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SOTOZEN-NET > Library > Basic Key Terms of Soto Zen Teaching

Basic Key Terms of Soto Zen Teaching

Foreword

A great many people are now practicing zazen in the Japanese Soto Zen Buddhist tradition outside Japan. But, because the tradition is so new in other lands, their practice may not always firmly based on a good understanding of the teaching. Before we begin practice, we need some clarity about what we are doing and why we are doing it that way. It is important to begin the practice with an understanding of the basic principles and underlying teaching behind what we will be doing. We need accurate background knowledge and a good understanding of ideas about the nature of zazen so that we can practice properly and skillfully. We should not start blindly. Otherwise our practice would likely go astray and get lost.  More.

So, here we will be offering Basic Key Terms of Soto Zen Teaching as a help for those who want to obtain this kind of background knowledge and ideas. We have selected twenty-four of the most basic key terms which we hope will show us unique aspects of the Soto Zen teaching.

We sincerely hope that this offering will help our fellow practitioners all over the world root their practice deeply in the ground of right understanding.

Basic Key Terms

  • In the Sotoshu Constitution (Sotoshu Shuken), Soto Zen Buddhist doctrine (Shushi) is set down as “. . . abiding by the True Dharma singularly transmitted by the Buddha-ancestors, the Sotoshu doctrine is to realize shikantaza (just sitting) and sokushinzebutsu (Mind itself is Buddha).”

  • 自受用三昧 - Jijuyu Zanmai
    (Self-receiving-and-using Samadhi)

    In 1231, four years after returning from China and moving to Anyoin temple in Fukakusa, Yamashiro, Dogen Zenji wrote Bendowa in response to requests from his followers. Ever since his return to Japan, he had been hoping to spread the true Dharma and to save all beings.

  • Shinjin datsuraku is the term that Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) used to describe the state he experienced after intensive Zen practice under the guidance of his Chinese master Nyojo (1163-1228) at Mt.Tendo in China. Its literal meaning is “sloughing off of body-mind”.

  • 即心是佛 - Sokushin Zebutsu
    (The Mind Itself is Buddha)

    Sokushin zebutsu (the mind itself is Buddha), in addition to shikantaza, is one of the most important phrases in Soto Zen Buddhism. Realizing (joto in Japanese) sokushin zebutsu together with shikantaza, defines Sotoshu doctrine. They are its ultimate teaching.

  • 袈裟功徳 - Kesa Kudoku
    (Virtue of the Kashaya)

    In the Zen school, there is a tradition of transmitting the kashaya. Kashaya is the Sanskrit word for kesa (or okesa) in Japanese. The kashaya is the robe worn by the Buddha and his followers.

  • 現成公案 - Genjo Koan
    (Complete manifestation of established truth)

    Genjo koan is the title of the first fascicle of the 75-fascicle version of Shobogenzo, which is thought to have been compiled by Dogen Zenji himself. This term is also frequently found in Dogen’s other writings.

  • 修証一等 - Shusho Itto
    (Oneness and equality of practice and realization)

    Shusho Itto (修証一等) succinctly embodies Dogen Zenji’s viewpoint about practice and realization. Shu (修) means “practice” and sho (証) means “realization as the fruition of practice.”

  • 非思量 - Hishiryo
    (non-thinking)

    Hishiryo (非思量) literally means “non-thinking.” Shiryo (思量) means “thinking” and hi (非) is aprefix of negation and opposition. So hishiryo amounts to “unthank” or “not the matter of thinking.”

  • 道場大衆一如 - Dojo Daishu Ichinyo
    (In activity and stillness at one with the community)

    It is said that Dogen Zenji entered Daibutsuji on July 18, 1244. Daibutsuji was built by his great supporter Yoshishige Hatano. Before Daibutsuji’’s name was changed to Eiheiji on June 15, 1246, Dogen Zenji wrote Bendoho (the model for engaging the way).

  • 一佛両祖 - Ichibutsu Ryoso
    (One Buddha Two Founders)

    The Sotoshu Constitution (Sotoshu Shuken) declares in Article 4: Objects of Reverence, “The Sotoshu shall primarily honor Shakyamuni Buddha, and shall honor Koso Joyo Daishi (Dogen Zenji) and Taiso Josai Daishi (Keizan Zenji) as its Two Founders.”

  • 行持道環 - Gyoji Dokan
    (The Circle of the Way in Continuous Practice)

    Gyoji Dokan is a term that reflects the Soto Zen Buddhist view on practice and realization. This phrase derives from the beginning of Shobogenzo Gyoji, Part 1:

  • 梅花 - Baika
    (Plum Blossoms)

    The plum tree is a flowering tree brought to Japan from China by Japanese diplomatic delegations sent to China during the Tang dynasty. It has graceful flowers blooming in early spring and a noble fragrance.

  • 佛性 - Bussho
    (Buddha-nature)

    “Buddha-nature” means the original nature as a buddha that is intrinsic to sentient beings. At the same time it also means the potential to become a buddha – a sense of being an embryo of a buddha (tathagatagarbha).

  • 有時 - Uji
    (Existence-Time)

    Generally the term uji refers to a time when someone temporarily possesses something that circulates among people, such as money.

  • 道得 - Dotoku
    (Able to Speak)

    Dotoku literally means “able to speak.” As I will discuss later, this word carries a very important meaning within Dogen Zenji’s teachings. The Chinese character do has many meanings ①way, path, road, ②bodhi, awakening, ③say, talk, speak, ④lead, govern. Dou in “dotoku,” means “say,” or “speak.”

  • 平常心是道 - Byojoshin Zedo
    (Ordinary Mind is the Way)

    “Ordinary mind is the Way” are the words of Baso Doitsu (709-788). With Baso, we can see one of the final goals of Chinese Zen, which was founded by Bodhidharma. Baso’s thought was also expressed in “Mind itself is buddha,” the idea that the mind of the self, as it is, is buddha.

  • 正法眼蔵涅槃妙心 - Shobogenzo Nehanmyoshin
    (The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana)

    In Buddhism, Shobogenzo Nehanmyoshin indicates the essence of the genuine teaching that has been transmitted generation after generation. The entire phrase is comprised of eight Chinese characters

  • 禅戒一如 - Zenkai Ichinyo
    (The Oneness of Zen and the Precepts)

    In the present Sotoshu, we find the expression “the oneness of Zen and the Precepts” in Article Five of the Sotoshu Constitution. This article is titled “Tenets.” This is the only place in the Constitution where the principle of the Precepts is listed as an essential element of Sotoshu doctrine.

  • 発菩提心 - Hotsu Bodaishin
    (Arousing the Aspiration for Enlightenment)

    The phrase “hotsu bodaishin” means arousing the aspiration for enlightenment. Usually, this refers to a practitioner’s bringing forth the mind of a bodhisattva, that is, the aspiration to realize buddhahood.

  • 面授 - Menju
    (Face-to-face Transmission)

    The term face-to-face transmission refers to master and disciple meeting face-to-face at which time the secrets of the Dharma are transmitted.

  • 黙照禅、看話禅 - Mokusho Zen and Kanna Zen
    (Silent Illumination Zen and Koan Zen)

    Silent Illumination Zen and Watching Koan Zen are the two currents of Zen that developed in twelfth century Song China.

  • 夢中説夢 - Muchu setsumu
    (Explaining a Dream within a Dream)

    “Explaining a dream within a dream” is a phrase that expresses a situation where, within a dream, someone is telling another person “Today, I saw this dream.” This is to speak of something without any substance; something which is an illusion and far from reality.

  • 深信因果 - Jinshin Inga
    (Deep Faith in Cause and Effect)

    “The principle of causality is obvious and impersonal” is a familiar phrase that was adopted into the “General Introduction” to The Meaning of Practice and Verification (Shushogi).

  • 覚触 - Kakusoku
    (Enlightenment, Awakening, Realization)

    The word “kakusoku” is one that until recently has rarely been discussed either in terms of Soto Zen doctrine or as part of Soto Zen studies. Very few Soto Zen priests understand what is meant by the expression “Zazen is kakusoku.”