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 S, T, and U. 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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SACRIFICE: This wonderful word is from two Latin words: sacer which means holy or sacred, and facere which means to make. Thus, to sacrifice is to make holy, which, from a seeker’s point of view, means to recognize as God’s what is God’s. As I see it, then, a seeker’s function is to sacrifice his or her life (including everyone and everything “in” it); that is, recognize it as God’s, and give it to God. This supreme sacrifice is an ongoing process only because we are unable (unwilling) to do it all at once, choosing instead to hold back a little of this and some of that. Finally (happily), we realize that, (1) God being all there is, it is impossible to lose anything, (2) the more we give to God, the more we have ourselves, and (3) when we truly release our lives to God (whose they always are and were anyway), we are free to enjoy them. From the separative ego’s point of view (“I am me and you aren’t”), the process of sacrifice always incurs loss (even if for a “good cause”), because, as the separative ego perceives it, “what is mine is mine, and what I give to God is no longer mine”.
SADHANA: This word refers to the entirety of a seeker’s path — all the practices, the postures, the language, the clothing, the diet, and so on which, taken together, comprise the path or the way each of us has chosen (or, perhaps, by which each of us has been chosen). Thus, in the spiritual context, the expression “Walking the walk” means, following one’s sadhana with honesty, devotion, determination, thoroughness, earnestness, enthusiasm, and joy.
SAI BABA: Known as Sri Sathya (sometimes Satya, a Sanskrit word meaning “truth”, as in The Real Truth) Sai (a Persian word sometimes associated with Sufism, meaning “poor one” and used as a term of respect and affection for a Teacher or Saint) Baba, Sai Baba was born in India in 1926. Sai Baba died in 2011. He is perhaps best known in the West for his ability to exercise extraordinary powers and produce unusual (to put it mildly) phenomena, among which are healings, bilocation, teleportation, levitation, precognition, and materializations (of all kinds). Sai Baba’s followers consider him to be an avatar. Sai Baba (sai is a Muslim term meaning saint and baba is a Hindi term of affection) lived in Puttaparti, India at his spiritual community (ashram), called Prashanti Nilayam (“Abode of Great Peace”). See also the essay about him at TZF’s Open Space. Sai Baba is named after, and considered to be a reincarnation of, Sai Baba of Shirdi, one of India’s greatest Teachers, who died in 1918; for more about him, please click here. Allegations of serious misconduct have been made concerning Sai Baba. For information about that, please visit http://www.rickross.com/groups/saibaba.html and http://www.exbaba.com/. For a few book titles about him, please click here.
SAINT: Usually abbreviated S. or St. (or, for women, sometimes Ste.), saint is from a Latin word meaning holy, and commonly refers to someone who is considered to be of great holiness, benevolence, and/or virtue; in short, a model of excellence or perfection. Specifically in Roman Catholicism, a saint is a person officially recognized after death as being entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth. The process by which the Church in Rome determines sainthood is called canonization, and normally requires, besides evidence of an exemplary life, proof of three miracles attributed to the candidate for sainthood. (A movie we enjoy in which canonization plays a central role is The Third Miracle.) Although the term appears in other spiritual traditions, we are not aware of any other specific procedure for determining sainthood. In the Old Testament, the word saint is sometimes applied to persons who are considered to be particularly faithful to the covenant with God (about which see Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 15, Exodus 19:5-6, and others); thus, at Psalms 31:23, “Love the Lord, all you his saints!” The word seems to appear in the Gospels only once, at Matthew 27:52, where it is said that at the crucifixion “tombs were opened, and the bodies of sleeping saints came back to life”. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the term seems to be used simply to differentiate between believers and non-believers. Our own experience and reading of the lives and works and words of “saints” in various traditions suggests that many are indeed excellent models for seekers, but that as a label “sainthood” is not necessarily synonymous with Self-Realized.
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SAMSARA & NIRVANA: In Buddhism, samsara is the process of coming into being as (or seeming to be) a differentiated, separate and separative human being. In Hinduism, samsara is the endless cycle of birth and death to which all beings are subject. Thus, in both instances, samsara is the human egoic condition marked or shaped by the conviction that “I am me, and you aren’t”, and is itself a product of (or the manifestation of) our ignorance of our True Identity. The “opposite” of samsara is nirvana (sometimes nibbana), the “natural” state marked by complete illumination and liberation from all worldly characteristics or conditions, and the goal of virtually all spiritual traditions. See Self-Realization. See also maya.
SAMSKARA is a Sanskrit word referring to patterns in our consciousness which define, determine, and inform our current condition, our personality. In a reincarnation sense, we inherit some of these from and through previous lives; others are generated in our current life; all are conditioned by our actions, which in turn shape our future lives. See also karma.
SADHU & SANNYASIN: Both are words used in Hinduism for a holy person or monk, someone who has renounced attachment to the world in a search for spiritual liberation or realization. See seeker.
SATCHIDANANDA: Composed of the three words sat (Eternal and Changeless Being or Existence), chit (Consciousness), and ananda (Bliss Absolute), Satchidananda is a name of the nameless and un-nameable, infinite and eternal, everpresent and omnipresent One. See God.
SATORI, MOKSHA, SAMADHI: Satori is a Japanese word used in Zen Buddhism for the phenomenon of Sudden Awakening, that Place where the distinction between Experiencer and experience, Knower and known, is erased, and the separative sense of personal self (”I am me, and you aren’t”) is extinguished. MOKSHA is a Sanskrit word meaning liberation from all bonds (including the desire for liberation ... or for anything else!) through Union with God or Realization of the Self. Moksha is liberation from karma, from the cycle of life and death, from the separative perspective “I am me, and you aren’t”. SAMADHI, also Sanskrit, is a state of consciousness which appears at various levels, all of which are beyond thought or mental activity. See also Self-Realization, Nirvana, Kensho.
SATSANG & DARSHAN: I am not entirely clear about the distinction between these two powerful Sanskrit concepts. Darshan (sometimes darshana or darsana or darsan) means “view or sight”, and is about receiving a blessing or being purified simply as a result of paying respect to or being seen by a holy person or a holy site. Satsang (sometimes satsanga or sat-sanga) is derived from two words that mean “being in the company of the true.” Here, simply being in the presence of one who has realized the Self propels a seeker along his or her inner journey. As I see it, if the One is Infinite, then we are all always “in the sight of” and “in the company of” the Real. There being no “where” else, where else could we be? (For more on this idea, please see The Simple Way.) So, presumably, to the extent that a seeker is able to recognize the One in everyone and everything always (or at least is earnestly aspiring to do so), he or she will be constantly enjoying the fruits of darshan and satsang. That said, my experience is that time spent in the presence of a Teacher – in the flesh, in a book, in meditation – is time spent best. Nisargadatta, in I Am That, refers to satsang as “company of the truly good,” and when told “Generally one cannot find such friendship,” he replies, “Seek within. Your own self is your best friend.” See Grace. For Ramana Maharshi’s take on darshan, see here.
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SEEKER: Seeker and its verb forms (like seeking) are words we use frequently. They are, in effect, what The Zoo Fence is about. What we mean when we use the word seeker is someone who has made a sacred commitment to herself or himself and to the Supreme (see God), however perceived, in these or similar terms, written and/or spoken, but, in any case, repeated many, many times, “Above all else, I want to Know my True Nature.” Thus, for us, a seeker is one who has bravely and steadfastly set out on a journey to the Truth, a journey sometimes referred to as the spiritual path, and wherever it leads, the seeker will go. We might say that a seeker is a religious person, except that very often a seeker is not interested in religion as such, its definitions, prescriptions, proscriptions, and such, except as they relate to his or her Search. A seeker’s overriding interest is in discovering the Truth about her or his Nature; therefore, he or she will often not mind crossing religious barriers and boundaries, if that is what it seems to take to find what she or he is looking for. There is no institutional prejudice, or impatience, or animosity here, only a thirst for Reality. Seekers are not necessarily easily recognized, for there are no telltale signs. To her or his colleagues, friends, and family, a seeker may appear no differently than themselves, working as they do, dressing as they do, relating as they do; just another banker or farmer, psychotherapist or store clerk, mom, dad, sister or brother. But that normal appearance is deceiving, for a seeker is different. And the difference is that seeking defines and determines a seeker’s self-perception, and therefore everything about a seeker’s life. To a seeker, seeking is not simply an activity, like hang gliding, which one can consign to weekends and holidays, or even just another goal, like financial security. Seeking is what a seeker is, always. Everything about a seeker exists or occurs in that context, and is colored by it. “Where I used to be simply an airline pilot [or whatever],” a seeker will tell you, if pressed, “now I am a seeker who flies airplanes [or whatever].” Whatever else a seeker does, or whatever else a seeker seems to be, a seeker is first and foremost, even only, a seeker. Thus, sometimes, we use the word monk to describe a seeker, because we like the image of one who may seem to live an ordinary life – farming, nursing, making wine, teaching, or whatever, but who has consciously, voluntarily undertaken a permanent, indelible, life-shaping Commitment to the Divine, and who, beneath the cowl (actual or notional), is not the least bit ordinary. In a word, as one of the dictionaries on our desk defines it, a seeker is a person who seeks.
SELF-REALIZATION, REMEMBERING: Like Truth, God, and similar words, this is an impossible term to define precisely because the function of definition is to set the limits or boundaries of a thing so that the separative egoic mind (”I am me, and you aren’t”) can grasp it, and, by definition, Self-Realization is that place or condition that is beyond all limits and boundaries, and that is specifically beyond the reach of the mind. Self-Realization is Realization of the Self (the Supreme I than which there is no other) by It Self. Thus, in or at Self-Realization there is no “realizer who realizes something” (as in, “I realize today is Thursday”). In fact, the very absence of that duality is itself Self-Realization (compare, “I realize I Am Thursday”). Thus, Self-Realization is thoroughly non-dual; so non-dual, it is not even non-dual, for even “non-dual” implies the existence somewhere of something else (duality) which it is not, and in Self-Realization there is no such implication. Further, Self-Realization is not achieved. Self-Realization is the Priorly and Always True, Perfectly Natural and Naturally Perfect, Infinite and Eternal State of What Is. As such, it is not properly a goal (in that a goal is something not had or a somewhere not here), although virtually all seekers consider it such, and understandably, because as seekers we think we need a reason to seek! Also, it is inaccurate to describe Teachers as Self-Realized (although most seekers, including we, do so), because at Self-Realization there is no such thing as “a Teacher” precisely because at Self-Realization there is no such thing as a person or a anything else. There whatever is, is simply, wholly, effortlessly, and spontaneously Whatever Is. Equally, of course, at Self-Realization there is no such thing as “not self-realized”! In the end, to understand Self-Realization you have to Be There (or, rather, Be Here), but when you’re there you realize you aren’t you (and never were) and you aren’t there (anywhere) and you certainly aren’t “Self-Realized”. You simply are. Or so the Self-Realized Teachers tell us.
Two of the most concise and clearest expressions of Self-Realization we have come across are, by Nisargadatta “There is no such thing as a person” and by Ibn ’Arabi “Thou art not thou, thou art He without thou”. At TZF, we often speak of Self-Realization as Remembering Who We Are. This, too, is misleading because it suggests a “rememberer” who remembers “something” that has been “forgotten”. But we like it because it reminds us as seekers that Self-Realization is already True. (Thus, my failure to “remember” What I Am has no effect whatsoever upon what I am, only upon what I seem to myself to be.)
Here it is, in a few words by Ramana Maharshi: “There is no such thing as realising the Self. How is one to realise or make real what is real? People all ‘realise’ or regard as real what is unreal, and all they have to do is to give up doing so. When you do that, you will remain as you always are, and the Real will be Real. It is only to help people give up regarding the unreal as real that all the religions and practices taught by them have come into being.” (The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, page 124)
And, again, Nisargadatta: “You have brought in duality where there is none. There is the body, and there is the Self. Between them is the mind, in which the Self is reflected as ‘I am’. Because of the imperfections of the mind, its crudity and restlessness, lack of discernment and insight, it takes itself to be the body, not the Self. All that is needed is to purify the mind so that it can realize its identity with the Self.” (I Am That, chapter 58)
Every spiritual tradition has its own words to describe Self-Realization, of course, among them (although not necessarily precisely synonymous) are Awakening, Awareness, Enlightenment, Buddhahood, Christ Consciousness, Liberation, Moksha, Nirvana, Samadhi, and Satori. See also Christ, Buddha, Teacher. See too our consideration of Reality & Truth.
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SHAKTI, SHAKTIPAT, SHIVA, BRAHMAN, ISHWARA: In the Hindu tradition, the Supreme and Its attributes are sometimes expressed as a variety of gods and goddesses. And there are so many, and their territories so apparently overlapping, that it can be difficult to keep them straight. Nonetheless, the appearance of many divinities is only that, an appearance. The primary Female Principle is Shakti (also Sakti), known too as Kali, Durga, and by other names. She is a personification of cosmic or primal energy. Shakti is Mother, without whom there can be, and there is, no person, no thing, no who, no what, no when, and no where. In our experience, consideration of Shakti is always safe harbor. SHAKTIPAT is Shakti’s Divine Energy, transmitted by Her in any manner She chooses, through any person, any thing, any whatever She chooses, to whomever She chooses, whenever She chooses. It is commonly taught that Shaktipat is transmitted from a Realized Teacher or Guru to a disciple or devotee by His or Her actual presence, or a word, a look, a touch, a thought, a dream, a book, a Mantra. But — and this is important — please do not let anything written here suggest there are any limits to how Shakti can transmit Her Divine Energy to you. There are none. Compare Grace. Shakti’s consort, SHIVA (also Siva), known as well by other names, is the oldest of the Vedic gods, and is sometimes expressed as one-third of a trinity, sometimes as the whole of it. The dance of Shiva and Shakti represents the delicate marriage or balance of male and female between and within everything. Thus, whatever is male, is female, whatever is female, is male. In Oriental imagery, this indissoluble, ineffable union is expressed by the concepts of yin (feminine) and yang (masculine), and in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, this idea is stated, “Have you not read that the One who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’, and … therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate,” (Matthew 19.4-6 IV). BRAHMAN (not to be confused with Brahma, who is God as Creator) is the Absolute Non-Dual Reality. Brahman is utterly without attributes or characteristics of any kind. Brahman is, quite simply, Beyond. ISHWARA (sometimes Ishvara) is Brahman with attributes, a personal God of the world. In Vivekananda’s words, “Ishvara is the supreme interpretation of the Absolute by human thought”. See also God, Mother, Prakriti.
SHAMAN, SHAMANISN: In traditional societies, a shaman is a person who, usually in an altered state of consciousness, acts as an intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds to predict and control the future, cure illness, generate miracles, and the like. Originally applied to societies in Siberia and Central Asia, the term now is used to refer to various kinds of healers, medicine men & women, witch doctors, mystics, priests, magicians, sorcerers, diviners, and so on, in any part of the world.
SHANKARA: Sometimes Sankara, Samkara, Shamkara, or Shankaracharya, Shankara (788-820) is one of India’s greatest Teachers, particularly of the principle that the manifested universe, we ourselves, whatever else, and God are all Identically One and the Same One, that there is One and Only One, and no thing else. Thus, what you and I each call “me” and “my life”, and everything prompted by and related to them — all our actions, reactions, notions, opinions, beliefs, and so on — are simply a mistaken perception, an utter misunderstanding, of What Is, the Very One Itself than which there is no other. Shankara’s best known and most powerful illustration of this fundamental reality is a length of rope mistaken in the darkness for a snake. The “snake” exists only in our mind, and is created entirely by our own imagination (we impose the thought “snake” upon something, a piece of rope, that has nothing whatsoever to do with snakes); still, it induces real fear, even as if it really were what we take it for, a snake. Then, when we see it in the light as never having been a snake but simply, priorly and always, a length of rope, our fear is gone, never to return. (Compare Whoso Knoweth Himself by ’Ibn Arabi, and too the Shema.) For a few book titles about Shankara, please click here. See also here.
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SHEMA: Meaning “Hear you” in Hebrew, this is the first word and the irresistible focus of the central prayer of Judaism, affirming the One-ness of God. Traditionally, it consists of several scriptural passages, including principally Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (”Hear you, Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is One” — see here), and also Deuteronomy 11:13-21, Numbers 15:37-41, and perhaps others. When asked to name the commandment that is “first of all”, Issa (Jesus) cited the Shema (Mark 12:29). Compare Deut. 6:8 that the Shema be “as frontlets between your eyes” (RSV, translated by REB as “a pendant on your forehead”) with the Hindu practice of placing a mark (with paint or ashes) or other decoration on the forehead between the eyes. Random House dictionary defines frontlet as “a decorative band, ribbon, or the like, worn across the forehead”. In Judaism, at certain times, men strap to their forehead a small, black leather box containing a slip of paper on which is written the Shema. Also, on the doorpost of Jewish homes there might be placed a small case (called MEZUZAH) in which is kept the Shema. See also mantra.
SIDDHI, GIFTS OF SPIRIT: Miraculous, occult, or “supernatural” powers may come to a seeker along the way, either spontaneously or intentionally (by following specific practices). Siddhi is the Sanskrit word for such. Among these powers are various forms of ESP (extrasensory perception), such as mind-reading and clairvoyance, as well as healing, levitation, teleportation, prophesy, and so on. However wondrous they may seem (and they are all of that!), all of these pertain to the so-called natural world. Thus, for those reaching beyond the limitations of that perspective, these powers can be confusing and distracting. Most Teachers seem to agree they are not to be sought after, and they are not a measure of Realization (thus the saying, “All saints are healers, but not all healers are saints.”). And so, if/when they appear, we are urged to welcome them, be grateful, and walk on. In the Christian tradition, such powers are referred to as “gifts of the Spirit” (see 1 Corinthians 12, 13, & 14, Romans 12:6, and others). See also Siddhi of Annapurna.
SOGYAL RINPOCHE: Since the Chinese occupation of his native Tibet, Sogyal Rinpoche has lived in Sikkim, India, and England. He is founder of the Rigpa Foundation, with centers in numerous countries. His extraordinary book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, is already a classic, and deservedly so. There is a list of his other titles here. In Tibetan Buddhism, Rinpoche, meaning “the precious one”, is a title given to a spiritual master.
SPIRITUAL TRADITION: See religion
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SRI, SWAMI, MAHARAJ, MAHARSHI, PANDIT, PIR, SHAYKH, WALI: The word Sri (sometimes shree or shri) is a Sanskrit term of respect used as a title (like mister in English) before the names of people (men and women, except srimati for married women), deities, and some things, even some places (for example, Sri Lanka). Swami (sometimes svami), Sanskrit for master or owner, is a title of respect used in conjunction with the name of a spiritual teacher or other holy person. Pandit (sometimes pundit), a Sanskrit term meaning scholar, is an honorific bestowed on one who is recognized as an authority on a particular subject. Maharaj, maharaja or maharajah (female maharani) means great king or great prince, and is a term of respect. The Arabic word Shaykh (sometimes Sheikh) or, for a woman, Shaykha, means “elder” or “master”, and is likewise used to show respect for a Teacher. Pir is a similar word in Persian. In Islam, a holy person is sometimes referred to as a “Friend of God” (in Arabic “Wali Allah”) or simply “A Friend.” Maharshi, also Maharishi, a Sanskrit word meaning “Great Seer,” is a title of respect and devotion for a Teacher. See also Bhagavan, Guru, Teacher, Baba, and Ji. See also Maharajji.
STIGMATA: Marks resembling the wounds received by Issa (Jesus): At the feet and hands from the nails (although some scholars suggest crucifixion victims were more likely nailed through the lower legs and wrists); on the side from the spear; and on the brow from the crown of thorns. In certain persons, and for no apparent external reason or cause, some or all of the wounds appear spontaneously. They do not close or heal; neither do they get infected or pose other medical complications. Usually bleeding is periodic rather than constant, often on holy days associated with the crucifixion. Perhaps the best known stigmatist was Francis of Assisi, although there have been hundreds of others. The most recent we are aware of is Padre Pio. For books about this phenomenon, please click here. (In his excellent biography of Francis of Assisi, Donald Spoto argues convincingly that the stigmata traditionally attributed to Francis can be otherwise explained.)
SUFI: Commonly considered to be the mystical element in Islam, Sufism almost certainly predates the Prophet Mohammed, and may be impossible to locate precisely or even to define. In the words of Idries Shah (see the penultimate sentence here), “Though commonly mistaken for a Moslem sect, the Sufis are at home in all religions … Nor are the Sufis a sect, being bound by no religious dogma however tenuous, and using no regular place of worship. They have no sacred city, no monastic organization, no religious instruments.” To be sure, there are Teachers and Saints who are described as Sufis (sometimes referred to as Perfect Persons or, in Islam, as Wali), and one reads and hears about such things as “the Sufi Way.” That said, my impression is that Sufis seem to avoid labels, preferring to describe themselves as, in the words of one such, “we friends” (again, see wali) or “people like us.” Whatever Sufism is, I have never come across anyone or anything related to it that is not beautiful, inspiring, and spiritually nourishing. For more, please consider “The Sufis” by Idries Shah; for other book titles, click here. See also The Threshold Society. See Mysticism.
RABINDRANATH TAGORE: Tagore (1861-1941), sometimes Thakur, is one of India’s and the world’s greatest poets and writers. His best known work is probably Gitanjali which features conversations between God (as Vishnu) and the human soul. For a brief excerpt, please see here; for the full text, see here. Tagore was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1913. For book titles, click here .
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TEACHER: In The Zoo Fence, the word Teacher with a capital T signifies one who has Realized the True Nature of the Self. Every tradition has its own word or words for this state or condition, of course; among them: an enlightened, liberated or awakened one; one who is Self-Realized or God-Realized; one who has achieved Buddhahood or Christ Consciousness; a Realizer, a Master, an Adept. And there are other words in other languages. We use some of those, too, but generally speaking, when we are referring to that sublime position in or beyond consciousness which ultimately cannot be named, labeled, or defined, we use Teacher. Conversely, a teacher with a lower case T is someone who has seen the Light but who does not as yet Know It to be himself or herself. In a word, an advanced seeker. Admittedly, this is sometimes a difficult line to draw, and, in the end, it is probably a false distinction. After all, if God is all there is, then God is at once the Teacher, the teacher, and the seeker, constantly shifting positions on an infinite spectrum of Awareness. Thus, in the final analysis, when we use the word Teacher, we mean God. It’s a little like a solar eclipse, whose nature and appearance, even existence, depends on where you are looking from! See also Guru, Self-Realized, Buddha, Christ.
UNIVERSE: As we use it, the word Universe with an upper case U signifies everything there is. Ultimately, it is a synonym for God (but then, as God is infinite, what isn’t?). Universe with a lower case u refers to the astronomical universe, or stuff.
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Most recent update: March 14, 2023
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