AHAMKARA – The ego, the sense of “I,” which Indian philosophies feel is false.
AVATARS – A direct incarnation of the Lord. It is believed there have been ten Avatars (incarnations on earth) of Lord Vishnu, the Sustainer, in the Indian trio of gods (Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, and Shiva the Destroyer.) Krishna was a famous Avatar in India and some believe the present day Sai Baba is one.
BIJA MANTRAS – Composed of seed letters directly derived from the fifty primeval sounds; are aspects of the supreme mantra, Om.
MANASIKA JAPA – The mental repetition of a mantra.
AINU – The first settlers of Japan who worshipped ghosts called Kamui.
ARHAT – Also known as Arhant, this refers to the completely enlightened saint, free of all “outflows,” who has entered nirvana. (Nirvana is not an after death state but freedom from all conditioning.) The Buddha is often called The Great Arhat. This term is used in Hinayana, the so-called “Lesser Vehicle” Buddhism, where the goal is to work out one’s own Salvation. It contrasts with Mahayana Buddhism’s Bodhisattva, the enlightened one who forgoes his or her own Salvation in order to remain where there is suffering and who vows to save all sentient beings.
BADARAYANA – The founder of Vedanta; the author of the Vedanta Sutra.
BHAGAVAAD GITA – A section of the Mahabharata, “the bible” of Vedanta. Bharata was the ancient name of India.
BINDU – Literally means “point,” an unextended point that represents the essence of life. In practice, it sometimes refers to semen. At the end of a Kalpa, everything withdraws into the bindu, a point without extension.
BODHI – Wisdom or realization.
BODHIDHARMA – The man who brought Zen to China from India about 480 A.D. He defined Zen Buddhism: To see into your own nature and attain enlightenment.
BODHISATTVA – Bodhi refers to Enlightenment; Sat can mean Being; and the Tva can be translated as “the Essence of.” This would make a Bodhisattva “The Essence of an Enlightened Being.” At any rate, there are felt to be many stages of Bodhisattvahood, culminating in one known as a Mahasatva, a Bodhisattva who had reached the level before Buddhahood. In his great vows, the compassionate Bodhisattva renounces entrance into nirvana so that he or she can remain in suffering samsara to save all sentient beings before that one (him or herself) reaches final Salvation. The Bodhisattva is the ideal of Mahayana Buddhism, just as the Arhat represents the highest level of Hinayana Buddhism.
BRAHMAN – Universal spirit; almost similar to the Godhead.
BRAHMIN – The highest caste Indian.
BUDDHA – The enlightened one. BUDDHI – The seat of intelligence. CHI – Vital Force in Chinese.
CHINESE BUDDHISM – When Bodhidharma came to China around 473 A.D., Buddhism had been in China at least 400 years. Various sects received royal patronage, and there were many monasteries in the country. Such Buddhist sects as T’ien T’ai and Amitabha had made a beginning, but Chan Buddhism (Zen in Japanese) rapidly came to the fore as Chinese Taoism mixed with the imported Zen. From the early 600’s until early 900’s (the end of the Tang dynasty), China experienced the Golden Age of Zen, which eventually spread to Japan.
CHINESE TAOISM – Chinese Taoist religions search for immortality in the body as part of yogic practice.
CHITTA – Mind; chit in Sanskrit means consciousness.
CONFUCIANISM – The wise Kung tzu, called Confucius in the West, was probably one of the most influential men who ever lived.
COSMIC MIND – Universal Mind.
D.T. SUZUKI – Author who made Zen popular in the West, but practiced Shin Buddhism all of his life.
DARSHANAS – The six schools of Philosophy in India.
DHAMMAPADA – Buddha’s work that is often compared to the Sermon on the Mount. The theme is “you are what you think.”
DOGEN – Brought back the Zen from China to Japan that is now known as Soto Zen in Japan.
DRAVYAS – The nine eternal Realities: earth, water, fire, air, ether, time, space, soul, and mind.
DUMO HEAT – Inner heat developed in the Dumo channel (Tummo in Chinese); very important in Tantric Buddhism and some times called “the Essence of Magic Play.”
EKAGRATA – The state of the mind when it is one-pointed.
GAYATRI MANTRA – Literally, the Sun Goddess. “Savitri, ” Sri Aurobindo’s long poem, refers to Gayatri as Savitur; similar words in India mean the sun from a spiritual standpoint. The Gayatri Mantra is felt to be the one mantra suitable for anyone, of whatever caste or faith. Ramana Maharshi felt that the first words of the Gayatri, Om Bhuh Bhuvah Svah, are the sounds of Creation.
HAKUIN – A great Japanese Zen Master; developed Rinzai Zen, koan Zen.
HATHA YOGA – Literally “Sun-Moon Yoga,” the Yoga of Physical Perfection; one of eight steps in Rajah Yoga.
HINAYANA BUDDHISM – Original Buddhism, known as “The Lesser Vehicle” by some. (Hinayanists, quite understandably, prefer to refer to themselves under the heading Theravada, or “The Way of the Elders.”) Mahayana Buddhism (“The Greater Vehicle”) is more widespread in the Far East than Hinayana, which continues strong in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma, and Thailand.
HINDU – An adherent of Hinduism, a body of religion, philosophy, and cultural practices native to India. Literally, “a resident of the valley of the Indus.”
HONEN – Shinran’s teacher. Honen explained to Shinran that having simple faith in the Buddha of Infinite Light and the repetition of Namu Amida Butsu would bring him the peace that he was searching for.
HUA-YEN – The Buddhist philosophy of totality; Kegon in Japanese. The essence can be described as “When one is absorbed by one, one penetrates into one. When all is absorbed by all, all penetrates into all.”
HUANG PO – A great Chinese teacher who taught Lin Chi, whose name in Japan is Rinzai.
HUI NENG – The Sixth Zen Patriarch. Chinese Zen (as opposed to Indian Zen) began with him.
INDIAN BUDDHISM – A sect of Buddhism which is life negating, only fitting for those willing to give up the world.
INDIAN TANTRA – The worship of Shiva and Shakti.
ISSE – The holy Shinto city. Every Shintoist man is expected to make a pilgrimage to Isse (which is like Mecca) once in his lifetime.
JAINS – A Hindi sect.
JAPANESE ZEN – A sect of Buddhism that believes life should be affirmed, without metaphysical speculation. The goal is to realize your own true nature.
JIVA – Individual spirit. Jivatman is the realized man, the one who has attained salvation while he is alive.
JNANA YOGA – The Indian way of Knowledge (Wisdom), usually of non-duality, arrived at by ceaseless inquiry.
JOHREI – The act of focusing the hand on parts of the physical body by one trained to do so in the Japanese Healing Church, know as Sekai Kyu Seikyo. A piece of paper worn in a locket around the neck, with the word hikari (“light” in Japanese) written on it by the religion’s founder (Meishu-Sama or his descendant), is the “Sacred Focal Point” that gives power to the practice of Johrei. Those receiving Johrei often feel a strong heat, and the Church reports many wonderful “cures,” though it emphasizes it is raising the spiritual vibration with Johrei and not attempting to heal. This is an extremely efficacious way to use the chi (prana) to raise the body heat and bring about “purification.”
KALI YUGA – The Iron Age. We are now in this supposedly degenerate age, the fourth Yuga in the incredibly long period of time known as Kalpa, at the end of which the world is destroyed by flame, later to come back into being as the result of the unfulfilled desires expressed as habit energies (vashanas), which lie dormant for awhile and then spring to life again. Supposedly, we in this Yuga live a shorter time than did those in previous divisions (Yugas) of this Kalpa.
KALI – One name given to “Divine Mother.” The Ramakrishna Order, for instance, though part of Vedanta, worships Mother in many forms and under many names. Also know as goddess Kali.
KAMI – A spirit in Shintoist belief. Every object of nature, every blade of grass has a spirit attached to it.
KARMA – This is not blind fate as many think. Rather, it represents the idea that “as you make your bed, so shall you lie in it.” In physics, every action must have a similar reaction. Karma means action, and the reactions to these actions are the fruits of karma.
KARMA YOGA – The yoga of good deeds.
KASHMIR SHAIVISM – Related to Shiva and Shakti; the basis of Tantra. Maintains that pure consciousness is the spiritual substance of the universe.
KEGON – The Japanese name for a highly philosophical school of Buddhism that stresses Negation as the path to Reality – the final Negation being the negating of Negation itself.
KOAN – Kung-an in Chinese; it literally means “a case,” as in a case law. In Zen it refers to historic exchanges between Zen people. The final phrase in such an exchange is given to a Zen student as his or her special “problem.” The student works with the koan incessantly and meets with his or her Master in sanzen (personal private confrontation) to offer a solution (not necessarily verbal) to the koan.” Passing a koan,” that is, satisfying the Master with one’s response, is a great moment in Rinzai Zen practice and sometimes takes years.
K’UNG-TZU – Confucius; the most influential man in history because he so profoundly impacted Eastern social mores.
LAO-TZU – Author of the Tao Te Ching, which can be studied on three levels: political, philosophic and meditative.
MADHYAMIKA – The “middle way” of Buddhism – not yes, not no.
MAHABHARATA – The great long poem, from which comes the Bhagavad Gita.
MAHAYANA BUDDHISM – Meaning the “Greater Vehicle,” a form of Buddhism designed to accommodate a greater number of believers, rather than only those following a monastic life.
MANTRA – A word, or series of words, supposedly revealed to a great Sage and Divinely inspired. This saying of great power is a name of God or an aspect of God. It is not made up by someone. Some countries have their own mantras, such as Tibet and Om Mani Padme Hum. Some feel the sound, or sounds, have magic powers and properties. Mantras are usually given to Chelas (spiritual aspirants and disciples) by their Gurus at Initiation.
MAYA – Illusion; the world incorrectly seen.
METTA – Sympathy; the practice of loving-kindness; one of the Buddhist “subjects of meditation.”
MILAREPA – The greatest of the Tibetan yogis who wrote the Mila Grubum, the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa.
MIMAMSA – Precursor of Vedanta, the sixth Darshana. It means to examine and it inquires into right action. Mimamsa is based on the Vedas, the world’s most ancient scriptures.
MOKSHA – Release; salvation; the true goal of life.
MUDRA – The position the body is held in meditation.
MUMUKSHA – The fourth of the fourfold discipline of Vedanta: Right desire to know the ultimate principle and, therefore, liberation.
NAMASTE – “I greet the all seeing One in you.”
NEI KUNG – Nai Kan in Japanese; inner contemplation; a form of meditation used for healing and enlightenment.
NETI, NETI – “Not this, not that;” an Indian expression to help discriminate between the Real and the unreal.
NEW JAPANESE RELIGIONS – Declaring that religion must be closely identified with everyday life, and are a way of making everyday life easier. They include: Seicho no Ie, Omotoyko, Kurozumikyo, and Ananaikyo. None of the new Japanese Churches views are contrary to the other. Many use a Shinto prayer called the Prayer of Heaven.
NIRVANA – Literally means “extinction” in Indian languages and refers to the extinction of the “outflows,” the attachments and desires that keep one anchored in suffering samsara. Nirvana is not a paradise; it is the unconditioned state of freedom. Unlike Hinayanists, Mahayana people (and particularly Zennists) believe that nirvana and samsara are the same, only cognized differently.
NYAYA – Science of logical inquiry into the nature of the Real; founded by Gautama.
OBAKU ZEN – A Zen sect in Japan named after Obaku, the Japanese name for Ch’an Master Huang-Po. It uses the Nembutsu of Shin Buddhism as well as some Shinto practices. There is also ancestor worship, which is not Buddhism, but Buddhism is very accommodating.
OM – Said to be the sound of Creation; known as Pranava in India.
PAI CH’ANG – A very great Zen Master, who was the teacher of Huang Po and the true creator of the Zen community.
PARAMANUS – Eternal realities that cannot be divided and are beyond the range of the senses: earth, water, fire, and air.
PARATMAN – The universal, Atman.
PRAKRITI – Nature in equilibrium with some disturbance.
PRALAYA – Universal dissolution at the end of a kalpa; the absorption of everything into potential.
PRANA – Sanskrit for chi, Vital Force.
PRASAD – Food consecrated by a temple.
PRATYAHARA – One of eight steps in Raja Yoga, in which the senses are withdrawn from the field of the senses.
PURUSHA and PRAKRITI – Spirit and cosmic substance: The two divisions of Reality, according to Samkhya philosophy.
RAJA YOGA – There are eight steps to Raja Yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. The creator of Raja Yoga was Patanjali.
RAMANA MAHARSHI – The great Gnani, teacher of advaita (non- duality), who died less than forty years ago. His Ashram at Tiruvanamali, with the famous Arunachala hill behind it, still continues. The Maharshi was one of the few Masters in Indian history that reached Enlightenment without a Guru, and he never referred to anybody as his disciple, as that would have been a duality in itself. Many have been interested in the discipline the Maharshi advised – the Maha Yoga that consisted of asking oneself, “Who am I?” to be followed by similar inquiries to determine who was the real do-er. Much in the same way that Bassui wanted his followers to find who was the real “boss.” It is the author’s opinion that everything the Maharshi believed and taught was compatible with, though highly different in language, from the teaching of Gautama Buddha. Certainly he was one of the greatest Sages in India’s long history.
RISHI – Wise men of India; true spelling is Rshi.
ROSHI – A Zen Master.
SAI BABA – Unique in the history of India, Sai Baba was born with an enlightened Mind. He is not a yogi nor a guru nor does he practice Yoga. To the Indians, he is an Avatar, a direct incarnation of the Lord.
SAMADHI – Often referred to as “the super conscious state,” the highest level of Yoga. Buddhism often speaks of one living in a state of samadhi all the time, and Zen refers to many different Samadhis, in a slightly different sense. While it is the final goal of Yoga, it is only the middle of three steps in Buddhism – Prajna (Wisdom) being the last and ultimate. Complete immersion, the deepest meditative state where the world has been shut out, is referred to as samadhi.
SAMKHYA – Seeks to remove suffering by removing the “tarnishes” from the soul; founded by Kapala.
SAMSARA – The world of maya, of illusion. When there is suffering, we are in samsara, and this implies conditioned individual existence. When there is no longer such conditioned individual existence, there is no suffering, and we are then in our natural state, nirvana. However, Zen makes much of the fact that “samsara is nirvana.” That is, right here in the suffering world we must find the perfection and the joy, not off in some transcendental place. This is quite different from the early Buddhism, where the idea was to “escape” from samsara and enter nirvana.
SAMSKARAS – Lasting tendencies that are the outgrowth of habit energies. Such tendencies are said to carry over from life to life.
SANGHA – A spiritual community.
SANSKRIT – The ancient language of India, often called “the perfect language.” As the Indo-European language, it is sometimes felt to be the base for most modern European languages and of Latin and Greek as well. It is not spoken in India today, but it is the written language of scholarship. Along with Pali (which resembles Sanskrit), it was the language of the original Buddhist Sutras (Scriptures.)
SANZEN – In Rinzai Zen, the monk or disciple frequently enters the Master’s chambers to give his or her view on one’s koan in the interview known as the “kill or be killed” confrontation. This is sanzen. There is usually a small ritual or ringing of a bell, bowing, etc., that takes place before the aspirant enters and as he or she is leaving. It is only recently that a third person, an interpreter, has been allowed in sanzen. (In Japan this practice is much frowned upon by purists.)
SAT-CHIT-ANANDA – Being-Consciousness-Bliss; the Indian view of what we are.
SATIPATTHANA – Literally, “The Way of Mindfulness;” the meditation practiced by the Buddha.
SATKA-SAMPATTI – The third of the fourfold discipline of Vedanda: Right conduct.
SATORI – From the Japanese verb satoru, meaning “to realize.” This noun refers to the sudden experience, often accompanied by profuse perspiration, of “The Great Joy.” It is a profound enlightenment experience but it is not always final. Hakuin speaks of his original “incomplete” Satori, which brought on an arrogance that he later warned against, and of many “great” Satori experiences in addition to numerous “minor” satoris. Soto Zen believes in letting the Satori experience come slowly like ripening fruit, while Rinzai Zen tries to force the experience through intensive koan study. Master Joshu Sasaki speaks of two types of Satori (daigo and saigo) – the one in which complete unity is experienced, making it difficult for the one to continue in his or her daily life, and the other in which one observes one’s own Satori and then makes the complete circle, in which “mountains are again simply mountains,” bringing one back into the activity of the world.
SESSHIN – A seven-day meditation retreat in which the practitioners live at a temple or zendo.
SHABDA – The sound that exists before pronunciation; the vibration before the sound; the sound from which comes creation.
SHIN BUDDHISM – Shin Buddhism is called Pure Land Buddhism, and it is devotional, unlike Zen. The name Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light (also called Amitabha) is chanted as a means to salvation. Amida Butsu takes everybody who remembers him to the Pure Land. He does not judge. It is the largest religion in Japan.
SHINRAN – Founded Jodo Shinshu Buddhist sect of Japan, part of the so-called Amida Cult.
SHINTAI – Objects believed to be magical to the Shintoist.
SHINTO – The native religion of Japan. Shin-to is “the way of the ghost,” or “the way of the spirits.” According to Shinto, when you die, you remain around the household to guard your family from evil spirits.
SHIVA AND SHAKTI – Shiva is worshipped by many as unchanging Reality. Shakti is his female consort, representing energy and activity. The term Shakti is often used to denote Divine Energy (a form of prana or chi). Shakti is worshiped as a Goddess in her own right.
SHUNYATA – Void or Emptiness; the basis of the Buddhist personality.
SIDDHARTHA – The Buddha, Shakyamuni, Gautama. Muni comes from the Sanskrit word mouna (silence.) Siddhartha grew up as a prince in the kingdom of Shakya, India.
SKANDHAS – Literally meaning “heaps.” These five constituents – Form, Feelings, Perceptions, Emotions, and Consciousness – are, when joined together, the reason one believes there is a person or an entity. We are literally these heaps. Buddhism denies any eternal Soul. Consequently, when these five skandhas disintegrate, where are “we”? This is a knotty question that many generations of Buddhists have pondered. Notice that “Consciousness” is one of the ephemeral “heaps” in Buddhism, making it a dharma or non-lasting phenomenon. The very root of Buddhist belief and the basis of the non-Atman (An-Atman-no abiding Soul) declaration is revolutionary in India.
SUFI – Literally meaning “cotton clad,” the Sufis are the Mystic Movement in Islam, though they claim to antedate Mohammed. The Dervishes are also Sufis; poverty is looked upon as a “must” for members of this sect. The provocative Sufi teachings and sayings are beginnings to reach the West in translation, but it is the Sufi poets – such as Omar Khayam and Rumi – who are best known in the West. Many great Sufis were born in India, and it is felt that the great Sikh religion is an outgrowth of Sufi teaching.
T’AN T’IEN – Chinese term referring to the “field of the elixir,” two inches below the navel (tanden in Japanese.)
TANMATRAS – The five subtle elements from which all things are made: the essence of sound, touch, form, flavor, and odor.
TANTRIC BUDDHISM – Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism.
TAOISM – Chinese philosophy, usually traced to the great sage, Lao Tzu, which advised a “natural” way of flowing with Reality, the Tao (or Supreme Ultimate.) Later it became a religion and changed considerably, but it may be seen in its purity in the writings of the philosopher, Chuang Tzu, and in the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu. Taoism was not interested in future states of existence, but it believed the real meaning can be found here and now in the sweat and tears of this world. It was decidedly not a pessimistic philosophy.
TAPAS – Long periods of penance.
TENRIKYO – A major Japanese religion approximately 100 years old. While it seems somewhat Shinto in character, Tenrikyo is considered completely independent from other religions.
THE THREE ASPECTS OF THE ONE REALITY – Brahma the creator; Vishnu the preserver; and Shiva the destroyer; seen as the three aspects of the one reality.
THE UNCARVED BLOCK – Original Essence; the way things were before anything altered them, before the beginning of the world.
THREE GUNAS – According to Samkhya, Prakriti is made up of the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. They are the three characteristics of everything in the universe and account for the universe.
TOKUSAN – A Chinese Zen Master.
ULTIMATE PRINCIPLE – Contains the two qualities of saguna (matter) and nirguna (without qualities.)
UPANISHADS – The last part of the Veda textbook, written in poetic form, upon which Vedanta is based.
VAIRAGYA – The second of the four-fold disciplines of Vedanta is Vairagya, which consists of developing non-attachment to the transitory or impermanent phenomena of life. This is also considered all-important to the Yogis and Zen Buddhists, and is a necessary prerequisite to the experience of enlightenment. Through picking and choosing we create attachments and therefore suffering. Non-attachment doesn’t mean giving up things; it means not being attached to them. It means developing nonattachment to the transitory or impermanent phenomenon.
VAISHESHIKA SUTRA – Kanada’s masterpiece writing teaches the doctrine of liberation or moksha. According to Vaisheshika, suffering comes from attachments and aversions. Erasing habit energies, we go back to a state of purity.
VAISHESHIKA – The characteristics that distinguish a thing; founded by Kanada.
VAJRAYANA -Vajrayana teaches that the adept, through a combination of rites, is reinstated into his or her true (or diamond) nature, takes possession of a diamond body, and is transformed into a diamond being.
VASANA or VASHANA – A habit energy. When we repeat a thought or action so often that it mentally becomes a compelling force, it is a vashana.
VEDANTA – One of the six schools of philosophy in India. Vedanta today is probably the reigning philosophical thought in India. True Vedanta as described by the great Shankara would be a teaching of non- duality. But these days, many different schools of thought in India call themselves Vedanta, including those that advocate a Way of Devotion (necessarily dualistic.) Vedanta, which comes from the Vedas (most sacred scriptures of India), has also been defined as “Direct Knowledge of Supreme Consciousness,” which must be realized through practice. The purpose of Vedanta is to know Brahman, to realize the relationship between Brahman, the universal, and the Atman or individual.
VIPASSANA – Originating in Burma, it has spread to India, the United States, and other countries. It takes a very strong effort on the part of those practicing it, some of whom have experienced real insights from the practice. The basis of Vipassana practice is Samatha Samapatti, tranquility and insight.
VIVEKA – The first of the fourfold discipline of Vedanta: right discrimination of the real and unreal.
VRITTIS – The groove in the brain made by thought or reaction, according to Indian belief. Each idea supposedly makes a sound, which creates the groove. When a vritti is continually being made, thru repetition, it may ripen into a vashana, a habit energy.
WABI-SABI – Implies austerity, naturalness, asymmetry, and many other characteristics typical of Japanese aesthetic taste.
YIN-YANG – Yang is the positive characteristic (hot, expanding, male side) and yin is the opposite (cold, contracting, female.) Both are always present but in a mix. All Chinese culture, including medicine, derives from the yin-yang idea, and as few people know, so does the modern computer.
YOGA – One of the six Indian Darshanas that seeks to free man from suffering by non-attachment to the world. Patanjali classified Yoga.
YOGACARA – A sect of Buddhism, which believes in “mind only.” Sometimes known as “thought only.”
YUN-MEN – Known as Ummon in Japan. A brilliant Zen Master who died in the mid-tenth century. Yun-men was known for his “cakes,” the sharp one-word answers he usually used. He was the founder of one of the “Big Five” Chinese Ch’an schools.
ZAZEN – This is the Zen practice of sitting in Zen meditation posture. However, Zen teachers say brushing the teeth and eating rice can also be part of zazen, so anything done with mind concentrated in the Buddhist manner is zazen.
ZEN – Comes from the Pali word Jana, and the Chinese word, Ch’anna, which means meditation.
This article is published in Gateway To Eastern Philosophy & Religion.