Zen terminology
Zen terminology


The lay person participating for the first time in a Zazen meeting will feel slightly embarrassed. This is due to the specific Zen terminology. Therefore weed ask those who wish to participate to have a look at the following words. It is important to know the meaning of the terms.


Banka Evening service, reading sutra.


Choka Morning service, reading sutra.
Chukai Originally, this means losening robe and kesa. In the meantime it means the breaks between the ¨shijo of two periods of zazen, when the strict posture may be released.


Densu Office, taking care of the tasks in the Buddha hall and the main hall. The lodging of the densu is called densuryo.
Dojo Place of training, of ¨shugyo. For Zen practice as well as for martial arts.
Dokusan Voluntary, individual ¨sanzen. A student meets the ¨Roshi in order to present independently the interpretation of a ¨koan.


Fukusu Cloth for wrapping up bowls.


Gassho Bringing the palms of the hands together. Expresses that one is there with all one's heart.
Ge Teachings of Zen in verse, praising ancient monks and masters.
Gyojuzaga Walking-standing-sitting-lying down. All movements of everyday life belong to these four kinds of moving, they are called ¨shiigi.


Handaikan Office of serving at meal times, in turns.
Hankafuza Half lotus seat; left foot on right leg.
Hojo It's said that Vimalakirti, one of the Buddha's students, lived in a room in which all sides (Ho) had a length of about 2.5m (one jo). Thus the temple building in which the chief priest is living is named so. The main hall of a temple as well may be called hojo.


Ino Leader of the assembly of the monks. Starts chanting the sutra and the other monks follow, reads the praises alone.
Inryo The residence of the ¨Roshi or of the eldest.
Intoku To take care in secret of low, unpopular jobs and thus gain merit. The often detested cleaning of the toilets is one of them.
Isshu The character 'shu' is used to denote the counting of incense sticks. Nowadays it's employed for measuring time during zazen. Burning one incense stick takes about 45 minutes.


Jihatsu One's own bowls, wrapped up in a cloth and carried around. At the table they will be unwrapped, used, cleaned and wrapped up again.
Jikido Dining hall.
Jikijitsu Being in charge for the day. Office of organizing everyday life, being responsible for buildings and implements and to supervise all tasks. Meanwhile it means the responsibility in the ¨zendo, leading zazen.
Juki The soup pot, for miso soup etc.
Jukyo Reading sutra, aloud or quiet.
Junkei Jundokeisei. Going around in the ¨zendo with the ¨keisaku to correct those who appear to lack concentration or seem to be sleepy.


Kaichin Spreading matresses before going to bed, then night rest.
Kaihan By hitting the wooden board hanging near the zendo the time is being told.
Kaijo Getting up, beginning the day.
Kaiyoku Going to the bath. In zen temples every five days it is wash- and bathing day, on days with a 4 or a 9 in the date.
Kankin Reading buddhist teachings and sutras quietly. Seeing the words with the eyes, taking up the meaning with the heart.
Kannazen As the student has to work with the¨koan, one after the other, the ¨sanzen of the ¨Roshi and the disciple is the centrepoint of the practice which is to lead to enlightment. This is the method of Rinzai Zen, the method of Soto Zen is called ¨mokushozen.
Kanto Leader at meals, head of the ¨handaikan.
Kato Means: Hanging up at the hook. Someone who newly enters the monks community to take part in the training for a certain time at first hangs up his robe and his clothes at the hook above his mat which will henceforth serve as his sleeping and living space.
Keisaku A stick, used to encourage and to warn. In Soto Zen called kyosaku.
Kenge Judging and interpreting the ¨koan, from an independent point of view.
Kensho Clearly realizing one's own original nature, the enlightment.
Kentan The ¨shike or the ¨jikijitsu go round in the ¨zendo and check the zazen posture.
Kinhin Walk around a specific room. In zazen one gets up from time to time and, hands held in ¨shashu, walks around quietly, in order to prevent sleepiness and to rest tired legs.
Koan Problem, given by the ¨Roshi to the disciple.
Koban Coaster for incense sticks, which are used to determine the length of zazen.
Kosoku Ancient examples. Great words, sayings, guiding lines and commentaries by great masters and outstanding zen personalities. Used in zen as material to deal with.
Kukyu Serving at mealtimes. Those serving are called ¨handaikan.


Mokushozen While the style of Rinzai Zen is called ¨kannazen, in Soto it is mokushozen. Quietly emerged in zazen, then the spiritual work of the mind emanates.


Nibennorai Leaving the ¨zendo for the toilet. Possible during ¨chukai.


Roshi Abbreviation of the title 'Rodaishi', meaning great old teacher. Old refers to the great experience.


Saba Rice, offered to the world of ghosts and demons, but no more than seven grains.
Sabaki Receptacle to collect the ¨saba from the table.
Saiki Container for pickled vegetables etc.
Saiza Lunch
Samu Means fulfilling ones duty. Daily tasks in the ¨sodo.
Sanmokudo The three 'halls of silence' are the ¨zendo, the dining hall and the bath. Unnecessary talking is not allowed.
Sanno Servant of the ¨shike. The inji.
Sanzen Going to the ¨shike's room and present ¨kenge, the interpretation of a problem. Also nisshitsusanzen.
Sarei Originally having tea as act of politeness at zen temples. Distinction is made between sosarei, when everybody is present, and yakuisarei, when only those who are holding an office take part.
Sesshin Concentrating one's mind, not dispersing it. In zen 'sesshin' means a period of time when zazen is being practiced day and night ceaselessly. At the ¨sodo a sesshin usually lasts seven days.
Sessuiki Container used for the remains of food and the leftover water. Actually it is the container for the water left over from cleaning the ¨jihatsu, though half of that is being drunk.
Shashu Holding the hands in front of the breast, left top of the right. The right hand covering the breast without touching. Ellbows are held horizontally.
Shiigi The four forms of daily existence, ¨gyojuzaga.
Shijo In zazen the period of time when one is to remain silent.
Shika Office of receiving guests and taking care of business.
Shikantaza Following zazen without intention, from the point where there is no aiming at virtue or enlightment, merely practicing zazen.
Shike The highest leader a student can contact, the ¨Roshi.
Shoji The responsible for the service at the ¨shoso as well as the attendance of the ¨zendo, also called jisha.
Shoken Formal visit of the practitioner to the ¨shike.
Shoso The holy monk. In the ¨zendo enshrined figure, usually the statue of Monju Bosatsu, representing wisdom.
Shugyo Educate one's heart. Forge one's mind. Practice of rectitude.
Shukuza Breakfast
Shuya Nightly round before going to bed. The person in charge checks all buildings whether all doors are closed, whether there are no fires going. This he does reciting the mantra of the protecting god of the night, beating the big wood rattle.
Sosan General sanzen. On the sign of the bell all students of the ¨sodo go to the ¨sanzen in the ¨shike's room.
Sorin The same as ¨sodo.
Sodo The settlement of the monks, where they lead a common life. A ¨dojo, exclusively designated for ¨shugyo. The zen monastery.
Susokukan Counting one's breath during zazen. This method to concentrate oneself aims at steadying the mind.


Tan Tan means unity. The individual space of a monk in the ¨zendo is called tan. Usually, the size of one tatami mat is one tan. 'Tanpyo' is a wood plate, that is hung up above the tan, inscribed with the monk's name.
Teisho Lecture, teaching of the zen way. The ¨Roshi, aimed at the disciples, raises words of former masters, the patriarchs, or from the ¨kosoku in order to give instruction on the zen way.
Tenzo Cook
Tosu Toilet


Unsui Monk in training, the zen disciple. Abbreviation for kounryusui, meaning: drifting clouds, flowing water. Serene and never dwelling, as clouds and water, being on the move, longing for the true master of this world. Also called 'unno', or if there are many 'daishu'.


Yakuseki Yaku means medicine, seki means stone and stands for needles made of stone for healing practice. So yakuseki means medicine as well as treatment. In zen it's the word for dinner.
Yaza Zazen during the night. After ¨kaichin one secretly leaves the ¨zendo to practice zazen on his own "under a tree on a stone".


Zafu A round cushion, which one uses to be able to sit better. Used in Soto Zen. In Rinzai one either folds up the tanbuton, the matress of a ¨tan, or one uses a long, rectangular cushion.
Zen Originates from the sanskrit word 'dhyana', became 'channa' in China, 'zenna' in Japan and nowadays the short form 'zen' is usual. Being one with world. Also ¨zenjo.
Zendo Hall for zen practice, where one practices zazen.
Zenjo The word ¨zen, from Sanskrit, added to the word 'jo', from Chinese, meaning 'settling down'. Means a state of deep concentration, where I and you, subject and object is one.

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