Boorstein, Sylvia

Sylvia Boorstein is a practicing psychotherapist and an active teacher of vipassana at Spirit Rock Center, located north of San Francisco. She also leads an annual retreat at Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. As is readily apparent in her book, Happiness is Simpler Than You Think: Buddhist Wisdom for Everyone, Boorstein emphasizes that meditation can easily and perhaps most effectively be practiced in ordinary, daily activities.


Kshitigarbha is a bodhisattva who vowed, “So long as hell is not empty, I will not attain Buddhahood.” Usually depicted with a staff with six rings, he has delayed his own enlightenment indefinitely in order to teach those in hell about the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Because of his association with the underworld, East Asian Mahayana Buddhists usually pray for his blessing when celebrating Ullambana, the Buddhist festival especially honoring one’s ancestors.

prayer wheel

In Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist tradition, a prayer wheel is a cylinder on the outside of which is written a mantra (sacred utterance), very often the mantra “Om mani padme hum” (“ Om, the Jewel in the Lotus,” referring to Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion). Such wheels vary greatly in size, some small enough to fit in a person’s palm, others suspended within the temple complex. The spinning of the wheel sets the mantra’s power in motion.

Theosophical Society

The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 by Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky “to study ancient and modern religions, philosophies and sciences, and to investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the psychical powers latent in man.” Olcott, Blavatsky, and the eclectic band who gathered around them studied what they saw to be the common secret mysteries of the religions of ancient Egypt, Greece, and India.


Bhikkhunis are Buddhist nuns. Although the lineage of fully ordained women monastics died out long ago in the Theravada traditions of South Asia, it has been preserved in the Mahayana traditions of East Asia. In fact, there are currently more nuns than monks in the Chinese Buddhist communities of Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Taiwan. As with Buddhist monks, those who become bhikkhunis shave their heads and don special robes to symbolize their renunciation. While both monks and nuns vow to follow strict precepts to regulate their lives, nuns are subject to a much greater number of... Read more about bhikkhuni

Dharmapala, Anagarika

Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) is best known for the important role he played in restoring Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment, which had badly deteriorated after centuries of neglect. In order to raise funds for this project, Dharmapala founded the Bodh-Gaya Maha Bodhi Society in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and edited the society’s journal. It was after reading the Maha Bodhi Journal that Reverend J.H. Barrows invited Dharmapala to represent the Buddhists of South Asia at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Shortly after attending the Parliament,... Read more about Dharmapala, Anagarika


Kathina is a fall festival, especially important in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, during which new robes are presented to ordained monks and nuns.


Pagoda was originally the Portuguese term used to refer to Buddhist stupas, or reliquary towers. Such towers may contain a relic of the Buddha, or some other treasured item, such as sutras.

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro

D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966) first introduced Zen Buddhism to the general American public. Although he was never ordained as a full monk, for several years as a young man he lived in one of Japan’s main Rinzai temples, where he mastered koan study. After arriving in the United States in 1897, Suzuki devoted himself to translating Daoist and Buddhist works and writing introductory texts to Mahayana philosophy and history. He returned to Japan in 1911, where he founded the English-language journal The Eastern Buddhist. Suzuki gained a wide readership in the West with the publication of the three... Read more about Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro

Baker-roshi, Richard

Richard Baker was one of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi’s earliest students in the United States. In 1971, Suzuki installed Baker as his successor and leader of the San Francisco Zen Center. Under Baker’s leadership the center and its two branches—Green Gulch (a farm and lay center) and Tassajara (a mountain retreat center)—grew rapidly. In the 1980s, Baker-roshi moved to Crestone, Colorado, where he has continued to teach.


Dharma means religion, religious duty, religious teaching. The word dharma comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “to uphold, support, bear,” thus dharma is that order of things which informs the whole world, from the laws of nature to the inner workings of conscience. For the Buddhist tradition, the Dharma (or Dhamma in Pali) refers especially to the teachings of the Buddha. This body of teachings constitutes one element of the “Three Jewels” in which Buddhists take refuge: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha (the community). For Hindus, ... Read more about Dharma

Jodo Shinshu

The Jodo Shinshu or True Pure Land school of Buddhism was founded by the Japanese monk Shinran Shonin in the 12th century. This tradition regards chanting the name of Amida Buddha as the most appropriate form of practice in the current degenerate age. Today, Jodo Shinshu is the largest school of Buddhism in Japan. Its history in the United States dates to the end of the 19th century and its temples are today organized under the umbrella of the Buddhist Churches of America based in San Francisco.


(also: Palyul) Nyingma is one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug. The Nyingma school was the first to develop, tracing its origins back to the 9th-century tantric practitioner Padmasambhava. Characteristic of the Nyingma teachings is its classification of the path to enlightenment as progressing through nine stages, the first three of which are the paths described in the various sutras, the remaining six indicating the ever more mystical paths taught in the tantric texts.

Shaku, Soyen

Soyen Shaku (1859-1919) was the first Rinzai Zen teacher to come to the United States. He initially came in 1893 in order to participate in the World Parliament of Religions. Soyen returned to America 12 years later for a nine month stay, during which time he and his lay disciple D.T. Suzuki criss-crossed the country to teach meditation, especially koan study.


A zendo is a hall for sitting meditation in the Japanese Zen tradition.