of authentic Zen train­ing in a modern Japan that was no longer rich in Zen masters.

    His instructions for beginners in Zen became known also in the West through his student and dharma successor Hakuun Ryoko Yasutani. The Diamond Sangha evolved from the “Harada–Yasutani line”.


Hatred:   indulging or dwelling in anger; ill will toward everything that stands in the way of grati­fi­ca­tion.


Heart Sutra:   (in Japanese, Maka Hannyaharamita shingyo), roughly “Heartpiece of the Prajña­paramita sutra”; shortest of the 40 sutras that constitute the Prajñaparamita sutra. It is one of the most import­ant sutras of Mahayana Buddhism and, par­ticularly in China and Japan, it is recited by monks and nuns of almost all schools. The sutra is especially empha­sised in Zen, since it formulates in a particularly clear and concise way the teaching of emptiness, the immediate experience of which is sought by Zen practitioners. It also holds out the possibility of becoming not just a bodhisattva but a full buddha (“attaining anuttara samyak-samboddhi”). See also Ignorance, Form is no other than emptiness.


Hinayana:   see Theravada.


Hindrance:   (Skt, varana). In the Heart Sutra, “hindrance” refers generally to greed, attachment and clinging, either to the idea of a “self” or to material or intellectual acquisitions. Attachment to such impermanent things inevitably leads to fear of loss. The Mahayana emphasises con­tem­plat­ing emptiness (of the self, of all other things, and of wisdom itself, including the teachings of the Buddha) as a means of overcoming greed, attachment and clinging, and hence of removing all fear. This contemplation is called Prajñaparamita (see also Prajña). According to the Heart Sutra, enlightenment immediately follows the removal of all such hindrances.


Home leaving:   (Skt, pravrajya); leaving behind one’s family and abandoning all social ties; the first step in the life of a Theravadin monk. With this step, symbolised by shaving the head and beard and putting on a yellow robe, one en­ters the novitiate. In the non-monastic Dia­mond Sangha, where many serious stu­dents of Zen pursue authentic practice in a lay set­ting, the idea of “home leaving” has been re­interpreted.

    In Zen, the lay disciple, at jukai, symbolically leaves his/her former “home” in the world of attach­ment and delusion, while re­main­ing in the world.

    In Zen, leaving home can also represent leaving the sometimes comfortable, sometimes claustrophobic con­struct of “I” and venturing forth into the unknown.

    Furthermore, according to Dogen Zenji: “The fun­da­mental re­quirement of the way is home departure. What you should understand correctly is that the day of home departure is the day when the opposition be­tween bodhi and the first thought of enlightenment is trans­cended.”


Homon:   see Dharma Gates.


How it came to us:   In the meal ritual of Japanese Zen monasteries, this prompt to be mindful of the sources of our food includes a reference to “72 labours”, 72 being the number of work roles in a monastery.


Hsin-Hsin-Ming:   Chin.; in Japanese, Shinjinmei: “Affirming Faith in Mind” or “Song of Faith Mind”, a poem traditionally attributed to Seng-ts’an (d. 606?). It is one of the earliest Zen writings. It expounds Zen’s basic principles in poetic form and shows strong Taoist in­flu­ence. It begins with a famous sentence often quoted in Zen literature: “The venerable way is not difficult at all; it only abhors pick­ing and choosing”. In this early Zen poem the fusion of the mutually congenial teachings of Maha­yana Buddhism and Taoism appears for the first time.


Hungry Ghosts:   (Jap.: gaki; Skt: preta); in­hab­it­ants of one of the Six Realms of Existence (or Six Worlds). They are said to suffer the torment of hunger, because their bellies are immense but their mouths only as big as the eye of a needle. They are also subject to various other tortures. In a Chinese tradition, some hungry ghosts are said to live on the remains of sacrifices, or on left-overs in general. At Diamond Sangha sesshin, as in Zen monasteries, it is customary to make a small food offering of “grain” (such as rice, wheat, barley, noodle, bread) to the “hungry ghosts” before beginning to eat a meal; and at the end, to offer them the last remnants of tea in one’s bowl. These offerings are later distributed outside on the ground. In Japanese folklore, flies are sometimes seen as manifestations of hungry ghosts.


Ignorance:   (in Skt: avidya); To be distinguished from “not knowing”. Refusing to acknow­ledge the Four Noble Truths. For the Mahayana, neglecting or ignor­ing essential nature, emptiness and the primal harmony of beings.

    Ignorance is that state of mind that does not correspond to reality, that holds illusory phe­nomena for reality, and brings forth suffering. Ignorance occasions craving (see Chain of causation. According to the Mahayana view, ignorance with regard to the emptiness of appearances entails that a person who is not enlightened will take the phenomenal world to be the only reality and thus conceal from himself the essential truth.

    When the Heart Sutra says: “in emptiness there is… no ignorance and also no ending of ignorance, and so on to no old age and death and also no ending of old age and death”, the words “and so on” refer to the twelve links in the Chain of Causation.This is one of the earliest and most important teachings of the Buddha, which outlines, in twelve steps, how human beings, through ignorance, perpetuate the cycle of suffering (duhkha). The first step is ignorance, and the twelfth is old age and death. We note that in the Heart Sutra, “no ignorance” applies only in the realm of emptiness, which is here being delineated in terms of what it is not; in the phenomenal world, on the other hand, as we remind ourselves in the Four Vows, “greed, hatred and ignorance rise endlessly”.


Impermanence:   (Skt anitya). A fundamental tenet of Buddhism is that all things that come into being dependent on causes and conditions are impermanent. Impermanence refers to the arising, passing away, changing and disappearance of things that have arisen, a process that takes place from moment to moment. It is because of the impermanence of the five skandhas that Buddhism teaches there can be no eternal self or soul. And because situations constantly change and in time all things decay, there can be no permanent hap­pi­ness, and suffering arises.


Inga:   Jap., lit. “cause-fruit”; cause and effect in the sense of the Buddhist law of cause and effect (karma). In Zen, the basis of which is the immediate realisation of the true nature of reality, which transcends the categories of time and space as well as linear connections within time and space, it is said “Inga ichinyo” (“Cause and effect are one”). Dogen’s teaching that “practice and enlightenment are one” is another aspect of “the oneness of cause and effect”; thus, we become buddhas because we already are buddhas. Symbolically, the lotus, wherein the bud and the seeds appear at the same time, is taken to represent  “the oneness of cause and effect”.


Inkin:   Jap.; a small bowl-shaped bell (“Leadership bell”) with a cushion beneath it, which is placed on a wooden pedestal and struck with a small metal striker. The inkin is sometimes used in Zen monasteries to signal the beginning or end of zazen periods or is rung at the beginning of recitations.


Ino:   also ina, e’shu or chiji; Jap.; a monk who is charged with the supervision and leading of cere­monies in a Zen monastery. At sesshins under the Diamond Sangha tradition, the Ino (Director of Labour) leads the various services and ceremonies in the dojo, including sutras in the morning, the three meals, tea ceremonies, and the sutras before and after the teisho.


Interview:   see Dokusan.


Jikijitsu:   Jap.; “Regulator”; in the Rinzai school, the elder monk who is charged with the supervision of the zendo. The Jikijitsu in the zendo of a Rinzai Zen monastery is in charge of the medi­ta­­tion in the zendo, keeps time with the clappers and gong, leads recitations and keeps discipline. The most important official after the Roshi. See also jisha.

    At sesshin in the Diamond Sangha tradi­tions, the jikijitsu is the timekeeper who sounds the various signals for wakeup, zazen, kinhin, teisho. She or he leads kinhin, and the early morn­ing exercise.


Jisha:   Jap.; an important official in a Zen temple. With the jikijitsu, he handles all zendo affairs. He keeps the zendo clean, helps newcomers, serves tea and reports regularly to the Roshi. He is the adminis­tra­tive as distinct from the training official in the zendo life.

    At sesshin in the Diamond Sangha tradition, the jisha (“Attendant”) is in charge of dokusan pro­ceed­ings, and serves as escort to the Roshi coming and going from teisho. The jisha is also responsible for such sesshin logistics as seating arrangements, the serving of meals, lighting, ventilation, visitors and messages. In Zen centres, she or he shares respon­sibility with the Head Resident for sesshin planning.


Jo raku ga jo:    words recited in the Emmei Jikku Kannon Gyo. They refer to the four char­acteristics of nirvana as taught in the Nirvana Sutra (Chinese, c. 5th century C.E.): eternal, joyous, personal and pure in nature. These four attributes arise from four freedoms: freedom from time, distress, bondage and delusion, and are var­i­ously translated as “perpe­tuity, joy, self, and purity” or “constancy, ease, assur­ance, purity” (Robert Aitken).

    This teaching was considered heretical by many in China, since it contrasts with the Praj­ña­paramita Sutras, where nirvana is described as the realisation of empti­ness. The reference to “self” also presents a prob­lem and has been much debated; here it may perhaps be taken to mean something like a buddha-nature ego, which is perceived and liberated when the illusory ego is banished.


Jukai:   Jap.;“receiving” or “granting” [ju] the precepts [kai]”. According to the Diamond Sangha liturgy for the jukai ceremony, “Jukai is acceptance of the Precepts. It is the acknow­ledge­ment: ‘I am a disciple of the Buddha Shakyamuni’. From this acceptance and acknow­ledge­ment arises practice on cushions and in daily life.”

    In the Diamond Sangha cere­mony, one commits oneself to avoid all evil, to do good, and to work for the salvation of all beings (see Pure Precepts); and to be completely devoted to the Three Treasures and the ten “grave precepts” of Zen. The Buddha is thus accepted as one’s teacher and the precepts as guides. One also dons a rakusu and receives a dharma name. In the Diamond Sangha, jukai is offered as a completely optional formality, but it can have a profound resonance in one’s life and practice.

    In Soto Zen, special jukai retreats may last several days, with elaborate ceremonies. There, jukai may be seen as absolving one’s misdeeds and confirming one’s buddhahood; the precepts as being transmitted to the initiate in direct succession from the Buddha; and the kesa (or rakusu), representing the Buddha’s robe, as having mystical significance. Remnants and echoes of these deeper teachings may be found in the Diamond Sangha jukai liturgy, including its “Verse of the Rakusu” (known elsewhere as the “Verse of the Kesa”).


Kalpa:   Skt; world cycle, world age; term for an endlessly long period of time, which is the basis of Buddhist time reckoning. The length of a kalpa is illustrated by the following simile: suppose that every hundred years a piece of silk is rubbed once on a solid rock one cubic mile in size; when the rock is worn away by this, one kalpa will still not have passed.


Kanjizai:   An alternative name for Kannon/Kanzeon/Avalokiteshvara, used in the Heart Sutra, and carrying a different meaning. It derives from the Sino-Japanese “kan”, to see or penetrate; “ji”, oneself; “zai”, is or to be.

    “Kanjizai is the one who sees what the self is, how it exists and what it is doing. It is the wisdom side of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Kanzeon is the compassion side.” (Taizan Maezu­mi Roshi)

    “The quality of bearing witness or non-judging has two important characteristics. These characteristics are embodied in Kanzeon and Kanjizai, the Japanese names for Ava­lo­ki­tesh­vara (Sanskrit). As Kanzeon, the ‘One who Hears the Cries of the World’, we practise con­necting and staying close to the suffering of others. As Kanjizai, the ‘One who settles in the Self’, we remain grounded in not-knowing.” (Sensei Wendy Egyoku Nakao)


Kannon:   see Avalokiteshvara.


Kansho:   “shout bell”; a bell kept outside the dojo near the head of the dokusan line and used by the jisha to signal the beginning and end of dokusan. In centres where possible dis­turbance of the neighbours is not a factor, the students will sound this bell in turn just before going to dokusan.


Kanzeon:   see Avalokitshvara.


Kapilavastu:   Skt; home city of the historical Buddha, located at the foot of the Himalayas in present-day Nepal. Kapilavastu was the capital of the kingdom of the Shakyas. The Buddha was born in Lumbini near Kapilavastu and spent his childhood and youth in Kapilavastu. He is said to have visited the city frequently even after his enlightenment.


Karma:   Skt., lit. “deed”; Universal law of cause and effect; affinity; the function of Mutual Inter­dependence. The effect of an action, which can be of the nature of body, speech or mind, is not primarily determined by the act itself but rather by the intention of the action. Only a deed that is free from desire, hate and delusion is without karmic effect. It should be noted that also good deeds engender karma and thus renewed rebirth. In order to liberate oneself from the cycle of rebirth, one must refrain from both “good” and “bad” deeds.

    In the Yogachara School, as followed by Zen, karma is often figuratively spoken of in terms of “seeds” that eventually ripen and bear fruit: see  Consciousness (8). These seeds may be nurtured, allowed to lie fallow, or rendered inactive by nurturing opposing seeds. The teaching of karma thus does not constitute determinism or fate.


Keisaku:   see Kyosaku.


Keisu:   a bronze, bowl-shaped drum or gong used during chanting by all Buddhist sects in Japan. It is struck on the rim by a small padded club or mallet. It punctuates the chanting of the sutras.


Keizan Jokin:   1268–1325; after Dogen Zenji, the most important Zen master of the Soto school of Japan. He compiled the koan collection known as the Denko-roku (“Transmission of Light”).


Kensho:   Jap., lit. “seeing nature”; Zen expression for awakening (en­light­enment). Since the meaning is “seeing one’s own true nature”, kensho is often translated as “self-realisation”, which English-speakers tend to misinterpret as Maslow-style “self-actualisa­tion”. This con­fusion may owe some­thing to Alan Watts, a great populariser of Zen who was also a leading light in the Human Potential Movement of the 1960s.

    Like all words that try to reduce the conceptually un­grasp­able phenomenon of enlightenment to a con­cept, this one is also not entirely accurate and is even misleading, since in enlightenment there is no duality of “seer” and “seen”, no “nature of self” as an object that is seen by a subject separate from it.

    Semantically, kensho has the same meaning as satori and the two terms are often used synonym­ously. Nevertheless it is customary to use the word satori when speaking of the enlightenment of the Buddha or the Zen patriarchs, and to use the word kensho when speak­ing of a transitory first glimpse of enlightenment that still requires to be deepened, repeated, stabilised and integrated into one’s being.


Kentan:   Jap., lit. “looking at the tan”; a round made by Zen masters through the zendo along the rows of zazen practitioners early in the morning during the first set of sitting periods of a day of sesshin. By making this round, the master gets an impression of the state of mind of the practitioners, each of whom greets him with a gassho.


Kichijo-ten:   (Skt Lakshmi); the Hindu goddess  Lakshmi, later incorporated into Buddhism. Her name “Lakshmi” is derived from the Sanskrit word lakshya, meaning “aim” or “goal”, and she is the incarnation of beauty, wealth, good fortune, merit and prosperity, both material and spiritual. In Japan, prayers for peace and agricultural fertility were offered to her. In the Diamond Sangha, a short ode (dharani) to Kichijo, inherited from Japanese Zen, is chanted three times “to remove disasters”.

    “In the ‘Sho Sai Myo Kichijo Dharani’ we invoke the healing mind… This chant is pure sounds, not words. There’s no translation for it. It is a sequence of sounds that dates back to Sanskrit sources, a series of linked mantras designed to create a healing state of conscious­ness… All the different voices of the sangha set up a resonance, a synergy. When the chanting is right on, it goes beyond sound. You can actually feel it… It’s dedicated to people who are suffering life-threatening illnesses. It’s a way of sending forth the collective energy of the sangha to people in need of support and healing.” (John Daido Loori)


Kinhin:   Jap.; Zen walking as it is practised in Zen monasteries between sitting periods (zazen).

    In the Rinzai school the walking is done fast and energetically, frequently at a jog, while in the Soto school kinhin is practised in a “slow-motion” tempo. In the lineage of Zen started by Harada Roshi, a pace between these two ex­tremes is practised. Kinhin serves as a link between immobile zazen and zazen in motion (daily activities).

    The interpretation of the word kinhin as “sutra walking” is open to question. “Kin” can mean “pass­age across”, including “to experience”; so that Robert Aitken has proposed as a possible alterna­tive translation: “walking verification”.


Koan:   Jap., lit. “public notice”; the Chinese “kung-an” originally meant a legal case con­sti­tut­ing a precedent. Koans have been used in Zen as a systematic means of training since around the middle of the 10th century. Traditionally, there are said to be 1700 koans; this figure was arrived at by attributing one koan to each of the 1701 Zen masters whose names appear in the Ching-te ch’uan-teng lu (11th Century collection of lives of the masters). Present-day Japanese masters use about 500 to 600 traditional koans. Western Zen continues to add new ones from a variety of sources.

    Aitken Roshi defines a koan as “a presentation of the harmony of the Universal and the Particular; a theme of Zazen to be made clear”.

    Essential to a Zen koan is paradox, in the sense of that which is “beyond” (Grk, para) “thinking” (Grk, dokein), that which transcends the logical or conceptual. Thus, since it cannot be solved by rea­son, a koan is not a riddle. Solving a koan requires a leap to another level of com­pre­hension, beyond dualistic modes of thought. On the basis of this experience, the student can demonstrate his own solution of the koan to the master in a doku­san spon­ta­ne­ously and without re­course to preconceived notions. See also Mu.

Even within circles that make use of them, koan prac­tice has received criticism for en­courag­ing mere clever­ness and wordplay rather than genuine enlight­en­ment or deep per­sonal transformation. However, when used properly, koans are credited with help­ing students break down the barriers to enlightenment that the rational habits of the mind erect, and with instill­ing a profound understanding of Buddhism and its goals at a direct, experiential level. It is impracticable to attempt koan practice without regular contact with a teacher.


Kotsu:   Jap., lit. “bones”, also nyoi (Jap.); the sceptre, about 35 cm long, of a Zen master (roshi), which is bestowed on him by his master as a sign of his mastership.

    The sceptre has a slight S-shaped curve, like a human spinal column. The roshi uses the ko­tsu, for example, to emphasise a point in a teisho, to lean on when sitting, or also occasionally to strike a student.


Koun Zenshin:   see Yamada Koun Roshi.


Kuan-yin:    one of the most popular objects of devo­tion and reverence in east Asian Bud­dhism. Although seen as a woman, she is identical with the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and her name is the Chinese translation of his. Kuan-yin’s major attributes and functions are set out in the seventh fascicule of the Lotus Sutra, in which the bodhisattva proclaims his willingness to act on behalf of all suffering beings. In particular, he promises to grant a child to any woman who prays to him for one, and the image of the “child-granting Kuan-yin” has become especially popular. Kuan-yin’s broad compassion, all-embracing vows to­wards all beings, ability to manifest in various forms, and easy accessibility through prayer have all served to make her the most widely called-upon source of help not only in east Asian Bud­dhism but in the folk beliefs of all regions as well. Iconographically, she can be rec­og­nised by her head-dress, in which the future Buddha Maitreya appears. She often also carries a vase of am­bro­sial dew, which she may pour out as a remedy for suffering; or she may sprinkle it around with a willow-twig (the willow having long been known for its pain-killing prop­erties).


Kushinagara:   present-day Kasia in the state of Uttar-Pradesh; one of the four sacred places of Buddhism. This is where the Buddha Shakyamuni died.

     After his death, his mortal remains were burned outside Kushinagara. According to tra­di­tion, part of the relics were preserved in a stupa in Ku­shi­na­gara. The city thus became one of the most important Buddhist places of pilgrimage. However, by the 7th Century it had been destroyed.


Kyosaku:   also keisaku, Jap., lit. “wake-up stick”; flattened stick, 75 to 100 cm in length, with which the “sitters” in Zen monasteries are struck on the shoulders and back during long periods of zazen in order to encourage and stimulate them. Each shoulder is struck twice on points corresponding to acu­puncture meridians.

    The kyosaku symbolises the sword of wis­dom of the bodhisattva Mañ­jushri, which cuts through all delusion; thus it is always respectfully handled.

    The kyosaku is always used to help and encourage, never, as is often wrongly supposed, to punish. In the Diamond Sangha tradition, it is used only on request from the sitter. It helps to overcome fatigue, awakens potential and can, used just at the right moment, bring a person to glimpse or deepen enlightenment.


Liberation:   The image is of being released from the Chain of causation, or the bonds of attachment (see also Greed) that bind one to repeated suffering. The Theravada also speaks of ten “fetters” (Pali samyojana) that chain a being to the cycle of suffering (samsara): (1) belief in a permanent self, (2) scepticism, (3) clinging to rites and rules, (4) sensuous craving, (5) hatred, (6) craving for refined corporeality, (7) craving for incor­por­eality, (8) conceit, (9) restlessness or excitability, and (10) ignorance.

In the second of our Four Great Vows, we undertake to cut through the constricting bonds of attachment. This can lead to a still greater, previously unimagined freedom.


Life-and-Death:   (Jap. shoji; Skt samsara); also “birth-and-death”: the world of relativity, transience and karma; the transformation which all phenomena, including our thoughts and feelings, are ceaselessly undergoing, moment to moment, in accordance with the law of caus­ation. Life-and-death, which Dogen called “the life of a Buddha”, can be compared to the waves on the ocean. See also Impermanence, Six Realms of Existence, Karma, Conscious­ness.


Lion’s roar:   a term designating authoritative or powerful preaching. As the lion’s roar makes all ani­mals tremble, subdues elephants, arrests birds in their flight and fishes in the water, so Buddha’s preaching overthrows all other religions, subdues devils, con­quers heretics, and arrests the misery of life.


Lochana:   Skt; the consort of Vairochana, incarnating harmony, interbeing, the sangha and the Sambhogakaya (see Buddha bodies).


Lotus:   plant of the water lily family (nelumbo nucifera, also nelumbium speciosum). In Buddhism, the lotus is a symbol of the true nature of beings, which remains unstained by the mud of the world of samsara and ignorance, and which is real­ised through enlightenment. It grows up from the dark power of the mud, is nourished by that very mud, yet can transcend it, to unfold its true qualities, like flower petals, in the radiance of enlightenment-consciousness.


Lotus Land:   Nirvana; Pure Land.


Lotus of the Subtle Law Sutra:   more usually called the Lotus Sutra. In Pure Land schools, it is considered to be an emanation of the Buddha himself. It is also called “Mahayana” (Great Way, Great Vehicle), since it expounded for the first time the path that aims at buddhahood itself, rather than lesser vehicles that aimed only at becoming a saint or a bodhisattva.


Lotus posture:   so called because the Buddha, when he is depicted in this position, is usually shown seated on a lotus. In assuming this posture, practitioners identify with the Buddha and his determination under the bodhi tree.

     Bring the cushion to the back edge of the padded mat, sit on it, and rest both knees on the mat. Place your right foot on your left thigh, as high as possible, and then your left foot on your right thigh. The back is straight, and the hands rest with the palms turned up on the heels of both feet. In the Diamond Sangha, the left palm rests on the right; this may be seen as an expression of the dom­inance of the passive over the active side of the body in the practice of meditation. This hand position (Jap. join, Skt dhyana mudra), with the thumbs held straight and touching at the tips, forms the so-called “mystic triangle” that is found in earliest Indian Bud­dhist sculpture. The triangle mudra is said to represent the Three Treasures; in esoteric Buddhism it has a number of other mystical meanings.


Loving-kindness:   see Metta.


Magadha:   North Indian kingdom of the time of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. Magadha was the country of origin of Buddhism, from which it spread to other parts of India. Tradition states that the historical Buddha spoke the language of Magadha, which is not the same as Pali.


Mahasattva:   Skt; great noble being.


Mahayana:   (Skt, “Great Vehicle”). Mahayana Buddhism arose in India around the 1st century b.c.e, and underwent a long, gradual development before affirming an identity of its own. During this time, Mahayana and non-Mahayana monks lived together without discord in the same monastery: the Mahayana was not seen as a rival school, and was not the conse­quence of a schism within the sangha. It was transmitted to China in the 2nd century c.e., and also spread to Nepal, Tibet, central Asia, Korea and Japan.

The Mahayana from its beginnings was characterised by a certain style of religiosity, related to the idea that the Buddha is still around in some form, and somehow still active in the world. Eventually, the Mahayana proposed the possibility for all of full enlighten­ment, or buddhahood: that is, a mind free from suffering and its causes, willing and able to work tirelessly for the benefit of all living beings. See also Lotus of the Subtle Law Sutra.

Basic Mahayana ideas were explored and deepened in the 2nd Century c.e. by Nagarjuna, who is the first in the history of Buddhism to have constructed a philosophical “system”. He took the Chain of causation as his point of departure for examining emptiness. He also developed a special dialectic for his logical investigations. Zen has claimed him for its own, as the 14th patriarch in the Indian lineage.

In general, Mahayana Buddhism is a mixture of “the wisdom of emptiness” joined with compassion, and the religious or emotional expression of this wisdom/compassion in a vast array of buddha and bodhisattva figures. Adherents are encouraged to emulate these trans­cendent bodhisattvas and buddhas in “saving the many beings”.

Over the centuries, the Mahayana, while still accepting the sutras of the Pali Canon, created its own voluminous set of scriptures, in which free rein was given to theoretical experi­ment­a­tion and mythological imagination. It also acquired its own doctrines and stories, its own version of key events such as the Buddha’s enlightenment, its own inter­pret­a­tion of the can­on­ical teachings, and its own cosmological vision. It further gave rise to various system­at­is­ing, philosophical and devotional sub-schools. To bolster its own identity in sectarian debate, the Mahayana has portrayed the other main school of Buddhism (the Theravada) as an inferior vehicle that ignores compassion


Makyo:   Jap., roughly “diabolic phenomenon”, from ma (akuma), “devil” and kyo, “pheno­menon, objective world”. Makyo are deceptive appearances and feelings that can arise in the practice of zazen. These phenomena include visual hallucinations as well as hallu­ci­na­tions involving the other senses, such as sounds, odours, etc., also prophetic visions, involun­tary movements and, so it is said, levitation. All these phenomena, whether frightening or seductive, are not “diabolic” so long as the practi­tioner pays them no heed and continues un­distracted in his or her practice.

    In a deeper sense, for Zen the entire experienced world of the unenlightened person—the world of “everyman’s consciousness”—is nothing but makyo, a hallucination. The true nature, or buddha-nature, of all phenomena is ex­perienced only in enlightenment.

    More generally, any phenomena or ex­peri­ences which distract one from practice or to which one becomes attached may be called makyo.

    On the other hand, Robert Aitken Roshi relates makyo to the world of dream, which may enable deep participation in the Buddha Dharma, trans­cend­ing boundaries of time and place. He advises: “In your practice, when you find yourself in a dreamlike condition with strange images coming and going, hold fast to Mu, hold fast to your breath-counting, and let the pro­cess unfold”.


Mala:   Skt, lit. “garland, rose”; a string of beads that is used to count repetitions in the recitation of mantras, dharanis and so on. The number of beads in a standard Buddhist mala is 108.


Mani Jewel:   (Skt chintamani);
    (1) the wish-fulfilling jewel, attribute of various buddhas and bodhisattvas;

    (2) a symbol for the liberated mind; the jewel or pearl of buddhahood.


Mañjushri:   Skt (Jap. Monju), lit. “He Who Is Noble and Gentle”; the archetypal bodhisattva of wisdom, one of the most important figures of the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon. He first appears in a work dating from before the 4th century. Iconographically, he may be de­picted riding a lion (representing the vigour arising from satori) and holding both a book of the Mahayana wisdom literature and the sword of wisdom, which cuts through delusion. Espe­cially appreciated in the Zen sect, Mañjushri bodhisattva is often the principal figure on the zendo altar, on the Buddha’s left.


Mantra:   Skt; a power-laden syllable or series of syllables that manifests certain cosmic forces and aspects of the buddhas. Continuous repetition of mantras is practised as a form of meditation in many Buddhist schools. The practice is believed to be based on a knowledge of the occult power of sound.

    In the esoteric schools, these sacred sounds are transmitted to a disciple at the time of ini­ti­ation. When the disciple’s mind is properly attuned, the inner vibrations of the word symbol together with its associations in the consci­ous­ness of the initiate are said to open his mind to higher dimensions.


Many Beings:   see Beings. Distinguish from the particular subset called sentient beings.


Mat:  see Zabuton.


Meditation:   General term for a multitude of religious practices, often quite different in method, but all having the same goal: to bring the conscious­ness of the practitioner to a state in which he or she can come to “awakening”, “libera­tion”, “en­ligh­ten­ment”. Esoteric schools of various reli­gions have devel­oped different “ways” leading to this event, which are suited to their respective historical, geo­graphical and cultural circumstances as well as to the psycho­logical dispositions and personality types of different individuals or groups. If an individual religion comes to a conclusion concerning a specific un­whole­some state of mind of people in a culture which it is its goal to cure, then the “medicine” to accomplish the cure will be the path of meditative training developed within that religion. Such train­ing, while not a goal in itself, should also not be regarded as a mere means to an end; for, as many re­li­gious traditions stress, “the path is the goal”.

    A common mark of all forms of meditation is that they begin by calming the mind of the practitioner, clarifying it like the sur­face of a turbulent body of water, the bottom of which one can see only when the surface is still and the water is clear. This is accomplished through different techniques, depending on the method of training—for example, by physical or breathing exer­cises as in hatha-yoga, by concentration on symbolic forms (e.g. mandalas) or sounds (mantras) as in esoteric Bud­dhism, on feel­ings such as love or compassion, on pictorial representations (visualisation) or on sacred texts, as in Christian contemplation, on a koan as in Zen, or by resting in collected, con­tent­less wakeful­ness as in the Zen practice of shikantaza or Christian contemplation. A second phase of meditation is call “insight”: see Shikan.

    Diligent practice of meditation leads to a non­dualistic state of mind in which, the distinc­tion between subject and object having disappeared and the practitioner having become one with “the absolute”, conventions like time and space are trans­cended in an “eternal here and now”, and the identity of life and death, phenomenal and essential, samsara and nirvana, is experienced. If this experi­ence, in the process of endlessly ongoing spiritual training, can be integrated into daily life, then finally that stage is reached which religions refer to as salva­tion, libera­tion, or complete enlightenment. See also Zazen.

    It is to noted here that meditation is not the be-all-and-end-all of Zen practice: it is just one aspect of the Eightfold Path and of ongoing spiritual training.


Mental Formation, Mental Reaction:    Skt samskara, the fourth of the Five Skandhas and the second link in the Chain of causation. The term, also translated as “psycho­logical powers of form” or “mental impulses”, includes the majority of mental activities such as volition, attention, discrimination, joy, happiness, equa­ni­mity, resolve, exertion, compulsion, concen­tration and so on.


Merit:   the good results of a good action; a function of karma. Robert Aitken also uses the term “auspicious power”. More particularly, this term refers to the karmic merit gained through giving alms, performing ceremonies, reciting sutras, and so on. According to the Mahayana, a being needs to accumulate a sufficient store of merit in order to proceed along the spiritual path. However, the Mahayana criticises as “spiritual materialism” the notion of egoistic ac­cu­mu­la­tion of merit, and teaches that any merit accruing from an action should serve the enlightenment of all beings by being transferred to others. See Dedication.


Metta:   Pali (Skt maitri); loving-kindness; concern for the welfare of others; goodwill, as in the disposition of a friend. An important  Buddhist virtue, metta is to be culti­vated towards all in a spirit of generosity which is free of attachment or thoughts of self-interest. Metta is prac­tised as a meditational exercise by being directed first of all to oneself, then those close to one (such as friends and family), and then extended by stages to embrace all living beings. “Under the guidance of a seasoned teacher, the resistance one feels to this compassionate practice is faced squarely and allowed to wither and disappear.” (Robert Aitken)

    “In the Theravada view, metta is the ground of the Noble Abodes (see Sublime States), as contrasted with the Zen view, which would probably name equanimity as the ground.” (Robert Aitken)

The Mahayana Nirvana sutra declares: “Loving-kindness is Mahayana. Mahayana is Loving-kindness. Loving-kindness is the Tathagata. The Tathagata is Loving-kindness.” See also Compassion.


Mind:   (in Japanese, kokoro or shin); defined by Robert Aitken for the Diamond Sangha as “the unknown and unknowable that comes forth as the plenum with its particular beings and their inter­dependence and affinities; essential nature; also the human mind”.

    Ask the ordinary Japanese where his mind is and the chances are he will point to his heart or chest. Ask the same question of a Westerner and he will indicate his head. These two ges­tures illustrate the difference between the conception of mind in the East and in the West. The word kokoro, which is trans­lated by the English “mind”, also means “heart”, “spirit”, “psyche” or “soul”. Mind (with a small “m”) therefore means more than the seat of the in­tel­lect. Mind with a capital “M” stands for absolute Reality. For the Tendai School, which has strongly influenced Japanese Zen,  characterising the final nature of things, or “truth”, as “Mind” means re-envisioning truth as not just a static apprehension of how things are, but as something living and active, working within the world through the ordinary things of the world to effect the liberation of sentient beings. See also Buddha-nature, Vairochana.


Mindfulness:   (Skt, smriti; Pali, sati) In Buddhism, attention or mindfulness (see Eightfold Path, 7,) refers to careful observation of all mental and physical activities, an alert state of mind that should be cultivated constantly, to monitor the arising of greed, hatred and ignor­ance (see Chain of causation), and as the foundation for understanding and insight (prajña; see also Shikan). More generally, practising mindfulness in Bud­dhism means to per­form con­sciously all acti­vi­ties, in­clud­ing every­day, automatic activities such as breath­ing, wal­king etc.


Mokugyo:   Jap., lit. “wooden fish”, also gyorin; a wooden drum originally carved in the form of a fish, but which today usually has a bell-like form. The mokugyo, which is struck with a stick with a padded head, is used in Japan in the recitation of sutras in Buddhist monasteries.

    In Buddhism, fish, since they never sleep, sym­bolise the resiliency and wakefulness nec­essary on the path to buddhahood.


Mountains and Rivers sesshin:   First introduced by poet and Zen pioneer Gary Snyder with the American Ring of Bone Zendo in 1978, after he had participated in several group walking pilgrim­ages to Buddhist moun­tain sites in Japan. Over the years, through trial and error, inspi­ra­tion and accident, a schedule and a particular set of forms have evolved for a Mountains and Rivers sesshin within the Diamond Sangha. These sesshins, lasting up to a week, entail long hours of silent, focused bushwalking (sometimes back­pack­ing, sometimes from a camp base), combined with ele­ments from the traditional sesshin (e.g. zazen, dokusan, teisho). For further details, see the MZG newsletter for November 2001.


Morality:   refers to the process of character formation, pursued on the Eightfold Path and fulfilled in the paramitas.


Mu:   Jap. (in Chinese, wu), lit. “nothing, not, nothingness, un-, is not, has not, not any”; the key word of the famous koan “Zhaozhou’s dog”, often called the koan Mu. This koan is as follows:

A monk asked master Zhaozhou respectfully: “Does a dog really have buddha-nature or not?” Zhaozhou said: “Mu”.

    The task of the Zen student, while practising zazen with this mu, is to come to an im­mediate experience, beyond any intellectual signifi­cation, of its very profound content. Since this koan is extra­ordinarily apt for enabling a break­through, it is often the first koan received by a Zen student from his master. When the student has mastered it, it is said that he has become acquainted with “the world of Mu”. In the course of Zen training this Mu is to be experienced and demons­trated on ever deeper levels.


Mudra:   Skt, lit. “seal, sign”; a bodily posture or a symbolic gesture. In Buddhist icon­o­graphy, every bud­dha is depicted with a characteristic gesture of the hands. Such ges­tures cor­respond to natural gestures (of teaching, protecting and so on) and also to certain aspects of the Buddhist teaching or of the particular buddha depicted. Mudras acquired special sig­nif­i­cance in the Mahayana, especially in the esoteric schools. Here the mudras help to actualise certain inner states in that they anticipate their physical ex­press­ion; thus they assist in  bring­ing about a connection between the prac­titioner and the buddha visualised in a given practice. Cf Lotus Posture.


Mumonkan:   Japanese name for the Wu-men kuan:  see Wu-men.  


Nagarjuna:   The 14th patriarch of Zen in its Indian lineage, a major figure in the rise of philo­sophical Mahayana, and founder of the Madhya­mika or Middle Way School. Little is known of his life although it is generally accepted that he lived during the late 2nd century c.e. Over a hundred works are attributed to him, but most of these were probably by other authors.

Nagarjuna is the first in the history of Buddhism to have constructed a philosophical “system”. His major accomplishment was his systematisation and deep­en­ing of the teach­ing presented in the Prajña­para­mita Sutras, and the development of a special dialectic for this purpose. Nagarjuna selected as his point of departure the law of Conditioned Arising (Chain of Causation); he set out to prove the un­reality of the external world, explored and refined the notion of emptiness, af­firmed the identity of nirvana and the phenomenal world, and saw nir­vana as con­sisting in the realisation of the true nature of pheno­mena. His philosophy was of enduring significance for later Mahayana Buddhist thought, including Zen.

Nagarjuna’s name comes from naga, “serpent” and arjuna, a type of tree. According to legend, he was born under a tree and was instructed in the occult sci­ences by the nagas in their palace under the sea. There, in some caves, he is said to have discovered the texts of the Prajñaparamita Sutras.


Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa:   A traditional gatha of veneration to the Buddha, recited in the original Pali language. “Namo” means “hail” or “I venerate” (see Namu). The other terms are titles given to the Buddha, and may be translated as “the Sacred One, the Great Sage, the Truly Enlightened One” or “the Lord, the Worthy One, the Perfectly Awakened One”.


Namu:   Jap.; Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese charac­ter by which the Sanskrit word “namas” is translated into Chinese. It means approximately “venerate, praise” and is gen­eral­ly used in relation to the Buddha and the Three Treasures.


Nembutsu:   Jap.; recalling Buddha; meditation on the Buddha and his attributes; more particularly, recitation of the name of the Buddha Amitabha, a meditation practice of the Pure Land School.


Nen:   Jap., colloquial, lit. “idea, thought”; a concept that in Zen has a special meaning that is fairly dif­fer­ent from its mean­ing in the colloquial language. The Zen meaning derives from the Chinese character that is read “nen” in Japanese, which is comprised of one element meaning “present” and another ele­ment meaning “heart, mind, consciousness”. “Moment of consciousness”, “mind directed toward the moment” and “attention” are thus more accurate defi­nitions of the concept as it is used in Zen. A further meaning is “intensive, concentrated, nondualistic thought”, a thought that has no object outside itself.


Net of Indra:   a model of the interrelated Plenum in terms of the fishing net of the Hindu god Indra, found in the Ava­­tam­­saka Sutra. At each node of the net was a jewel, and each jewel reflected the light of every other jewel perfectly, thus causing its own light to be part of their light and accepting their light as part of its own.


Nirvana:   Skt, lit. “extinction” (nir, negative prefix; vana, to burn); the goal of spiritual practice in all branches of Buddhism. The Buddha declined to make any statement con­cern­ing the nature of nirvana. In the understanding of early Buddhism, it is departure from the cycle of rebirths (samsara) and entry into an en­tirely different mode of existence. It requires complete overcoming of greed, hatred and ignor­ance, and the coming to rest of active voli­tion. The char­ac­teristic marks of nirvana, in this sense, are absence of arising, subsisting, chang­ing and passing away.

    In the Mahayana, the notion of nirvana undergoes a change that may be attributed to the intro­duction of the bodhi­sattva ideal and to emphasis on the unified nature of the world. Nir­vana is conceived as oneness with the absolute, the unity of samsara and trans­cend­ence. It is also described, in the Mahayana Nirvana sutra, as dwelling in the experience of the abso­lute, bliss in cognis­ing one’s iden­tity with the absolute, and as freedom from attach­­ment to il­lusions, affects and desires (see Jo raku ga jo).

          In Zen, nirvana is also seen as the realisation of the true nature of the mind, which is identical with the true nature of human beings, buddha-nature. This reali­sation is only poss­ible through wisdom; thus nirvana is often equated with praj­ña. In the Zen sense, nirvana is the state in which a person lives who has attained wisdom; and wisdom exists in a person who has attained nirvana.

    Some Buddhist texts distinguish between nirvana in this life (cessation of suffering, or en­lightenment) and final nirvana, the condition that subsists in the post-mortem state; thus “to enter nirvana” can mean “to die”.


Not born, not destroyed, not stained, not pure, without loss, without gain:   Edward Conze interprets this phrase (which may be variously translated) as negating the three charac­ter­istics that Buddhism attributes to all conditioned things: impermanence, suffering and non-self. It may also be seen as a negation of dualism.


Not two, not three:   refers to a teaching from the Lotus Sutra. The Two Vehicles (for shravaka and pratyeka disciples) make up the so-called Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle”); the Three Vehicles are these plus the bodhisattva vehicle (the provisional Mahayana). The One Vehicle, as proclaimed by the Lotus Sutra, is the “highest” form of the Mahayana: the vehicle that aims directly at buddhahood itself.


Nyan ni san bo/An su in shi/Nyan pin dai shu nyan:   At Diamond Sangha sesshin meals, these lines are now usually recited in English as: We take refuge in the Three Treasures, /remembering our many honoured guides /with gratitude for their gifts of wisdom. What follows next, in the ritual, is an invocation of our “honoured guides”, listing the major mani­festations of “Buddha” (seen here as a cosmic principle).


Offerings:   see Paramita (1).


Om makulasai svaha:   An incantation of totally obscure meaning, now usually dropped from the Diamond Sangha sesshin meal service.


Oryoki:   Jap., roughly “that which contains just enough”; a set of nesting eating bowls, which Zen monks or nuns receive at their ordination. In a narrower sense oryoki means just the largest of these bowls, which corresponds to the single eating and begging bowl that the itinerant monks of India immediately after the time of Shakya­­muni Buddha were allowed to possess. This largest bowl, in which all the others are nested, is sometimes called the “Buddha bowl”; its round shape is seen as symbolic of the Buddha’s head. In an extended sense, oryoki refers to the ceremonial use of the eating bowls during the silently taken meals in a Zen monastery. Nowadays, oryoki are also used by lay­persons.

    A full, punctiliously formal ory­oki ritual is described at e.g. By comparison, the Melbourne Zen Group’s sesshin meals appear quite informal.


Oxherding pictures:   see Ten Oxherding Pictures.


Pali:   Ancient Indian literary language in which the canonical texts of Theravada Buddhism were first recorded, in Sri Lanka, based on a prior oral tradition. The sounds of the Pali language have been written down using a wide variety of scripts, according to the usage of different countries and cultures. This is confusing to many Westerners, who tend to assume that one set of phonemes is always tied to one script.  Despite excellent scholarship, there is persistent con­fu­sion as to the inter-relation of Pali to the vernacular of ancient Magadhi; the historical Buddha is believed to have spoken the language of Magadha, but this appears to differ from Pali.

    Although many Pali Buddhist terms sound similar to those of Sanskrit, they can sometimes have signif­i­cantly different meanings, and for many centuries, there was much philosophical debate between Bud­dhists, Hindus and other groups in India as to the religious meaning that should be assigned to certain key terms.

    It is popularly believed in Buddhist countries that Pali was created by and is spoken by supreme, celes­tial beings, and that it has supernatural efficacy. Thus it is believed that taking a vow or chanting a text in Pali has a special value.


Paramita:   Skt, lit. “that which has reached the other shore”, the transcendental. In the Mahayana, the para­mitas, gener­ally translated as “the perfections”, are the virtues perfected by a bodhisattva in the course of his devel­opment. There are basically six of these:

(1)    Dana-paramita (generosity, giving, charity), beneficence in giving in both the material and spiritual sense. This includes being compassionate and kind and not keeping accu­mu­lated merit for oneself but rather dedicating it to the liberation of all beings.

(2) Shila-paramita (discipline, morality, precepts), which includes proper behaviour con­duc­ive to the eradication of all passions and the securing of a favourable rebirth for the sake of liberating all beings.

(3) Kshanti-paramita (patience, forbearance) refers to the patience and tolerance that arise from the insight that all the problems of beings have causes.

(4) Virya-paramita (energy, vitality or exertion) is resolute effort that does not permit itself to be diverted by anything. The cultivation of this virtue involves unselfish application and effort to benefit others, as well as directing oneself towards religious goals, often at con­siderable personal expense.

(5) Dhyana-paramita (focused meditation) here means meditation as the way of cutting through the illusion of an ego and of not experiencing oneself as separate from other beings. The word “dhyana” is derived from the Sanskrit root dhya-, dhi-, “to see, observe”. Cf  Shikan, Vipashyana.

(6) Prajña-paramita (wisdom) is the realisation of supreme wisdom (Prajña), and informs and fulfils the other five paramitas.

    Sometimes a further four may be added: (7) upaya (skilful means), (8) pranidhana (re­solve), (9) bala (strength) and (10) jñana (knowledge).


Parinirvana:   Skt; total extinction. Parinirvana refers to the dissolution of the five skhandas at the death of an enlightened being and his or her passing into final nirvana. Sometimes parinirvana simply means the death of a monk or nun.


Perennial philosophy:   the belief, popularised by the Theosophical Society and, in the 1940s, by Aldous Huxley, that all mystical ex­pe­ri­ences throughout dif­ferent times and cultures have a common core, al­though they are interpreted and ex­pressed differently. Huxley wrote that this Perennial philosophy is:

the metaphysic that recognises a divine Re­al­ity substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul some­thing similar to, or even iden­ti­cal with, div­ine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the im­ma­nent and trans­cen­d­ent Ground of all be­ing… Most statements of the Perennial Phi­lo­sophy have included another doc­trine, af­firm­ing the existence of one or more human Incarnations of the Divine Ground, by whose mediation and grace the worshipper is helped to achieve his goal… In Mahayana Bud­dhism the Div­ine Ground is called Mind or the Pure Light of the Void.     

    For some contemporary Westerners, Zen, having been filtered through Indian, then Chinese, then Jap­an­ese, and now Western cultures, emerges as essen­ti­al­ly concen­trated “Perennial philosophy”, devoid of cult­ur­al or doctrinal baggage. The Shambhala Dic­ti­on­ary of Bud­dhism and Zen, for example (1991), pre­sents  Zen, “esoterically re­garded”, as:

not a religion but rather an indefinable, incom­mu­nicable root, free from all names, descriptions and concepts, that can only be ex­perienced by each individual for him- or herself. From ex­pressed forms of this, all religions have sprung. In this sense, Zen would not be bound to any religion, in­cluding Buddhism. It is the primordial per­fection of everything existing, designated by the most various names, experienced by all great sages and mystics of all cultures and times.


Porridge:   see Ten Ways in which Porridge is Effective.


Practice:   (in Japanese, shugyo); austerities, train­ing; endeavours in the dojo; zazen; following the precepts; turning the dharma wheel.


Prajña:   Skt (Jap. hannya); the power and functioning of en­light­ened mind, often translated as “wisdom” but closer in meaning to insight, discriminating know­ledge, or intuitive appre­hension. A central notion of the Mahayana, this term refers to an immediately experi­enced in­tu­itive wisdom that cannot be conveyed by concepts or in in­tel­lectual terms. This true under­­standing is beyond the discriminating intellect and con­ventional truth, and emerges from the actualisa­tion of True-mind. The de­fin­itive moment of prajña is insight into the emptiness which is the true nature of reality. The realisation of prajña is often equated with the attain­ment of enlight­en­ment and is one of the essential marks of bud­dha­­hood. Prajña is also one of the paramitas actualised by a bodhisattva in the course of his development, and can be cultivated through the practice of insight meditation (Shikan, Vipashyana).


Prajñaparamita:   transcendent or liberating wisdom; enlightenment; buddhahood; also the practice that leads to and deepens such wisdom. See Prajña, Paramita.

    In the Diamond Sangha meal ritual, sutra service dedications and so on, the evocation of the name, e.g. in a list of our “many honoured guides” (see Nyan ni), may refer to the personification of the highest wisdom in the form of a transcendent female bodhisattva, revered in the esoteric Shingon school and referred to in some versions of the Heart Sutra as the Mother of All Buddhas.


Pratyeka:   Skt, lit. “solitary”; a term for student or an awakened one, who works towards or has attained enlightenment on his own and only for himself (as distinct from a bodhisattva or shravaka). He does not appear in the world to teach others. Special meritorious qualities which characterise a fully enlightened one (samyak-sambuddha) are not ascribed to him.


Precepts:    Formally to become a Zen Buddhist one must be initiated, i.e. receive the pre­cepts in a ceremony called jukai where­in one pledges to keep the major precepts. The pre­cepts are based on the Mahayana Brahma Net Sutra.

    In the Diamond Sangha, the sixteen (bodhisattva) pre­cepts are: the Three Vows of Refuge in the Three Treasures; the Three Pure Precepts; and Ten Grave Precepts: 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 giving spiritual or material help reluctantly), not indulging in anger and not defaming the Three Treasures. (In other Zen lineages or Mahayana schools, the content and wording of the Ten Grave Precepts may differ from ours.) Practitioners are encouraged to consider, for each precept, different levels of interpret­a­tion beyond the literal one, and also the implications in relation to their own individual life-styles.

    Observance of the precepts is not only important for ethical reasons. The precepts are the basis of spiritual practice; one cannot progress on the path of spiritual training unless heart and mind not free from the inner malaise brought about by a careless life­style that is in vio­la­tion of these precepts.

    Few novices are able to maintain every precept; thus infringements in various degrees are inevitable. Such infringements, however, do not impede progress on the way of enlighten­ment, provided that one confesses them, genuinely regrets them, and endeavours thereafter to live in accordance with the precepts. (See Purification.)


Presentation:   in English-speaking Western usage: a par­ticular expression without dis­curs­ive explanation. See also Teisho.


Prostrations:   see SampaiRaihai.


Protectors:   see Guardians.


Pure Land:   in the Mahayana, a buddha-realm or buddha-paradise, each ruled over by a buddha.

    These pure lands are transcendent in nature. They are the hope of believers who wish to be reborn in them. In folk belief these paradises are geogra­phically localisable places of bliss. They may also be seen as aspects of the awakened state of mind, the Lotus Land, this very place. In a wider sense, Pure Land can be a metaphorical expression for the world of truth and purity revealed in enlightenment.

    Since according to the Mahayana there are countless buddhas, countless pure lands also exist, including Sukhavati.


Pure Land School:   This term refers to a number of sects of Buddhism rather than a single school. Loosely, the name is given to various mystical, faith-based Mahayana schools that practised devotion to Amitabha Buddha, first in China (5th Century  c.e.) and later also in Japan (9th Century c.e.). Mantras and visualisations were widely used. Some schools combined Pure Land practice with Ch’an (Zen). In China and Japan, Pure Land is now the dominant mode of Buddhist practice.


Pure Precepts:       In classical Buddhism, the “Three Pure Precepts” are to avoid evil, do good, and purify the mind. The Mahayana changed the third of these, in accordance with its own priorities, to “Saving the many beings”. In the Diamond Sangha, the first Pure Precept is also modified, to the more positive form of “Maintaining the precepts”.


Purification:   See Atonement. In Bud­dhism, confession is not a sacrament nor an appeal for absolution to a divine power. Monks do not act as con­fessors or have the power to forgive sins. Instead, the confession of wrongdoing is seen as psycho­logically healthy and an aid to spiritual progress, by allowing feelings of shame and remorse to be acknowledged and dis­charged. A guilty conscience is viewed as a hindrance to religious progress, and it is believed that owning up to wrongful deeds inhibits their repetition.

    “These acts of repentance and confession are per­formed in the nondual context of the I who confesses and the Buddhas who receive the confession… Ulti­mate­ly one confesses, repents and is forgiven in the non-dual purity of the self and Buddha.” (Hee-Jin Kim) “There is… a shared realisation of the essential purity of shunyata [emptiness] as the nature of all things. With this realisation in peak experience, all the evil of the past is purified.” (Robert Aitken)

    Public confession and repentance are also classic­al­ly a part of conflict resolution in the Buddhist com­mu­nity.

The text entitled “Purification” in our sutra books is based on the fourth vow of the bodhi­sattva Samantabhadra, from the Avatamsaka (Flower Ornament) Sutra.


Raihai:   Jap.; prostration before the altar or the roshi. The Zen student is taught that in raihai one throws everything away. Pivoting the forearms on the elbows and raising the hands while prostrated is the act of raising the Buddha’s feet above one’s head.


Rakusu:   Jap., lit. “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.

    There is also a Japanese Buddhist monastic robe called a kesa. In Zen, this cloth is stylised into a bib made of pieces of brocade, resembling the rakusu. It is worn by Zen masters and Zen priests on festive occasions or during sesshin.

    The “Verse of the Rakusu” used in the Diamond Sangha jukai ceremony and whenever we don the rakusu, corresponds to the “Verse of the Kesa” in Soto Zen, which owes much to Dogen’s essay “Merit of the Kesa” and earlier esoteric teachings from China.


Rarely encountered:   In a sutra of the Pali Canon, the Buddha explains that it is as rare to have a precious human birth in which to find a true dharma teacher as it is for a blind turtle, which surfaces only once every hundred years from the depths of a vast ocean, to emerge just where it will put its head through a wooden ring floating on the waves and tossed about in all directions by the winds.


Refuge:   “Taking refuge”, whereby a practitioner commits his/her life to the Buddhist path, is one of the oldest Buddhist practices, and may be the only prac­tice that is common to all schools of Buddhism. In Pali, the formula recited is the Ti sarana. The three vows involved are to take refuge in the Three Treasures—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, respectively. Though classically the first of the Refuge Vows refers to the historical Buddha, Robert Aitken has passed on to the Diamond Sangha his teachers’ understanding that the vow refers to finding one’s home in the Buddha’s realisation.

    “Refuge” may have the sense of protection in that it is a way of guarding oneself against self-destructive behaviour and also behaviour that is destructive to the well-being of others.

    In Japanese, the word for “refuge”, kie, is made up of two characters. According to Dogen, the first means “to unreservedly throw oneself into”. The second is “to rely upon”. Together they mean having enough faith in what we rely upon to be able to unreservedly throw our­selves into it. Dogen taught that “the way that a child leaps into its father’s arms, we should leap into the Three Treasures”.

    “Taking refuge” has also been interpreted as “com­ing back to”, as in returning to one’s fundamental na­ture; or “making one’s home with”. Western teachers further interpret “taking refuge” as “returning to” in mind­fulness. In this sense, the constantly repeated act of taking refuge is a way of assessing, in any given moment, where one’s life is directed and what one’s priorities are, and of reaffirming Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as the values one has chosen to inform one’s choices and inform one’s life as a whole.

    Robert Aitken writes: “To realise the very heart of essential nature is to take refuge in the Buddha. To cultivate the garden of realisation is to take refuge in the Dharma. To share the fruits of the garden is to take refuge in the Sangha.”


Resolve:   “Great resolve” is one of the three “pillars” of the practice of zazen (along with faith and doubt). Yasutani Roshi described it this way: “Believing with every pore of our being in the truth of the Buddha’s teaching that we are all endowed with the immaculate Bodhi-mind, we resolve to discover and experience the reality of this Mind for ourselves”. This goes beyond the “Right Resolve” that is the second aspect of the Eightfold Path.


Retreat:   see Sesshin, Mountains and Rivers, Rohatsu sesshin.


Rice:   see Three Virtues (of Rice).


Rinzai School:   a major school of Ch’an (Zen) which originated in China in the 9th Century and came to Japan in the 12th Century. It differentiates itself from the Soto school mainly by the importance it gives to koan work, and disparagingly calls Soto’s shikantaza “the practice of silent illumination”.


Ritual:    In the dojo, ritual is an outward, bodily manifestation of our Zen practice, in posture, gesture and vocal acts. For the most part, in the Diamond Sangha, this consists of remov­ing our shoes, gassho, bowing, performing prostrations, sitting, lowering our gaze, remaining silent, breath­ing, walking, holding our sutra books, chanting and responding to signals given by bells, clappers or gesture. At zazenkai and sesshin, there is much more.

One Diamond Sangha teacher tells us: “The rituals we use in Zen are ancient. Some of them hark back a thou­sand years or more. They are designed to deepen our experience. As they originate from ancient China and Japan they may seem strange at first. However, they have their own beauty and wonder, and often express vividly what cannot be expressed in words.” Some Diamond Sangha groups have gradually evolved new rituals and ceremonies (e.g. baby-naming, Mountains and Rivers sesshin), in keeping with their local culture and group needs.

    On the other hand, one 20th century Japanese Soto teacher, Uchiyama roshi, experimented in his monas­tery with what he called “sesshin with­out toys”, where he dispensed altogether with ele­ments such as chanting, sutra ser­vices, teisho, the kyosaku, dok­u­san, and meal ritual. This, too, has proved to be a pow­er­ful form of practice.

    For Diamond Sangha practitioners, although ritual may well be per­formed with­out any thought at the time, later reflection can lead to a deepening of the experience. For ex­ample, ritual may help dissolve our preoccupation with being a sep­arate ego, help remove our need to “under­stand”, make us aware of our fear of not “getting things right”, or enlist the qualities of the heart to support our Zen practice. Prescribed ritual in the dojo means freedom from decision-making, which may be experienced, para­dox­ically, as complete freedom to be. And for a sangha that has no resident teacher, shared ritual may help hold the group together.

Ritual’s meaning is deep indeed. He who enters with false perception, making distinctions be­tween same and different, will drown there. Ritu­al’s meaning is great indeed. He who enters with un­couth inanity, pursuing the theories of the sys­tematisers, will perish there. Ritual’s meaning is lofty indeed. He who enters with arrogant vio­lence, despising common customs and thinking himself better than others, will meet his downfall there. —Hsun Tzu (Confucian, 300–230 b.c.e).

See also Conduct, speech and thought.


Robot:   an image borrowed from the Prajñaparamita Sutras, which liken the nature of a bodhisattva to that of a wooden man, marionette or robot. The point is that both the bodhi­sattva and the robot act freely, with­out the confusion brought on by greed, hatred and ignor­ance or dualistic thinking.


Rohatsu:   also rohachi, Jap., lit. “the eighth [day] of the twelfth month”; the day, especially celebrated in Zen, on which according to Mahayana tradition Shakyamuni Buddha, sitting in meditation under the Bodhi-tree, attained enlighten­ment.

    In present-day Japan, rohatsu is celebrated on the eighth of December, which only rarely coincides with the eighth day of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. In the Theravada tradition, Buddha’s enlightenment is celebrated at Wesak.


Rohatsu Sesshin:   Jap.; a sesshin done in Zen mon­as­teries in commemoration of the Bud­dha’s enlight­­en­­ment (see Rohatsu). This sesshin generally runs from the first of December until the morning of the eighth. In the northern hemisphere, it is the severest sesshin not only because it is the coldest, the last before sesshin are suspended for the winter months, but also because the roshi and the head monks make the heaviest demands upon the participants in order that they may achieve enlight­en­ment during this ses­shin. Traditionally, on the last night, the monks do not lie down to sleep.


Roshi:   Jap., lit. “old [venerable] master”; in the Diamond Sangha, title given to an authorised Zen master. It is the task of the roshi to lead and inspire his/her students on the way to enlightenment, for which, naturally, the prerequisite is that he himself has reached profound enlightenment.

    In present-day Japan, senior Japanese Zen monks are often addressed as roshi simply out of courtesy towards their position and age. On the other hand, Japanese Zen monks who are enlightened masters and teachers do not necessarily take the title of roshi as is done in the Diamond Sangha.

    In ancient times, the public gave the title of roshi to a person who had realised the dharma of a buddha through his own direct experience, who was able to live this real­isation in everyday life, and was capable of leading others to the same realisation too. In addition, at least a pure, unshakable character and a mature personality were re­quired. To become a fully developed roshi, many years of training under a Zen master were indispensable. Following profound enlight­­en­ment and the conferral of the seal of confirm­ation by his master, further years of ripening through dharma contests with other masters were also customary. See also Transmission.


Samadhi:   Skt, lit. “establish, make firm”; collectedness of the mind on a single object through (gradual) calming of mental activity.

    Samadhi is a nondualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the ex­pe­ri­encing “subject” becomes one with the experienced “object”—thus is only experiental content.

    This state of consciousness is often referred to as “one-pointedness of mind”; this ex­press­ion, how­ever, is misleading because it calls up the image of “concentration” on one point on which the mind is “directed”. However, samadhi is neither a strain­ing concentration on one point, nor is the mind directed from here (subject) to there (object), which would be a dual­istic mode of experience.

    In Zen, samadhi is a state of intense absorption in which the mind has transcended all thoughts, visu­al­isations, imaginings, etc. This is not a blank insensi­bility but a deep and illu­mined awareness. The term implies a state of intense yet effortless concentration, of com­plete absorption of the mind in itself, of height­ened and expanded awareness.


Samantabhadra:   Skt (Jap., Fugen), lit. “He Who Is All-pervadingly Good” or “He Whose Bene­ficence Is Everywhere”); one of the most important bodhisattvas of Mahayana Bud­dhism; archetypal bodhisattva of great action (in turning the dharma wheel). He is venerated as the protector of all those who teach the dharma and is regarded as an embodi­ment of the wisdom of essential sameness, i.e., insight into the unity of sameness and difference. He also embodies calm action, compassion and deep-seated wisdom.

    He is often depicted riding on a white six-tusked elephant, which represents the power of wisdom to overcome all obstructions. The elephant is also noted for its tranquillity and wisdom. The six tusks repre­sent overcoming attachment to the six senses. Samantabhadra’s symbols are the wish-fulfilling jewel and the lotus, or else the scroll on which the text of his meditation sutra is written.


Sambhogakaya:   see Buddha bodies.


Sampai:   Jap., lit. “threefold [san] prostration [hai]”; expression of veneration through pros­tration customary in Zen, in which otherwise there is a dearth of ceremonial forms. Sampai was probably originally an expression of veneration toward the Three Treasures. Under certain circumstances, also “ninefold prostration” (kyuhai) is practised. See also Raihai.


Samsara:    Skt, lit. “flowing on”; the “cycle of ex­ist­ences”, a succession of rebirths that a being goes through within the various modes of existence (see Six Realms) until it has attained liberation and en­tered nirvana. Imprisonment in samsara is duhkha, and is con­di­tioned by greed, hatred and ignorance (de­lu­sion).

     More generally, samsara is the endless cycle of life-and-death in which all phenomena are in con­stant trans­formation—the world of suffering. In the Mahayana, samsara refers to the relative, phenomenal world and its relationship to nirvana has been variously interpreted. Zen teaches that for those who are awakened and perceive with insight (prajña), nirvana saturates every aspect of samsara.


Samu:   Jap., lit. “work service”; generally, the phy­si­cal work that is part of everyday life in a Zen monastery, and particularly the work periods during a sesshin. Service is here to be understood in the sense of service to the Three Treasures. If the work is carried out wakefully, in a manner based entirely on the activity of collected attention and total care­ful­ness, then it is a continuation and another form of meditative practice (zazen), in which the practitioner learns to maintain the meditative state of mind even in the midst of everyday routine. Samu is an im­port­ant part of Zen training in a monastery according to the monastic rule established by Pai-chang in China in the 8th century. See also Hakuin.


Sanbo Kyodan:   Order of the Three Treasures, a lay Japanese Soto organisation that in­cludes elements of Rinzai practice, founded by Yasutan Haku’un in Kamakura, Japan in 1954. See also Diamond Sangha.


Sangha:   Skt, lit. “crowd, host”; the Buddhist com­munity. In a narrower sense, the sangha consists of the priesthood: monks, nuns and novices. In a wider sense, the sangha also includes lay followers as mem­bers of the Buddhist community. In Zen, the term sangha also refers to any community, including that of all beings (phenomena and events). The sangha is one of the Three Treasures.


Save:   in Buddhism, enable or help (someone) to cross over to the other shore; transform (someone or something) for the better.


See it, listen to it, accept and hold it:   these are termed the four perceptions of the Buddha-knowledge, as set out in the Lotus Sutra. There we are told that

the buddhas desire to cause all living beings to open their eyes to the Buddha-knowledge, so that they may gain the pure mind…; they desire to show all living beings the Buddha-knowledge…; they desire to cause all living beings to apprehend the Buddha-knowledge…; they desire to cause all living beings to enter the way of Buddha-knowledge.

And indeed, we are told that after the Lotus Sutra was preached a number of listeners “received, kept, recited and penetrated it”.


Seiza:   Jap;, lit. “sitting in silence”; the traditional Japan­ese sitting posture in which one kneels sitting on one’s heels, the back held straight and erect. Seiza, among practitioners of zazen, is one alternative to the lotus posture.


Self:   see Ego, Self-nature, Skandhas.


Self-nature:   (Skt svabhava); the essential quality of the self; true nature, essential nature, buddha-nature.

    In the Mahayana, all things are seen as empty of self-nature, in the sense that they are devoid of self-sufficient, independent existence or lasting substance: thus Hakuin Zenji refers to “self-nature that is no nature”. This, however, does not mean that they do not exist at all but rather that they are nothing but pure appearance and do not constitute the true reality; i.e., they do not possess an essence. See also Ego, Emptiness.


Senzaki Nyogen Sensei:   1876–1958, Japanese Rinzai Zen monk; he was the first Zen teacher to reside in America. In 1905, his abbot Shaku Soyen sent him to San Fran­cisco, where he learned English and began translating Zen texts. As advised, he worked at mostly menial jobs for the first 17 years after his arrival. Also in accordance with his abbot’s aims, he dropped many of the cultural trappings of Japanese Zen, did not wear robes, and provided chairs for zazen. In 1926, he opened the first offical zendo in America. He later moved to Los Angeles. After the Second World War, during which he was interned as an enemy alien, he returned to Los Angeles. His periodic talks at different locations became known as the “float­ing zendo”. He is one of Robert Aitken’s teachers.


Sesshin:   Jap., lit. “collecting [setsu] the heart–mind [shin]”, “concentrating and unifying the mind”; also interpreted as “touching, receiving and conveying the Mind”; formal Zen retreat; days of especially intensive, strict prac­tice of collected mind (zazen) as carried out in Zen monasteries at regular intervals. A sesshin training period usually lasts not less than three days and not more than seven.

    The normal daily routine in a Zen monastery includes, in addition to several hours of zazen prac­tice, long periods of physical work, begging rounds, and other forms of service to the community of believ­ers. However, during a sesshin, which is con­sidered the high point of Zen training, the monks devote themselves exclusively to meditation. Com­plete silence is observed. Long periods of zazen are interrupted only by a few hours of sleep at night, reci­ta­tions, a short period of work (samu) and short rest breaks after the midday and evening meals. However, concentration or collectedness of mind in relation to the particular practice that the monk has received from the master (for example, koan practice or shikantaza) should continue as much as possible without interruption during all these activities. Special in­spi­ra­tion and incentive for the monks during the days of sesshin are provided by the teisho of the roshi and the individual in­struc­t­ion (dokusan) that monks often receive several times a day.


Seven Buddhas:   see Ancient Seven Buddhas.


Shakyamuni:   Skt, lit. “Sage of the Shakya clan”; epi­thet of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, the historical Buddha, who belonged to the Shakya clan. The name is often used to dis­tinguish the historical Buddha from other buddhas. See Buddha. His date of birth varies, in different traditions and in different schools of Western scholarship: the Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism prefers c. 485–405 b.c.e., other estimates vary from 448–368 b.c.e. to 563–486 b.c.e.


Shariputra:   Skt; a principal student of the Bud­dha, and one of his ten great disciples. Sha­ri­putra came from a brahmin family. Shortly after the awaken­ing of the Buddha, he en­tered the Buddhist order and was soon renowned on account of his wisdom.


Shastra:   Skt, lit. “instruction, textbook”; treatises on dogmatic and philosophical points of Buddhist doctrine composed by Mahayana thinkers that systematically interpret philosophical statements in the sutras. They are strongly didactic in character.


Shiguseigan:   also shiguzeigan; Jap., lit. “four great vows”; see Four Great Vows.


Shijo:   Jap. the “Cease and be Quiet” bell, about 23 cm high, struck by the Jikijitsu. Three slow bells signal the beginning of a period of zazen, two sharper bells signal kinhin, and one sharper bell signals that another event is about to begin.


Shikan:   Jap., (Chinese chih-kuan); a compound con­sist­ing of two words meaning “stop” and “observe”, now usually called “tranquillity and insight” as a med­i­ta­­tion method. Chih (Skt sha­matha) refers to the calm­ing of restless mind and freeing it from engage­ment with sensory input, the arising of repulsion and de­sire, or intellectual distinc­tions; kuan (Skt  Vipa­shyana) can mean to observe the nat­ural working of the body and mind, to contem­plate or observe a mental object (such as an aspect of the dhar­ma), or to investigate the na­ture of reality. See also Mindfulness, Prajña.    Not to be confused with Shikantaza.

    Shikan was systematised in the Chinese T’ien-t’ai School (6th century c.e.) and later fed into other tra­di­tions. For ex­ample, it included methods of exercising mindfulness in everyday activities and of perceiving the ultimate truth through the contemplation of pheno­menal reality, which would directly influence the development of Ch’an (Zen).

    In the early 9th century c.e., T’ien-t’ai came to Japan as the Tendai School (where Dogen later initially trained, and which has also greatly influ­enced Zen). Here chih further came to mean (a) to fix the mind on the present moment, and (b) to realise the non-duality of the agitated mind and the calm mind as equal mani­fes­ta­tions of reality; and kuan was extended to mean (a) to dissi­pate perturbations of the mind through wisdom that sees through their illusory nature; (b) to gain insight into suchness, the fundamental nature of all things; and (c) to gain insight into the fun­damental equality of non-contemplation and con­tem­plation.


Shikantaza:   Jap., lit. “nothing but [shikan] pre­cisely [ta] sitting [za]”; a form of the practice of zazen in which there are no more supportive techniques such as counting the breath or a koan. Zazen itself is the practice, with no theme. Not to be confused with Shikan, which is written with different ideographs; however, it is poss­ible that Dogen, who introduced the Japanese term shikantaza and was also familiar with shikan through his earlier monastic training, may have intended some word play here.

    According to Dogen Zenji, shikantaza—i.e. resting in a state or brightly alert attention that is free of thoughts, directed to no object and attached to no par­ticular content—is the highest or purest form of zazen, zazen as it was practised by all the buddhas of the past. At best it is not distinguished from enlight­en­ment.


Shinjinmei:   Jap. for Hsin-hsin-ming, “Song of Faith Mind”, traditionally attributed to Seng-ts’an (7th Century). It is one of the earli­est Zen writings. It expounds Zen’s basic prin­ciples in poetic form and shows strong Taoist influ­ence.


Shodoka:   Jap.; in Chinese, Cheng-tao ke, “Song of Realising the Way”, a long dharma poem, and popu­lar Zen writing, by Yung-chia Hsüan-chüeh (in Japanese, Yoka Genkaku) 665–713, a disciple of the Sixth Patriarch. Yung-chia combined in his teaching of the buddha-dharma the philosophy of the Tendai (Chinese, T’ien-t’ai) School and the practice of Zen. He also intro­duced into the theoretical superstructure of the latter the dialectic of Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika school.


Shoken:   Jap., lit. “seeing one another”; in a Japanese monastery, the first dokusan of a Zen student with his master in which the seeker after enlightenment is officially accepted as a student by the roshi. The Diamond Sangha has a modified form of sho­ken, for students who wish to formally acknowledge their relationship to a particular teacher.


Sho Sai Myo Kichijo Darani:   see Kichijo-ten, Dharani.


Shravaka:   Skt, lit. “hearer”; originally a reference to the personal students of the Buddha or students in general. In the Mahayana, it means those students who, in contrast to pratyekas and bodhi­sat­tvas, seek personal enlightenment and can attain this only by listening to the teaching and gaining insight into the Four Noble Truths and the irreality of phenomena. The supreme goal for them is nir­vana without earthly remainder.

    The term can refer to one who understands only the most elementary level of the Buddhist teaching; such a one sees nirvana as the opposite of samsara and clings to the experience of emptiness and cessation.


Six Flavours:   (of food): bitter, sweet, sour, pep­pery, salty and neutral.


Six Paths:   see Six Realms.


Six Realms (of Existence):   also called Six Worlds (Skt gati, Japanese rokudo) or Six Paths; the three lower realms of devils (hell beings), hungry ghosts, and animals; and the three higher realms of titans, human beings and heavenly beings (gods), between which one is con­stantly transmigrating. They may be seen as states of mind that constantly arise and pass away in our daily lives.


Six Worlds:   see Six Realms.


Skandha:   Skt, lit. “group, aggregate, heap”; term for the five elements (often called “aggre­gates”) which constitute the entirety of what is generally known as  a human “personality”.

    They are (1) corporeality or form (Jap. so, Skt rupa), the material component of the human person, (2) sensation, (3) perception, (4) formulation (or mental formations) and (5) con­sci­ous­­ness. These aggregates are frequently referred to as “aggregates of attachment”, since craving or desire attaches itself to them and brings about suffering.

    The characteristics of the skandhas are birth, old age, death, duration and change. They are regarded as without essence, impermanent, empty and suffering-ridden.

    From the impermanence of the personality composed of the five skandhas, Buddhism derives the absence of a self. The knowledge of the “inessentiality” of the skandhas already contains the insight that leads to liberation.

What is called individual existence is in reality nothing but a mere process of those mental and physical phenomena, a process that since time imme­mo­rial has been going on, and that also after death will still continue for unthinkably long periods of time. These aggregates, how­ever, neither singly nor collectively constitute a self-dependent real Ego-entity, or per­son­ality, nor is there to be found any such entity apart from them.                            —Walter Gueth [Ny­an­tiloka], 1878–1957


Skilful means:   (Skt upaya); a concept of considerable importance in the Mahayana, where the term may refer to:

(1) The ability of a bodhisattva to guide beings to lib­eration or reduce their suffering through skilful means. All possible methods and ruses from straightforward talk to the most con­spi­cu­ous miracles and even breaking the precepts could be applicable.

(2) Skill in expounding the teaching, in ways appropriate to the hearer. Thus the histo­rical Bud­dha is said to have made use of upaya by teaching first only the Hinayana, which is regarded as suited to beginners but incomplete, and then toward the end of his life teaching to more advanced hearers the complete Mahayana, especially the Lotus Sutra. Skilful means may also include parables and even outright lies, which are considered acceptable since they are moti­vated by great compassion.

The as­sum­p­tion underlying this Mahayana doctrine is that all teachings are in any case provisional, and that once lib­er­ation is attained it will be seen that Bud­dhism as a body of philosophical doctrines and moral precepts was only of use as a means to reach the final goal, and that its teachings do not have ultimate val­id­ity.


Song of Faith Mind:   see Shinjinmei.


Song of Zazen:   (Jap. Zazen Wasan); dharma poem by Hakuin Ekaku.


Soto School:   major school of Ch’an (Zen), which originated in China in the 9th Century (one of the founders being Tozan Ryokai) and was brought to Japan by Dogen in the 13th Century. It differentiates itself from the Rinzai school mainly  by the importance it gives to the practice of shikantaza, and disparagingly calls Rinzai koan practice “the Zen of words and phrases”.


Stick   see Kyosaku, Kotsu.


Sublime States:   (Skt brahma-vihara); a key set of four meditative practices intended to cultivate four cardinal Buddhist virtues: loving-kindness (Metta), compassion, sympa­thetic, altruistic joy in the happiness, success and liberation of others; and equanimity.


Suchness:   (Skt tathata); a term used in the Mahayana to denote the way things are in truth or actuality, the essential nature of reality or true mode of being of phenomena, which is beyond the range of conceptual thought. See also Emptiness.


Suffering:   see Duhkha. Aitken Roshi prefers to use the English word  “anguish” to translate “duhkha”; he uses the word “suffering” only in the sense of enduring, allowing; enduring pain.


Sukhavati:   Skt, lit. “the Blissful”; the so-called west­ern paradise, the pure land of the west. It is reigned over by the Buddha Amitabha.

    Sukhavati is described in detail in the sutras devoted to Amitabha. Though these des­crip­tions are taken by folk belief to refer to a localisable place, they may also be seen as char­ac­ter­isations of a state of mind.

    This land is flooded by radiance and filled with the most exquisite fragrances; it is bloss­om­ing, rich and fruitful. Trees of jewels grow there. There are no hells, no beasts, no corpses. Music is heard from the rushing of rivers of sweet-smelling waters with bouquets of flowers afloat on them. All wishes are fulfilled. These is no sadness, misfortune, pain or any other unpleasantness. Here all beings cleave to the truth of the teaching.

    In Sukhavati the pleasures of love are absent, since no-one is reborn there as a woman.

    After rebirth in the pure land, only one further rebirth will be necessary before entry into nirvana—falling back is not possible.


Supernatural powers:   A buddha, bodhisattva or arhat is believed to possess supernatural powers and abilities (Skt abhijña), recognised by both the Theravada and the Mahayana. In particular, a buddha is said to have ten kinds of supernatural knowledge (Skt dashabala), such as what is possible or impossible in any situation. Special powers also available to others in­clude reading thoughts, and the perception of human and divine voices. In esoteric Bud­dhism, perfect mastery over the powers of the body and of nature (Skt siddhi) gives the ability to see the gods, become invisible, fly and so on. Various meditation and concentration prac­tices, combined with will-power and daring, are also believed to endow magic powers (Skt riddhi) such as shape-shifting, walking on water, emanating a mind-made body from one’s body, and so on.

    In the Theravada, exhibiting and exploiting these powers is a vio­la­tion of monastic disci­pline, and pre­tend­ing to possess such powers is grounds for dis­missal from the com­mu­nity. In the Mahayana, on the other hand, display of supernatural powers, espe­ci­ally by a buddha, is seen as an appropriate means, aris­ing from his unlimited capacity and high spiritual attain­ment, for bringing be­ings to salvation (see Compassion, Skilful means). In Zen, such powers are not denied, but are considered to be a side-road, a distraction from the path of enlighten­ment.


Sutra:   Skt, lit. “thread”, as a thread on which jewels are strung, or flowers in a garland; discourses of the Buddha.

    The sutras have been preserved in Pali and San­skrit, as well as in Chinese and Tibetan trans­lations. The sutras are prose texts, each introduced by the words “Thus have I heard”. These words are as­cribed to Ananda, a student of the Buddha. He is supposed to have re­tained the discourses of the Buddha in memory and to have recited them at the first Buddhist council, immediately after the death of the Buddha. The body of the sutra comprises in­struc­tion, sometimes in the form of a dialogue. The style of the early sutras is simple, popular, and di­dac­tically oriented. They are rich in parables and alle­gories. In many sutras, songs (gatha) are inter­polated.

    The Mahayana sutras are thought to have been com­posed between the 1st century b.c.e. and the 6th century c.e. They still purport to present direct teachings from the Buddha.

    Zen is the only Buddhist sect which is associated with no one particular sutra, and this gives the masters free­dom to use the scriptures as and when they see fit or to ignore them en­tirely. The familiar slogan that Zen is a special transmission outside the scriptures, with no dependence upon words and 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. However, reading and studying sutra texts is not discouraged in Zen: indeed, the classical Zen masters quoted such texts at length.


Suzu:   Jap., the small hand bell rung through the halls (of a monastery, or at sesshin) as a wakeup call.


Taiko:   Jap., “Great Drum”; used to announce the Roshi’s appearance in the dojo for teisho and during the closing ceremony of sesshin.


Taku:   Jap., “clappers”; two pieces of hard wood, about 5 x 5 x 25 cm. They are held parallel and struck together, making a sharp clack. The Jikijitsu uses them to lead kinhin, and the Ino also has a set with which to punctuate the meal­time recita­tions.


Tan:   Jap., lit. “slip [of paper]”; the assigned sitting place of a monk in a Zen monastery where he practises zazen. The name of the monk is written on a slip of paper that is hung above his place; thus this place is called tan.

    The term tan is also applied by extension to the wooden platforms, just a metre or slightly less in height and about two metres deep, which are covered with straw matting and run along the two long walls of the zendo of a Zen monastery. During the day the monks sit zazen on these and during a sesshin they also sleep on them at night. As a further extension of mean­ing, the term is used for the row or line of people doing zazen, or the dojo.


Tanto:   Jap., “Head of the Line”; the person respon­sible for setting the tone of practice in the dojo. She or he circumambulates the room periodically with the kyosaku, “stick of en­couragement”, and ad­dresses the students briefly and extemporaneously twice a day, to hearten them in their practice.


Tao:   Chinese, “Way”; buddha-dharma, the Eight­fold Path. Distinguish from the Tao of Taoism


Tathagata:    Skt, lit. “the thus-gone [thus-come, thus-perfected] one”; refers to one who on the way of truth has attained supreme enlight­en­ment. It is one of the ten titles of the Buddha, which he himself used when speaking of himself or other buddhas. The term “thus” or “thusness” indicates the enlightened state.

    In the Mahayana, the tathagata is the Buddha in his nirmanakaya aspect (see Buddha Bodies). He is also both the perfected man who can take on any form, and the cosmic principle, the essence of the universe, the unconditioned. He is the intermediary between the essential and the phenomenal world. In the absolute sense, tathagata is often equated with wisdom (Prajña) and emptiness.


Teacher:   It has been questioned whether the pedagogical model sug­gested by the terms “teacher/student” is appropriate to Zen practice. One proposed alternative is “guide/

Within the Diamond Sangha, the role of a “teacher” (in the sense of Roshi: see Roshi, Transmission, Teisho) is to be distinguished from that of a “Zen instructor”. In the Mel­bourne Zen Group, the role of practice facili­ta­tor includes that of  “Zen instructor”.


Teisho:   Jap., lit. “recitation offering, presentation”; in Zen the presentation of Zen real­isa­tion by a Zen master (roshi) during a sesshin.

    The word is derived from tei, “carry, offer, show, present, proclaim” and sho, “recite, proclaim”. The roshi offers the teisho—which generally has a koan or an important passage in Zen literature as its theme—to the buddha in the presence of the assembly of practitioners. It is not an explanation, commentary or exposition in the usual sense and certainly not a lecture in the academic sense. Thus the frequent translation of teisho as “lecture” is misleading, and “presentation” is more accurate. No-one is being lectured here, and purveyance of factual knowledge is not the point. The roshi’s offering is nondualistic and free from everything con­ceptual. It is an immediate demonstration of his genuine insight into the theme treated and for that reason can touch the deepest mind of its hearers.

    Teisho is distinguished from “dharma talk”, which is an ordinary lecture on some Buddhist topic.


Tendai School:   From China (where it was known as T’ien-t’ai), this school was brought to Japan in the 9th century. There it became broadly eclec­tic, encompassing both esoteric rituals and exo­teric studies in doctrine and scripture, as well as early forms of Zen (as Chinese Ch’an) and Pure Land. It held the Lotus Sutra in particular veneration. It went on to become a very wealthy and power­ful school.

    During the Kamakura period (1185–1392), the Tendai school became the breeding ground for new reform movements: Zen, Pure Land and Nichiren Bud­dhism were all founded by Tendai monks who had initially learnt of the teachings of the schools they founded within the Tendai school itself. Some esoteric teachings and other aspects of the Tendai school are still reflected in Zen, including the Diamond Sangha: see e.g. Mind, Vairochana, Shikan, Shodoka. The Tendai school itself still exists today.


Ten Directions:   in Buddhist cosmology: the eight major directions of the compass, plus up (zenith) and down (nadir). The expression is taken to refer to the whole cosmos.


Ten Grave Precepts:   see Precepts.


Ten Oxherding Pictures:   “Herding an ox” as a literary metaphor for learning to control the wan­der­ings of the mind dates back to the T’ang dyn­asty (618–907). In the 12th Century, the Ch’an (Zen) master Kuo-an Shih-yüan created a set of ten pictures to depict the spiritual quest, and they have become the standard version, serving as both teaching aids and objects of meditation.

    The stages depicted are (1) seeking the ox, (2) find­­ing the tracks, (3) first glimpse of the ox, (4) catch­ing the ox, (5) taming the ox, (6) riding the ox home, (7) ox forgotten, self alone, (8) both ox and self forgotten, (9) returning to the source, and (10) enter­ing the market­place with gift-bestowing hands. Actu­ally one may pass back and forth through any or all phases of this cycle at any stage.

    There are earlier versions of the oxherding pictures con­sisting of five or eight pictures in which the ox is black at the beginning, becomes pro­gress­ively whiter, and finally disappears altogether. This last stage is shown as an empty circle.

This implied that the real­is­ation of One­ness (that is, the efface­ment of every con­ception of self and other) was the ultimate goal of Zen. But the 12th century master, feeling this to be in­complete, added two more pictures beyond the circle to make it clear that the Zen man of the highest spi­ri­tual devel­op­ment lives in the mundane world of form and diver­s­ity and mingles with the utmost free­dom among ordinary men, whom he inspires with his com­passion and radiance to walk in the way of the Bud­dha. (Kapleau)


Ten Thousand Things:   a conventional expression descriptive of the totality of phenomena within the universe. “Ten thousand” here simply means “innumerable” or “all”.


Ten Ways (in which Porridge is Effective):   It improves the complexion, quickens the spirit, lengthens life, promotes good digestion, refreshes the voice, feels light in the stomach, keeps the body healthy, satis­fies hunger, quenches thirst and maintains bodily regularity.


Tenzo:   Jap.; term for the head cook, or kitchen master, of a Zen monastery. This position is con­sidered one of the most challenging and responsible in the monastery and thus it is gen­erally held by an advanced elder monk.

    In ancient China a number of monks who later became great Zen masters served as tenzo. The activity of the tenzo is distinguished from that of an ordinary cook primarily by the men­tal attitude on which it is based. The tenzo sees his work as service to the Three Treasures and as an opportunity for spiritual training. If he fully considers the needs of the monks in terms of quantity and quality of food, if he makes each move with wakeful attention, avoids all waste, comports himself properly with regard to foodstuffs and utensils, then his kitchen work becomes an exercise in maintaining the mind of Zen in everyday life.


Theosophy:   The Theosophical Society was founded in New York in 1875 by the Russian mystic Helen Bla­vatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, an American psychic investigator. The twin legacies of Theosophy are the introduction of Buddhism to the West and the amor­phous set of beliefs and practices which have come to be known as the “New Age”. Through the study of comparative religion, the Society sought to uncover truths which, it believed, constitute the core of all re­li­gions, and in this context, Zen was seen to offer such a “perennial philosophy”.    Many of those who introduced Zen to the English-speaking West were associated with Theosophy; they include Alan Watts, Christmas Humphreys, Edward Conze and D.T. Suzuki. Henry Olcott was warmly welcomed when he visited Japan, and may have provided much of the impetus for the “New Buddhism” reform movement there, which later gave rise to develop­ments such as the Sanbo Kyodan. Eventually, the “brand” of Japanese Zen now most fam­iliar in the West, including the Diamond Sangha, owes much of its fla­vour to Theo­sophy.


Theravada:   Pali, “Way of the Elders”, the only one of the early Buddhist schools of the so-called Hinayana to have survived down to modern times. “Hinayana” (Skt, “Small Vehicle”) is a deroga­­tory desig­na­tion used by representatives of the Mahayana (“Great Vehicle”) when referring to early Buddhism. See also Compassion, Metta.

The school is characterised by fidelity to the texts of the Pali Canon, the earliest complete set of Buddhist scriptures, and it regards all Mahayana sutras as apocryphal. The emphasis is on liberation, which takes place through one’s own effort (in meditation), through observance of the rules of moral discipline and, where possible, leading the monastic life. The Buddha, for the most part, is regarded as simply a remarkable human  being.


Three Bodies:   see  Buddha Bodies.


Three Pure Precepts:   see Pure Precepts.


Three Treasures:   (Jap., sambo; Skt, triratna); the three essential components of Buddhism: Buddha, dharma and sangha; i.e. the Awakened One, the truth expounded by him, and the followers living in accordance with this truth; or enlightenment, the way and the community. The Three Treasures are objects of veneration and are considered “places of refuge”. The Buddhist takes refuge in them by pro­nounc­ing the threefold refuge formula (Ti Sarana).

    Moreoever, since each individual embodies the buddha nature, the ground of the Three Treasures is nothing other than oneself. The follow­ing words are attributed to the 11th cen­tury Indian master Naropa: “My mind is the perfect Buddha, my speech is the perfect teach­ing, my body is the perfect spiritual community”. Robert Aitken writes: “Living by the Bud­dha means living in accord with your innate wisdom. Living by the Dharma means living by your clearest sense of how things are. Living by the Sangha means living res­pon­sively and responsibly.”


Three Virtues (of Rice):   well cooked; pure and clean; prepared witih the correct attitude and in accord­ance with the rules.


Three Wheels:   a Mahayana teaching. In relation to any action, the “Three Wheels” are the actor, the thing acted upon, and the action. All are to be seen as empty (see Emptiness).


Ti Sarana:   Pali, lit. “threefold refuge”; taking refuge in the Three Treasures—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—by reciting the threefold refuge formula:

        I take refuge in the Buddha

        I take refuge in the Dharma

        I take refuge in the Sangha.

By “taking refuge” a follower of Buddhism acknow­ledges himself as such. That is, he takes refuge in the Buddha as teacher, in the teaching as “medi­cine”, and in the community of com­panions on the path. 

    The Diamond Sangha uses the Pali form of the refuge formula; according to Robert Aitken, this is intended to show that Buddhism is a single stream from its earliest origins.     

        Buddham saranam gacchami

        Dhammam saranam gacchami

        Sangham saranam gacchami.

Here, the Pali word “saranam” is an inflected form of “sarana” which means “protection, shelter, abode, refuge, willed or chosen resort”, and “gacchami” is a verb form meaning “go­ing to” or “will undertake”. Thus a translation of the refuge formula would be: “I undertake to find my home in…”, which represents a vow rather than a prayer: a renewal of devotion to the threefold way of enlight­en­ment, practice and compassion.


Torei Zenji:   or Torei Enji, 1721–92; Japanese dharma heir of Hakuin Ekaku; de facto founder of Ryutaku Monastery.


Tozan Ryokai:   (in Chinese, Tung-shan Liang-chieh), 807–69; Chinese Zen master, the first patriarch of the Soto sect in China. Tozan was known for his gift of seeing all things, include­ing the inanimate, as manifestations of the Bud­dha’s mind, allowing him to hear all things preach­ing to him (cf. Vairochana). He was also fond of poetry, and among his literary relics one finds a poetic exposition of the Soto teaching known as the “Five Ranks”. This presents five different ways of viewing the nature of ultimate reality as it relates to par­ti­cular pheno­mena, and is used as an advanced koan in the Dia­mond Sangha.


Transmission:   as a technical term, in the Diamond Sangha, refers to one authorised teacher (known as a roshi) giving author­isa­tion, in turn, to one of his students (who then also takes on the title of roshi). As a minimum, this student will have completed the Diamond Sangha koan curriculum and undertaken further practice and training.

More generally, “transmission” is a makeshift expression  referring to a process that can­not be grasped conceptually. In the pres­ence of, and through the training given by, an enlightened master, the student can himself come to enlightenment without the master actually “trans­mitting” anything or the stu­dent “receiving” any­thing.

    The Zen claim to be a “special transmission outside the scriptures” was first made in China in the 11th century, at a time of Cha’n [Zen] sectarian rivalry, where the mainstream Ch’an schools had been teaching “harmony between Ch’an and the scriptures”. It was in this context that the story was first told about Kashyapa smiling at the Buddha’s silent twirling of a flower, as a model for “special transmission”. The view that prevailed (supported by the Lin-chi [Rinzai] school of Ch’an) was that Buddhist scripture is incapable of bringing about or even conveying a mystical event such as enlightenment or transmission.


Turning the Dharma Wheel:   lending wisdom and energy to the transformation process of the buddha dharma in the world; practice.


Umpan:   Jap., “Cloud plate”; a bronze plate shaped something like a fleur-de-lis. It hangs from cords in the kitchen, and is struck with a hard wooden mallet to produce a clangorous sound. The head server strikes it to signal mealtimes. It is also used in the ceremony at the end of sesshin.


Unborn:   essential nature, which does not come and go. See Fusho.


Upali:   student of the Buddha, one of his ten great dis­ciples. He was originally a barber to the Shakya princes. This led to his being the one to shave the heads of the monks. Tradition sees in him the speci­al­ist in questions of discipline and ritual.


Vairochana:   Skt, lit. “He Who Is Like the Sun”, the “All-Illuminating One”; one of the five trans­cend­ent buddhas, the archetype of enlightenment and of total purity. Vairochana is like the sun in being above everything in the world while at the same time intimately involved with everything in the world, as the sun’s rays reach everywhere and stimulate growth. In Japan, Vairochana (Jap., Birushana) is regarded as a sun buddha at the centre of an esoteric system in which the four other transcendent buddhas circle him like planets (Shin­gon school).

    Important Mahayana sutras depict him not only as one enlightened being among many, but as the central figure from whom all other Buddhas emanate as a skil­ful means to reach all suf­fer­ing beings. Thus Vairochana symbolises the “truth-body” (dharma­kaya; see Buddha bodies) or universal buddha-mind that, like cosmic energy, pervades all time and space. This can be related to our “First Sutra Service Dedi­cation”, where we chant “Buddha-nature per­vades the whole uni­verse, existing right here now”.

    In esoteric Buddhism, he also emanates the whole of reality, as a kind of “ground of being”. This in turn endows nature itself with a kind of intelligence and ability to communi­cate as an expression of Vairochana’s teaching; thus it is said that “the world itself preaches the dharma” (cf Tozan Ryokai), and that “dharma gates are countless”.


Vandana:   Obeisance, prostration, bowing the head, reverencing, worshipping.


Vipashyana:   (Skt: “insight”; cf the etymology of the word dhyana, from which the word “Zen” is derived.) Once calming meditation has been established (e.g. by counting or following the breath), the Mahayana practitioner can proceed to “insight” meditation (see Shikan). This is an extended form of the insight meditation known in the Theravada by the Pali name Vipassana. This meditation practice is com­mon to most schools of Buddhism, including non-Japanese Zen traditions.

Vipashyana is based on a method called the “Four Foundations of Mindfulness”. For this, one begins by rendering conscious the individual activities of the body. Then one extends mind­fulness to “feeling” (responses to sense data as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral), the mind (including emotions as they arise), and the objects of thinking. The Mahayana further extends this practice to include contemplation of the meditation object in the light of Buddhist doctrine. Through observing the rising and passing away of physical, emotional and mental phenomena, the meditator can come to a clear, direct, personal, intuitive under­standing of impermanence, duhkha, and  the emptiness of self. Such insight (prajña) is the basis for liberation and enlightenment.


Vipassana:   see Vipashyana.


Voice of the Law:   “Law” here means Dharma.


We and this food and our eating are vacant:   see Three Wheels.


Wesak:   (Pali, vesak); in the Mahayana, the festival commemorating Buddha’s birthday; in the Theravada, the day com­mem­orates at once the birth, enlighten­ment and parinirvana of the Buddha, all believed to have happened on the same calendar date. For the Diamond Sangha, Wesak falls on the full-moon day in May; in other traditions and other countries, the date may be at various times between April and July. For the Melbourne Zen Group in particular, Wesak is also taken to be the anniversary of the founding of the group in 1985.


Wisdom:   see Prajña.


Wu-men Hui-k’ai:   1183–1260 (in Japanese, Mumon Ekai); a Sung dynasty Chinese Ch’an (Zen) monk best known for compiling the koan collection known by his name, the Wu-men kuan (in Japanese, Mumonkan) meaning “Gate of Wu-men” or, more literally, the “Gateless Gate”.


Yakuseki:   Jap., lit. “medicine stone”; the last meal of the day in a Zen monastery or at ses­shin; it is taken in late afternoon.

    The name comes from the earlier practice by monks of placing a heated stone on their bellies in order to soothe their grumbling stomachs. This came about because in the orthodox Buddhist monastic code, ­­the midday meal was the final meal of the day. Later the stone was replaced by a simple meal made of leftovers from the midday meal. This is why, at Diamond Sangha sesshin, there is less ritual at the evening meal.


Yamada Koun:    or Yamada Zenshin, 1907–1989; Jap­anese master of the Sanbo Kyodan; dharma heir of Yasutani Roshi; teacher of Westerners, in­clud­ing Robert Aitken, to whom he gave trans­mission.


Yamamoto Gempo:   1866–1961; Japanese Rinzai Zen master. For many years he was the abbot at Ryu­taku-ji monastery, of which Hakuin Zen­ji had once been abbot. He is also known for his eccentric lifestyle, his love of rice wine, and his fondness for women. He was one of the first Zen masters to travel throughout the world: to India, Africa, Europe and the United States.


Yasutani Haku’un:   or Ryoko, 1895–1973; Japan­ese founder of the Sanbo Kyodan. He was one of the first authentic Zen masters also to be active in the West. After having taught high schools in Tokyo for sixteen years, he was accepted in 1925 as a student of Harada Ro­shi, from whom he received permission to teach in 1943. He went to America in 1962.

    In the West he became known particularly through an introduction to Zen practice, Three Pil­lars of Zen, edited by Philip Kapleau, which was to a great extent based on the teachings of Yasutani Roshi and his dharma successor Yamada Roshi. In his style of Zen training he made use of both the shikan­taza practice of the Soto tradition and the koan practice of the Rinzai tradition.

    In 2000, the head of the Sanbo-kyodan issued a public apology for the “errant words and actions” of Yasu­tani before, during and after the Second World War; in particular, for his strongly right-wing, nation­al­istic and militaristic stance, and his outspoken anti-semitism.


Yoga:   Skt, lit. “yoke”. Originally, the term “yoga” referred to skilful means of harnessing a horse so that it could pull a war chariot. By extension, it came to mean any form of spiritual discipline aimed at gaining control over the mind with the ultimate aim of attain­ing liberation. Thus, for example, the meditation prac­tices of the Buddha are called “yoga”.

    When Indian Hatha yoga was codified in the 2nd or 3rd cen­tury c.e., the term “yoga” was redefined in a non-Buddhist sense as ­harnessing one­self to God, seek­ing union with the Divine; or uniting body and spirit.


Yogachara School:   a major Mahayana school that flourished in India, and also in China, from the 4th to the 8th Centuries c.e. The name means “application of yoga”. One of the founders was Vasubandhu, claimed by Zen as its 21st patriarch in the Indian lineage.

Yogachara thought arguably represents the most com­plex and sophisticated philosophy developed by Indian Buddhism. Its doctrines and theories derive from meditational experi­ences and concern two key inter­connected themes: the nature of the mind and the nature of experience. Many of its teachings have found their way into Zen, including the Three Buddha bodies and the eight aspects of Consciousness.


Zabuton:   Jap., lit. “sitting mat”; a mat traditionally filled with kapok and covered with dark fabric, on which zazen is practised. The zabuton is square and just big enough for a Japanese sitting in the lotus posture to fit bottom and knees on it.


Zafu:   Jap., lit. “sitting cushion”; a round cushion of black fabric, traditionally firmly stuffed with kapok, that is used for zazen. The zafu is the cushion referred to in the famous Zen saying: “At some time you must die on the cushion”.


Zazen:   Jap., lit. “sitting [za] absorption [zen, dhyana]”; meditative practice taught in Zen as the most direct way to enlightenment. See also Meditation.

    In the form of shikantaza, zazen is not a “method” that brings people living in ignorance to the “goal” of liberation; rather it is the immediate expres­sion and actu­alisation of the per­fection present in every person at every moment.  In the form of shi­kan­taza, zazen is dwelling in a state of thought-free, alertly wakeful attention, which is not consciously dir­ected toward any object and clings to no content that arises.

    Other styles of zazen include koan work and insight meditation (see Shikan).

    If practised over a long period of time with per­sist­ence and devotion, zazen  brings the mind of the sitter to a state of totally con­tent­less wakefulness, from which, in a sudden break­through of enlightenment, he can realise his own true nature or buddha-nature, which is identical with the nature of the entire universe.

The French scholar, Bernard Faure, argues that in Chi­nese, one of the char­acters which makes up the word for seated meditation has a connotation, or sec­ond­ary meaning, of “ritual”, so that you could almost translate the word zazen as “ritual sitting”, the outward bodily manifesta­tion of pre-existing bud­dha­hood (see Ritual). However, although Zen affirms that all be­ings are, from the be­gin­ning, buddhas, it also stresses that it makes a great—in fact, a decisive—dif­fer­ence whe­ther one merely gullibly and compla­cent­ly takes this affirma­tion to be true or whether one ex­pe­ri­ences this truth in its deep­est sense directly and imme­diately one­self. Such an experiential insight is the “awaken­ing” to which the practice of zazen is in­tended to lead.


Zazenkai:   Jap., lit. “zazen meeting”. In the Melbourne Zen Group, the term is used for a meeting of more than two hours, to practise zazen together; it may include extra chanting, a dharma talk or a teisho, and dokusan (if a teacher is available).


Zen:   used in English as a generic term to refer to Mahayana Buddhist schools in various countries that each claim descent from the Bodhidharma (dhyana) tradition: Ch’an in China, Zen in Japan, Son in Korea, Thien in Vietnam, and now “Western Zen”. In the United States, the largest number of Zen centres follow the Korean tradition.

    Since the 11th century, Zen traditionally describes itself by four slogans (retrospecitvely attributed to Bodhidharma): (1) special trans­mission outside the ortho­dox teaching, (2) nondependence on sacred writings (see Sutra), (3) direct pointing to the human heart, and (4) realisation of one’s own nature and be­coming a buddha.

    Zen has often been called a mystical religion. Esoterically regarded, Zen has been identified in the West with the so-called Perennial philosophy or the quest of Theosophy, and disso­ciated from Buddhism. However, Western Zen practitioners who dispense with Buddhist doctrine too soon may end up with a practice that is naive, poorly developed, and shaped by un­examined Western assumptions. Although the Melbourne Zen Group as a sangha wel­comes people of all beliefs, the Melbourne Zen Group Inc. as a registered association is expli­cit­ly Buddhist, as set out in the “Aims and Objectives” of its constitution.


Zendo:   Jap., lit. “Zen hall” (also dojo, “way hall”); a large hall or room, in monasteries a special struc­ture, in which zazen is practised.

    Even though a zendo built in the traditional style is very conducive to the practice of zazen, Zen mas­ters stress repeatedly that the practice of  Zen funda­mentally does not require a spe­cial room in a quiet, idyllic environment—though such circumstances are naturally helpful and even indispensable for begin­ners in zazen. As Dogen Zenji said: “Your own heart, that is the practice hall”.


Zenji:   Jap., lit. “Zen master [ji = shi, master]”; hono­r­ific title having the sense of “great [or re­nowned] Zen master”. It is a title that is generally conferred posthumously; several masters, however, received this title during their lifetime.






Edited and abridged extracts from “A Selective Zen Dictionary of Words, Names, Metaphors and Archetypes”, compiled for the MZG by Lesley Hanks, 1994, revised 2005. The entries are largely based on the Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (1991), the Appen­dices and Glossary to Robert Aitken’s Encouraging Words (1993), the Oxford Dictionary of Bud­dhism (2003), and selected, reliable Internet sites.

As at 2 March 2006