The Zen Studies Podcast
A term for the fact that all things are empty of any inherent, independent, enduring self-nature, and are actually just integral parts of one, seamless, luminous whole. Contrasted with the relative truth that, at the same time, countless phenomena exist, interact, and have unique characteristics. Absolute and relative compromise the “two truths” teaching of Mahayana Buddhism.
Not-self, one of the Three Characteristics of Existence.
Impermanence, one of the Three Characteristics of Existence.
A fully awakened person who is liberated from the cycle of transmigration and will not be reborn.
Demigod in the cosmology of the Six Realms of Existence; in Sanskrit, sura means “god” and the prefix a implies a negative, so an asura is a non-god. Beings in the asura realm can see into heaven and are consumed with envy for what they do not have, even though on the Wheel of Life they are relatively fortunate.
The archetypal bodhisattva of compassion in Mahayana Buddhism. Originally portrayed iconographically (in paintings and statues) as male, but later as female, in which case she is called Kuan Yin, Kannon, and Kanzeon.
A Buddhist practitioner who vows to attain enlightenment, but also to be reborn in the world to rescue other beings instead of entering nirvana (complete release with no rebirth); aside from the traditional definition involving rebirth, it means a practitioner who vows to benefit others beings and not just achieve liberation for themselves. [Alt: bodhisatta, Pali]
“Awakened one,” or an arhat who has attained additional realizations that allow him/her to be an unsurpassed teacher of others, and who devotes him/herself to teaching the Dharma in order to liberate beings.
A Mahayana term describing our essential nature as naturally tending toward awakening, or as being fundamentally awake and complete from the beginning.
The oldest extant formal set of regulations for a Chan/Zen monastery, composed in 1103, containing detailed instructions for daily conduct of monks, ceremonies, and administration. The Chanyuan Qinggui heavily influenced later Chan/Zen monastic regulations, including those composed by Dogen for Japanese Soto monasteries.
A worldview based on the belief, originating in ancient India before the time of the Buddha, that human beings are reborn in this world over and over, having to endure the indignities of birth, loss, old age, illness, and death endlessly.
In ancient Buddhist and pre-Buddhist cosmology, a deva is a god-like being residing in the Heaven Realm; like Greek or Roman gods, devas are far from perfect or omniscient beings, and often have their own agendas. According to the Six Realms cosmology, devas also live a long time but not forever.
“Mystical verse,” a short or long piece of text that may or may not be translatable, sometimes representing the “heart” of an essential teaching, the mere recitation of which is believed to have real power either in the world (i.e. for protection) or on the body or mind (i.e. an aid in concentration or discipline).
(With a capital “D”) Buddhist teachings, or, at a deeper level, truth.
A ritual in which a qualified Zen teacher – one who has received Dharma Transmission themselves – acknowledges the ability of one of their students to carry on the lineage tradition of Zen as a teacher. See Episodes 51 & 52.
(With a lowercase “d”): “things,” meaning all phenomenal things or fundamental entities (can also be used in the singular). In parts of the Abhidharma, a dharma is considered a fundamentally-existing, indivisible thing.
Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) – Considered the founder of Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan, Dogen traveled to China to study Zen and ended up receiving transmission in the Cao-Dong lineage of Zen. A prolific writer whose teachings have become widely studied only in the last century.
Dissatisfactoriness, stress, or suffering, one of the Three Characteristics of Existence. See Episode 9: Shakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment: What Did He Realize? and Episode 14: Buddha’s Teachings Part 1: The Three Marks and the Teaching of Not-Self (Anatta).
The eighteen realms of experience, as conceived in early Buddhism, including the Six Sense Objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and thoughts), the Six Sense Organs required to receive stimulation from them, and the Six Consciousnesses (mental capacity) necessary to create perception.
Part of the Buddha’s original teaching, about the path of practice to liberation, including Appropriate (Right) View, Intention, Action, Speech, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration/Meditation.
Usually a translation of term shunyata, and meaning “empty” of inherent, independent, enduring self-nature (a quality of all beings and things).
The five basic moral guidelines for all Buddhists, including lay people and monastics: abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and using (for lay people, sometimes more loosely interpreted as “abusing”) intoxicants. The Five Precepts are recommended but optional for lay people, but required for monastics, who are also required to abide by additional precepts and regulations.
Part of the Buddha’s original teaching, about the cause of suffering (dukkha) and how to become free from suffering, including the Truth of Dukkha, the Truth of the Cause of Dukkha (grasping and aversion), the Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha (by releasing grasping and aversion), and the Truth of the Eightfold Noble Path (how one achieves the Cessation of Dukkha).
18th-century Japanese Zen master famous for a fiery teaching style, many writings, and for revitalizing the Rinzai school in Japan.
A short text (less than 250 words) composed somewhere around the 1st century CE, probably in China, considered to contain the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. The Heart Sutra is part of a larger body of works called the Prajnaparamita Scriptures, and is chanted daily throughout the world in Chan, Zen, and other Mahayana temples.
Literally “lesser vehicle” (yana meaning vehicle), a disparaging term used by some Mahayana Buddhists for Buddhist practice aimed only/primarily at one’s own attainment of nirvana (as opposed to mahayana, or “great vehicle”).
Chinese Chan master (1091-1157) and author, famous for his teachings about the practice of silent illumination, a themeless approach to zazen (seated meditation) often contrasted with the koan study of Linji/Rinzai Chan/Zen.
The Ineffable: According to Dogen translators Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross, “Inmo” is a colloquial Chinese word that is used to indicate something when there is no need to explain what it is – like the pronouns “it,” “that,” or “what.” They say Chinese philosophers would sometimes use the term “inmo” to indicate the ineffable, or that which is beyond words.
A religion founded by Mahavira, which arose in India around the same time as Buddhism (500BCE). Part of Jain belief is that the immaterial soul, or jiva, is trapped in the body, and any violent actions generate heavy karma that keeps the jiva trapped in the body. Therefore, the Jain ideal is ahimsa, or non-harming.
Deep meditative concentration, of which there are different levels. [Alt: dhyana]
A traditional Buddhist term for a very, very long period of time, like an eon. Defined in various ways, but one vivid description is to imagine how long it would take to wear away a solid rock 1 cubic mile in size if you came by and brushed the rock with a silk scarf once every 100 years, and a kalpa is longer than that.
The impersonal, universal “law” of moral cause-and-effect, stating that one’s actions, depending on what they are and the intention behind them, tend to have either positive, negative, or neutral effects. [Alt: kamma] Also see personal karma.
A lineage document with Shakyamuni Buddha’s name at the top, and then listing every generation of Buddhist – or later, Zen – ancestor through the centuries, right up to the teacher giving the ketchimyaku, followed by the name of the person receiving it. All names are connected by a red line symbolizing the “blood” of the ancestors. Traditionally, this is a document hand-copied on silk by monastics for Dharma Transmission, but since medieval times ketchimyaku have been given to lay people at Jukai as a way to help them feel connected to the lineage.
A traditional Zen story of an interaction between a Zen ancestor and a student, meant to convey a subtle aspect of Zen understanding and practice. Koans are often used by Zen students as a point of contemplation or inquiry, particularly in Rinzai.
A incredibly influential Mahayana text composed between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE by unknown authors, containing many classic Buddhist teachings, images, and parables. The Lotus Sutra became the primary text for a number of Buddhist sects, including one that believes it contains everything necessary for one’s salvation (Nichiren school).
Literally “great vehicle” (yana meaning vehicle), or the Buddhist path of a bodhisattva.
A branch of Buddhism that arose a few hundred years after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death, in which practitioners sought to avoid the hinayana and embrace the Mahayana. Most types of Buddhism that trace their lineage through China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan are in the Mahayana branch of Buddhism.
A syllable, word, series of syllables, or short verse, usually in (or transliterated from) Sanskrit, the mere recitation of which (silently or out loud) is believed to have real power either in the world (i.e. for protection or healing) or on the body or mind (i.e. an aid in concentration or discipline); similar to a dharani but, generally speaking, a mantra is much shorter.
An non-canonical ancient Buddhist text, “The Introduction to the Jataka,” that gives a chronological account of Shakyamuni Buddha’s life and is the source of many myths about the Buddha. See Episode 11: Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 1: Source Texts, and Birth Through Homeleaving for a discussion of this text.
In original Buddhism, a practitioner who has attained a level of spiritual mastery such that they will not be reborn again in this world, but will, after death, be reborn in a heavenly realm where they will achieve nirvana.
In original Buddhism, a practitioner who has attained a level of spiritual mastery such that they will, after death, be reborn in this world only one more time before attaining arhatship or the status of non-returner.
Literally “just enough,” a communal Zen meal ritual where each participant uses a personal set of nesting bowls wrapped in a cloth. After unwrapping the bowls, receiving food, and eating, the bowls are washed, dried, and wrapped up again – without anyone moving from their seat.
Literally, “defeat” (in Pali), the term used for the penalty for fully ordained monastics who violate the most important rules in the monastic code of discipline (Patimokkha), namely, expulsion from the Sangha of monastics and being stripped of the status of a monastic.
“Wanderer;” In India, parivrajakas renounced the restrictions of worldly life, including caste, social, and ritual expectations. They lived in forests, caves, or other humble conditions as mendicants without social status, and depended on alms. They devoted themselves full time to spiritual study and practice, either alone or within loose communities formed around teachers.
The rules of discipline for fully ordained Buddhist monks (bhikkhus) and nuns (bhikkhunis) according to the Vinaya. In the Pali version, there are 248 rules for bhikkhus and 311 for bhikkunis. [Alt: pratimoksha]
All the ways you are that have resulted from previous causes – genetic, familial, and cultural causes, plus all of the experiences you’ve had that have led to your conditioning and habitual responses, and your choices (conscious and unconscious). Also see karma.
Mahayana Buddhist texts that began to be composed about 400 years after the Buddha’s death (around the 1st century BCE), and which focus on the ideal of the bodhisattva, and on the perfection of wisdom (prajnaparamita).
The moral rules/guidelines in Buddhism.
A heavenly realm of peace and bliss, particularly as envisioned in Pure Land Buddhism, where the realm is presided over by Amida (Amitabha) Buddha. Devotees can be reborn in the Pure Land, where it will be easier to attain enlightenment because you will be free from the trials and limitations of earthly life.
A bib-like garment worn around the neck, as a symbol of having taken Jukai and/or as having taken a formal teacher (in Zen).
A term for the fact that countless phenomena exist, interact, and have unique characteristics. Contrasted with the absolute truth that, at the same time, all things are empty of any inherent, independent, enduring self-nature, and are actually just integral parts of one, seamless, luminous whole. Absolute and relative compromise the “two truths” teaching of Mahayana Buddhism.
[Rinzai Zen] One of two major extant schools of Zen (the other being Soto); Rinzai developed in China (where it was called the Linji school or branch) and practice tends to include formal koan study. [Zen master Rinzai] Or Lin-chi, a 9th century Chan master who is considered the founder of the Lin-chi/Rinzai school of Zen.
A state of nondual awareness where the sense of separation between subject (self, observer, meditator) and object (anything/everything else) falls away, allowing you to perceive the absolute aspect of reality.
An ancient Indian Sanskrit term for the world, in which all beings were subject to the Cycle of Transmigration (and therefore doomed to face loss, illness, old age, and death over and over and over).
The Buddhist community; originally, the ordained Buddhist community, but in many modern contexts, also includes lay practitioners of Buddhism.
A silent, residential Zen meditation retreat with a 24-7 schedule, usually lasting at least three full days and often lasting 7-10 days.
Literally, “sage of the Shakyas,” a title for the Buddha.
Objectless, technique-less Zen meditation, literally “nothing but precisely sitting.”
Translated as “emptiness” or “boundlessness,” a quality of all beings and things in that they have no inherent, independent, enduring self-nature but rather dependently co-arise with all things and have no fixed boundary.
A formal practice position in a Zen community in which a fairly junior student takes the role of modeling or guiding the basic practice for other students in the zendo, particularly as regards the form (established customs and rituals).
In ancient Buddhist (and pre-Buddhist) cosmology, a view of life being divided into six realms: heaven and hell, plus the asura (demigod), beast, hell, hungry ghost, and human realms. It was believed that beings were reborn after death, over and over, in one of the six realms; therefore the six realms as a whole were referred to as the Wheel of Life, or the wheel of samsara.
Part of an ancient Buddhist formulation describing the components of human experience, the Eighteen Dhatus, the Six Sense Consciousnesses are sight consciousness, sound consciousness, smell consciousness, taste consciousness, touch consciousness, and thought consciousness (the faculties of mind that allow an experience of perception).
Part of an ancient Buddhist formulation describing the components of human experience, the Eighteen Dhatus, the Six Sense Objects are sights, sounds, smells, tastes, the objects of touch, and thoughts.
Aggregate, or heap; the entirety of a human being is composed of five skandhas – form, sensation, perception, formation, and consciousness.
“Striver;” Indian seeker looking for spiritual fulfillment and answers, generally suspicious of the Vedic religions and pursuing alternative teachings and practices.
In original Buddhism, a practitioner who has attained a level of spiritual mastery such that they have “entered the stream” that flows inevitably to nirvana; although it may take more than one additional lifetime (rebirth), a stream-enterer will eventually achieve nirvana. (Subsequent levels of mastery are once-returner, non-returner, and arhat.)
A traditional Buddhist (or Hindu) ritual considered to be an especially effective – and potentially risky – tool for spiritual insight or development, which is why tantra is also considered to be esoteric (that is, intended to be taught to a relatively small number of specialists and used under carefully prescribed conditions). Contrary to popular perception, only a small fraction of tantras include any sexual activity, and these are considered appropriate only for extremely advanced practitioners.
Another way to refer to a completely awakened being, or buddha, sometimes translated as “one who has thus gone” or “one who has thus come.”
Theravada means “way of the elders;” Theravadin Buddhism traces its lineage back to the Original Buddhism of India and Southeast Asia, and preserves Buddhist teaches and practices that most closely resemble those actually taught by the Buddha and practiced by the Sangha at the Buddha’s time. It relies on the Pali Canon.
The Buddha’s teaching that all conditioned things are impermanent (anicca), dissatisfactory when relied upon (dukkha), and therefore all things should be identified as not-self (anatta). [Alt: Three Marks of Existence, Three Marks]
In Buddhism, the three root causes of suffering: greed (or grasping), hate (or anger, or aversion), and delusion (or ignorance).
A lay person who has vowed to follow the five precepts in Theravadin Buddhism. Essentially means lay disciple, but which can be translated as “one who sits close by,” referring to lay people who join monastics in the practice of the dhamma. See Episode 61.
“Skillful means,” or “expedient means,” upaya is a Mahayana Buddhist term for employing creative and sometimes gradual or provisional methods to help sentient beings awaken. Featured prominently in the Lotus Sutra, upaya is sometimes presented as temporarily holding back the full truth, or even employing mild deception, in order to proved teaching an audience can actually hear, understand, accept, and respond to.
A type of Buddhism that grew out of Mahayana early in Buddhist history and calls itself the “diamond” (vajra) vehicle (yana), emphasizing the use of tantra (esoteric ritual) as the fastest and most effective path to enlightenment. The most well-known and widely practiced form of Vajrayana today is Tibetan Buddhism, of which the Dalai Lama is the most famous practitioner.
A term for the cosmology of the Six Realms, particularly when portrayed iconographically, in which beings subject to the Cycle of Transmigration are reborn again and again into one of the Six Realms of existence based on their past actions. Alt: Wheel of Samsara.
Seated (“za”) meditation (“zen”) in the Zen Buddhist tradition.
A type of Buddhism in which the primary practice is meditation (“zen”). Arose in China around the 5th century CE, where it was called Chan.
A Zen meditation (“zen”) hall (“do”).