What is Zen?
There are a number of special Japanese terms used only in the Zen tradition. Below is a select list:
The large woven bamboo hats worn by monks on pilgrimage and mendicancy.
The summer and winter training seasons, with their origins in the rainy season meditation retreats at the time of Shakyamuni.
Pilgrimage, usually to seek a master.
A drink made with hot water and pickled plums (umeboshi), and sweetened with sugar.
Evening sutra chanting.
A lower-ranking unsui.
Leaving the monastery for a day or less on private business.
Rice offerings placed in front of the buddha images.
The morning sutra chanting service.
Lit., “to finish understanding the Great Matter”; to attain full awakening and complete one’s training.
The monks residing in the zendo.
The monk in charge of waking the other monks in the morning, of leading the sutra chanting and other ceremonies, and of cleaning the ritual halls.
Monks who start their monastery careers during the same ango.
Sanzen on an individual, voluntary basis with the roshi. Most sanzen at Rinzai monasteries is dokusan. Contrasts with sosan.
Lit., “inside the hall”; refers primarily to the monks residing in the zendo.
A term for the group of monks who all trained under the same certain roshi.
A term for the group of monks who all trained under the same certain roshi. or at the same temple.
The dedication read after recitation of a sutra, to direct the merit gained from the recitation to a certain person or group.
Mendicancy done at a long distance from the monastery, usually lasting a full day or longer.
The monastery vegetable garden, or the gardener.
The temple officer in charge of financial affairs. Nowadays the position is combined with that of shika.
The fusu’s assistant, in charge of financial affairs and miscellaneous matters.
The “ball of doubt” that fuels a monk’s drive to practice and to attain enlightenment.
The “four postures” of walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.
The morning ringing of the large temple bell.
A way of sutra chanting during ceremonies, in which the monks chant while walking in line inside the ceremony hall.
To forcibly take a monk to sanzen in order to help him resolve his koan.
A type of takuhatsu in which individual monks go to designated households once a month to receive rice set aside by the family for the monastic community
“Taking in”; one of the aspects of Zen training, that of strickness or tension. See also hogyo.
A thick rectangular wooden board hung in front of the zendo; one of the narashimono used to signal times at the monastery.
The long, low tables used when eating meals in the jikido.
Hanka fuza 半跏趺坐
The half-lotus sitting position.
Hashin kyuji 把針灸治
Lit., “to grasp the needle, to treat with moxa.” Hashin kyuji are days before sesshin during which the unsui can rest, repair clothes, and treat illnesses.
“Letting go”; one of the aspects of Zen training, that of relaxation or loosening. See also haju.
The large temple drum beaten to signal the beginning of teisho or a ceremony.
The length of time since tokudo; one’s career as a monk.
A senior monk who serves as one of temple officers: the shika, jikijitsu, and jisha. Roughly synonymous with yakui.
Lit., “one summer”; synonymous with ango.
The tutelary diety of the temple kitchen and kuri.
Ikko hanko 一箇半箇
Lit., “one man or half a man,” the term for the true successor that every Zen master is duty-bound to produce.
The master’s attendant.
The seal of enlightenment; a master’s certification of a disciple’s completion of training.
The handbell used by the jikijitsu to signal the beginning and ending of meditation, and for other miscellaneous purposes.
Formerly, the monk in charge of supervising the work duty; at present, the monk who leads chanting during a service.
The roshi’s living quarters.
Good works performed in secret.
The length of time it takes to burn one stick of incense; hence, one period of zazen.
The name of the nesting set of bowls with which Rinzai unsui eat.
The room where meals are eaten in a Rinzai monastery.
The head monk in charge of meditation in the zendo.
The head monk in charge of caring for the monks of the zendo; his duties include maintaining the zendo’s main image (usually Manjusri), serving tea, and caring for sick monks.
The administrative section of the monastery, as opposed to the zendo, or donai.
A junior officer in the monastery. In most Rinzai monasteries there are two.
Lit., “removing the keisaku”; a free day of rest in the monastery.
The patrolling of the zendo with the keisaku.
Lit., house wind”; the customs and “atmosphere” of a certain monastery.
Bedtime at the monastery, marked by a short sutra-chanting and the unrolling of the kashiwabuton.
Striking of the wooden han.
Morning wake-up at the monastery.
The occasion of the first teisho of the ango.
The monastic off-season. Roughly synonymous with seikan.
Monastic bath time.
Kanban bukuro 看板袋
The bag used by the monks during menicancy. The name of the monk’s temple is usually written on the front of the bag.
Kanna Zen 看話禪
A retired priest.
The small hanging bell rung by the monks to signal entrance to the master’s room during dokusan. It has thus come to be synonymous with sanzen itself.
To formally enter a monastery for training.
The large square-shaped futon used for sleeping in the monastery. The futon is folded in half, and the unsui sleeps inside. In the morning the futon is rolled up and stored for the day.
To help with work, either in general or at another temple.
To formally enter a monastery for training. See kashaku.
The “warning stick,” used to encourage monks during zazen.
Kekka fuza 結跏趺座
The full lotus sitting position.
The response to a koan, presented during sanzen.
“To see self nature.” Kensho is roughly synonymous with satori, although the latter is generally regarded as indicating a deeper experience.
The formal checking of the sitting monks in the zendo by the roshi or the jikijitsu.
The Buddhist liturgical robe usually translated as “surplice.” It is the stylized form of the original Indian Buddhist robe, worn around the body, over the left shoulder and under the right shoulder.
Kesa bunko 袈裟文庫
The luggage bundle carried by unsui during their angya, containing their kesa, razor, jihatsu, sutra book, and rain poncho.
The monastic regulations.
Kitan ryushaku 起單留錫
The occasion at the end of the training period when a monk notifies the monastery whether he will be staying for the next training period or leaving to continue his angya.
The incense holder in which sticks of incense are burned by the jikijitsu during zazen.
Koji kyumei 己事究明
“The investigation and clarification of the self.” The purpose of zazen.
An announcement by the head monk to the community, usually setting out the schedule for that day.
The evening ringing of the large temple bell.
A synonym for "koan".
The changing of monastic duties at the end of the training period.
A senior monk.
A lecture by the roshi to the monks. See teisho.
To maintain one’s practice during stillness and movement. In the Zen monastery it has generally come to mean something like something like “creative inventiveness” during work.
The monastery kitchen, or, more generally, the living quarters.
The state of mind, usually expressed in a person’s actions and presence, attained through training.
Mokusho Zen 黙照禪
Silent illumination Zen; Zen meditation that does not use koans. Contrasted with kanna Zen.
A middle-ranking unsui.
The various sound-producing implements (bells, clappers, gongs) used in a monastery to signal the times for various activities.
To meditate upon a koan.
The “second sitting” at mealtimes, attended by monks whose duties kept them away from the first sitting.
To enter the roshi’s sanzen room for meditation instruction
Nitten soji 日天掃除
The daily cleaning done inside and outside the monastery.
The period in which a postulant at a Zen monastery must sit in the monastery entrance hall (genkan) in a bowing posture, asking for admission, usually for a period of two days. See also tangazume.
Niya sanjitsu 二夜三日
Lit., “two nights and three days”; the maximum period of time for which a monk may be absent from the monastery without having to receive permission for zanka.
The fourteenth of every month and the last day of every month, when the monks sleep late, then shave heads, do a major cleaning, and, during the afternoon, rest.
The smallest style of kesa, shaped like a bib and worn around the neck.
The monk who sits next to one in the zendo.
The severest sesshin of the monastic year, commemorating the enlightenment of the Buddha. It is usually held from December 1st until the morning of December 8th, during which period the monks are not allowed to lie down to rest.
The Zen monastic master. Roughly synonymous with shike.
The few grains of rice offered at the beginning of meals to the hungry ghosts.
Lunch, the main meal of the monastic day.
Manual labor in the monastery, a part of training equally important to zazen.
To formally enter the zendo as a new member of the monastic community following the completion of niwazume and tangazume.
A synonym for inji.
Formal meditation study with a Zen master. More specifically, the private meetings between master and disciple in which the master instructs the disciple in meditation.
Occasions when tea is served, both on formally and informally.
The monastic off-season. Roughly synonymous with kaisei.
The monastic training season. Roughly synonymous with ango.
Senmon dojo 專門道場
A formal Zen training monastery, at which a monk can gain qualification for priesthood. Roughly synonymous with sodo.
Meditation retreats, generally lasting one week.
Setsu ango 雪安居
The winter training season.
Shichido garan 七堂伽藍
The classical layout of the Zen monastery with seven buildings. The Sanmon 山門 (Mountain Gate), Butsuden 佛殿 (Buddha Hall), Hatto 法堂 (Dharma Hall), and Hojo 方丈 (Abbot’s Quarters) are aligned on a north-south axis, with the Yokushitsu 浴室 (Bath House) and Kyozo 経蔵 (sutra library) to the east and the Sodo 僧堂 (Monk’s Hall) to the west.
The time between the beginning and end of a period of meditation, when silence must be maintained and no moving is permitted.
The head monk in charge of the administrative section of the monastery, and whose duties involve meeting guests.
The master of a monastery. Shike is roughly synonymous with roshi.
Days which contain a “4” (shi) or a “9” (ku), on which there is head shaving a general cleaning of the monastery, and a bath.
The formal wear used by unsui during ceremonies.
Money received by the monks from the monastery.
A new monk; usually refers to monks in their first year at the monastery.
Lit., “inside the room”—an term for the meditation instruction that takes place between the master and disciple in the sanzen room of the master.
Lit., “the first barrier”; the first koan received by a monk.
A formal meeting with a Zen master.
The cord that monks wear around their waist.
Participation in a ceremony.
The evening fire-watch at the time of kaichin, when one or two monks make the rounds of the monastery buildings and properties to make sure that all fires are out.
A formal Zen training monastery, at which a monk can gain qualification for priesthood. Roughly synonymous with senmon dojo.
An older priest or an eminent priest.
Another term for sodo.
Formal sanzen held on the first, fourth, and seventh evenings of a sesshin, and during which the shika rings the kansho and the monks meet the roshi in order of rank. All monks must participate. Contrasts with dokusan.
A formal sarei that all monks are required to attend. Usually held before important affairs.
Instructions or warnings from the master or superior monks.
Mendicancy; monastic begging rounds.
A meditation platform in a zendo. Usually there are three or four: the jikijitsu tan (the tan to the left as you enter the front of the zendo), tanto tan (the tan to the right as you enter the front of the zendo), naka tan (an auxilliary tan between the jikijitsu tan and the tanto tan), and sometimes a gaitan (an auxilliary tan outside the main zendo room). The word tan can also indicate a person’s place on the tan, and hence his place in the monastery hierarchy.
The large cushion upon which Rinzai monks sit during zazen.
The period in which a postulant at a Zen monastery must sit alone in a small room (called the tangaryo) facing the wall, usually for a period of five days. See also niwazume.
A subtemple located in the precincts of a larger temple.
The roshi’s dharma lecture, usually on a koan, a Zen text, or a sutra.
A meal served to the unsui at the home of a believer. The monks often receive tenjin at the end of the morning takuhatsu rounds.
The monastery kitchen; also the cook.
The container for hot water.
To be ordained as a monk.
Lit., “cloud plate”; a flat, cloud-shaped gong used to signal mealtimes.
Lit., “clouds and water”; a Zen monk in training.
Yako Zen 野狐禪
Lit., “wild fox Zen”; false Zen.
Lit., “medicine stone”; the Zen monastic supper. In Buddhism it was originally forbidden to eat after noon. However, in China, where Zen developed, it was cold in the winter, so the monks would put heated stones against their abdomens to assuage the pangs of hunger. These stones were called "medicine stones." Later a light meal, consisting of the day’s leftovers, came to be served, and this was named after the stones used to ease hunger.
Lit., “night sitting”; private zazen done after kaichin.
The monk that prepares the bath.
The rectangular “sitting cloth,” used during ceremonies at the time of ritual prostrations.
A permitted absence from the monastery longer than three days and two nights. It is often used at present to indicate the termination of a monk’s sodo training.
A Zen meditation hall.
An informal meal.
An informal bath.
Informal sitting in the zendo, with no shijo.
A monks bag hung around the neck, used to keep personal effects.