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What is Zen?


There are a number of special Japanese terms used only in the Zen tradition. Below is a select list:   

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Ajirogasa 網代笠

The large woven bamboo hats worn by monks on pilgrimage and mendicancy.

Ango 安居

The summer and winter training seasons, with their origins in the rainy season meditation retreats at the time of Shakyamuni.

Angya 行脚

Pilgrimage, usually to seek a master.

Baito 梅湯

A drink made with hot water and pickled plums (umeboshi), and sweetened with sugar.

Banka 晩課

Evening sutra chanting.

Battan 末單

A lower-ranking unsui.

Benji 弁事

Leaving the monastery for a day or less on private business.

Bussho 佛餉

Rice offerings placed in front of the buddha images.

Choka 朝課

The morning sutra chanting service.

Daijiryohitsu 大事了畢

Lit., “to finish understanding the Great Matter”; to attain full awakening and complete one’s training.

Daishu 大衆

The monks residing in the zendo.

Densu 殿司

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.

Doge 同夏

Monks who start their monastery careers during the same ango.

Dokusan 獨參

Sanzen on an individual, voluntary basis with the roshi. Most sanzen at Rinzai monasteries is dokusan. Contrasts with sosan.

Donai 堂内

Lit., “inside the hall”; refers primarily to the monks residing in the zendo.

Dosan 同參

A term for the group of monks who all trained under the same certain roshi.

Eka 會下

A term for the group of monks who all trained under the same certain roshi. or at the same temple.

Eko 回向

The dedication read after recitation of a sutra, to direct the merit gained from the recitation to a certain person or group.

Enpatsu 遠鉢

Mendicancy done at a long distance from the monastery, usually lasting a full day or longer.

Enzu 園頭

The monastery vegetable garden, or the gardener.

Fusu 副司

The temple officer in charge of financial affairs. Nowadays the position is combined with that of shika.

Fuzui 副隨

The fusu’s assistant, in charge of financial affairs and miscellaneous matters.

Gidan 疑團

The “ball of doubt” that fuels a monk’s drive to practice and to attain enlightenment.

Gyojuzaga 行住坐臥

The “four postures” of walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.

Gyosho 曉鐘

The morning ringing of the large temple bell.

Gyodo 行道

A way of sutra chanting during ceremonies, in which the monks chant while walking in line inside the ceremony hall.

Geju 偈頌

A verse.

Goannai 御案内

To forcibly take a monk to sanzen in order to help him resolve his koan.

Gomai 合米

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

Haju 把住

“Taking in”; one of the aspects of Zen training, that of strickness or tension. See also hogyo.

Han 板

A thick rectangular wooden board hung in front of the zendo; one of the narashimono used to signal times at the monastery.

Handai 飯台

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.

Hogyo 放行

“Letting go”; one of the aspects of Zen training, that of relaxation or loosening. See also haju.

Hokku 法皷

The large temple drum beaten to signal the beginning of teisho or a ceremony.

Horo 法臘

The length of time since tokudo; one’s career as a monk.

Hyoseki 評席

A senior monk who serves as one of temple officers: the shika, jikijitsu, and jisha. Roughly synonymous with yakui.

Ichige 一夏

Lit., “one summer”; synonymous with ango.

Idaten 韋駄天

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.

Inji 隱侍

The master’s attendant.

Inka 印可

The seal of enlightenment; a master’s certification of a disciple’s completion of training.

Inkin 引磬

The handbell used by the jikijitsu to signal the beginning and ending of meditation, and for other miscellaneous purposes.

Ino 維那

Formerly, the monk in charge of supervising the work duty; at present, the monk who leads chanting during a service.

Inryo 隱寮

The roshi’s living quarters.

Intoku 陰徳

Good works performed in secret.

Isshu 一炷

The length of time it takes to burn one stick of incense; hence, one period of zazen.

Jakugo 著語

Capping phrase.

Jihatsu 持鉢

The name of the nesting set of bowls with which Rinzai unsui eat.

Jikido 食堂

The room where meals are eaten in a Rinzai monastery.

Jikijitsu 直日

The head monk in charge of meditation in the zendo.

Jisha 侍者

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.

Joju 常住

The administrative section of the monastery, as opposed to the zendo, or donai.

Jokei 助警

A junior officer in the monastery. In most Rinzai monasteries there are two.

Josaku 除策

Lit., “removing the keisaku”; a free day of rest in the monastery.

Junkei 巡警

The patrolling of the zendo with the keisaku.

Kafu 家風

Lit., house wind”; the customs and “atmosphere” of a certain monastery.

Kaichin 開枕

Bedtime at the monastery, marked by a short sutra-chanting and the unrolling of the kashiwabuton.

Kaihan 開板

Striking of the wooden han.

Kaijo 開靜

Morning wake-up at the monastery.

Kaiko 開講

The occasion of the first teisho of the ango.

Kaisei 解制

The monastic off-season. Roughly synonymous with seikan.

Kaiyoku 開浴

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

Koan Zen.

Kansei 閑栖

A retired priest.

Kansho 喚鐘

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.

Kashaku 掛錫

To formally enter a monastery for training.

Kashiwabuton 柏蒲団

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.

Katan 加擔

To help with work, either in general or at another temple.

Kato 掛搭

To formally enter a monastery for training. See kashaku.

Keisaku 警策

The “warning stick,” used to encourage monks during zazen.

Kekka fuza 結跏趺座

The full lotus sitting position.

Kenge 見解

The response to a koan, presented during sanzen.

Kensho 見性

“To see self nature.” Kensho is roughly synonymous with satori, although the latter is generally regarded as indicating a deeper experience.

Kentan 檢單

The formal checking of the sitting monks in the zendo by the roshi or the jikijitsu.

Kesa 袈裟

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.

Kiku 規矩

The monastic regulations.

Kinhin 經行

Walking meditation.

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.

Koban 香盤

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.

Kokuho 告報

An announcement by the head monk to the community, usually setting out the schedule for that day.

Konsho 昏鐘

The evening ringing of the large temple bell.

Kosoku 古則

A synonym for "koan".

Kotai 交代

The changing of monastic duties at the end of the training period.

Kotan 高單

A senior monk.

Koza 講座

A lecture by the roshi to the monks. See teisho.

Kufu 工夫

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.

Kuri 庫裡

The monastery kitchen, or, more generally, the living quarters.

Kyogai 境界

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.

Nakatan 中單

A middle-ranking unsui.

Narashimono 鳴物

The various sound-producing implements (bells, clappers, gongs) used in a monastery to signal the times for various activities.

Nentei 拈提

To meditate upon a koan.

Nibanza 二番座

The “second sitting” at mealtimes, attended by monks whose duties kept them away from the first sitting.

Nisshitsu 入室

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.

Niwazume 庭詰

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.

Oshiku 大四九

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.

Rakusu 絡子

The smallest style of kesa, shaped like a bib and worn around the neck.

Rintan 隣單

The monk who sits next to one in the zendo.

Rohatsu 臘八

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.

Roshi 老師

The Zen monastic master. Roughly synonymous with shike.

Saba 生飯

The few grains of rice offered at the beginning of meals to the hungry ghosts.

Saiza 斎座

Lunch, the main meal of the monastic day.

Samu 作務

Manual labor in the monastery, a part of training equally important to zazen.

Sando 參堂

To formally enter the zendo as a new member of the monastic community following the completion of niwazume and tangazume.

Sanno 三應

A synonym for inji.

Sanzen 參禪

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.

Sarei 茶礼

Occasions when tea is served, both on formally and informally.

Seikan 制間

The monastic off-season. Roughly synonymous with kaisei.

Seichu 制中

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.

Sesshin 攝心

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.

Shijo 止靜

The time between the beginning and end of a period of meditation, when silence must be maintained and no moving is permitted.

Shika 知客

The head monk in charge of the administrative section of the monastery, and whose duties involve meeting guests.

Shike 師家

The master of a monastery. Shike is roughly synonymous with roshi.

Shikunichi 四九日

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.

Shin’igi 眞威儀

The formal wear used by unsui during ceremonies.

Shinkin 嚫金

Money received by the monks from the monastery.

Shinto 新到

A new monk; usually refers to monks in their first year at the monastery.

Shitsunai 室内

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.

Shokan 初關

Lit., “the first barrier”; the first koan received by a monk.

Shoken 相見

A formal meeting with a Zen master.

Shukin 手巾

The cord that monks wear around their waist.

Shutto 出頭

Participation in a ceremony.

Shuya 守夜

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.

Sodo 僧堂

A formal Zen training monastery, at which a monk can gain qualification for priesthood. Roughly synonymous with senmon dojo.

Sonshuku 尊宿

An older priest or an eminent priest.

Sorin 叢林

Another term for sodo.

Sosan 総參

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.

Sozarei 総茶禮

A formal sarei that all monks are required to attend. Usually held before important affairs.

Suikai 埀誡

Instructions or warnings from the master or superior monks.

Taku 柝木

Wooden clappers.

Takuhatsu 托鉢

Mendicancy; monastic begging rounds.

Tan 單

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.

Tanbuton 單蒲団

The large cushion upon which Rinzai monks sit during zazen.

Tangazume 旦過詰

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.

Tatchu 塔頭

A subtemple located in the precincts of a larger temple.

Teisho 提唱

The roshi’s dharma lecture, usually on a koan, a Zen text, or a sutra.

Tenjin 点心

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.

Tenzo 典座

The monastery kitchen; also the cook.

Toki 湯器

The container for hot water.

Tokudo 得度

To be ordained as a monk.

Unpan 雲版

Lit., “cloud plate”; a flat, cloud-shaped gong used to signal mealtimes.

Unsui 雲水

Lit., “clouds and water”; a Zen monk in training.

Yako Zen 野狐禪

Lit., “wild fox Zen”; false Zen.

Yakuseki 藥石

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.

Yaza 夜坐

Lit., “night sitting”; private zazen done after kaichin.

Yokuju 浴頭

The monk that prepares the bath.

Zagu 坐具

The rectangular “sitting cloth,” used during ceremonies at the time of ritual prostrations.

Zanka 暫暇

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.

Zanmai 三昧


Zendo 禪堂

A Zen meditation hall.

Zuihan 隨意飯

An informal meal.

Zuiyoku 隨意浴

An informal bath.

Zuiza 隨意坐

Informal sitting in the zendo, with no shijo.

Zutabukuro 頭陀袋

A monks bag hung around the neck, used to keep personal effects.