Soto Zen

The Caodong school of Chan Buddhism was founded in China the 9th century. Dogen introduced Soto (the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese graphs for Caodong) to Japan in the 13th century, where it quickly developed into one of the preeminent schools. In Soto Zen, the main form of practice is “just sitting,” in which one strives to erase the rigid categories associated with language so that the mind’s natural ability to illumine reality can shine forth.

Zen master

(also: Ch'an master; roshi; sensei) Because the Chan (Zen) tradition eschews traditional Buddhist textual, institutional, and ethical guides for the attainment of Buddhahood, the master has a critically important role in directing his or her students along the right path. The Japanese Zen tradition distinguishes between the sensei, or teacher, and roshi, or venerable teacher, the latter requiring years of additional experience for its attainment.


Amitabha Buddha, called Emituofo in China and Amida in Japan, is the Buddha of “Infinite Light.” This Buddha is the main focus of devotion in the Pure Land school of Chinese Buddhism, and the Pure Land (Shin) and True Pure Land (Jodo Shinshu) schools of Buddhism in Japan. This Buddha presides over Sukhavati, the Western Pure Land where anyone can be reborn by reciting his name with complete sincerity and concentration.


Namgyal, which in Tibetan means literally “The Victorious,” is the name of the monastery situated in Potala Palace, the winter residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959. Because of the monastery’s location and importance, its name is frequently used as a synonym for the Gelug school of Vajrayana Buddhism.

sitting meditation

Sitting is a general term used to refer to the most common meditation practice in the Buddhist tradition: establishing a sitting posture, often in a cross-legged lotus or half-lotus position, with spine erect, and bringing the body to stillness. Sitting also refers to a specified period of meditation, such as twenty minutes or an hour.


A wat (Thai) or watt (Cambodian) is a Buddhist temple-monastic complex. Thai and Cambodian temples typically have two sections, one in which both monks and laity worship the Buddha, and the other reserved for the monastic community. The former typically includes a reliquary tower and one or more image halls for religious observances. The monastic area will include living quarters, classrooms, business offices, and meditation rooms. The temple complex may also have a library, a Bodhi Tree, and guardian lions or serpents to protect the entrance.

Buddhist temple

Buddhist temples differ considerably from one another depending upon culture and particular school, but most are associated with the residence of the sangha of monks. Theravada temples focus on one or more images of Sakyamuni Buddha. In Mahayana and Vajrayana temples, Sakyamuni will be accompanied by a variety of bodhisattvas and other Buddhas.

Gelug School

The Gelug or Gelugpa School is one of four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug. Dating from the fourteenth century, the Gelug was the last of the four to develop. Compared to the other schools, the Gelug order lays greater emphasis on the need to thoroughly train in the doctrines of the sutras before progressing to the practices of the tantras. The Gelug eventually developed into the largest school in Tibet and came to exert a great deal of power once the succession of Dalai Lamas were enthroned as spiritual and political rulers in the 17th century.


Mindfulness or vipassana is a form of Theravada Buddhist meditation practice, directing one’s full attention to the workings of the mind and body, developing “mindfulness” of the contents of consciousness. Such mindfulness is a quality of awareness which sees without judgment. The deepening calmness developed through such meditation practice slowly renders the mind fit to see more clearly into itself.

Shambhala Training

Shambhala Training is a three-step mediation program, founded in 1977 by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche as a means to reach an audience beyond the Buddhist community. While teachers are all advanced practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhist meditation, for the first two levels of practice Buddhist language is kept to a minimum. In recent years, there has been a trend to recognize the possibility of even attaining the third level without any formal Buddhist guidance.


Vajra means both “diamond” and “thunderbolt. The term is a synonym for Truth, which is indestructible, and for the shattering effect inevitably accompanying the realization of this Truth. “Vajrayana,” the common name for the Tantric Buddhism of Tibet, refers to the “Diamond/ Thunderbolt Vehicle.”

Buddha’s Enlightenment Day

The Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, also called Bodhi Day, is observed in East Asian Mahayana traditions during December.

Eido Tai Shimano-roshi

At the urging of his teacher, Soen-roshi, Eido-roshi left Japan in 1960 to be a resident monk at the Koko-an Zendo in Hawaii. Four years later, he arrived in New York City, where he became Zen Master of the Zen Studies Society. Throughout the 1960s he often served as the translator for Yasutani-roshi, accompanying the senior monk on his travels in the United States and around the world.


Lumbini is the supposed birthplace of the Buddha located in present Nepal at the foothills of the Himalayas.


A novice is a monk or nun in training in the Buddhist or Christian tradition. In the Buddhist tradition, samanera, or novice monk, refers to the first of two levels of ordination. In the Theravada tradition, a man may become a novice as the first stage toward becoming a full-fledged monk or bhikkhu, or he may become a novice monk for a short period with the specific intention of accruing religious merit. In Mahayana traditions, short-term ordinations are rare, although the practice is increasing, especially among Chinese Buddhists.