Glossary Index


Ancestral Line

The line of teachers from the Buddha to the present, recited every morning in Zen temples.



Indian monk who started the Ch’an (Zen) school of Buddhism in China.


A being who seeks Buddhahood, but because of compassion renounces complete entry into Nirvana until all beings are saved.


Awakened One.” A person who has attained complete enlightenment and is released from the cycle of birth and death. The historical Buddha was born Siddhartha Gotama in 563 BCE in what is now Nepal.

Burmese posture

Cross-legged meditation posture in which the knees and shins rest on the floor.


cloistered retreat

A retreat in which morning and evening sittings are open to anyone to attend.

closed retreat

A retreat in which participants attend the entire retreat with no open periods for drop-ins.



Voluntary giving of material, energy, or wisdom, regarded as one of the most important Buddhist virtues.


A sesshin held in the spring to study and celebrate the transmission of the Dharma from teacher to student from Buddha to the present.  

dependent origination

The twelve links of causation.


A book of short sayings of the Buddha, compiled early in Buddhist history.


Chants that use sound and phonetically pronounced syllables and are thought by some to have particular power to raise vigor and intention in one’s practice.


(capital D) The cosmic law underlying all phenomena in the universe. The teaching of the Buddha concerning this law.


(lowercase d) Phenomena. All that arises, exists, and passes away.

dharma combat or mondo

An exchange of questions and answers to test the depth of the participants’ understanding. (Japanese: hossen)

dharma name

Name given to a Zen student by their teacher during the lay disciple ordination ceremony at Dharma Rain.

dhyana (jhana)

A mental state achieved in meditation. Progresses through concentration, joy, ease, and equanimity. Regarded as a means to further spiritual progress, not an end in itself.

Diamond Sutra

An independent part of the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) sutra. Longer than the Heart Sutra, but short enough to be recited.


A Zen student who has taken a formal teacher and wears a rakusu. By becoming a disciple, the student has committed to receiving Zen guidance and training from a transmitted Teacher in our lineage. Disciples can be either lay or monastic. By becoming a disciple, the student displays that they have made Dharma Rain their spiritual home. 


(1200-1253) The greatest figure in Japanese Zen, who brought the Soto school from China. Known for his integrity and depth of religious understanding. Many of his lectures are collected in the Shobogenzo.


The celebrant, or leader of the service.



A Dharma protector, signifying steadfast practice in all conditions. Fudo replaces Fugen on our side altar because he was the “home deity’ in one of our line’s original temples.


Bodhisattva personifying active love, persistent training, and patience. Often depicted riding a white elephant, which symbolizes dignified but unstoppable effort. (Sanskrit: Samantabhadra)



The gesture of placing the palms of the hands together expressing gratitude and humility.


A brief verse used at a specific time as an aid to mindfulness.


The person who greets and helps orient newcomers to services.



Bowing place.” The mat in front of the altar on which the celebrant bows, sits, or stands during ceremonies.

Heart Sutra

Heart of Great Wisdom Sutra. One of the most important sutras of Mahayana Buddhism, recited in almost all schools. A condensation in 25 lines of the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) literature.


Small vehicle.” A somewhat pejorative reference to an approach to Buddhism that emphasizes enlightenment for oneself, as opposed to helping all beings attain awakening. It usually concentrates on liberation of the individual by purification and quelling the passions. Though it is often implied, this is not synonymous with the Theravadin School of Buddhism, which is found in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand.


Main hall in a Zen temple, used for ceremonies.


Ceremonial object modeled on the fly-whisk used to sweep insects out of a wandering monk’s path. It is made of horse hair attached to a wooden handle.



A small bowl-shaped bell on a wooden handle, used to signal movement such as bows and kinhin.



Birth stories.” A collection of folk tales and animal fables told as previous lives of the Buddha, in which various virtues are illustrated.


An assistant jisha.


Personal attendant to a priest or teacher; attendant to the celebrant during service.


Receiving the Precepts. Ceremonial initiation into Buddhism, when a person agrees to take the Precepts as his or her own, and takes refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.



A time period of very long duration. An “age” or “eternity.” From Indian philosophy.

Kanzeon (Kannon)

Bodhisattva personifying compassion. Venerated as a helper of all sentient beings. (Chinese: Kwan Yin; Sanskrit: Avalokiteshvara)


The law of cause and effect in the realm of actions and intentions. Related to the teaching of dependent origination.


Seeing one’s own true nature.” A time-limited experience of awakening to true reality, a glimpse of enlightenment.


Morning rounds by the shuso to see that everything is in order.


Traditional Buddhist monk’s robe, in Zen somewhat resembling a shawl, worn over one shoulder. At Dharma Rain, a black kesa is worn by an ordained monk in training; a gold one by a transmitted priest; and a blue one by a Lay Dharma Teacher.


Walking meditation, often done between periods of zazen.


A paradoxical problem assigned by a Zen master, such that logical or conceptual thought must be transcended in order to solve it. In Soto Zen, problems and paradoxes arising in daily life generally provide the koan.


Robe with large sleeves sometimes worn under the kesa by ordained priests.


Awakening stick.” A narrow, flat stick used to strike the shoulders of meditators to stimulate and relax the muscles.


lay disciple

A student who establishes a formal relationship with a teacher and becomes affiliated with a teaching lineage.

lay ordination

The ceremony of taking the Precepts and becoming a lay Buddhist. (Japanese: Jukai Tokudo)



Great vehicle.” The northern school, one of the two great schools of Buddhism (see also Therevada), which recognizes the intrinsic connection between an individual’s liberation and the liberation of all beings.


The future Buddha, who will come in the next age. (Japanese: Miroku)


Odd sensory perceptions that sometimes occur in early states of meditation.

Manjusri (Monju)

Bodhisattva personifying wisdom. Depicted on a lion throne symbolizing the beast of Self, sometimes holding the sword of wisdom and a book of the Prajnaparamita sutras.


A phrase or syllable repeated as a form of meditation.

Middle Way

The path of moderation, between the extremes of sensual indulgence and asceticism. The Middle Way was discovered and taught by the Buddha as the best way to enlightenment.


To perform all activities with full attention and pure observation, including observation of sensations and states of mind which arise.


A wooden drum consisting of a hollow sphere, usually decorated in the form of a fish. Struck in time with sutra chanting.

monastic ordination

Initiation as a monk and priest-in-training. (Japanese: shukke tokudo)


See dharma combat.


Someone who has undergone shukke tokudo (monk ordination). We tend to use monk and priest similarly, but not synonymously, at Dharma Rain. The term monk tends to be used in reference to lifestyle (i.e., living at the temple full time, taking on life vows, wearing particular clothing and hairstyle, being fully immersed in continuing training). Monk is not a rank different from priest.


A gesture of the hands or a body posture having symbolic significance.



Ceremony commemorating the death or Parinirvana (total entry into nirvana) of the Buddha. Celebrated in February.


Cooling from the fever of the passions.” Escape from the cycle of birth and death. Enlightenment.


A scepter, usually curved at the top, carried by a celebrant during ceremonies.



“Just enough.” Traditional formal silent meal using nesting bowls.



A student who has asked for monastic ordination, and who takes the form of a monk for a period of time before formal vows.

practice advisor

A disciple who provides guidance to a newer member about starting or developing a practice, choosing practice opportunities, learning about retreats or ceremony forms, and finding a place in the Dharma Rain community.


Intuitive wisdom that is directly experienced.


Timekeeper and chant leader in the meditation hall.


The moral and ethical guidelines in Buddhism. At Dharma Rain, we commit to the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts.


A monastic who is trained and can function as clergy, providing spiritual care to others and performing ceremony and ritual in the tradition in which they are ordained. We tend to use monk and priest similarly, but not synonymously, at Dharma Rain. Both terms denote someone who has undergone shukke tokudo (monk ordination). A priest may or may not be living as a monastic after having completed the spiritual formation that occurs during novice training. Priest is not a rank different from monk.

Pure Land Buddhism

The most popular form of Buddhism in China and Japan. It is a path of faith in which devotees recite the name of Amida Buddha in order to be reborn in his Western Paradise, which is conducive to enlightenment.



A rectangular piece of fabric representing the kesa (Buddhist robes), which resembles a bib.


One of the principal schools of Japanese Zen. It originated in China in the 9th century and was reformed by Hakuin in Japan in the early 17th century. It stresses integration of koan practice with meditation.


A celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment, referring to both a sesshin and a ceremony that usually occur in December.


Old [venerable] master.” A title sometimes used for a Zen teacher, lay or priest, who has trained for many years and whose insight is highly respected. May or may not be used in the West, depending on lineage.



The person who keeps the altars and shrines in order and prepares for ceremonies.


Collectedness of mind.” A non-dualistic state of consciousness.


Harmony of Difference and Sameness.” A Zen scripture.


The full community of Buddhists; with Buddha and Dharma, one of the three treasures in which a Buddhist takes refuge.


Assembly.” The community of Buddhists.


A private interview between a Teacher and a student.


Meditation posture of kneeling, seated on the heels or on a small bench.


The sesshin and ceremony of Feeding the Hungry Ghosts, done to commemorate the dead and aid beings suffering in lower realms of existence.


Teacher, literally “one who has gone before.”


Searching the heart.” A period of multiple days of especially long and intensive meditation.


Sage of the Shakya Clan.” Title given to the historical Buddha. The Shakyas were the tribe into which the Buddha was born.


One of the chief disciples of the Buddha. The Heart Sutra is addressed to him.


A mudra used during walking meditation and some bows. The fingers of the left hand close around the left thumb, making a fist. The right hand is placed over the left, palm facing towards body.


Buddhist scriptures written by ancestors rather than spoken by the Buddha.


Just sitting.” The pure form of zazen, in which the attention is alert, free of thoughts, and directed to no object or content.


Chief junior.” Head trainee for a period. The student who leads the other students and represents mature training and serene activity.


Groups or “aggregates” of factors, five of which comprise a human individual. They are form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness.


The monks’ hall at a Zen temple. At Dharma Rain, the Sodo is the large building that contains the zendo, kitchen, and dining hall / classroom.


The largest of the two traditional sects of Zen practiced in the United States (the other being Rinzai). Founded in 9th century China, it was revitalized and brought to Japan by Dogen in the first half of the 13th century. Soto Zen emphasizes shikantaza meditation, or “just sitting.”


Originally a reliquary mound, it later developed into the pagoda.


A text, in prose or verse, of a discourse ascribed to the Buddha.



The thus-gone [thus-come] one.” A title used for a Buddha.


Head cook of a Zen monastery. A senior position.


Teaching of the elders.” The only surviving school of southern Buddhism, which regards itself as closest to the original Buddhist practice. Prevalent today in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka.

Three Treasures/ Refuges/ Jewels

Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.” The Awakened One, the truth expounded by him, and the followers living in accordance with this truth. Taking refuge in the Three Treasures is part of the lay ordination ceremony.


A term used differently in different traditions, but implies recognition of a student’s understanding by a teacher.



The last scripture recitation of the day, done just before retiring.



A strip of cloth with the ends connected by a decorative knot, worn around the neck. Given at lay ordination.


(Vesak) Festival commemorating the birth of the Buddha. Celebrated in May, with the offering of flowers and sweet tea to the Baby Buddha.



Sitting mat.” Flat, rectangular cushion on which the zafu is placed to pad the knees while sitting.


Sitting cushion.” Round cushion used for sitting meditation.


Meditation while in a sitting position.


Meditation hall.


A title conferred on great Zen masters, usually posthumously.

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