A to Z of Zen

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“There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen.” – Shunryu Suzuki

Zen is deceptively simple – beneath each supposed paradox is a simple truth waiting to be discovered. We don’t have to look; we simply have to see what’s already there. Here are 26 simple explanations of some common Zen principles to help you understand and practice this philosophy of balance and emptiness in everyday life.


Ajari is a Japanese term of respect for Zen masters, meaning “one who knows and teaches the rules.”

Bodhisattva is someone who helps others find enlightenment through Zen paths.

Ch’an is the Chinese word for Zen, which originated in China before reaching Japan.

Dojo, meaning “room of the way,” is any room or hall where Zen is practiced.

Enso means “circle” – an important Zen symbol of creativity and emptiness.

Fukudo is someone who strikes the bell at the start of Zen meditation.

Gaman means “perseverance” or “patience,” and is a focus of Zen teachings.

Hitsuzendo is a form of Japanese calligraphy closely related to Zen ideals.

Ichi-go ichi-e means “one chance” or “one time.” No action, when finished, can ever be duplicated.

Jukai means taking up the way, a commitment to Zen teachings in one’s life.

Koan is a short story, question or paradox used to illustrate Zen principles.

(Zen) Life is a Western term used to describe living in complete balance of mind, body and spirit.

Mindfulness is the Zen practice of becoming absolutely aware of the present.

Nirvana is the state of the mind in enlightenment – free of desire and suffering.

Original Face is a Zen term – your true facial expression when you are thinking of nothing good or nothing bad.

Purpose exists everywhere – “no snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.”

Quiet is equivalent to emptiness in Zen – a desired lack of clutter and distraction.

Roshi is a word used to describe a venerable and wise Zen master.

Satori is a deep state of meditation similar to enlightenment.

Teachings are a prominent focus of Zen, which originated as a spoken tradition.

Understanding Zen begins with understanding the self, and how the mind works.

Veneration of one’s teachers is an integral component to Zen philosophy.

Way of Zen is similar to the concept of Dharma, meaning a path to follow.

EXercises such as kinhin (walking meditation) or samu (mindful work) are practiced to develop mind and body in Zen balance.

Yoga and Zen, while separate traditions, can be practiced together as one “way.”

Zafu is a small round cushion for use during meditation.

 
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