The Way Home
These pages offer definitions to help visitors to this site understand what we think we are saying. They are not exactly dictionary or encyclopedia definitions, although some of it will be drawn from those sources, but rather explanations of what we mean by certain words.
Here you will find words beginning with the letters V through Z. To jump to other pages, please click on the appropriate link above. If you are looking for a particular word, please click on “Words Index” or on the green circle below, where you will find an index of all the words defined in these pages. For a partial list of our sources, go here.
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SWAMI VIVEKANANDA: Born in Calcutta in 1863 as Narendranath Datta, Swami Vivekananda is the best known disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, whom Vivekananda met at the age of eighteen. Although from their first meeting, Narendranath felt great affection for Ramakrishna, he struggled against the Guru-disciple relationship, arguing there is no place for an intermediary between a seeker and God. In time, as he came to recognize the True Nature of the Guru, his objection dissolved into itself. In 1893, at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Vivekananda brought down the house with a short, simple, but compelling appeal for harmony among all faiths. For far too long, he said, sectarianism, bigotry, and fanaticism have possessed the earth. “But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.” Vivekananda died in 1902, leaving behind an enormous wealth of inspiration and instruction on the yogas (karma, jnana, bhakti), as well as on various other aspects of the spiritual process. Suggested reading; Vivekananda, The Yogas and Other Works, edited by Swami Nikhilananda, from the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 17 East 94th Street, New York, NY 10128. In the Quiet Room, the passage Stand up, and be free is from this book, page 308; You Can See is from page 514. Rabbia’s poem at Letters is from page 537. For a full list of titles related to Vivekananda, click here.
YANA or YANAS: In Buddhism, the Yanas (from the Sanskrit word for “vehicle”) are the vehicles (roughly, teaching traditions) in which a seeker travels on his or her way to enlightenment and Self-Realization. The choice of vehicle is determined by the maturity of the seeker and the level of the master. The two best known are Hinayana (”Small Vehicle”) and Mahayana (”Great Vehicle”). The Buddha is said to have transmitted three such vehicles; in Tibetan Buddhism there are nine. For more, see here.
YIN-and-YANG: In Taoism and Confucianism, yin and yang, represented by the symbol are the two opposite and complementary principles or energies of the universe. They emanate from the Supreme One (T’ai Chi), and are, in effect, the Tao itself, the all-embracing first principle that gives rise to all else. It is the endless play or dance between yin and yang that is the movement each of us calls ”my life” or “the world.” Yin is associated with earth, feminine, dark, passive (among others), and yang is heaven, male, light, active, sovereign (and others). Despite the way they are written, spoken, and generally considered, yin and yang are not, and can never be, two separate, unique things. In fact, there is no such thing as yin, on the one hand, and yang, on the other. There is only yin-and-yang. Like the two sides of a coin (heads and tails), neither exists apart from the other. They are, thus, two faces of the very same all-inclusive One, and whatever differences we perceive between them exist, like all the differences we perceive in our world, strictly in our mind. See also here.
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YOGA, YOGI (bhakti, karma, hatha, raja, jnana, & ishta): From a Sanskrit word for “yoke” (as in, tied to or united with God), yoga refers to any path or way, associated with any or no spiritual tradition, that leads to Liberation or Realization (Remembrance) of Union with, in, or as the Supreme One. The yogic paths associated with Hinduism that are best known in the West include: bhakti-yoga, the path of pure love or devotion (the focus of a bhakta’s devotion is an ishta, sometimes ishta-deva, and may be a representation or manifestation of God, a divinity, a saint, a guru, an avatar, or some other person or object); karma-yoga, the path of selfless action in which all activities and their results are offered to God; hatha-yoga, a path relating to physical exercises and breath control (in the West, hatha yoga is often what is meant by the word yoga itself, and is sometimes misunderstood to be simply about physical fitness); raja-yoga, the so-called “royal yoga”, an eight-fold path that teaches exploration and concentration of the mind; jnana-yoga, the path of knowledge leading to discernment between the real and the unreal. (For a discussion of the yogas, except hatha yoga, see Swami Vivekananda’s The Yogas and Other Works.) A yogi is a male practitioner of any yoga, a yogini is a female practitioner. Perhaps an infinite number of books have been written about yoga; click here for a few.
SWAMI YOGANANDA: Founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), Yogananda (1893-1952) is author of the very popular (and deservedly so) book “Autobiography of A Yogi.” It is a wonderful text for seekers anywhere on the path, but particularly for beginners. Yogananda is known as PARAMHANSA (sometimes Paramahansa), an honorific meaning ”the highest swan” usually assigned by a Teacher to a seeker with great promise. See also The Rubaiyat and Bhagavad Gita, paticularly Yogananda’s translation and commentary, and these titles.
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ZARATHUSHTRA, AHURA MAZDA: Sometimes spelled Zarathustra or Zoroaster (from the Greek form), Zarathushtra was a prophet in Iran. His birth date, like most other historical facts about him, is uncertain. Some books say about 600 B.C.E, others 1200 or 1500 B.C.E. Our favorite account reports he was born laughing! From his teachings, there evolved a tradition known as Zoroastrianism, which focuses on the conflict between good and evil (sometimes interpreted dualistically, sometimes not), and whose principal (sometimes, only) supreme deity is Ahura Mazda (”the Wise Lord”, also known as Ormazd). Practitioners are sometimes called Parsees (or Parsis), after the region in Iran from which Zoroastrians emigrated to India. Over the centuries, Zoroastrianism almost certainly influenced and was influenced by Judaism and Christianity as well as Hinduism and Buddhism. For more see here. Much is written about these subjects; here are a few titles.
ZEN or CH’AN, MANDALA: Zen, which is Japanese for the Chinese word Ch’an, has, in effect, two faces. First, it is a form of Mahayana Buddhism that evolved in China and later in Japan from the encounter of Buddhism with Taoism in the 6th century. Thus, Zen is the religion “Zen Buddhism”, with its own practices, postures, and dogma. The other face of Zen is less defined, more universal, and not necessarily tied to (or untied from) Buddhism. Here, Zen refers to the inexpressible and inevitable Truth of the Universe, the Nature of What Is. In this sense, Zen – like every other True Way – is about the release of the egoic perception which, for each of us, defines ourselves (”I am me, and you aren’t”), and frees us to see (be) What we Already and Always Are. Specifically, Zen offers (is) a spontaneous, effortless, limitless, and self-sustaining relationship with this very moment now. The word Zen is often used to mean SHIKAN-TAZA (sometimes two words, sometimes one word without the hyphen, meaning “just sitting”), which is a sitting meditation practice that differs from other meditation practices principally in that it specifically avoids the use of objects, words, or concepts – such as repetitive prayers, MANDALAs (graphic representations of the divine or the cosmos, and associated particularly, but not only, with Tibetan Buddhism), or photographs of a guru or divinity – to focus the mind, or, most commonly in the West, to mean ZAZEN, which differs from Shikan-Taza by the introduction of a koan as a meditative device. In the West, Zen generally, but particularly Zen sitting meditation, is associated with Suzuki Roshi, who brought it to the United States. A popular introduction to Zen is Alan Watts’ book “The Way of Zen”. See also Suzuki. Please see also here. The term ZENJI, usually appearing after a Teacher’s name (as, Dogen Zenji), is an honorific title, meaning “Zen Master”. Books about Zen are countless; here’s a start. See also Roshi, Buddha.
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Most recent update: June 18, 2015
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