Ascetic: One who believes that spiritual growth can be obtained through extreme self-denial and the renunciation of worldly pleasures. Ascetics often practice poverty, starvation, and self-mortification.
Bodhi tree: Tree of Wisdom; a fig tree.
Bodhisattva: A person who has already attained enlightenment, or is ready to attain that state, but puts off his or her own final enlightenment in order to re-enter the cycle of samsara and save all sentient beings.
Brahmin: The priests and the highest class of the hereditary caste system of India. The Brahmins were those motivated by knowledge.
Buddha: The Fully Awakened One. From the Sanskrit budh, which means “to awaken.”
Buddha-nature: Our true nature, our original nature before we became who we are today. Buddha-nature is that which is within us that gives us the ability to attain enlightenment.
Burmese style: A position of meditation in which the meditator sits cross-legged while both feet and calves remain on the floor, unlike in lotus position.
Ch'an: Literally, meditation. A school of Buddhism started in China in the sixth century by Bodhidharma. Known in Japan as Zen.
Dharma: The Path, the teachings of the Buddha. What is, and what should be. Dharma is everything: truth, the teachings, all things and states conditioned and unconditioned, nature, morality, ethics, and that which helps one achieve nirvana, that which is virtuous and righteous.
Dharma wheel: The wheel symbolizes the Buddhist cycle of birth and rebirth. The wheel often has eight spokes, symbolizing the Eightfold Path.
Dokusan: A private encounter with a Zen teacher.
Duhkha: Dissatisfaction, suffering, disease, or anguish caused by attachment and desire.
Dhyana: Sanskrit word for meditation.
Eightfold Path: The path to enlightenment: Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
Five Houses of Zen: Guiyang school, Caodong school, Linji school, Yunmen school, and Fayan school.
Five Precepts: Buddhist guidelines for conduct and ethical living. In order, they are: Do not destroy life. Do not steal. Do not commit sexual misconduct. Do not lie. Do not take intoxicating drinks.
Four Noble Truths: The heart of the Buddha's teaching, the truths are as follows: Life is filled with suffering. Suffering is caused by desire. Desire can end. The way to end desire is to follow the Eightfold Path.
Gassho: To place two palms together.
Haiku: A Japanese poem traditionally containing three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Most commonly, haikus are about everyday life and nature.
Half-lotus position: A meditation position. The legs are crossed with one foot on the thigh of the opposite leg. The other foot is under the opposite thigh, unlike the full lotus position in which both feet are on the thigh of the opposite leg.
Karma: The force generated by action and intention that affects one's quality of life in the next life. Good intention can lead to a good life in the next life via karmic implication. Negative intention can lead to a harder life in the next life via karmic implication.
Kensho: Enlightenment, but not as strong as daikensho or satori.
Kinhin: Walking meditation in Zen practice.
Koan: Questions that cannot be answered by the rational mind but that are answered as one pushes closer to enlightenment. The most famous koan is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
Lotus position: A position used for meditation practice. Lotus position entails sitting cross-legged with the top of your left foot on your right thigh and the top of your right foot on your left thigh.
Mantra: A mantra is a mystical incantation used during meditation.
Middle Way: The peaceful way between two extremes: neither excessive pleasure nor excessive pain. The Middle Way is the path to enlightenment.
Mindfulness: Being aware of things as they are and as they happen. Living in the moment.
Monkey mind: The action of your mind as it jumps from thought to thought, as a monkey jumps from tree to tree. To have monkey mind is to have a cluttered, jumbled, unserene mindset.
Mumu: No-thing, no, nothingness; the most famous Zen koan.
Nirvana: The cessation of suffering by the elimination of desire. Nirvana is not a place separate from us but that lies in each of us; it is the very still center at the core of our beings.
Paranirvana: The attainment of nirvana plus the total extinction of the physical self. When the Buddha died, he reached paranirvana.
Prana: Breath, life force.
Rinazi School of Zen: Rinzai is the school of Zen that emphasizes koan practice.
Roshi: A title given to a Zen master, under whom a student must study if he or she hopes to reach enlightened mind. In Japanese, it means “venerable master.”
Samadhi: A profound meditative state.
Samsara: The infinite repetitions of birth, death, and suffering caused by karma.
Sangha: Community of Buddhists. Traditionally, it could be defined as a community of monks, but the contemporary definition includes any Buddhist community of followers.
Seiza: A meditation position in which the meditator sits on his cushion while kneeling with his knees on the ground. The majority of the body weight rests on the cushion.
Sesshin: A Zen meditation retreat in which intensive zazen practice takes place.
Shikantaza: “Just sitting.” Sitting without breath practice or any other directed concentration.
Soto School of Zen: School of Zen Buddhism that emphasizes silent sitting meditation.
Sutra: The collection of teachings of the Buddha: discourses and dialogues.
Teisho: A presentation of insight from a teacher to students. Often the subject of a teisho will be a koan or koans.
Three Jewels: Buddha, dharma, sangha.
Zabutan: A large flat pillow that fits under the zafu so that your knees do not scrape the floor.
Zafu: A round cushion used for meditation.
Zazen: Seated meditation; total concentration of mind and body.
Zen: A school of Buddhism that emphasizes seated meditation and seeing directly into Buddha-nature.
Zendo: The Zen meditation hall.