Zen Terms — A Zen Dictionary

Dictionary-definitionWhat is all this “Dharma” stuff you guys talk about?

Find out below – pithy definitions of pesky Zen Terms like Dharma and many others…

Buddha – historical figure who became “enlightened” which is the meaning of the term buddha.  He lived about 2600 years ago in India and spoke Pali as his native language.  Well, the Buddha didn’t speak Pali, exactly. Pali, the language used to record his teachings, is a standardization of the dialects that were spoken at the time of the Buddha in Northern India. He most likely spoke something like it. We still chant some chants in Pali, to align with Buddhists in other parts of the world.  After 2600 years, his legacy is wrapped in a combination of traditional teachings and mystique.  If you want to learn more about tBuddha’s life a great book is “Old Path, White Clouds” written my Thich Nhat Hanh.

Dharma – We sometimes think of Dharma with both a capital “D” and a little “d”.  Capital “D” Dharma refers to the teachings of the Buddha that have been passed down from generation to generation.  These teachings can be found in many different texts, oral translations and stories and generally start off with the phrase “I heard the Buddha say…”  Little “d” dharma is expressed as each individual’s experience and the truth of that experience for each person.  So when you smell a flower or stub your toe the experience you have is truth or essence of that moment.  There’s much to learn in every  moment.

Sangha – all folks who practice the Buddha way together. Originally, “sangha” referred to “the fourfold sangha”.  That is,  ordained men and women and lay women and men,  but as Buddhism moves into our culture and modern ecological conditions, we  more and more apply this term to all beings, as in “the sangha of all beings”.  This expresses our awareness and concern for all those living beings we share our world with and the responsibility that comes with this.

Kinhin – the word for “walking meditation” in Japanese.

Zazen –  means seated meditation.

Zendo – refers to our zen hall, where we practice zazen, kinhin, chanting, have dharma talks and ceremonies.

Zafu – those round little cushions you see people sitting on during meditation.  Their purpose is to elevate your hips, tipping them forward just a bit above your knees, which allows you to sit more comfortably for long periods of time.  But don’t be fooled.  Even long-time meditators still have legs and feet that fall asleep. Zafus can be filled with kapok (a tree fiber), buckwheat husks, or air (otherwise known as a beach ball.) If your legs and feet  fall asleep during zazen, using an air zafu can be a big help.

Zabuton – squarish mats to place the Zafus on.  The mat provides some cushioning, particularly for your ankles, as you wonder…will the end bell ever ring?