Buddhist Glossary


Abhidhamma: A category of scriptures that attempts to use Buddhist teachings to create a systematic, abstract description of all worldly phenomena.

Abhidhamma Pitaka: The third basket of the Tripitaka canon, the reorganization of all doctrines in a systematic way.

Acariya: literally meaning “teacher,” one of the two teachers of a novice monk – the other one is called upādhyāya.

Adhitthana: Determination, resolution. One of the six perfections (Paramitas).

Ajaan, ajahn, achaan, etc.: (Thai). Teacher; mentor. Equivalent to the Pali ācariya.

Akusala: Unwholesome, unskillful, demeritorious. See its opposite, kusala.

Agama: The non-Mahayana divisions of the Sutra Pitaka.

Ahimsa: The devotion to non-violence and respect for all forms of life. Practicers of ahimsa are often vegetarians or vegans.

Amitabha: Lit. “The Buddha of Infinite Light.” The main buddha of the Pure Land school, but is popular in other Mahayana sects as well. The image is of light as the form of wisdom, which has no form. Also interpreted as the Tathagata of Unhindered Light that Penetrates the Ten Quarters by Tan Luan, Shinran and others.

Amitayus: The Buddha of Long Life, or Boundless Life. A form of Amitabha Buddha.

Anagami: a Non-returner, the third stage in the realization of Nirvana.

Anagarika: A white-robed student in the Theravada tradition who, for a few months, awaits being considered for Samanera ordination.

Ananda: One of the Shakyamuni Buddha’s Ten Great Disciples, and the Buddha’s cousin. He was first in hearing the Buddha’s words. As he had excellent memory, he memorized the Buddha’s sermons, which were later recorded as sutras. He was also the cousin of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Anapanasati: Mindful breathing meditation.

Anatta (Anatman): Non-self; non-ego; ownerless; impersonality

Anicca: Impermanence.

Anuttara: Unsurpassing.

Anusaya: Obsesssion; underlying tendency. (The etymology of this term means “lying down with”; in actual usage, the related verb (anuseti) means to be obsessed.) There are seven major obsessions to which the mind returns over and over again: obsession with sensual passion (kāma-rāganusaya), with resistance (patighanusaya), with views(ditthanusaya), with uncertainty (vicikicchanusaya), with conceit (manusaya), with passion for becoming (bhava-rāganusaya), and with ignorance (avijjānusaya). Comparesaṃyojana.

Arhat: lit. “the Worthy One,” a living person who has reached Enlightenment.

Ariya: Noble, ideal.

Anuttara samyak sambodhi: The incomparably, completely and fully awakened mind; it is the attribute of buddhas.

Anuttarayogatantra: The highest of the four levels of tantras in Vajrayana Buddhism (the Diamond Path). Within the Anuttarayogatantra class, there are three further subdivisions: non-dual tantra, wisdom tantra (mother), and method tantra (father).

Asura: Demi-gods of the desire realm are called Asuras. A race of beings who, like the Titans of Greek mythology, fought the devas for sovereignty over the heavens and lost. Asuras populate one of the six lower realms of samsara. Asuras are typically depicted as titans or warrior demons.

Atman: literally “self,” sometimes “soul” or “ego.” In Buddhism, the predominant teaching is the negating doctrine of anatman, that there is no permanent, persisting atman, and that belief in atman is the prime consequence of ignorance, the foundation of samsara.

Attachment: A deluded mental factor or perception that observes a person or object and regards it as a cause or source of happiness, and wishes for it.

Avalokitesvara: lit. “One Who Hears the Suffering Cries of the World,” The bodhisattva of compassion (see also Guan Yin).

Avidya: “ignorance” or “delusion.”

Awakening: Spiritual realization; complete purity and wisdom. The ultimate goal of Buddhist practice. Full liberation from ignorance and suffering. Purified of all obscurations, defilements, and misperceptions of reality. The development of all perfect qualities and wisdom. Also see Enlightenment.


Bardo: lit. “intermediate state” or “in-between state”, According to Tibetan tradition, the state of existence intermediate between two lives.

Bhakti (Sanskrit): Devotion. The path of devotion and love. Seeing and being devoted to all beings as the manifestation of the Divine.

Bhavacakra/Bhavacakka: A circular symbolic representation of samsara, also known as Wheel of becoming.

Bhante: The polite particle used to refer to Buddhist monks in the Theravada tradition. Bhante literally means “Venerable Sir.”

Bhava: Becoming, being, existing; the 10th link of Pratitya-samutpada.

Bhikkhu/Bhikshu:, lit. “beggar,” a Buddhist monk.

Bhikkhuni/Bhikshuni: A Buddhist nun.

Bhumi: Literally “ground.” Refers to one of the ten stages of realization and activity through which a Bodhisattva progresses towards enlightenment. The Ten Bhumis or Stages of the Bodhisattva are as follows: 1) Supremely Joyful, 2) The Stainless or Renounce the Defilement, 3) The Illuminating, 4) The Radiant or Burning Wisdom, 5) Very Difficult To Train For, 6) The Manifesting or The Appearance, 7) The Far Going or Far From the World Journey, 8) The Unwavering, 9) Excellent Intelligence, 10) Cloud of Dharma or Dharma Cloud.

Bija: lit. “seed,” A metaphor for the origin or cause of things, used in the teachings of the Yogacara school.

Bodhi: Awakening or Enlightenment.

Bodhi tree: The Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa) tree under which Gautama reached Enlightenment.

Bodhicitta: The awakened heart-mind of love, wisdom, and compassion. Mind of enlightenment. Bodhi means enlightenment, and chitta means mind. Generally speaking, the term ‘bodhichitta’ refers to the mind which is motivated by the great compassion that spontaneously seeks enlightenment to benefit all living beings.

Bodhidharma (470-543): Bodhidharma is credited with bringing Zen Buddhism to China, being the First Patriarch of the Chinese Zen Lineage. Bodhidharma’s Buddhist Master, Prajnatara, was the 27th Patriarch of Indian Buddhism. He taught Bodhidharma for many years, gave him Mind Transmission, made him the 28th Patriarch, and gave him the name Bodhidharma. Following the instruction of his Master to transmit Dharma to China, Bodhidharma traveled east to Southern China in 526 A.D.

Bodhisattva: One with the intention to become a Buddha in order to liberate all other sentient beings from suffering.

Bodhisattva-mahasattva: The suffix mahasattva (‘Great Being’) signifies a bodhisattva who’s awakening is very advanced, approaching that of a Buddha.

Bodhisattva Vow: This Vow is essential to Mahayana Buddhism, and thus also to Tibetan Buddhism. Various forms are current. The essence of the Bodhisattva Vow is: May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. Here is another form of the Vow: However innumerable sentient beings are, I vow to liberate them all. However inexhaustible the defilements (kleshas) are, I vow to extinguish them. However immeasurable the dharmas are, I vow to master them all. However incomparable enlightenment is, I vow to attain it. This Vow may be used as often as one wishes.

Brahmā: “Great One” — an inhabitant of the non-sensual heavens of form or formlessness.

Buddha: The fully awakened/enlightened one.

Buddhahood: See Enlightenment.

Buddha nature: The uncreated and deathless Buddhic element or principle concealed within all sentient beings to achieve Awakening; the innate (latent) Buddha essence (esp. in the Tathagatagarbha sutras, Tendai/Tiantai, Nichiren thought).

Buddha Rupa: an image of the Buddha.

Buddhi: Intuitive awareness, true intelligence, that mental faculty capable of the most profound insight.

Buddhism: The teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, are the basis of what is called Buddhism. Buddhism can be subdivided into Hiniyana (the Small Way), Mahayana (the Great Way), and Vajrayana (The Diamond Way).

Buddhist: Anyone who from the depths of their heart goes for refuge to the Three Jewels—Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Buddho: Awake; enlightened. An epithet for the Buddha.

Butsu (Japanese): Buddha.


Cankama: Walking meditation, usually in the form of walking back and forth along a prescribed path.

Cetana: Volition.

Chakra / Cakra (Sanskrit): Dharma wheel. Energy centers located along the spinal column in the subtle body, having a direct relationship to the endocrine glands of the physical body.

Chakrasamvara: Also known as Heruka, Chakrasamvara is a meditation deity of the Anuttarayogatantra class. The study and practice of this tantra is widespread in the Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, while related forms known as Buddhasamayoga and Shriheruka are well-known within the Nyingma tradition.

Ch’an (Chinese) / Zen (Japanese): Dhyana; meditation; concentration. Also see Zen.

Chenrezig (Tibetan): See Avalokiteshvara.

Citta: Mind; heart; state of consciousness.

Cittamatra (Sanskrit): ‘Mind Only’ School. More accurately, a group of schools of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy stressing the fundamental role of consciousness (citta) in creating our experience of reality. This is one of the major schools in the Mahayana tradition, founded in the fourth century by Asanga, emphasizing everything is mental events.

Compassion: The mind that cannot bear the suffering of others and wishes them to be free from it. To vibrate in sympathy with others. True compassion is guided by wisdom and love, not emotional reaction and pity.

Cyclic Existence: The cycle of death and rebirth, which is influenced by the power of delusion and karma. The cycle of death and rebirth is fraught with the dissatisfaction and suffering which arises from ignorance of the true nature of reality. Also see Samsara.


Dalai Lama: lit. “the lama with wisdom like an ocean,” secular and spiritual leader of Tibet as nominated by the Mongols. Recognized as the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Dana: Generosity or giving; in Buddhism, it also refers to the practice of cultivating generosity. The first of the Six Paramitas.

Dependent Origination: The principal that nothing exists independently, but comes into existence only in dependence upon various previous causes and conditions. There are twelve successive phases of this process that begin with ignorance and end with old age and death.

Desire: According to the Hinayana teachings, since earthly desires, and the defilements of greed, hatred, and delusion, generally obscure the Buddha Nature and are an obstacle to spiritual practice, one must eliminate them all in order to attain enlightenment. In the light of the Lotus Sutra, however, earthly desires and enlightenment are not different in their fundamental essence. Earthly desires are enlightenment‟ is a principle which teaches that one can attain Buddhahood by transforming defilements, delusion, and innate earthly desires into enlightened wisdom rather than extinguishing them.

Desire Realm: One of the three realms of cyclic existence mentioned in Buddhist scriptures. This is a realm where beings enjoy five external sense objects: form, sound, smell, touch, and taste. There are six realms within this desire realm: god (deva), demigod (asura), and human, which are the happy or higher realms, and the animal, hungry ghost, and hell realms, which are the unhappy or lower realms.

Deva: Literally, “shining one.” An inhabitant of the heavenly realms.

Devadatta: A cousin of the Buddha who tried to effect a schism in the sangha and who has since become emblematic for all Buddhists who work knowingly or unknowingly to undermine the religion from within.

Dharani (Sanskrit): A formula, said to protect one who recites it. Also said to benefit one‟s progress towards awakening by virtue of its mystical power. The word dharani literally means “to preserve and uphold” the Buddha’s teachings in one’s heart. Dharanis are recited in Sanskrit and sometimes have no literal meaning. They are especially valued in esoteric Buddhism.

Dharma (Sanskrit) / Dhamma (Pali): The word “dharma‟ derives from the Sanskrit “dhri‟ which means to preserve, maintain, keep, uphold. “Dharma‟ has a great variety of meanings, including law, truth, doctrine, the Buddha’s teaching, steadfast decree, customary observance, prescribed conduct, duty, virtue, morality, good deeds, religion, justice, nature, quality, character, characteristic, essential quality, elements of existence, ultimate constituents of things. “Dharma‟ also refers to that which subsists; event, a phenomenon in and of itself; principles of behavior that human beings should follow so as to be in accordance with the right and natural order of reality; righteous living. Dharma is the underlying meaning of the Buddhas’ teachings; that truth upon which all Buddhist practices, scriptures, and philosophy have as a foundation.

Dhammavinaya: The dharma and vinaya (roughly “doctrine and discipline”) considered together. This term essentially means the whole teachings of Buddhism as taught to monks.

Dhammapada: a versified Buddhist scripture traditionally ascribed to the Buddha.

Dharmadhatu: The essence and spacious character of all phenomena. The true nature of phenomena, which is like that of all-encompassing space, unoriginated and without beginning.

Dharmakaya: One of the three bodies of the Buddha. Literally, “body of the law.” Truth or Reality Body of the Buddha. Body of the Great Order. This is the state of Buddhahood itself; the essential nature of mind or emptiness; identical with Reality; the essential laws of the universe. The Dharmakaya represents the law (dharma), the teaching expounded by the Buddha. The experience is timeless, permanent, devoid of characteristics and free from duality.

Dharmata: The essence of all phenomenon. A combination of form and emptiness. Suchness; the true nature of things; things as they are. Refers to the true nature of existence.

Dharma Wheel: The “Dharma Wheel” or “Wheel of Dharma” is a metaphor for the unfolding and maturation of the Dharma in the world, once it has been revealed by a Buddha. ‘Setting the Dharma Wheel in motion’ is another way of saying revealing and propagating the Dharma. Also known as dharmachakra.

Dhatu: Element; property, impersonal condition. The four physical elements or properties are earth (solidity), water (liquidity), wind (motion), and fire (heat). The six elements include the above four plus space and consciousness.

Dhyana (Sanskrit): Meditation; concentration. The practice of focusing the mind on one point in order to purify one’s heart, eradicate illusions, and perceive the ultimate truth. Practiced widely in India before Shakyamuni, meditation acquired new significance as the fifth of the six paramitas in Buddhism. In China the Ch’an (Zen) school was established with meditation as its sole practice for attaining enlightenment. Dhyana is the Sanskrit word of which Ch’an and Zen are Chinese and Japanese transliterations.

Doan (In Zen): a term for person sounding the bell that marks the beginning and end of Zazen.

Dokusan: A private meeting between a Zen student and the master. It is an important element in Rinzai Zen training, as it provides an opportunity for the student to demonstrate understanding.

Dorje (Tibetan) / Vajra (Sanskrit): See Vajra.

Dukkha: Suffering, dissatisfaction.


Eightfold Path / Noble Eightfold Path: The Eightfold Path offered by Shakyamuni Buddha whereby one may achieve liberation from suffering and attain full awakening. Eight factors of spiritual practice leading to the extinction of suffering: Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration. It is important to realize that no matter how profound one‟s conceptual knowledge of this Path may be, this will not be sufficient for true accomplishment. It is essential that one follow, cultivate, and practice this Noble Path with diligence, sincerity, and full confidence.

Eight Worldly (Mundane) Concerns: The eight mundane concerns arise in connection with worldly or material life, they are: Gain and loss, honor and dishonor, happiness and misery, praise and blame.

Emptiness: Shunyata (Sanskrit), Sunyata (Pali). A description of enlightenment. The ultimate nature of all phenomena. The actual way in which all things exist. To the western mind, the idea of Emptiness is often difficult to understand, leading to the notion that it is ‘nothing,’ and therefore quite unattractive. However, emptiness can be understood as the Buddhist way of saying that Ultimate Reality is incapable of being described, much the way that Christian theologians view God as beyond human description. Emptiness should not be thought of an another location. Instead, it is identical to the world or universe humans experience in this life. In this way, it is much like the Hindu notion that this world is simply maya (illusion), which prevents humans from seeing the true unity of the cosmos (which in Hinduism means the identity of Atman and Brahman, the True Self, God is everything and everyone). Thus Emptiness and the phenomena of this world are the same. As the Heart Sutra says, “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”

Enlightenment: The full enlightenment of Buddhahood. Awakening. Enlightenment is the full liberation from and a true cessation of ignorance and suffering. The Tibetan word for Buddha, ‘sangye,’ is made up of two syllables that illustrates the two aspects of Buddhahood. Sang means ‘fully purified,’ that is, purified of all obscurations, including the sleep of ignorance. Gye means ‘fully developed’ and refers to the development of all perfect qualities and wisdom. Enlightenment or Buddhahood is a state of complete purity and wisdom.

Equanimity: An impartial and imperturbable composure of heart. A love that embraces all living beings and
circumstances with equality, wisdom, and complete serenity. With this sublime quality of equanimity our love is impartial, rightly discerning, balanced, not carried away by emotion, and free of attachment. Equanimity is the essential foundation on which one develops the compassionate motivation of a Bodhisattva.


Five Hindrances: Nivarana in Pali. The Five Hindrances are the hindrances to concentration; the five qualities which are obstacles to the Path and blind our mental vision. They are: 1) sensuous desire; 2) ill-will; 3) sloth and torpor (drowsiness); 4) restlessness and worry (anxiety); 5) skeptical doubt (uncertainty).

Five Precepts or Five Training Rules: The five basic guidelines for training oneself in wholesome actions of body and speech: (1) refraining from killing other beings; (2) refraining from stealing; (3) refraining from sexual misconduct; (4) refraining from lying and false speech; (5) refraining from using intoxicants that cloud the mind.

Formless Realm: In this realm, which is further beyond the desire realm than the form realm, beings have renounced form and exist only within the stream of consciousness. Although they have temporarily abandoned attachment to form pleasures, their minds are still bound by subtle desire and attachment to mental states and ego. Therefore, this formless realm is still within samsara (cyclic existence).

Form Realm: One of the three realms of cyclic existence beyond the desire realm. Here beings have renounced the enjoyment of external sense objects, yet still have attachment to internal form, that is, their own body and mind. Foundation of Mindfulness: See Satipatthana.

Four Noble Truths: The fundamental doctrine of Shakyamuni Buddha, the foundation of all Dharma teachings. 1) The Truth of Suffering and Dissatisfaction (Stress). 2) The Truth of the Origin of Suffering and Dissatisfaction (Stress). 3) TheTruth of the Ending of Suffering and Dissatisfaction (Stress). 4) The Truth of the Path Leading to End of Suffering and Dissatisfaction (Stress).


Gassho (Japanese): To join the palms in reverence or respect.

Geshe: Originally, this term referred to one who is qualified as a spiritual friend. In the Gelug tradition, it is now used as a title for one who has mastered Buddhist philosophy and meditation techniques. ‘Doctor of Buddism.’

God Realm: There are three god realms of various kinds, one is in the desire realm, the other two are in the form and formless realms.

Guru (Sanskrit): Spiritual teacher and guide. Also see Lama.

Guan Yin: The bodhisattva of compassion in East Asian Buddhism, with full name being Guan Shi Yin. Guan Yin is considered to be the female form of Avalokiteshvara but has been given many more distinctive characteristics.


Han: In Zen monasteries, wooden board that is struck announcing sunrise, sunset and the end of the day.

Hara (Japanese): The center of gravity of the body, located deep inside the lower abdomen, a few inches below the navel. The center of awareness in zazen meditation.

Heart Sutra: A distillation of the vast Prajnaparamita literature, it is chanted daily in Zen monasteries.

Hell Realm: The lowest of the realms within the desire realm.

Higher Realms: The god, demigod, and human realms, which are all part of cyclic existence or samsara.

Hinayana: Of the three Buddhist vehicles (yana) of practice, the three being Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana (also called Tantrayana). Hinayana literally means “lesser vehicle.” However, this term should not be taken in a way that diminishes the importance of these teachings. In fact, the teachings of the Hinayana are very important because they suit the capacities and development of a great number of students. As the ancient form of Buddhism, Hinayana has its origins around 500 BC. It is still found in Sri Lanka and most of Southeast Asia. The Theravada school of today is a descendent of the Hinayana. The fundamental teachings of the Hinayana are the main subject matter of the first dharmachakra or turning of the wheel of dharma. These teachings include The Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path, Interdependent Origination, Selflessness, Impermanence, and so forth.

Hotoke: (Japanese) Buddha.

Hum or Hung: A mantra or mantric syllable regarded as the ‘Essence of all Buddhas’ (vajra spirit). The non-dual wisdom of the Buddhas. Hum/Hung symbolizes the integration of the universal/absolute into the individual. It is the inseparability of emptiness and bliss. Hum/Hung is often used at the end of mantras as the spiritual achievement of one’s intentions, bringing the absolute into form; corresponding in a certain way to the word Amen of the Christian. Hum/Hung is associated with the heart center and the color deep blue. Practice with this mantra dissolves harmful and disturbing thoughts and feelings and brings spontaneous joy.


Ino: Japanese lit. “bringer of joy to the assembly.” Originally from Sanskrit karmadana, lit. bestower of conduct [karma]. In Zen, the supervisor of the meditation hall [sodo]. One of the six senior temple administrators.

Insight Meditation (Sanskrit: Vipassana): Meditation that develops insight into the nature of mind. The other main meditation is samatha meditation. Also see Vipassana.


Jataka: Birth Stories. Stories of the previous lives of Shakyamuni Buddha. A collection of 547 such stories contained in the Pali canon is also called Jataka. The stories depict the series of good acts by which Shakyamuni was able to be reborn as the Buddha in India.

Jhana (Sanskrit: Dhyana): Mental absorption. An advanced state of strong concentration or samadhi, wherein the mind becomes absorbed into its meditation subject (such as the breath). It is divided into four levels, each level progressively more refined than the previous one.

Jiriki (Japanese): The way of salvation by self-power or self-effort as distinguished from Tariki, the way of salvation by other-power or an external savior.

Jnana: Wisdom; higher intellect. Meditative contemplation.

Jisha: In Zen, a senior priest’s attendant.

Jukai: Zen ordination ceremony wherein a lay student receives certain Buddhist precepts.


Kadampa Buddhism: A Mahayana Buddhist school founded by the great Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (AD 982-1054). His followers are known as ‘Kadampas.’ ‘Ka’ means ‘word’ and refers to Buddha’s teachings, and ‘dam’ refers to Atisha’s special Lamrim instructions, known as ‘the stages of the path to enlightenment.’ The Kadampa tradition was later promoted widely in Tibet by Je Tsongkhapa and his followers, who were known as the ‘New Kadampas.’

Kalpa: A vast expanse of time; an eon. In Indian creation mythology, the duration of the world consists of four asankhya kalpas, during which the world arises, subsists, decays, and is destroyed. Then, the cycle is renewed.

Kalyāṇamitta: Admirable friend; a mentor or teacher of Dhamma.

Kāmaguṇa: Strings of sensuality. The objects of the five physical senses: visible objects, sounds, aromas, flavors, and tactile sensations. Usually refers to sense experiences that, like the strings (guṇa) of a lute when plucked, give rise to pleasurable feelings (vedanā).

Kanzeon (Japanese): Avalokitesvara; “One Who Perceives (Hears) the Sounds (Cries) of the World.” Embodiment of mercy and compassion.

Karma: lit. “action,” The law of cause and effect in Buddhism.

Karmapa: Spiritual head of the Kagyu lineage. The Karmapas embody all Buddha activity. This is expressed in the name itself, since ‘karma’ means ‘activity.’ The first Karmapa, Tüsum Khyempa (1110-1193) was Gampopa’s main disciple. Before his death, he left behind a letter explaining the precise circumstances of his next rebirth. In accordance with his description, the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1206-1283) was born deliberately as an incarnation of the first. He was the first incarnation to be recognized in Tibetan history. Since that time, the Kagyu lineage has been transmitted by the Karmapas, with each successive Karmapa leaving behind specific instructions concerning his next incarnation.

Karuṇā: Compassion; sympathy; the aspiration to find a way to be truly helpful to oneself and others. One of the Six Paramitas (perfections).

Katsu (Japanese): The shout given by Zen teachers.

Kāya: Body. Usually refers to the physical body (rūpa-kāya; see rūpa), but sometimes refers to the mental body (nāma-kāya; see nāma).

Kensho (Japanese): “Seeing into one’s own nature.” The first experience of realization and enlightenment. Kensho and Satori have virtually the same meaning and are often used interchangeably. Also see Satori.

Khandhas (Pali): See Skandhas.

Ki or Chi (Japanese): Breath; spirit; spiritual strength

Kāyagatā-sati: Mindfulness immersed in the body. This is a blanket term covering several meditation themes: keeping the breath in mind; being mindful of the body’s posture; being mindful of one’s activities; analyzing the body into its parts; analyzing the body into its physical properties (see dhatu); contemplating the fact that the body is inevitably subject to death and disintegration.

Kensho: In Zen, enlightenment; has the same meaning as satōri, but is customary used for an initial awakening experience.

Khanti: Patience.

Kilesa: Defilement — lobha (passion), dosa (aversion), and moha (delusion) in their various forms, which include such things as greed, malevolence, anger, rancor, hypocrisy, arrogance, envy, miserliness, dishonesty, boastfulness, obstinacy, violence, pride, conceit, intoxication, and complacency.

Kusala: Wholesome, skillful, good, meritorious. An action characterized by this moral quality (kusala-karma) is bound to result (eventually) in happiness and a favorable outcome. Actions characterized by its opposite (akusala-karma) lead to sorrow. See karma.

Kinhin: Zen walking meditation.

Koan: A story, question, problem or statement generally inaccessible to rational understanding, yet may be accessible to Intuition.

Ksanti: The practice of exercising patience toward behavior or situations that might not necessarily deserve it—it is seen as a conscious choice to actively give patience as a gift, rather than being in a state of oppression in which one feels obligated to act in such a way.

Kshitigarbha: Also known as “Jizo.” In Chinese, “Ti Ts’ang.” “He Who is the Earth’s Treasure House.” A Bodhisattva who is the embodiment of benevolence and kindness and a special protector of children, animals, travelers, and pregnant women.

Ku (Japanese): Sky; shunyata; emptiness; the void.

Kyosaku: In Zen, a flattened stick used to strike the shoulders during zazen, to help overcome fatigue or reach satori.


Lama (Tibetan) / Guru (Sanskrit): The title for an experienced and highly learned religious teacher, especially of Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism. Can also be the head or leading figure within a spiritual community. A properly qualified performer of Tantric ritual. The word ‘lama’ alludes to the compassion a mother has for her only child.

Law of Causal Condition: The fundamental doctrine of Buddhism that all phenomena in the universe are produced by causation. Since all phenomena result from the complicated causes and effects, all existing things in the universe are interdependent (i.e., no self nature or existence on its own). Moreover, all phenomena and things are impermanent (changing constantly). It was to this law that Shakyamuni was awakened when he attained enlightenment.

Law of Dependent Origination / Pratitya-Samutpada (Sanskrit) / Paticcasamuppada (Pali): Also known as Dependent Causation; Conditioned Co-arising. A fundamental Buddhist doctrine of the interdependence of all things. It teaches that all beings and phenomena exist or occur only because of their relationship with other beings or phenomena. Therefore, nothing can exist in absolute independence of other things or arise of its own accord.

Liberation: The state of complete freedom from suffering and its causes (ignorance/misperception of reality, selfish desire, attachment, and negative actions).

Lobha: Greed; passion; unskillful desire. Also rāga. One of three unwholesome roots (mūla) in the mind.

Loka-dhamma (Pali): Affairs or phenomena of the world. The standard list gives eight: wealth, loss of wealth, status, loss of status, praise, criticism, pleasure, and pain.

Lokuttara: Transcendent; supramundane.

Lotus Sutra: Short name of the “Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law,” or Saddharma-pundarik-sutra in Sanskrit. It is one of the most important sutras of Mahayana Buddhism. Basically, it states that all sentient beings can attain Buddhahood. It also states that the Buddha is eternal, and the supreme form of Buddhist practice is the way of the Bodhisattva. The lotus flower is used to describe the brightness and pureness of the One Buddha Vehicle.

Lower Realms: The animal, hungry ghost, and hell reams, which are all part of cyclic existence or samsara.


Madhyamika (Sanskrit): The Middle Way; a system of analysis founded by Nagarjuna in the second century C.E., based upon the Prajnaparamita Sutras of Shakyamuni Buddha, and considered to be the supreme presentation of the wisdom of emptiness. The most influential of the four schools of Indian Buddhism. The main postulate of this school is that all phenomena—both internal mental events and external physical objects—are empty of any true nature. The school uses extensive rational reasoning to establish the emptiness of phenomena. This school does, however, hold that phenomena do exist on the conventional level of reality.

Magga (Pali): Path. Specifically, the path to the cessation of suffering and stress. The four transcendent paths — or rather, one path with four levels of refinement — are the path to stream-entry (entering the stream to nirvāna, which ensures that one will be reborn at most only seven more times), the path to once-returning, the path to non-returning, and the path to arahantship. See phala.

Maha: Great.

Mahabhuta: Four great elements in traditional Buddhist thought (Earth, water, fire, air).

Mahamudra: A method of direct introduction the understanding of sunyata, of samsara and that the two are inseparable. The “Great Seal” or great symbol of reality. A distinction is made between Ground, Path, and Fruition Mahamudra. Ground Mahamudra concerns the nature of mind and the proper view; Path Mahamudra concerns the application of mahamudra meditation; and Fruition Mahamudra concerns the realization of the nature of mind.

Mahasiddha: lit. great spiritual accomplishment. A yogi in Tantric Buddhism, often associated with the highest levels of enlightenment.

Mahatma: The highest principle in man; a great sage.

Mahayana: lit. “great vehicle.” A major branch of Buddhism practiced in China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan. The spiritual path to great enlightenment. The Mahayana goal is to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings by completely abandoning delusions and their imprints. The category created by a group of reformist sects of Indian Buddhism to distinguish themselves from the older preexisting sects. The Mahayana movement was characterized by a metaphysical theology which made extensive use of mythology and metaphorical supernatural events, the development of the Bodhisattva as a new model for the ideal practice of Buddhism, and a general impetus for the reformation of the monastic orders. The Mahayana is also noted for its advocacy of the laity and women as being capable of deep awakening, often depicting Bodhisattvas in the guise of lay people and women in scripture. The feminist aspect of this is particularly notable. It is probably the earliest example of a theological feminism in a major world religion.

Maitreya: The Buddha of the future epoch.

Majjhima-patipada (Pali): Middle Path. This is the entire noble eight-fold path or middle path which, by avoiding the two extremes of sensual desire and self-torment, leads to enlightenment and deliverance from suffering.

Makyo (Japanese): Fantasies, hallucinations, and seemingly real mental or physical experiences that arise during zazen; they are said to be an obstacle to practice.

Mala: A strand of prayer beads consisting of 108 beads. A mala is used for reciting a mantra during meditation practice.

Mandala: The term has several meanings. It refers to the spiritual force-field of the Buddhas; to the utterly beautiful universe full of precious objects that one visualizes mentally in order to offer it to the Buddhas in the mandala offering; to the round disk in which this universe is constructed symbolically. Microcosmic diagram, a circular picture or power circle used as an aid and object of contemplation in the rituals of Tantric Buddhism.

Manjushri: The Buddha of transcendent or perfect wisdom. Manjushri represents the ability of the enlightened mind to cut through the afflictions of delusion, hatred, and greed, seeing all things as they truly are, free from limited, dualistic, and separative views of reality. One of the principal Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana and Zen Buddhist traditions.

Makyo: In Zen, unpleasant or distracting thoughts or illusions that occur during zazen.

Māna conceit, arrogance, misconception.

Mantra: Lit. “mind protection.” A mantra is a combination of sacred seed syllables or a verse which protects the mind from ordinary appearances and conceptions. A chant used primarily to aid concentration, to reach enlightenment. The best-known Buddhist mantra is possibly Om mani padme hum.

Mara: The personification of evil and temptation. The evil one who takes away the wisdom of life.

Mappo: The “degenerate” Latter Day of the Law. A time period supposed to begin 2,000 years after Sakyamuni Buddha’s passing and last for “10,000 years”; follows the two 1,000-year periods of Former Day of the Law (Cn: zhèngfǎ; Jp: shōbō) and of Middle Day of the Law (Cn: xiàngfǎ; Jp: zōhō). During this degenerate age, chaos will prevail and the people will be unable to attain enlightenment through the word of Sakyamuni Buddha.

Maya (Sanskrit): Illusion. Philosophically, the phenomenal universe; being subject to differentiation and impermanence is Maya.

Medicine Buddha: The embodiment of the collective healing power of all the Buddhas; the enlightened healer who protects living beings from physical and mental sickness, as well as other dangers and obstacles.

Meditation: The process and practice of concentrating the mind and becoming deeply acquainted with one’s own True Nature.

Merit: The good fortune created by virtuous actions. Positive energy. The practice of all positive actions which bring about the accumulation of merit to be used as a reserve of energy for spiritual progress. It is the potential power to increase our good qualities and produce happiness. This accumulation of merit is done by various means: gifts, offerings, selfless actions of compassion, recitation of mantras and prayers, visualizations of divinities, constructions of temples or stupas, prostrations, circumambulations, etc.

Metta: Loving-kindness.

Middle way: The practice of avoidance of extreme views and lifestyle choices.

(right) Mindfulness: The practice whereby a person is intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally. The 7th step of the Noble Eightfold Path. One can practice mindfulness at all times, giving alert attention to all experiences without conceptualizing, judging, or controlling, allowing sensations, feelings, and thoughts to arise and disappear without being followed or resisted in any way. Such non interfering attention allows one to be fully present in the experience of the moment. Mindfulness is also a state of awareness before the mind is disturbed by thought.

Mudita (Pali): Appreciative joy. Sympathetic or altruistic joy. The genuine ability to rejoice and delight in the happiness, success, and good fortune of others. To be able to appreciate and be inspired by the positive qualities and virtuous deeds of others. One of the ten perfections (paramitas/paramis) and one of the four ‘Sublime Abodes’ (Brahma-vihara).

Moha: Delusion; ignorance (avijjā). One of three unwholesome roots (mūla) in the mind.

Moksha: Liberation.

Mokugyo (or Motak): A wooden drum carved from one piece, usually in the form of a fish used in temples and monasteries during chanting.

Mondo: In Zen, a short dialogue between teacher and student.

Mudra: lit. “seal.” A gesture made with hands and fingers in meditation.

Mūla: Literally, “root.” The fundamental conditions in the mind that determine the moral quality — skillful (kusala) or unskillful (akusala) — of one’s intentional actions (see karma). The three unskillful roots are lobha (greed), dosa (aversion), and moha (delusion); the skillful roots are their opposites. See kilesa (defilements).


Nāga: A term commonly used to refer to strong, stately, and heroic animals, such as elephants and magical serpents. In Buddhism, it is also used to refer to those who have attained the goal of the practice.

Nagarjuna: Indian Buddhist philosopher who founded the Madhyamaka philosophy of emptiness. Nagarjuna was a brilliant philosopher and formidable dialectician who flourished in the late 2nd century A.D. Taking Buddha’s advocacy of the Middle Way between the extremes of avid indulgence and austere asceticism, and between sterile intellectualization and suffocating mental torpor, Nagarjuna developed a rigorous dialectical logic by which he reduced every philosophical standpoint to an explosive set of contradictions. This lead to the elusive standpoint that neither existence nor nonexistencecan be asserted of the world and of everything in it. The Madhyamikas, therefore, refused to affirm or deny any philosophical proposition.

Nagas: A primeval race of mystical, divine serpent beings, associated with the water element, who live in oceans, lakes, rivers, or wells and play an important part in most religions and mythologies worldwide. They are half human and half snake, and are still worshipped as the bringers of fertility, especially in southern India. Nagas are always associated with having strong magical powers (siddhis), a vast esoteric knowledge, and a capricious character, which can quickly change from friendly and helpful to angry and malicious.

Nāma: Mental phenomena. A collective term for vedanā (feeling), saññā (perception), cetana (intention, volition), phassa (sensory contact) and manasikāra (attention, advertence). Compare rūpa. Some commentators also use nāma to refer to the mental components of the five khandhas.

Nāma-rūpa: Name-and-form; mind-and-matter; mentality-physicality. The union of mental phenomena (nāma) and physical phenomena (rūpa), conditioned by consciousness (viññana) in the causal chain of dependent co-arising (paṭicca-samuppāda).

Namo: An exclamation showing reverence; devotion. Often placed in front of the name of an object of veneration, e.g., a Buddha’s or Bodhisattva’s name to express devotion to it. i.e. Namo Shakamuni Buddha, Namo Amitaba, Namo Avalokiteshvara.

Nekkhamma: Renunciation; literally, “freedom from sensual lust.” One of the ten pāramīs.

Nichiren (1222-1282): The 13th century Japanese priest who founded Nichiren Buddhism. His philosophy centered around the final teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni. This teaching, called the Lotus Sutra, declares that all living beings have the potential to attain enlightenment or Buddhood. Nichiren (‘Sun-Lotus’) taught that all of the benefits of the wisdom contained in the Lotus Sutra can be realized by chanting the mantra ‘Namu-myoho-renge-kyo.’ Chanting this mantra, along with excerpts from the Lotus Sutra, is the core of the practice in Nichiren Buddhism. The revolutionary nature of Nichiren’s achievement lies in the fact that he made it possible for all people to actually practice the highest teachings of Buddhism by providing a methodology whereby they can establish a life-condition of absolute happiness, undisturbed by changing outer circumstances.

Nikaya: lit. “volume.” The Buddhist texts in Pāli.

Nirmanakaya (Sanskrit): One of the three bodies of a Buddha. The ‘transformation or emanation body.’ The manifest body or form in which the Buddha or other enlightened being appears. Nimanakaya Buddhas, such as Shakyamuni Buddha, manifest out of compassion for the benefit of all beings. They manifest as human and can be perceived by people with no particular realization. Whereas Sambhogakaya Buddhas, such as Vajrasattva, can only be experienced directly by realized Bodhisattvas.

Nirodha (Pali): Cessation; disbanding; stopping; the end to ignorance which causes suffering. The Third Noble Truth as taught by the Buddha.

Nirvana (Sanskrit) / Nibbana (Pali): The “unbinding” of the mind from passion, aversion, delusion. Awakening; liberation from the entire round of death and rebirth (samsara). The state of having extinguished suffering. Nirvana is a spiritual state in which the bonds of existence are cut away. It is held to be an ineffable, indefinable experience. Nirvana/Nibanna also denotes the extinguishing of a fire, it carries the connotations of stilling and cooling. Profound peace, limitless awareness, bliss, unity.

Noble Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

Nyingmapa: One of the four principal traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, whose name (‘The Old Ones’) reflects fidelity towards the first Tibetan translations of the text of Buddhism. The Nyingma School is the oldest tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Its origins date back to the 8th century reign of the Dharma King Trisong Deutsen in Tibet. During this time, with the help of Padmasambhava and Bodhisativa Shantarakshita, the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha and commentaries.


Om: The pure energy of the divine body of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Om Mani Padme Hum (Sanskrit) / Om Mani Peme Hung (Tibetan): The Great Compassion Mantra of
Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig), the Buddha of Universal Compassion and Mercy. This mantra is said to contain the essence of all Dharma teachings, and its ability to benefit those who use it is beyond measure. One of the most popular mantras of the Tibetan people.

Opanayiko (Pali): Referring inwardly; to be brought inward. An epithet for the Dharma.

Oryoki: A set of bowls used in a Zen eating ceremony.

Osho: A term used to address a monk of the Zen Buddhist tradition. Originally reserved for high-ranking monks, it has since been appropriated for everyday use when addressing any male member of the Zen clergy.


Pabbajjā (Pali): “Going forth (from home to the homeless life)”; ordination as a samaṇera (samaṇeri), or novice monk or nun.

Pratitya-samutpada “Dependent origination,” the view that no phenomenon exists (or comes about) without depending on other phenomena or conditions around it. In English also called “conditioned genesis,” “dependent co-arising,” “interdependent arising,” etc.

A famous application of dependent origination is the Twelve Nidana, or 12 inter-dependences: 1) ignorance, 2) ignorance creates mental formation, 3) mental formation creates consciousness, 4) consciousness creates name and form, 5) name and form creates sense gates, 6) sense gates creates contact, 7) contact creates feeling, 8) feeling creates craving, 9) craving creates clinging, 10) clinging creates becoming, 11) becoming creates birth, 12) birth leads to aging and death.

Pratyekabuddha/Paccekabuddha: Lit. “a Buddha by his own.” Private Buddha. One who, like a Buddha, has gained Awakening without the benefit of a teacher, but who lacks the requisite store of pāramīs to teach others the practice that leads to Awakening. On attaining the goal, a paccekabuddha lives a solitary life.

Pāḷi: The canon of texts (see Tipiṭaka) preserved by the Theravāda school and, by extension, the language in which those texts are composed.

Paññā: Discernment; insight; wisdom; intelligence; common sense; ingenuity. One of the ten perfections.

Panca Skandha: The five constituent elements into which an individual is analyzed. They are: Form, sensation, cognition, mental formation, and consciousness.

Panchen Lama: The second highest ranking lama in the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. after the Dalai Lama.

Paramita (Sanskrit) / Parami (Pali): Perfection. Perfection of the character; perfect realization. To cross over to the other shore; reaching beyond limitation. The Paramitas are the framework of the Bodhisattva’s religious practice, usually consisting of six categories, sometimes ten. These enlightened qualities or perfections are developed over many lifetimes by a Bodhisattva. The Six Paramitas are: Generosity/Charity (Dana), Virtue/Ethics (Sila), Patience/Forbearance (Kshanti), Effort/Perseverance (Virya), Concentration/Meditation (Dhyana), Wisdom (Pajna).

Parinirvana: Total unbinding; the complete cessation of the skandhas that occurs upon the death of an arhat/arahant. When the Buddha died, he did not die an ordinary death to be followed by rebirth. Because he had achieved complete enlightenment, his death is referred to as the parinirvana, because it was the end of all rebirths. This term also refers to the passing of any great realized master, in which they die and then can emanate back to aid sentient beings. However, their death and rebirth is propelled not by karma but by compassion.

Parisā: Following; assembly. The four groups of the Buddha’s following that include monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen.

Pariyatti (Pali): Theoretical understanding of Dharma obtained through reading, study, and learning.

Pātimokkha (Pali): The basic code of monastic discipline, consisting of 227 rules for monks (bhikkhus) and 311 for nuns (bhikkhunis). See Vinaya.

Paṭipatti (Pali): The practice of Dharma, as opposed to mere theoretical knowledge (pariyatti).

Paṭivedha (Pali): Direct, first-hand realization of the Dharma.

Prajna (Sanskrit) / Panna (Pali): Wisdom: discernment; discriminative awareness; insight; intelligence. Understanding the nature of existence.

Preta (Sanskrit)/ Peta (Pali): A hungry ghost or famished spirit. One of a class of beings in the lower realms of samsara. Pretas are often depicted in Buddhist art as starving beings with tiny mouths through which they can never pass enough food to alleviate their hunger. The world of the pretas is characterized by the emotion of greed and the inability to appease their desires; a psychological characteristic of our own human nature.

Phala: Fruition. Specifically, the fruition of any of the four transcendent paths (see magga).

Puja: A ceremony of offering, honor, respect, and devotional observance. Most commonly, the devotional observances that are conducted at monasteries daily (morning and evening) or on special occasions.

Puñña: Merit; worth; the inner sense of well-being that comes from having acted rightly or well and that enables one to continue acting well.

Pure Land Buddhism: This school of Buddhism emerged in China in about 400 C.E. and later spread to Japan. Pure Land venerates the Bodhisattva Amitabha who is said to reside in the Western Paradise (Sukhavati), or Pure Land. This is very much a faith based school. The belief is that devotion to Amitabha will result in being reborn in the Pure Land from where the attainment of Nirvana is guaranteed. Pure Land Buddhists use the mantra Namu Amida Butsu (Hail to Amitabha Buddha) as an expression of their faith.

Pure Lands: Realms beyond cyclic existence or samsara.


Rāga: Lust; greed. See lobha.

Rebirth: The process of continuity of life after death.

Refuge: Taking refuge involves the decision to integrate the Three Gems of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha into one‟s life. Also see Three Jewels.

Rinpoche (Tibetan): Literally, “precious.” A Tibetan title and form of address for a realized Buddhist teacher. Honorific title applied to reincarnate lamas and other highly respected persons.

Rinzai Zen: Founded by Rinzai Gigen Zenji (died: 866), the Rinzai School represents dynamic, powerful Zen, in which people are demanded to experience enlightenment and realize this experience in their own lives. Rinzai Zenji was known for his unusual methods, such as shouting, hitting, and the use of paradox, which he employed to jolt students out of their fixed ways of thinking and habitual behavior.

Rupa: Body; physical phenomenon; sense datum. The basic meaning of this word is ‘appearance’ or ‘form.’ It is used, however, in a number of different contexts, taking on different shades of meaning in each. In lists of the objects of the senses, it is given as the object of the sense of sight.

Roshi: lit. “Master.” An honorific given to Zen teachers in the Rinzai and Obaku sects.


Sabhāva-dhamma (Pali): Condition of nature; any phenomenon, event, property, or quality as experienced in and of itself.

Sacca: Truthfulness. One of the ten perfections (pāramīs).

Sadhana (Sanskrit): Method of accomplishment; spiritual practice. The step-by-step instructions for practicing the meditations related to a particular meditation deity (yidam).

Sādhu: (exclamation) “It is well;” an expression showing appreciation or agreement.

Sagga: Heaven, heavenly realm. The dwelling place of the devas. Rebirth in the heavens is said to be one of the rewards for practicing generosity (see dāna) and virtue (see sīla).Like all waystations in saṃsāra, however, rebirth here is temporary. See also sugati.

Samadhi: The mental state of being firmly fixed. The practice of fixing or centering the mind on a single sensation or object. Complete concentration; mental stability; a state of calm mental absorption from meditation practice.

Samaṇa: Contemplative. Literally, a person who abandons the conventional obligations of social life in order to find a way of life more “in tune” (sama) with the ways of nature.

Samaṇera (Samaṇeri) (Pali) :Literally, a small samaṇa; a novice monk (nun) who observes ten precepts and who is a candidate for admission to the order of bhikkhus (bhikkhunis).

Samantabhadra: Primordial Lord of Unchanging Light; the Primordial and Eternal Buddha; the symbol of the state of Dharmakaya. Samantabhadra is symbolically represented as being naked and without ornaments, showing that the essential mind of enlightenment is free and pristine awareness, without the ornaments of discursive thoughts and conceptions; empty, clear, and open like the sky. Also see Adibuddha.

Sambhogakaya: One of the three bodies of a Buddha. The ‘complete enjoyment body’ by which the Buddha exists as a transcendent, eternal, celestial being. A primordial archetypal deity or Tathagata Buddha. The form in which the enlightened mind appears in order to benefit highly realized Bodhisattvas.

Samsara: Transmigration; the round of death and rebirth. Samsara, characterized by dissatisfaction and suffering, is the cycle of death and rebirth in which all beings wander under the influence of karma. There are six realms of samsara. Listed in ascending order according to the type of karma that causes rebirth in them, they are the realms of the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, demi-gods, and gods.

Samatha: Mental stabilization; tranquility meditation. Distinguished from vipassana meditation.

Sammati: Conventional reality; convention; relative truth; supposition; anything conjured into being by the mind.

Samu: Work, conceived as a part of Zen training.

Samvrti: Conventional, as opposed to absolute, truth or reality.

Sangha: Community of Buddhist practitioners. Those who are purely devoted to the virtuous path taught by Buddha. These are our best spiritual friends. In general, ordained or lay people who take Bodhisattva vows or Tantric vows can be said to be sangha. More recently, the term ‘sangha’ has been popularly adapted to mean the wider sense of the ‘community of followers on the Buddhist path.’ According to the Vinaya tradition, sangha is any community of four or more fully ordained monks.

Sanskrit: The classical Aryan language of ancient India, systematized by scholars. With the exception of a few ancient translations probably from Pali versions, most of the original Buddhist texts used in China were Sanskrit.

Sati (Pali): Mindfulness; self-collectedness; powers of reference and retention. In some contexts, the word ‘sati’ when used alone covers alertness as well.

Satipatthana (Pali): Foundations of Mindfulness; literally, “awareness of mindfulness.” The frames of reference for this mindfulness are contemplation of the body, feelings, mind (mind-state), and mental events (mind-objects), viewed in and of themselves as they occur.

Satori (Japanese): Enlightenment, or a “flash of sudden awareness” in the Zen Buddhist tradition. A state of
consciousness beyond the plane of discrimination, differentiation, and duality. The feeling of Satori is that of infinite space.

Sayadaw (Burmese): Teacher, or senior monk.

Seiza (Japanese): Quiet sitting. An alternative posture for zazen.

Sensei (Japanese): Teacher.

Sentient Being: A being who has not yet reached enlightenment. The sentient being is generally defined as any living creature which has developed enough conscious awareness to experience feelings, particularly suffering. This generally includes all animal life and excludes botanical life forms. Sentient beings are the object of Buddhist ethics and compassion.Buddhism exists in a larger sense not simply to aid its own practitioners in their personal liberation but also to function within the world to improve the conditions of life for all sentient beings.

Sesshin (Japanese): To touch, receive, or convey the mind. The Zen retreat, conventionally seven days.

Shakyamuni Buddha: Sage of the Sakyan clan. Shakyamuni Buddha was the founder of Buddhism in this age. He was born about 2600 years ago in what is now Nepal as the Prince of the Sakyans and was called Siddhartha Gautama. He attained supreme enlightenment at age 35 and was called Shakyamuni. The word means ‘capability and kindness.’ Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Dharma for the remaining years of his life. He died at the age of eighty on the full moon night in May.

Shamatha (Sanskrit) / Samatha (Pali) / Shine (Tibetan): Literally, “stable pacification.” Calm abiding or tranquility meditation that develops inner peace, clarity, and concentration. It is one of the two types of meditation found in all Buddhist traditions, the other being insight or Vipashyana meditation (Vipassana in Pali).

Shikantaza (Japanese): Just sitting. An alert, non selective attention which neither pursues nor suppresses thoughts, feelings, or sensations, but gives alert and detached attention/awareness to whatever arises in and vanishes from consciousness. Also see Zazen.

Shin: The Pure Land School of Japanese Buddhism.

Shunyata (Sanskrit) / Sunnata (Pali): This is a difficult and philosophically complex term, usually translated as ’emptiness, voidness, nothingness,’ but more positively as ‘openness’ or the ‘open dimension of being.’ As a doctrinal term it refers, in Theravada, exclusively to the Annatta doctrine (the insubstantiality of all phenomena). However, Emptiness should not be taken in a nihilistic way as the denial that anything exists, rather that all phenomenon are ’empty’ in the sense of lacking independent and permanent existence. The Absolute Reality, Beingness, or Pure Awareness is shunya or shunyata, as it is devoid of empirical forms and thought constructs.

Siddhartha: The given name of Shakyamuni Buddha when he was born to the King Suddhodana. The name means “wish fulfilled.”

Sila (Sanskrit and Pali): Virtuous conduct; morality; moral discipline. The quality of ethical and moral purity that prevents one from falling away from the Noble Eightfold Path. Also, one of the training precepts that restrain one from performing unskillful actions and one of the ten paramis/paramitas (perfections).

Six Realms: See Desire Realm.

Skandhas (Sanskrit): Heap; group; aggregate; gathering; collection. The five skandhas (khandhas in Pali) are the five primary elements or mental components of the personality and of sensory experience which come together to form a living being. The five components of the individual existence specifically applied to humans: 1) material form or matter; 2) sensation/feeling; 3) perception; 4) mental formation or intention (samskara); 5) consciousness.

Skillful Means: Creating good causes for sentient beings to enter onto the Path. This includes practicing the five perfections (paramitas), explaining the Dharma in ways a person can understand, and using wise and compassionate means to assist others in their awakening.

Soto Zen: One of the major schools of Zen Buddhism, founded by Dogen Zenji (1200-1235). The Soto Zen tradition emphasizes the practice of zazen, or sitting meditation, and individual effort. By learning to put one‟s entire being into their practice, one is able to realize their original nature and carry that experience into daily life.

Sravaka (Sanskrit) / Savaka (Pali): Literally, “hearer.” A disciple of the Buddha, especially a noble disciple. On the Mahayana path, the sravaka is one who has heard and adopted the teachings of the Buddhas, but who has not yet understood them for himself. Thus, the sravaka’s practices are centered around faith and discipline.

Stupa / Thupa (Pali): Originally, a tumulus or burial mound enshrining relics of a holy person, such as the Buddha, or objects associated with his life. Over the centuries this has developed into the tall, spired monuments familiar in temples in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma; and into the pagodas of China, Korea, and Japan. A symbolic monument containing holy relics and or religious texts. In Tibetan Buddhism, the stupa represents Buddha’s holy mind, Dharmakaya, and each part of the stupa shows the path to enlightenment.

Sugati: Happy destinations; the two higher levels of existence into which one might be reborn as a result of past skillful actions (see karma): rebirth in the human world or in the heavens (See sagga). None of these states is permanent.

Sukha (Pali): Pleasure; ease; satisfaction; contentment. In meditation, a mental quality that reaches full maturity upon the development of the third level of jhana (absorption/concentration).

Sutra (Sanskrit) / Sutta (Pali): Literally, “thread.” A Buddhist scriptural text purporting to present a narrative of a teaching given on a particular occasion by the Buddha or sanctioned explicitly by the Buddha. The sutras make up one section of the three sectioned canon (tripitaka). The other two are the monastic and ethical code (vinaya) and the body of canonized exegesis (abhidharma). A sutra/sutta is a discourse or sermon by the Buddha or his contemporary disciples. After the Buddha’s death the sutras/suttas were passed down in the Pali language according to a well-established oral tradition and were finally committed to written form in Sri Lanka around 100 BCE. Over 10,000 sutras/suttas are collected in the Sutta Pitaka, one of the principal bodies of scriptural literature in Theravada Buddhism. The Pali Suttas are widely regarded as the earliest record of the Buddha’s teachings.

Sutra Pitaka: The second basket of the Tripitaka canon, the collection of all Buddha’s teachings.


Tādi: “Such,” an adjective to describe one who has attained the goal. It indicates that the person’s state is indefinable but not subject to change or influences of any sort.

Tangaryō: A period of waiting for admission into a Zen monastery at the gate, lasting anywhere from one day to several weeks—depending on the quality of one’s sitting. Refers to the room traveling monks stay in when visiting, or await admittance into the sōdō.

Tanha (Pali): Thirst or craving. Craving for sensual desires, for becoming, or for nonexistence. Along with ignorance of one’s true nature, craving is the root of suffering and of the continuing cycle of rebirth.

Tantra: Literally, “thread” or “continuity.” The root scripture of Vajrayana Buddhism. The teachings of Buddhism which have as their basis the principle of transformation. A ritual tradition transmitted from guru to disciple. The process of transforming our impure state of body, speech, and mind into a pure state using tantric practice such as deity yoga, meditation on the inner chakras, channels, wind energy, energy drops, and so forth. The tantric texts are ascribed to Buddha Shakyamuni in his various manifestations, and each describes the mandala and practice associated with a specific being. Important Buddhist Tantras, mostly named after their principal deity, include Guhyasamaja,
Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, Yamantaka, and Kalachakra.

Tantrayana: Also called Vajrayana. A school of esoteric Tibetan Buddhism that emphasizes not only meditation but also the use of symbolic rites, gestures, postures, breathing, mantra, and other secret means.

Tara: “The Swift One” or “The Swift Liberator.” A female Bodhisattva regarded as the embodiment of all the Buddhas‟ enlightened activity. Tara appears in many different aspects, the most popular of these being White Tara (associated with healing, long life, and compassion) and Green Tara (associated with protection and compassion). Tara is known as the Swift Liberator due to her immediate response to those who reqest her aid. Tara protects those who call upon her and releases them from the fears, dangers, and suffering of cyclic existence. However, as with all deities, their enlightened qualities are inseparable from our own true nature.

Tathagata (Sanskrit and Pali): “One who has truly gone” (tatha-gata) or “one who has become authentic” (tathaagata). The living embodiment of Ultimate Reality. An epithet used in ancient India for a person who has attained the highest spiritual goal. In Buddhism, it usually denotes the Buddha, although occasionally it can also denote any of his arhat/arahant disciples.

Tathagatagarba: Literally, the seed or essence of the Buddhas which is usually translated as Buddha-nature or Buddha essence. It is the seed or essence of enlightenment, possessed by all sentient beings and which allows them to have the potential to attain Buddhahood.

Teisho: A presentation by a Zen master during a sesshin. Rather than an explanation or exposition in the traditional sense, it is intended as a demonstration of Zen realization.

Tenzo: In Zen, the head cook for a sesshin. In Zen temples, the officer in charge of the kitchen.

Than: (Thai; also “tan”) Reverend, venerable.

Thangka: A traditional Buddhist painting on fabric that can be rolled up and easily transported from place to place. Nomads in the Tibetan plateaus favored them since they could be carried easily. Thangkas generally feature paintings of Buddhist deities, symbols, or masters from the past.

Thera: Elder. An honorific title automatically conferred upon a bhikkhu of at least ten years standing.

Theravada: The Doctrine or Teachings of the Elders. The only one of the early schools of Buddhism to have survived into the present; currently the dominant form of Buddhism in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma. Also see Hinayana.

Three Jewels: Also known as the “Three Precious Ones” or the “Triple Gem,” referring to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The three essential components of veneration and refuge in Buddhism. Buddhists take refuge in the Three Jewels by pronouncing the threefold refuge prayer, thus acknowledging themselves to be Buddhists.

Three Marks of Existence: These are suffering (dukkha), impermanence (anicca), and not-self or egolessness (anatta). The direct experience and realization of these through meditation is to see things as they really are.

Three Realms: The Three Realms are the form realm, the formless realm, and the desire realm, all of which are within cyclic existence (samsara). Human existence is said to be a part of the desire realm.

Three Trainings: Training in morality or ethics (the foundation of the Path), concentration/meditation, and wisdom.

Three Unwholesome Roots (Three Poisons): Greed, hatred, and delusion. Greed refers to selfishness, attachment, and grasping for happiness and satisfaction outside of ourselves. Hatred refers to anger, aversion and repulsion toward unpleasant people and circumstances. Delusion refers to dullness, bewilderment, and misperception; our wrong views of reality. All three of these defilements are a byproduct of ignorance (of our True Nature), and motivate non virtuous and unskillful thoughts, speech, and actions. The Buddha describes these defilements as bonds, fetters, hindrances, and knots; the actual root cause of unwholesome karma and the entire spectrum of human suffering.

Three Wholesome Roots: Non-greed, non-hatred, and non-delusion. These are the antidotes or alternatives to the three unwholesome roots of greed, hatred, and delusion. To antidote greed, we cultivate selflessness, generosity, detachment, and contentment. To antidote hatred, we cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, patience, and forgiveness. To antidote delusion, we cultivate wisdom, insight, and understanding.

Tiantai/Tendai: A Mahayana school of China that teaches the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra.

Trikaya (Sanskrit): The three bodies (kaya) or vehicles of manifestation of the Buddha; Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya.

Tripitaka (Sanskrit) / (Pali: Tipitaka): The Buddhist Canon; literally, the “Three Baskets.” The Sutra Basket containsthe discourses attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha; the Ordinance Basket contains the disciplinary rules of monastic life; and the Treatise Basket contains abstract philosophical treatises and doctrinal commentaries.

Tsong Khapa, Lama (AD 1357-1419): Founder of the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. His appearance in fourteenth-century Tibet as a monk was predicted by Buddha. Tsong Khapa was a great Tibetan yogi, considered to be an emanation of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri. He restored the purity of Buddha’s doctrine, revitalized many sutra and tantra lineages and the monastic tradition in Tibet, and demonstrated how to practice pure Dharma during degenerate times.

Tulku: The Tibetan word for reincarnated Lamas. Tulkus are the great richness of Tibetan Buddhism. They are highly realized beings that have control over their birth and that choose to take rebirth amongst us for our benefit. Tulkus are recognized through careful tests and precise rituals and divinations. They come back life after life, in an unbroken lineage. Their minds are vast and stable and so they are called ‘Rinpoche’ which means ‘precious’.


Upadana: Clinging; the 9th link of Pratitya-Samutpada.

Upasaka or Upasika (Pali): A male (upasaka) or female (upasika) lay follower of the Buddha. One of the four primary classes of Buddhist disciples, the male or female who has taken the lay precepts.

Upaya (Sanskrit): A means, device, or method. A Mahayana term for a practical and skillful means to accomplish a spiritual end.

Upekkha (Pali): Equanimity. One of the ten perfections (paramis/paramitas) and one of the four “Sublime Abodes” (Brahma-viharas).

Urna: A concave circular dot on the forehead between the eyebrows.



Vajra (Sanskrit) / Dorje (Tibetan): Literally, “lord stone.” Indestructible; thunderbolt; diamond. Adamantine; pure. The “thunderbolt” or “diamond-scepter” held by certain meditation deities, that represents bodhicitta, the pure mind of enlightenment. An instrument used in Tibetan art and rituals which symbolizes the method or skillful means (male aspect) applied to reach awakening. The Bell, which is always used with the dorje, symbolizes wisdom (female aspect).

Vajrasattva (Tibetan: Dorje Sempa): The Buddha of Purification. The embodiment of wisdom, clarity, and purity. The practice of Vajrasattva is one of the four preliminary practices used for eliminating impurities accumulated from past unwholesome physical, verbal, and mental actions.

Vajrayana: “The Indestructible Vehicle” or “The Diamond Vehicle.” Also called Tantrayana. A school of esoteric Tibetan Buddhism that emphasizes not only meditation but also the use of symbolic rites, gestures, postures, breathing, mantra, and other secret means. Vajrayana can be divided into Kriya-tantra, Carya-tantra, Yoga-tantra, and Anuttarayoga-tantra.

Vāsanā: Habitual tendencies or dispositions.

Vassā: Rains Retreat. A period from July to October, corresponding roughly to the rainy season, in which each monk is required to live settled in a single place and not wander freely about.

Venerable: An honorific title of respect for a Buddhist monk or nun.

Vesak, Vesakha, Visakha, Wesak, etc. (visākha): The ancient name for the Indian lunar month in spring corresponding to our April-May. According to tradition, the Buddha’s birth, Awakening, and Parinirvāna each took place on the full-moon night in the month of Visakha. These events are commemorated on that day in the Visakha festival, which is celebrated annually.

Vicāra (Pali): Evaluation; sustained thought. In meditation, vicāra is the mental factor that allows one’s attention to shift and move about in relation to the chosen meditation object. Vicāra and its companion factor vitakka reach full maturity upon the development of the first level of jhāna.

Vimalakirti: A lay contemporary of the Buddha, whose spiritual attainment is highly regarded. He exemplifies the Mahayana model of fully realized non monastic practice. The Vimalakirti Sutra contains his teachings.

Vinaya (Pali): Vows. The essence of the rules for monastics is contained in the Vinaya. The monastic discipline, whose rules and traditions comprise six volumes in printed text and define every aspect of the bhikkhus’ (monks’) and bhikkhunis’ (nuns’) way of life.

Vipāka: The consequence and result of a past volitional action (karma).

Vipashyana (Sanskrit) / Vipassana (Pali): Clear, penetrating, and intuitive insight into physical and mental
phenomena as they arise and disappear, seeing them for what they actually are, in and of themselves, free of delusion. Vipashyana/Vipassana meditation develops insight into the true nature of reality by gradually dissolving one’s egoic sense of being a permanent self and reveals that consciousness is an open, dynamic field of spontaneously arising experiences. Insight (Vipashyana/Vipassana) meditation progresses through several stages, leading ultimately to the experience of pure dynamic emptiness or Nirvana. It is one of the two types of meditation found in all Buddhist traditions, the other being calm abiding or tranquility meditation (Shamatha in Sanskrit).

Viriya: Persistence; energy. One of the ten perfections (pāramīs).

Vitakka: Directed thought. In meditation, vitakka is the mental factor by which one’s attention is applied to the chosen meditation object. Vitakka and its companion factor vicāra reach full maturity upon the development of the first level of jhāna.


Wat (Thai): A temple or monastery. Wat Pa, forest monastery.


Yogi / Yogini: Male and female spiritual practitioners. Vajrayana practitioners of the spatial yogas; one who rests in the natural state of enlightenment (Buddhahood).


Zafu (Japanese): The cushion used for zazen or sitting meditation.

Zazen (Japanese): Seated meditation; dhyana; Zen meditation. Rooted in ancient meditative practices, Zazen differs from other forms of meditation in that it uses no meditation object or abstract concept for the meditator to focus on. The aim of Zazen is first to still the mind and then, through practice, to reach a state of pure, thought-free wakefulness so that the mind can realize its own Buddha-nature. And unlike other forms of meditation, Zazen is not simply a means to an end. Dogen Zenji said, “Zazen is itself Enlightenment, one minute of sitting, one minute of being Buddha.”

Zen (Japanese): This school of Buddhism originally emerged from China and was known as Ch‟an, a word derived from the Sanskrit word ‘dhyana’ which means meditation. The founder of Zen Buddhism was Bodhidharma, an Indian monk who came to China in 520 C.E. Zen passed from China to Japan in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The Zen approach can be seen as quite radical, favoring meditation, intuition, and direct experience as a means to enlightenment rather than the scriptures. The transmission of the Zen lineage of teaching goes directly back to Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed on, mind to mind, from teacher to disciple for the past 2500 years.

Zendo (Japanese): Meditation hall. The space in a monastery in which zazen is practiced; it is often set aside exclusively for this purpose.

One comment on “Buddhist Glossary
  1. Pingback: Buddhist Vocabulary | The Buddha Journey

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