Zazen is the Japanese term for the practice of sitting in meditation, bringing body, breath, and mind to alert and wakeful stillness.


An abbot or abbess is the title of the superior of a monastery or convent. Some scholars and practitioners have used these titles to apply to the ranking monk or nun of a Buddhist monastic community as well.

Chogye order

The major order in Korean Buddhism, the Chogye order was formed in the late 12th century by the unification of the Nine Mountains Schools of Chan (Zen). Although all Buddhist teachings were given their place in the new system, the gongan (koan) practice of Linji Chan (Rinzai Zen) gained highest stature as the most direct path to enlightenment.


Gongfu (also: kung-fu) is the Chinese term for martial arts. Monks from the Buddhist temple of Shaolin were especially famous for their mastery of the physical skills and spiritual potential of this art.

Shinran Shonin

Shinran Shonin (1173-1262) began the devotional Jodo Shinshu or “True Pure Land” movement of Buddhism. Considering the lay/monk distinction invalid, Shinran married and had several children, thereby initiating the practice of married Jodo Shinshu clergy and establishing a familial lineage of leadership, traits which continue to distinguish the school to this day.


Vipassana is a form of Theravada Buddhist meditation, also called “insight mediation.” This method directs the attention toward the moment-to-moment workings of the mind and body, thereby developing “mindfulness” of the contents of consciousness and full awareness of the nature of reality.

Buddhist precepts

(also: five precepts; samaya voces' bodhisattva vows) For Buddhists, spiritual progress typically requires the acceptance of an ever-greater number of moral precepts. Upon taking refuge in the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), most Buddhists will participate in a five precepts ceremony, in which they formally vow to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxicants. In the Theravada tradition, monastic novices and very devout lay Buddhists observe an additional five precepts: refraining from eating after noon, using ornaments, watching entertainment, lying... Read more about Buddhist precepts

Gautama, Siddhartha

Siddhartha Gautama, a prince of India in the 6th century BCE, came to be called the Buddha, the “awakened one,” after his enlightenment at the age of thirty-six. He spent the remainder of his life giving spiritual guidance to an ever-growing body of disciples. The Buddha entered into parinirvana (bodily death and final liberation) in 483 BCE at the age of 81.

meditation retreat

(also: sesshin) In Buddhist meditation traditions, setting aside a weekend, a month, or several months for intensive practice is considered crucial to expediting the student’s progress. During such meditation retreats in the Zen tradition, the practitioner engages in breath-counting practice, sitting and walking meditation, and, in Rinzai Zen, koan study. Typically, no talking is allowed, except asking necessary questions during work practice and in the interview with the teacher.


Shakya is the name of the clan into which the Buddha was born. Thus, he is sometimes referred to as “Shakyamuni Buddha” which can be translated as “Sage of the Shakya Clan.”


Vairochana, the “Resplendent One,” represents the eternal Dharma Body of whom Sakyamuni and all other Buddhas are transformations. His Pure Land is the Flower Store World, which is none other than the whole universe when experienced correctly. Although a wide range of Mahayana Buddhists display reverence for Vairochana, this Buddha is especially important in certain forms of Esoteric Buddhism in Japan.

Buddha’s Birthday

The anniversary of the birth of Siddhartha Gautama is a major Buddhist celebration, although the date of observance differs in the various traditions. For the Theravada tradition, Visakha (or Vesak) usually falls in May and celebrates simultaneously three great events—the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana (bodily death and final liberation) of Siddhartha Gautama. In the Japanese tradition of the Buddhist Churches of America, the Buddha’s birthday is observed on April 8, a day called Hanmatsuri. For all Buddhists, the Buddha’s birthday is an opportunity to visit the temple, think deeply... Read more about Buddha’s Birthday

Lotus Sutra

One of the earliest Mahayana sutras, the Lotus Sutra has played a significant role in shaping the Buddhist tradition in East Asia. Especially influential has been its teaching of the one Great Vehicle (Mahayana) under which is subsumed all other lesser vehicles. This sutra is the main text of the Tiantai (Tendai) and Nichiren schools.

Salzberg, Sharon

Sharon Salzberg has been practicing vipassana meditation for over three decades. She is a founding member of Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and has taught meditation at Buddhist centers around the world. Her book Loving Kindness: the Revolutionary Act of Kindness (1995) was the first full-length treatment of metta, or loving-kindness practice, in the United States.

Tiantai School

(also: T'ien-t'ai; Tendai) Tiantai Buddhism was founded in China in the 6th century. The teachings of this Mahayana school are distinguished by: reverence for the Lotus Sutra; an emphasis on the underlying unity of all Buddhist practice and doctrine; assertion of the universality of Buddha Nature; and the assurance that, with proper practice, everyone may attain enlightenment in this life.