Original Dwelling Place: Zen Buddhist Essays
By Robert Aitken


A glossary of Buddhist names, Terms, and Usages

Affinity- the tendency of beings to come together as organisms, families, species, and other groupings, providing individuality and diversity within the plenum.

Amitabha; Amida- the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life. Archetype of transformation and salvation in Pure Land schools.

Ancestral teachers- teachers in the traditional Zen lineage. Founding teachers, patriarchs.

Anger- an emotional response to something that is inappropriate or unjust. An emotion involved in self-protection.

Anguish- in Buddhism, painful resistance to the reality of mortality and dependence.

Antinomianism- in Buddhism; the notion that one can ignore the precepts. Reckless freedom.

Anuttara- samyak- sambodhi; daigo tettei- greatly enlightened to the very bottom. Full and complete realization. Thorough accomplishment of the third of the Four Noble Truths.

Archetype- in Buddhism; a metaphor empowered by innate understanding and long-term usage. A legendary or historical figure who models an empowered metaphor and who can be made one’s own.

Beings- all entities that exist. Sentient beings.

Buddha nature- essential nature, self-nature, or true nature.

Buddhahood- enlightenment and compassion. The condition of a Buddha cause and effect. One explanation of karma.

Clinging- a preoccupation with the self and with the notion of permanence. The source of dukha. The second of the Four Noble Truths.

Confirmation- in Zen; affirmation of realization by one’s teacher. Experimentally, realization is itself confirmation.

Dai osho- great priest. A posthumous honorific.

Daishi- great master. A posthumous title. Dana- charity, giving, relinquishment (and their perfections). The first Paramita.

Dedication; eko- turning. Transferring one’s merit to another. Transferring the merit of a sutra recitation to Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, ancestral teachers, and so on.

Denominator- (courage by Yamada Koun). Essential nature underlying and infusing all things.

Dharma gates- incidents or particulars that can enable one’s realization. The various teachings.

Dharma transmission- formal empowerment by the old master of a new teacher in the traditionally unbroken line of masters from the Buddha Shakyamuni.

Dojo; bodhimanda- the training hall or zendo. One’s own place of realization.

Dokusan; sanzen- to work alone; personal interview with the roshi during formal practice.

Dukkha; dunkha- anguish; a response to mortality and dependence. The consequences of denying that reality. The first of the Four Noble Truths.

Ego- in Buddhism; self-image. Self. Distinguish from selfish and egocentric.

Emptiness, empty- the unsubstantial nature of the self and all selves. Realized as the same as substance.

Essential nature- the pure and clear void that is charged with potential. The denominator of phenomena or beings. Self-nature, true nature, Buddha nature.

Evil- harmful, destructive. Distinguish from immoral as dogma.

Forgetting the self, body and mind dropped (or fallen) away- the experience of everything disappearing with an act or with something sensed. Might be conformed as realization.

Gassho; onjali- the mundra of hands held palm to palm before the lower part of the face, in devotion, gratitude, or as a greeting.

Genkan- entry to a Japanese home or temple.

Greed- affinity exploited to serve the self. First of the Three Poisons.

Hatred- indulging or dwelling in anger. Second of the Three Poisons.

Hotei; Putai- the “Laughing Buddha”, associated with Maitreya. Archetype of fulfilled realization.

Ignorance- neglecting or ignoring essential nature, the primal harmony of beings, and their sacredness. Third of the Three Poisons. Distinguish from not knowing.

Inka shomei- legitimate seal of clearly furnished proof. The affirmation and document(s) of Dharma transmission.

Intimacy- in Zen; the nature of practice and its experience.

Kalpa- a particular aeon. An immeasurable long period of time.

Karma- action. Cause and effect; affinity; the function of interdependent co-arising. Interdependence. Distinguish from fixed fate.

Karuna- boundless compassion.

Kensho- seeing (true) nature. Realization.

Kinkin- walking verification sutra walk. The formal walk between periods of zazen.

Koan- universal/particular. A presentation of the harmony of the universal and the particular; a theme of zazen to be made clear. A traditional Zen story.

Law of karma- the way things act. Karma, cause and effect, affinity, interdependent co-arising.

Life and death or birth and death- Samsara; the realm of transience, reality, and karma.

Mahsattva- great noble being.

Makyo- uncanny realm. A deep dream of participation in the Buddha Dharma. Distinguish from sensory, visual, or auditory distortion.

Mantra- an empowered phrase or text.

Many beings; shujo- all beings. Distinguish from sentient beings.

Merit- the good results of good action. A function of karma and interdependence co-arising.

Metaphor- a presentation of something in terms of another, expressing their unity. In Buddhism, and presentation.

Mind- the unknown and unknowable that comes forth as the plenum with its particular beings and their interdependence and affinities. Essential nature. The human mind.

Mindfulness, mindful- attention. Attention to the breath or task. Right Recollection of the self and others as insubstantial, interdependent, and sacred.

Mondo- question and answer, the Zen dialogue.

Morality, moral- refers to the process of character formation and the state of person nobility. Pursued on the Eightfold Path and fulfilled in the paramitas.

Mundita- boundless joy in the liberation of others.

Mundra- a seal or sign; hand or finger position, gesture, or posture that presents as aspect of the Dharma.

Noble, nobility- in Buddhism; keeping the Buddha Dharma. Faultless demeanor.

No-self- a peak experience of shunyata disclosing the vanity, futility, and ignorance of self-centeredness.

Not knowing- accepting the fact of mystery at the essence.

Osho- priest, a senior monk (title).

Ox-herding Pictures- a traditional rendering of the progressive steps on the Zen Buddhist path.

Paramita- perfection as condition or practice. Cross over (to the shore of nirvana). Save; transform. The Six Paramitas are the ideas of charity, morality, patience, vitality, absorption, or concentration, and wisdom. In another enumeration, the Ten Paramitas include, in addition, skillful means, aspiration, strength of purpose, and knowledge.

Particularity or particular- in Zen; the nature of a phenomenon or a being.

Phenomena, phenomenon- beings, a being. The numerator of essential nature.

Plenum- the universe and its many beings. Realized as the void.

Practice; shugyo- austerities, training. Endeavors in the dojo, zazen. To take the Eightfold Path; to follow the precepts; to turn the Dharma Wheel.

Prajna (Prajna Paramita)- wisdom, enlightenment, or bodhi (and their perfection).

Realization, genjo- actualization, personalization. A glimpse of empty or punitive possibilities of wholeness. Prajna experienced through one of the senses. Acknowledged by a confirmed teacher. Made true for oneself. Kensho. Understanding. Confirmation. The third of the Four Noble Truths.

Rebirth- the coherent but changing karma of an individual or a cluster of individuals reappearing after death. The continuous arising of coherent, changing karma during life. Distinguish from reincarnation, or rebirth of the body.

Reincarnation- the notion that an enduring self reappears after death in a new birth. Distinguish from rebirth.

Roshi- old teacher. Now the title of the confirmed Zen teacher.

Sage- in Buddhism; an enlightened, compassionate person. A Buddha.

Samaghi- absorption. The quality of zazen. One with the universe.

Samantabhadra- pervading goodness. Archetypal Bodhisattva of great action (in turning the Dharma Wheel).

Samsara- the rising and falling of life and death. The relative world, realized as the same as nirvana.

Samu- work ceremony. Temple maintenance as part of formal practice.

Sangha- aggregate. A community or all communities of ordained Buddhists. Lay Buddhist community or communities. Any community, including that of all beings.

Save- in Buddhism; enable to help (someone) to cross over to full realization. Transform (someone or something) for the betters.

Self- in Buddhism; the insubstantial individual that is nonetheless unique and sacred.

Sensei- teacher.

Sentient beings; ujo- beings with senses. Human beings.

Sesshin- to touch, receive, and convey the mind. The intensive Zen retreat of three to seven days.

Suffering- enduring, allowing; enduring pain. Distinguish from anguish.

Tan- row; line of people doing zazen Dojo.

Teisho- presentation of the shout; the Dharma presented by the Roshi in a public talk.

Understanding- stepping under, and taking on oneself. Knowing.

Universe- the plenum. The void.

Upaya- skillful, appropriate means of turning the Dharma Wheel or prompting realization.

Upeksha- boundless equanimity.

Vinaya- the moral teachings.

Void- shunyata- vast emptiness that is full of potentials.

Vow- usually the expression of resolve to attain Buddhahood and that all beings attain it.

Zazen- the practice of seated, focused meditation.

Zazen Kai- Zen group. A brief sesshin.

Zen; Ch’an- focused, exacting meditation. The Zen tradition.

Zendo- Zen hall, Zen center. Dojo.

Zenji- Zen master, usually a posthumous honorific. Also, monk.