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published: 3/17/04
updated: 7/5/13

Glossary of Buddhism




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Amida
(Japanese; Sanskrit Amitabha; "infinite light"). Celestial buddha who, while a bodhisattva, vowed to lead all beings to the Pure Land. Amida is the focus of devotion in Pure Land Buddhism and one of several revered buddhas of the Mahayana tradition.
Ananda
The Buddha's cousin and one of his primary disciples. He memorized and recited the Buddha's teachings, and so was known as the Dhammabhandagarika, "treasurer of the teachings."
anicca
Impermanence.
arhat
(Sanskrit, "foe-destroyer"). One who has attained nirvana; the goal of Theravada Buddhism.
asuras
In Mahayana Buddhism, anti-gods or demi-gods, who populate the lower heavens, the second highest realm of existence. They enjoy a similar existence to the gods of the highest realm, but are plagued by jealousy of the latter and wage fruitless wars against them.
avidya
(Sanskrit, "ignorance"). Ignorance, which is the root of all suffering.
Avalokiteshvara
Compassionate bodhisattva who is described in the Land of Bliss sutras as standing by the side of Amida to welcome the deceased to the afterlife. In China, Avaoliteshvara became a feminine deity, Kuan-yin.
Blue Cliff Records
A collection of 100 koans first collected by Hsueh-tou Ch'ung-hsien (980-1052) from previous Ch'an records.




bodhi
Wisdom or enlightenment.
Bodhi
(Sanskrit, Pali, "awakened"). Buddhahood; state of full enlightenment, in which things are seen as they really are.
bodhicitta
(Sanskrit, "thought of enlightenment"). An important concept in Mahayana Buddhism. In a personal sense, it signifies the spontaneous resolve to strive for enlightenment. In a cosmic sense, it is reality itself, which makes enlightenment possible. In Tantric Buddhism, it is the fusion of wisdom with compassion in the bliss of perfect enlightenment.
bodhisattva
(Sanskrit, "one whose essence is wisdom"). In Mahayana Buddhism, future buddhas who postpone nirvana in order to help free others from suffering. The goal of Mahayana Buddhism is to become a bodhisattva. See Bodhisattvas.
bonpu
(Japanese, "ordinary man"). In Zen, an expression used for the ordinary person as opposed to one who is enlightened or on the religious path.
buddha
(Sanskrit, Pali, "Awakened One") A fully enlightened being.
buddha-dharma
Teaching of the Buddha; another name for Buddhism.
buddha-nature
(Sanskrit buddhata; Japanese bussho). In Mahayana Buddhism, the true nature of all appearances and all beings. To truly realize one's participation in the buddha-nature is to attain enlightenment.
buddha-sasana
Buddha-discipline; another name for Buddhism.
Buddhas of the three times
The buddhas of the past (whose numbers are incalcuable, but the best-known is Dipamkara), present (Gautama), and future (Maitreya).
buddhata
(Sanskrit) See buddha-nature.
chado
(Japanese, "tea-way"). Tea ceremony in Zen Buddhism, intended to overcome ordinary consciousness and subject-object distinctions.
Denne
In Zen Buddhism, the handing on of the robe as a symbol of the transmission of buddha-dharma in the lineage of patriarchs to a successor.
dependent arising
Also "dependent origination," "conditioned genesis," etc. Key Buddhist doctrine that all appearances are interdependent and cause one another.
dharma
(Sanskrit; Pali dhamma). Truth, teaching, or religion.
dhyana
(Sanskrit; Pali jhana, Chinese ch'an, Japenese zen). Meditative concentration. See Meditation.
Dipamkara
First and most popular of the many Buddhas who preceded Gautama. See Buddhas of the three times.
duhkha
(Sanskrit; Pali dukkha). Suffering - the first of the Four Noble Truths.
Five aggregates
(Sanskrit skandha; Pali khandha, "group"). The five aspects that make up human appearance: material composition; sensations; perceptions; mental formations; and consciousness. These are impermanent, constantly changing, and do not constitute a "self." See Buddhist Doctrine of Human Nature.
Five deadly sins
Five offenses that cause rebirth in hell (naraka): patricide, matricide, killing an arhat, injuring a buddha, and creating schism in the sangha.
Five Dhyani Buddhas
(Meditation Buddhas or Buddhas of Wisdom). Term coined by B.H. Hodgson in the 19th century to describe the figures who appear in the Mandala of the Five Jinas ("eminent ones"). It is not a term used in any Buddhist literature, but has become a common term in the West. See chart: Five Dhyani Buddhas.
Five hindrances (nivaranas)
Mental and emotional obstacles that must be removed in order to attain knowledge and enlightenment: desire; anger; sloth; worry; and doubt.
Five Periods and Eight Schools
Tendai classification of the Buddha's teaching to explain the divergent systems that had developed since his death.
Five Precepts (sila)
Obligations that both monks and laypersons undertake. They are to abstain from: harming any living being; taking anything not given; sensual misconduct; false speech; and losing control through intoxication.
Gautama
The given name of the historical Buddha.
guru
(Sanskrit) Spiritual teacher.
hell-beings
Beings in the lowest of the six realms of existence, who have accumulated massive amounts of bad karma due to extremely harmful actions such as murder. Hell-beings experience the most suffering of any of the realms.
hungry ghosts
See pretas.
karma
(Sanskrit, "action").  Moral law of cause and effect in which good actions have good effects and bad actions have bad effects. A Hindu concept that was absorbed, largely unchanged, into Buddhism.
karuna
(Sanskrit, Pali, "compassion"). An important virtue in all Buddhism, but especially emphasized in Mahayana.
khanda
Component or aggregate. The Buddha taught that a human person is not an eternal soul or self, but the composite of five khandas.
Kuan Yin
(Chinese; Japanese Kwannon). Female bodhisattva of mercy and compassion who is called upon to assist her devotees in times of trouble. She is a popular object of devotion who plays a role similar to that of the Virgin Mary in Catholic Christianity.
lama
Tibetan spiritual leader.
lo-han
Chinese term for arhat.
lotus
Central symbol in Buddhism. Because the lotus grows in the mud but blooms untainted above the surface, it symbolizes those who overcome ignorance and attain enlightenment.
Lotus Sutra
Shortened title for "The Sutra on the True Dharma [which resembles a] White Lotus." An early and important Mahayana Sutra. Composed between the 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE, it presents itself as teachings of the historical Buddha but provides new interpretations of traditional beliefs. For instance, the Buddha is represented not as a mere mortal but a celestial being who teaches myriads of followers in a mythological paradise.
magga
Fourth of the Four Noble Truths: The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to end suffering.
Mahinda Festival
Sri Lankan Buddhist festival, also known as Poson, celebrating the monk Mahinda who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
Mahayana
(Sanskrit, "greater vehicle"). School of Buddhism emphasizing a path to enlightenment that does not require monasticism and so is open to all. The Mahayana ideal is the bodhisattva, who helps others out of compassion, instead of the arhat of Theravada Buddhism. The Mahayana school incorporates a variety of traditions, lifestyles, and rituals, including the meditation-focused Zen and the devotional Pure Land Buddhism.
mandala
In Tibetan Buddhism, a symbolic and sacred representation of the universe. It most commonly features the five jinas or Dhyani Buddhas.
mantra
(Sanskrit, "mind protection").  Syllables recited during meditation.
metta
(Pali) Buddhist virtue of kindness and goodwill.
Middle Way
Monastic lifestyle advocated by the Buddha, which is midway between asceticism and the pursuit of pleasure.
nembutsu
(Japanese; Chinese nien-fo; "mindfulness of the Buddha"). Central practice of Pure Land Buddhism. It originally consisted of contemplation on the merits of the Buddha, but in China and Japan it was modified to simple chanting of the name of the Amida Buddha in the form Namu Amida Butsu, "I take refuge in the Buddha Amida." This practice is believed to grant entry into the Pure Land after death.
nirodha
Cessation of suffering upon attainment of nirvana (third of Four Noble Truths).
nirvana
(Sanskrit, "to snuff out "). Liberation from suffering and samsara, in which all desire is extinguished.
pansil
Abbreviation of panca-sila, the five precepts of Buddhism.
paritta
Buddhist healing and blessing rite.
paticca-samuppada
See dependent arising.
Poson
Sri Lankan Buddhist festival, also known as the Mahinda Festival, celebrating the monk Mahinda who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
pretas
Hungry ghosts, who populate the second to the lowest of the six realms of existence in Mahayana Buddhism. Usually depicted as having small mouths or necks and giant stomachs, hungry ghosts experience continual frustration and unsatisfied craving.
Pure Land Buddhism
Devotional form of Mahayana Buddhism holding that by faith in the grace of Amida, one will be reborn in the Pure Land realm. The Pure Land is a paradise that is so conducive to enlightenment that one can easily gain nirvana from there. Practice centers on devotion to Amida Buddha and the chanting of his name (nembutsu). The movement began in India, then spread to China and Japan. It is now the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan.
rainbow body
The penultimate transitional state of meditation in which matter begins to be transformed into pure light. It is said to be the highest state attainable in the realm of samsara before the "clear light" of Nirvana. See Buddhist Color Symbolism.
rakan
Japanese word for arhat.
ranto
(Japanese, "egg-shaped tower"). Tower on the tomb of a Zen monk.
Ratnakuta
(Sanskrit, "jewel" + "mountain"). Collection of Mahayana scriptures. Only four works survive in the original Sanskrit, but there were probably once 49 short sections.
Ratnasambhava
(Sanskrit, "jewel-born one"). One of the five Dhyani Buddhas.
roshi
(Japanese). Zen spiritual teacher.
Sakyamuni
"Sage of the Sakya tribe." Another name for the historical Buddha.
samadhi
(Sanskrit) State of deep meditation.
samsara
(Sanskrit, Pali  "wandering"). The cycle of death and rebirth.
samu
(Japanese, "work service"). Physical work performed at set times in Zen monasteries.
samudaya
Second of Four Noble Truths: Suffering is caused by desire.
skandha
(Sanskrit; Pali, khandha, "group"). The five aggregates that make up human appearance: material composition; sensations; perceptions; mental formations; and consciousness. These are impermanent, constantly changing, and do not constitute a "self." See Buddhist Beliefs About Human Nature.
sila
(Sanskrit, Pali, "precepts"). Basic obligations that Buddhists undertake. Monks and nuns adhere to all ten; laypersons to the first five sila. The ten precepts are to abstain from: harming a living being; taking anything not given; sensual misconduct; false speech; intoxication; solid food after midday; frivolous entertainments; perfumes and jewelry; raised beds; and involvement with money.
stupa
(Sanskrit) Monument containing relics, usually of the Buddha.
sutra
(Sanskrit) Discourse or section of teachings
Tantric Buddhism
In Indian thought, Tantrism is generally characterized by an emphasis on male-female polarity. Vajrayana is the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism.
tea ceremony
(Japanese chado). Zen ritual to overcome ordinary consciousness.
Theravada
(S "tradition of the elders") Southern or Lesser Vehicle Buddhism
Tripitaka
(Sanskrit; Pali Tipitaka, "three baskets").  The collection of Buddha's teachings, in three sections: sutra, vinaya, and Abhidharma.
vajra
(Sanskrit; Tibetan rdo-rje, "diamond" or "thunderbolt). Double-headed ritual instrument in Tibetan Buddhism used along with a ritual bell. The vajra is held in the right hand and represents skillful means, compassion, samsara, and the masculine principle.
Vajrayana
(Sanskrit "diamond vehicle"). Esoteric form of Buddhism focused on attaining enlightenment more quickly (in one lifetime). Also known as Tantric Buddhism. Closely related to, but not synonymous with, Tibetan Buddhism.
vinaya
(Sanskrit, Pali) The Buddha's teachings about monastic rules, ethics and karma.
yoga
(Sanskrit, "yoke").
 
zazen
(Japanese, "sitting" + "absorption"). Sitting meditation, which is the basic meditation practice of Zen Buddhism.
zemban
(Japanese, "Zen board"). Board used in long sessions of zazen to prop up the chin, thereby keeping from falling forward if sleepiness occurs.
Zen
(Japanese, "meditation"). Branch of Mahayana Buddhism that focuses on meditation instead of doctrines or scriptures; developed in China as Ch'an Buddhism before spreading to Japan.
zendo
Large hall in Zen monasteries, in which zazen is practiced.



Sources

  1. John Bowker, ed., Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford UP, 2000).
  2. Damien Keown, Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism (Oxford UP, 2003).
  3. Jonathan Landlaw and Stephen Bodian, Buddhism for Dummies (Wiley, 2003).
  4. "Buddhism."  Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004).
Glossary of Buddhism. Glossary of Buddhist terms and concepts, including Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese and Japanese words.