[ zen ]

  1. Chinese Ch'an [chahn] /tʃɑn/ .Buddhism. a Mahayana movement, introduced into China in the 6th century a.d. and into Japan in the 12th century, that emphasizes enlightenment for the student by means of meditation and direct, intuitive insights, accepting formal studies and observances only when they form part of such means.: Compare koan, mondo1.

  2. the discipline and practice of this sect.

  1. (lowercase) a state of meditative calm in which one uses direct, intuitive insights as a way of thinking and acting.

  1. of or relating to Zen Buddhism: Zen monasteries.

  2. having characteristics or qualities associated with the discipline or practice of Zen Buddhism: Fishing is a Zen hobby.

  1. (sometimes lowercase) relaxed and calmly accepting of a situation: I’m usually very Zen about my investments.

Origin of Zen

First recorded in 1725–30; <Japanese, from Middle Chinese, equivalent to Mandarin Chinese chán “meditation, contemplation,” from Pali jhāna, from Sanskrit dhyāna, from the verb dhyāti “he meditates” (i.e., “sees mentally”), ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root (and its variants) dheiə-, dhyeə-, dhyā- “to look, see.”

Other words from Zen

  • Zenic, adjective

Words Nearby Zen

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use Zen in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for Zen


/ (zɛn) Buddhism /

  1. a Japanese school, of 12th-century Chinese origin, teaching that contemplation of one's essential nature to the exclusion of all else is the only way of achieving pure enlightenment

  2. (modifier) of or relating to this school: Zen Buddhism

Origin of Zen

from Japanese, from Chinese ch'an religious meditation, from Pali jhāna, from Sanskrit dhyāna

Derived forms of Zen

  • Zenic, adjective
  • Zenist, noun

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for Zen


An approach to religion, arising from Buddhism, that seeks religious enlightenment by meditation in which there is no consciousness of self.

Notes for Zen

Deliberately irrational statements are sometimes used in Zen to jar persons into realizing the limits of the common uses of the intellect. One well-known example is, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.