convert Buddhism

Convert Buddhism tends to refer to groups of Euro-American Buddhists that have converted to Buddhism rather than being born into the tradition. Generally speaking these Buddhists are focused more on personal and social transformation than their immigrant counterparts, and often critique the relentlessly ambitious culture of the “American dream” that new immigrants seek to emulate.


Jogyo (Japanese) or Vishishta-caritra (Sanskrit) is a bodhisattva whose name means “superior conduct.” He is especially important in the Japanese Buddhist movement founded by Nichiren in the 13th century. According to the Lotus Sutra, Vishishta-caritra led a vast number of the Buddha’s disciples to reveal that Sakyamuni was but a temporary manifestation of the eternal existence of Buddha Nature. Nichiren considered himself to be a reincarnation of Vishishta-carita and therefore had the responsibility of spreading the Dharma in this degenerate age.


(also: nien-fo; nembutsu; Namu Amida Butso) The Chinese term nianfo and Japanese nembutsu both mean “reciting the name of the Buddha.” Intoning with full faith the phrase “Reverence to Amitabha Buddha” is the central practice of Pure Land traditions. In Chinese Pure Land Temples, one will hear, “Namo Emituofo.” In the Pure Land (Shinshu) and True Pure Land (Jodo Shinshu) traditions of Japan, the same recitation is voiced as “Namu Amida Butsu.”

Soen-roshi, Nakagawa

Nakagawa Soen (1907-1984) was a Rinzai Zen teacher who, although he rarely came to the United States himself, was responsible for sending a number of important Zen teachers to America, including Eido Tai Shimano and Hakuun Yasutani. Those who journeyed to Japan to study under Soen-roshi included Robert Aitken, Philip Kapleau, and Maurine Stuart.

Chenrezig sadhana

Chenrezig is Tibetan for Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. Chenrezig sadhana is a form of Buddhist meditation practice (sadhana) aimed at developing compassion and wisdom.

Shasta Abbey

Shasta Abbey, headquartered on Mt. Shasta in northern California, follows the Soto Zen tradition of Japan, although it is not formally affiliated with any Japanese organization. The 16-acre property includes 17 buildings, America’s first Buddhist cemetery, and a large garden where the community grows most of its food.

Buddhist Churches of America

The Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) is the institutional name of Jodo Shinshu or “True Pure Land” Buddhism in the U.S. This Buddhism of Japanese immigrants regards the chanting of the name of Amida as the most appropriate form of practice in the current degenerate age. From 1899, when the first True Pure Land temple was established in San Francisco, until World War II, the American branch of this organization was known as the Buddhist Mission of North America. The adoption of the name Buddhist Churches of America occurred in 1942 as part of the assimilative effort by Japanese Americans to... Read more about Buddhist Churches of America


The gohonzon is the mandala (sacred circle of power) designed by Nichiren Daishonin (1222-1282). It is composed of the Japanese characters that make up the title of the Lotus Sutra. Namu Myoho Rengekyo. For those of the Nichiren Buddhist tradition (such as the American members of SGI: Soka Gakkai International) the gohonzon is enshrined behind an altar in an individual’s home so that they may chant on a daily basis.

Money Tree

(also: Money Tree Festival) In the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the presentation of “wishing trees” to the Sangha plays an important part in the kathina (robe-offering) festival. The wishing tree is said to be found on a remote, southern island and to provide people with all their needs. Hence, the wishing trees of the kathina festival are laden with monetary and material gifts for the monks. By offering such gifts, the laity are able to benefit from the meritorious power generated by the monks during their just-completed period of monastic retreat.


Satori is the term used in Japanese Zen for the intuitive realization of the true nature of reality, in contra-distinction to an intellectual, logical understanding of the world as grasped by a dualistic mind. It constitutes a new, holistic point of view for looking at things. All conditions of satori are naturally in the mind, merely waiting for maturation. Since the experience of satori can be communicated to others only if they have already experienced it themselves, the instruction of Zen can at best suggest or show the way so that one’s attention may be directed toward the goal.


Tulku is the Tibetan term for nirmanakaya, the “Transformation Body of the Buddhas,” manifestations of which appear in whatever form necessary to aid others. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the term is reserved for those lamas (enlightened teachers) who have consciously taken rebirth for the benefit of those still caught in the wheel of samsara. Appended to the name of a tulku will be the honorific “rinpoche,” which means “precious jewel.” The Dalai Lama is the best known of the tulkus, but they exist in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Buddha hall

The Buddha hall is the main sanctuary of a Buddhist temple in which there are images of one or more Buddhas. Major ceremonies take place here. For meditation, however, there will often be a separate chamber away from the clamor of other temple activities.

Foguang Buddhism

Foguang (“Buddha’s Light”) Buddhism is a humanistic Buddhist movement with its headquarters in Taiwan and over 100 branch temples on five continents. Founded by Master Hsing Yun in the 1960s, the movement is devoted to creating a Pure Land on earth. Its main temple in the United States is Hsi Lai Temple, located in Hacienda Heights near Los Angeles. Foguang organizations can also be found in Nevada, Texas, Kansas, Florida, New York, and Connecticut.

Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana, the “Great Vehicle,” is a form of Buddhism the originated in India and spread to Central and East Asia, encompassing schools in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. Its primary characteristics include a more supernatural view of the Buddha; the compassion of the bodhisattva ideal; an emphasis on universal salvation; and a more elastic view of the scriptural canon. Major Mahayana schools include Pure Land and Zen. The Vajrayana tradition of Tibet is also considered a form of Mahayana.


In Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, rinpoche, meaning “precious jewel,” is the honorific title for highly respected lamas (teachers), especially tulkus (enlightened teachers who have consciously taken rebirth for the benefit of others).