Glossary of Zen Terms

Dharma – An ancient Sanskrit word meaning truth, and just as this word has many layers, forms, and meanings,  Dharma can refer to he principle or law that orders the universe, the path that we are on, karmic law, or the  the essential function or nature of a thing.  

Zen — The Japanese word for Ch'an

Ch'an – The Chinese word for Dhyana.  

Dhyana – Zen comes from the Indian sanscrit term Dhyana, which means meditation.

Bodhisattva – An awakened or enlightened being who renounces the experience of nirvana in order to remain with unenlightened beings and work for the liberation of others. The bodhisattva ideal is closely associated with Mahayana Buddhism.

Chiden – The person who cares for the altars. 

Doan – The person who rings the bells and keeps time in the zendo.

Doan-ryo – The group of people who make our services happen.

Dokusan – A private interview between a student and teacher. 

Doshi – The person who leads the service.

Four Noble Truths – The Buddha’s great realization that 

  1. Suffering is all around us; it is a part of life.
  2. The cause of suffering is craving and attachment.
  3. There is a way out; craving can be ended and thus suffering can be ended.
  4. The way to end craving is the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold path – The first talk the Buddha gave which included the following tenets:

  1. Right View (or Understanding)
  2. Right Thought (or Resolve)
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Conduct
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration

Gassho – A mudra or bow with palms together, gassho signifies gratitude. 

Gatha – A short sutra.  Meal chants or bath chants are gathas.

We venerate the three treasures, And give thanks for this food;
The work of many people, And the transformation of other forms of life.

Han – In Zen monasteries, a wooden board that is struck with a mallet which calls us to the zendo. 

Ino – In Soto Zen, the Ino is in charge of the zendo (meditation hall).  At Jikoji, the Ino is also the site manager of the day.