Glossary of Zen Terms

Glossary of Zen Terms

Bodhisattva: Someone who is committed to putting the Buddha’s teachings into practice in daily life

Buddha: Siddhartha Gotama, Indian prince, C5th BC. Also called Shakyamuni Buddha in Sino-Japanese

Dharma: The teachings of the historical Buddha, also supplemented by later followers

Dojo: The meditation hall in which we sit zazen and do ceremonies

Dogen: Eihei Dogen, Japanese (1200-1253) Founder of our Soto Zen school of Buddhism

Godo: Teacher. Also the person who generally leads sessions in the dojo

Hannya Shingyo: (Heart Sutra) Short sutra, summarising the teaching of the Prajnaparamita Wisdom sutras. 

Kyosaku: Flattened stick used to massage the shoulders of meditators (if requested)

Kesa: Ceremonial robe worn over their black kimono by monks and nuns

Kinhin: Slow walking meditation, carried out between periods of sitting meditation

Kusen: Verbal teaching given by the godo during a meditation period (‘sit’)

Mokugyo: Wooden drum beaten rhythmically as an aid to communal chanting

Mondo: Session, in a formal setting, during which senior teachers answer practitioners’ questions

Ordination: Ceremony formalising a person’s deepening commitment to Buddhist practice

Rakusu: A smaller version of the kesa worn by ordained lay people. Worn by monks/nuns outside the dojo

Samu: Work carried out on behalf of the community, often simple tasks such as cleaning or food preparation

Sanpai: Set of three formal ceremonial bows

Sangha: The Buddhist community including, but not limited to, those formally ordained

Sesshin: A more intense Zen practice period, typically lasting one or two days up to a week

Shikantaza: ‘Just sitting’ – the Soto Zen meditation practice method 

Shuso: Person responsible for ensuring order and safety within the dojo

Soto Zen: School of Buddhism emphasising silent meditation as the key to liberation

Sutra: Text usually attributed to the Buddha or propounded by later disciples

Teisho: Formal lecture given by the godo in the dojo

Zafu: Round meditation cushion. (A bench or chair can be used instead)

Zazen: Still, silent meditation

A more comprehensive glossary can be found on the AZI website