Buddha-nature: a concrete expression for the substratum of perfection, of completeness, intrinsic to both sentient and insentient life.

Dharma: a fundamental Buddhist term having several meanings, but which most often refers to the Buddha’s teaching. In its broadest meaning, dharma means “phenomenon.” All phenomena are subject to and manifest the law of causation, and this fundamental truth comprises the core of the Buddha’s teaching. Thus Dharma also means: ‘the Law’ or ultimate truth.

Enlightenment: direct, experiential realization of the Ground of Being, one’s own ‘buddha-nature.” See also kensho and satori.

Kannon: “The Great Compassionate One,” Kannon is the bodhisattva of all-embracing love and benevolence, and plays a central role in the devotional practices of all Buddhist sects. Although the original Indian form of this archetype was male (Avalokitesvara), Kannon has become a feminine figure in the popular imagination in Asia.

Kensho: direct realization of one’s originally pure nature. There are many degrees of awakening; kensho generally refers to an initial experience, one that must be deepened and refined through continued practice so that it can become integrated and fully functional in one’s life.

Kōan: the original meaning in Chinese was “public case” — a case that established a legal precedent. In Zen a kōan is a formulation, in baffling language, pointing to ultimate truth. Kōans cannot be solved by recourse to logical reasoning but only by awakening a deeper level of the mind beyond the discursive intellect. Kōans are constructed from the questions of disciples of old, together with the responses of their masters, as well as from portions of the masters’ sermons or discourses, from lines of the sūtras, from other teachings and even from popular folk tales and poetry.

The word or phrase into which the kōan distills itself, when taken on as one’s spiritual practice, is called in Japanese the watō (Chinese, hua t’ou). Thus, “Has a dog the Buddha-nature?” together with Joshu’s answer, “Mu!” constitutes the whole kōan; the wato is simply “Mu!”

Altogether there are said to be 1,700 kōans. Of these, Japanese Zen Masters use a core of 500, more or less, since many are repetitive and others less valuable for practice. Masters have their own preferences but invariably they employ (if they employ kōans at all) two koan collections, the Mumonkan and the Hekigan-roku (Blue Cliff Record). At the end of one’s formal training one works in depth with the Jūjūkinkai, a series of koans on the 16 Buddhist precepts.

Mind: As Roshi Philip Kapleau used to say, “Ask the ordinary Japanese where the mind is and the chances are he or she will point to the heart or chest. Ask the same question of Westerners and they will indicate their heads.” These two responses show the very different ways of looking at ‘mind’ in the East (at least traditionally) and in the West. The word kokoro, translated by the English as “mind,” also means “heart,” “spirit,” “psyche,” or “soul.” “Mind” (with a small “m”) as used in Zen, therefore, means more than the seat of the intellect. Mind with a capital “M” stands for absolute reality. From the standpoint of Zen experience, Mind (or mind) is total awareness – in other words, just hearing when listening, just seeing when looking, and so on.

Rinzai: This is the Japanized name of the great T’ang master Lin-ch’i. This term commonly refers to the Zen school that was firmly established in Japan by Eisai, a school generally known for its strong emphasis on satori-awakening and koan work. The other major school of Zen in Japan is known as Soto (see below).

Samadhi: This term has a variety of meanings. In Zen it implies not merely equilibrium, tranquility, and one-pointedness, but a state of intense yet effortless concentration, of complete absorption of the mind in itself, of heightened and expanded awareness. Samadhi and Bodhi are identical from the view of the enlightened Bodhi-mind. Seen from the developing stages leading to satori-awakening, however, samadhi and enlightenment are different.

Sangha: Originally, this term referred to the Buddhist monastic order, but more generally it applies to the community of people practicing the Buddha Way. (Even more generally, it applies to all beings.) The Sangha is one of the Three Treasures, or Three Jewels, of Buddhism, along with the Buddha and the Dharma.

Satori: This refers to deep Enlightenment, a thorough awakening to one’s True-nature and hence the nature of all existence. See also “kensho”

Soto: This is the name of one of two dominant sects of Zen in Japan, the other being Rinzai. The Japanese Soto sect venerates Dogan as its founder. Eihei-ji, one of the Soto school’s two headquarter temples, located in Fukui Prefecture, was founded by Dogen in 1243.

Zazen: This practice, the essential basis of Zen, involves total concentration of body and mind in an upright, cross-legged sitting position.

Zen: An abbreviation of the Japanese word zenna,which is a transliteration of the Sanskrit dhyana (ch’an or ch’anna in Chinese), that is, the process of concentration and absorption by which the mind is first stabilized and brought to a penetrating one-pointedness, and then awakened. As a school of Mahayana Buddhism, Zen is a religion free of dogmas or creeds whose teachings and disciplines are directed toward Self-realization, that is to say, to the full awakening that Shakyamuni Buddha himself experienced under the Bo tree after strenuous self-discipline. In a deeper, broader sense, Zen refers to this Mind itself – the wholeness and perfection of all existence, and the living core of all major religions.