Home > Zen Terms

Be curious— and let your mind grow. Understanding terminology can help deepen your practice.

Ango – An intensive period, usually of three months duration, devoted to meditation, study and communal work.

Anja – Main attendant to a transmitted teacher. 

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (J – Kannon) – One of the three principle bodhisattvas, Avalokitesvara is the personification of great compassion and is usually portrayed in female form.

Bai – a beater for the instruments stuck during service or zazen.


Benzaiten – The goddess of water, who provides protection from natural disasters.


Bodhi Day – December 8th, the day upon which the Buddha had his great realization after a week of meditation under the Bodhi Tree.


Bodhidharma – The First Ancestor of Zen (in China); Bodhidharma was the Indian master who brought Zen to China.

Chiden – The person responsible for the care and maintenance of all the Zen Center’s altars.

Chosan – Once a month the teachers, monks, department heads, and managers all gather together to report on what’s happening in their areas and discuss policies and changes. Chosan is a good format for the dissemination of new information, since notes taken during the meeting are typed up and made available to all.

Daikan Eno (Huineng) – the Sixth Ancestor of Zen, whose school of “Sudden Enlightenment” became the mainstream of Zen practice and thought. All Zen lineages descend from him


Daiosho – Literally, Great Priest, the honorary title.

Daisan – Private interview with a hoshi.

Dennan – Altar attendant; passes out Sutra books

Densho – Name of the large hanging bell in the front gaitan.

Dharani – a short Buddhist chant, often untranslatable, which is recited during service as an invocation to encourage a certain attitude of mind.

Doan – Name of a member of the ryo responsible for the playing of the various bells and drums during service. May also refer specifically to the person who plays the large Keisu.

Dogen Zenji – the founder of the Soto School of Zen in Japan. He also founded Eiheiji, the principal Soto training monastery in Japan, and wrote the Shobogenzo, a pivotal Soto text.

Dokusan – Private interview with a transmitted teacher.

Eightfold Path – the fourth Noble Truth given by the Buddha as the way to end suffering. The eightfold Path consists of – right view, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and samadhi.


Eko – A dedication. During service the eko comes after the recited text.

Four Noble Truths – One of the Buddha’s first teachings concerning life and the way of Buddhism. It states that –

  1. Life has suffering (dukkha);
  2. suffering has a cause;
  3. there is a way to end the cause of suffering; an
  4. the way to do this is to follow the Eightfold Path.


Fudo myo – The immovable One; Fudo represents the embodied enlightenment amidst greed, resentment and delusion.


Fukuetsu – The Assistant Ino; the one who leads services when the Ino is absent.


Fusatsu – The ceremony, usually held once a month, is for the renewal of vows taken at Jukai. Based on the centuries-old ceremony of Upasatha (monthly recital of the precepts), Fusatsu allows us to both renew our vows and re-dedicate ourselves to practice. It consists of bowing, reciting the Gatha of Atonement for one’s evil karma, vowing to be one with the Past Seven Buddhas, reciting the Four Great Vows, and the Adoration of the Three treasures. FUSATSU – Renewal-of-Vows ceremony [also called Atonement (At-one-ment)]


Fushinzamu – Each day for a set time, everybody sets aside their regular jobs and cleans the Zen Center’s grounds and buildings. An integral part of practice, Fushinzamu is a wonderful opportunity to express our zazen as samu and group practice. It is also a chance to work with people who would normally have different jobs, and thus brings the Sangha closer together.

Gaitan – The area(s) immediately outside of the Zendo.

Gakki – Memorial Service for well-known Masters in our lineage.

Gassho – Mudra of placing the two palms together with finger tips at the nose level.

Gatha – A verse of four or more lines. Different Gathas are chanted during the day at monasteries and Zen centers; before talks, during meals, etc.

Godo – A godo is a building used as a second Zendo and as a place for seminars.

Haishiki – The mat at which the officiate stands and does their bows during services.

Hakuin Zenji – The modern Ancestor of Japanese “Rinzai” Zen, Hakuin Zenji systematized Koan study into the form by which it is known today. All modern Rinzai Masters trace their language through him.

Han – Hanging wooden block, used to announce the time for zazen

Hana Matsuri – A festival celebrating the Buddha’s birthday on April 8th.

Hara – The region in the lower abdomen that is the seat of awareness during zazen. It is located approximately two inches below the navel.

Hosan – Lit., no dokusan. It also means no formal schedule.

Ihai – A memorial tablet with the deceased’s name and date of death. It is placed on the altar during services for that person.

Ino – One of the head positions in the Zendo, the Ino is the leader of the service being held there.

Inkin – Small hand bell struck with a metal striker.

Inryo – Teacher’s home.

Jakugo – A phrase which a student presents to their teacher during dokusan to sum up their understanding of a Koan.

Jikido – Zazen time keeper.

Jiko – The assistant to the jisha for Zendo activities. The Jiko brings the kobaku in and out of the Zendo during services.

Jisha – An attendant of a teacher, the Jisha works with the teacher during interviews (dokusan, daisan, etc.) and also attends to the teacher’s personal needs.

Jizo Bodhisattva (Bosatsu) – One of the major bodhisattvas, Jizo is the protector of children, women, travelers and beings suffering in hell.

Joriki – The vital, stabilizing energy arising from zazen.

Jukai – The ceremony at which one receives the Precepts and becomes a lay Buddhist. This ceremony both acknowledges who we are and our commitment to realize and actualize our self. Through Jukai, we become a member of the Buddhist family and establish a special connection between the teacher, our lineage and and ourselves. The ceremony is begun with nine bows; three each to the teachers, the altar, and one’s loved ones and parents. The student then receives the sixteen Precepts (that is – the Three treasures, the Three Pure Precepts, and the Ten Grave Precepts). After vowing to maintain them, the student then receives a Dharma (Buddhist) name, rakusus, and lineage chart, and receives greetings from everyone present (jahai).

Juban – the half-kimono undergarment worn under kimono or robe.

Jundo – Checking rounds done before dawn zazen (and at the beginning of sesshin) by the teacher(s)

Junko – Walking with the Awakening stick (kyosaku).

Junryo – Ceremony of offering incense at home altars; also room inspection.


Kaan – Assistant to the shika (guest-master).

Kansho – The bell hit by the Jikido to signal the beginning and end of zazen periods.

Keisu – A large gong used during services.

Keizan Zenji – the Fourth Ancestor of the Soto School in Japan. Keizan Zenji was largely responsible for the spread of Soto Zen and noted for his meticulous instructions regarding all aspects of monastic life.

Kesa – the outer-most monk’s robe which is worn over one shoulder by monks and nuns. It goes over the koromo. It originated in India and is symbolic of the Buddha’s robes. It is received during the Shukke Tokudo ceremony.

Kimono – The undergarment worn beneath robes (monk or lay).

Kinhin – Walking zazen done between periods of seated zazen.

Koan – a brief anecdote recording an exchange between master and disciple or a master’s enlightenment experience. Koans are used to bring a student to realization or to help clarify their awakening process. At this Zen Center, the implication is that we study ourselves in relationship by studying koans.

Kodai – Small table in front of the altar.

Kobaku – Incense box used during service, carried by the jiko

Kokonohai – Ceremony of leaving the temple.

Koromo – the outer full, black robe worn by monks during services and zazen. This robe originated in China.

Koro – Incense bowl

Kotsu – Short, wooden stick used by senior monk officiates during practice.

Kyosaku – Literally, “waking stick”; a wooden stick used to encourage and wake up people during zazen. At this Zen Center it is not used if it is not asked for.

Mahayana – Lit. “The greater vehicle of Buddhism.” Mahayana developed in India and spread to China, Japan and Korea. It emphasizes compassion and the bodhisattva ideal of saving all sentient beings. It originated as a lay movement.

Makyo – Illusions, fantasies, or hallucinations that sometimes arise during zazen; by continuing to sit, these makyo are dispelled.
Manjushri Bodhisattva (Monju) – One of the three principal bodhisattvas, Manjushri is the personification of wisdom and is often depicted riding a lion. (The lion symbolizes strength and bravery.)

Mantra – A short scripture, similar to a dharani, which is chanted to aid concentration, or to express the essence of a sutra.

Mazel tov— congratulations for what has happened/is, not for something in the future

Mensch— An honorable, decent person, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help

Mishpucha— family

Mudra – Hand position or gestures.

Mokugyo – (Fish) wooden drum that keeps the beat during service.

Nenju – A ceremony at the end of the week thanking the teachers for their teaching and declaring the beginning of Hosan.

Nirvana –A state of oneness beyond life and death. Literally means the place the wind does not touch.

Nirvana Day – February 15th, the day upon which the Buddha left this life and passed into Parinirvana (Nirvana after life).

Nu— it can mean “So?” “What’s up?”

Nyoi – A short wooden staff symbolizing the nyoi jewel, which is capable of removing all suffering. A symbol for the Three Treasures.

Nyudonohai – Trainee entering ceremony held in the Zendo after a trainee has done the one- day sitting.

Obi – The belt-like garment used to hold kimonos closed and in place under robes.

O-bon – Festival held in July (August in Japan) to commemorate and transfer merit to one’s ancestors, especially those recently departed. This festival is accompanied by a service (segaki) and offerings. Bon is from the Sanskrit word “Ullambara” (being hung upside down). It symbolizes the suffering of humankind and the service is to help liberate mankind from this suffering.

Oryoki – O=to respond; ryo = capacity; ki=container. Oryoki symbolizes our life as the container which fully responds to its needs. The term “oryoki” is most often being used to refer to the nested set of eating bowls which we use during formal meals in the Zendo. Specifically it is the first (Buddha bowl) bowl.

Osho – Priest. The first stage of priesthood, obtained after having receiving denkai.

Oy Veh – A common expression often used at the Zen Center. Used mainly by a person who is frustrated, upset, or irritated.

Practice – The term may be used in one way to refer to one’s continued zazen (i.e., one’s “practice”) or understood in a broader sense which includes any and all aspects of one’s life as practice.

Precepts – Teachings regarding personal conduct, which are both ethical guidelines and, more broadly, aspects of reality itself. At both Jukai and Tokudo ceremonies, sixteen precepts (kai) are received.

Rakusu – The smallest of the Buddhist robes, the rakusu is made of five strips of cloth which are sewn together and suspended from the neck by a cloth halter. It is worn by monks, nuns, and laypersons. It is received during the Jukai ceremony.


Roshi (lit., old teacher )– An honorific term used to refer to an older Zen teacher.


Ryo – the designation for a group of people who all serve one particular function in the zendo (e.g., Doan-ryo – all those who function as doans during service.)


Ryoban – The positions to the east and west of the altar filled by the administrative and training officials during services and ceremonies.

Saddharma Pundarika Sutra (Lotus Sutra: J: Myoho Renge Kyo) – A presentation of Buddha’s teaching, in verse and prose, of the one vehicle and all beings being able to attain perfect enlightenment. One of the most widely read Buddhist texts.

Sambo – Platform-like tray used to carry different items (i.e. koro, Sutra book, etc.)

Samantabhadra Bodhisattva (J: Fugen) – One of the three principal bodhisattvas, Samantabhadra is associated with practice and active love.

Samu – Communal work done at the center. Samu is working zazen.

Sangemon – The gatha of repentance chanted during fusatsu.

Sayumonjun – Standing bows done after the morning meal; done to the left, right, and center.

Schmooze— conversation

Sensei – Lit., one-who-goes-before on the path; a certified Zen teacher and lineage holder.

Sesshin- An intensive meditation retreat lasting from two to ten days. Sesshin offers the best opportunity for deep intense practice, and should be approached with an attitude of total willingness to give one’s all. Please see Maezumi Roshi’s article, “What is Sesshin.”

Setsu – The scraper (spatula) used to wipe and clean the eating bowls during formal meals. In Japan a cloth-tipped stick is used.

Seventy-Two Labors – The traditional number of positions (jobs) in a Japanese monastery.

Six Paramitas – The perfections practiced by the bodhisattva. They are prajna (wisdom), dana (giving), virya (vigor), dhyana(Meditation), kshanti (patience), and sila/(kai) (precepts).

Six Realms – The different states of existence (heavenly beings, human, animal, hungry ghosts, fighting spirits, hell-dwellers) that symbolize different aspects of our life.

Six Tastes – Bitter, sour, sweet, hot, salty, and bland.

Shashu – Hand position used when walking or standing in the Zendo (left hand in a fist, thumb tucked in and covered by the right hand; both are placed against the solar plexus).

Shosan – A public Dharma dialogue presented in a ritualized, ceremonial style. The Shosanshi (Shosan leader, either teacher or a senior monk/shuso) gives a short dharma talk and then holds dialogue with those attending the event. These students come up one at a time and kneel facing the Shosanshi. They either ask a question or make a comment on the opening talk given by the Shosanshi; dialogue ensues. Traditionally, the shosan form was the only means for study with a teacher; only in later Zen history did private study develop. Shosan is generally held once a month during intensive training periods and may or may not be held at other times.

Shiho (Dharma Transmission) – The week-long ceremony in which an accomplished student becomes a Dharma lineage successor to a master. This is a Soto sect term.

Shoken No Hai – Shoken = to meet individually; hai=bowing. This ceremony is a formal expression of the relationship that the teacher and student have entered into.

Shokei – Small keisu (gong)

Shoki – The head monk’s assistant for Ango.

Shosu – Name of the position of the person who plays the densho and sometimes the han

Shukke Tokudo – see Tokudo.

Shuso – The head monk/student for Ango.

Shuso Hossen– Ceremony of testing Shuso’s understanding

Sogei – The person who rings the hand-bell (inkan) to lead the officiates in and out of the Zendo. The Sogei is one of the three attendants.

Sutra – A dialogue or sermon attributed to the Buddha. The sutras and their commentaries form one-third of the Buddhist Canon. (The other two parts are the Shastras and Abhidharma.)

Shoji – Attendant to Manjushri (image on the Zendo altar); makes offering during formal meals.

Tabi – White sock-like garments worn by students, monks, nuns, and other seniors for gakki and other special services.

Tampai – The black plaques hung in the Zendo to indicate reserved seats.

Tan – Raised platform seats in the Zendo upon which people sit for zazen.

Tanto – The person in charge of the zendo.

Tatami – Straw mats upon which one places a zabuton and zafu.

Teisho – A talk given by a transmitted teacher, usually on a koan or other Zen text. Teisho manifests the “mind” or living spirit (as opposed to an intellectual explanation) and should be grasped by the student with the body-mind. DHARMA TALKS are given by a hoshi/assistant teacher, or special guests, and can be either very similar to teisho or more general in presentation on some of the aspects of Buddhism.

Tenkei Denson – One of the most important modern Soto Zen masters. He is responsible for the reformation of the Soto School. He is also one of the major commentators on Dogen Zenji’s writings.

Ten Virtues – Virtues coming from the food we eat. These ten are physical strength, substance, long life and pleasure, maintaining training, cleansing the body, settling the mind, satisfying hunger and thirst, and improving health.

Tenzo – Person in charge pf the kitchen at a monastery or Zen Center.

Three Worlds – (a) The worlds of desire, form, and formlessness; or (b) The past, present and future.

Tokudo – The ceremony at which one becomes a monk. At this ceremony, the prospective monk renews their vows and receives the robes and bowls.

Zabuton – Flat, black mat upon which a zafu is placed.

Zafu (lit., sitting cushion) – Round, black cushion used for zazen.

Zagu – Foldable cloth mat upon which monks and nuns do their bows.

Zaike Tokudo – see Jukai.

Zazen (lit., sitting meditation) – The practice of Zen meditation.

Zazenkai – Short Half or full day retreat.

Zendo – Meditation hall in which zazen is done.

Vajrayana – The Diamond Vehicle, a form of Buddhism developed in Tibet. It emphasizes the guru-disciple relationship.

Zabuton – Flat, black mat upon which a zafu is placed.
Zafu (lit., sitting cushion) – Round, black cushion used for zazen.
Zagu – Foldable cloth mat upon which monks and nuns do their bows.
Zaike Tokudo – see Jukai.
Zazen (lit., sitting meditation) – The practice of Zen meditation.
Zazenkai – Short Half or full day retreat.
Zendo – Meditation hall in which zazen is done.

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