Buddhist Glossary

Although every attempt is made on Buddha Space to avoid unnecessary use of complicated or unfamiliar terminology, Buddhism has a long and sometimes complicated history, and the terms found in it have often evolved a meaning peculiar to it. To help the reader circumnavigate the murky waters of such semantics, the following glossary is offered. If any mistakes or glaring omissions have been made, please use the post’s comments feature to offer your assistance in improving these efforts. All non-English terms are Sanskrit except where stated, the latter being used for Mahayana terms. An Indian language closely related to Sanskrit and used in Theravada Buddhism is Pali. The words in bold are the usual ones to be found on Buddha Space.

Ajahn (Thai): ‘Teacher’ or ‘Master’ in secular as well as monastic usage.

Amitabha/Amituofo (Chinese)/Amida (Japanese): The Buddha of Infinite Light, whose name is repeated all over the Far East in the hope of being reborn in his ‘Western Paradise’; in Chinese Zen, repetition of his name can lead to concentrative states of mind and enlightenment.

Anatman/Anatta (Pali): ‘Not Self’; the denial of a permanent & separate self.

Anitya/Anicca (Pali): ‘Impermanence’; all created things are impermanent.

Arhat/Arahant (Pali): An enlightened person in Theravada Buddhism.

Aryastangamarga/ Ariya Atthangika Magga (Pali): The Noble Eightfold Path which consists of
Right Understanding; Right Attitude; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Livelihood; Right Effort; Right Mindfulness; Right Concentration.

Atman/Atta (Pali): ‘Self’; the idea, belief, or delusional experience of selfhood.

Avidya/Avijja (Pali): ‘Ignorance’; not knowing the truths of not-self or emptiness.

Bhagavan/Bhagava (Pali): ‘Lord’ or ‘Blessed One’; a title of the Buddha.

Bhikshu/Bhikkhu (Pali): A fully-ordained Buddhist monk.

Bhikshuni/Bhikkhuni (Pali): A fully-ordained Buddhist nun.

Bodhi: ‘Enlightenment’, literally ‘Awakening’; realization of the way things are; equals Nirvana.

Bodhisattva: ‘Being of Enlightenment’; a being that forgoes full enlightenment in order to save others from suffering first; the Mahayana equivalent to an Arhat.

Buddha: ‘The Enlightened One’; literally ‘The Awakened One’; the historical Buddha; The primordial reality that lies beneath apparent phenomena (in this Mahayana sense, Buddha equals the unconditioned Dharma or ‘Buddha Nature’); ‘buddha’ can indicate any of the enlightened teachers that founded Buddhism in the distant past.

Buddhadhatu: ‘Buddha Nature’; our innate reality; equals Nirvava.

Buddhadharma: ‘The Teachings of the Buddha’.

Catvari Aryasatyani/Cattari Ariya Saccani (Pali): ‘The Four Noble Truths’; the essential teachings of the Buddha; 1) life is suffering, 2) desire causes suffering, 3) to end desire ends suffering, 4) the path leading to this end (The Noble Eightfold Path.)

Chan (Chinese): short for ‘Channa’, equaling the Sanskrit Dhyana; in Japanese pronounced ‘Zen’.

Dana: ‘Generosity’; an important quality Buddhists are encouraged to develop, along with morality and meditation.

Dao/Tao (Chinese): ‘The Way’; traditional term meaning the underlying reality of things; in Buddhism, designates the Buddhist Path;

Dharma: equals ultimate reality, or 'the-way-things-are'; with small d means any thing or quality of a thing.

Dharmachakra: ‘Dharma Wheel’; a symbol of the Noble Eightfold Path, and of Buddhism itself.

Dharmakaya: ‘the Dharma Body’; the ultimate ‘body’ of a Buddha; the unconditioned.

Dhyana/Jhana (Pali): Deep states of meditative concentration or ‘absorption’.

Duhkha/Dukkha (Pali): ‘Unsatisfactory’ or suffering nature of all created things or states.

Ekayana: ‘the One Vehicle’ (mindfulness) that leads to enlightenment found in the teachings on the satipatthana of Theravada Buddhism; ‘the One Vehicle ‘ that supersedes all other vehicles or ways, as written in the Lotus Scripture of Mahayana Buddhism.

Guanyin (Chinese) Kannon (Japanese): also Guanshiyin/Kuanyin/Kuanshiyin (Chinese) & Kanzeon (Japanese); the Bodhisattva that ‘hears the cries of the world’ in Far Eastern Buddhism; an oriental version of Avalokiteshvara.

Hui-neng (Chinese): The sixth patriarch of Zen Buddhism; an important founder of the Zen school of Buddhism, revered by all Zen Buddhists.

Jina: ‘the Victor’; the historical Buddha who had a victory over Yama and suffering.

Karma/Kamma: ‘Action’; all action that has a result, whether in this life or a future one.

Karuna: ‘Compassion’, an emotion highly regarded in all types of Buddhism.

Koan (Japanese): a kind of Zen riddle that leads the aspirant to a moment of sudden breakthrough into awakening to reality.

Marga/Magga (Pali): ‘The Path’ or ‘The Way’(see Dao); the Buddhist Path.

Mahayana: ‘the Great Vehicle’; the form of Buddhism found in such places as China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and the Himalayas. It emphasizes the ideal of the Bodhisattva as opposed to the Arhat, and puts great importance on compassion.

Mara: the Buddhist ‘Devil’; the personification of evil in Buddhist tradition.

Metta: ‘Kindness’, ‘Loving-kindness’ or ‘Goodwill’, highly regarded by Buddhists.

Nembutsu (Japanese)/ Nienfo (Chinese): 'Recitation of Buddha'. The practice of reciting the mantra 'Namo Amitabha Buddha', which is 'Namo Amituofo' in Chinese & 'Namu Amida Butsu' in Japanese. This is done to concentrate & purify the mind, either to worthy of rebirth in Amitabha's heaven, or to realize Bodhi here and now.

Nirvana/Nibbana (Pali): ‘Extinction’ (of greed, hatred and delusion); equals Bodhi.

Prajna/Panna (Pali): ‘Wisdom’; the realization that all things are impermanent, suffering, and not-self, and the emptiness that lies at their heart.

Prajna-Paramita: ‘The Perfection of Wisdom’; an important stage on the Way, extolled particular in Mahayana Buddhism, centered on the realization of emptiness.

Pratimoksha/Patimokkha (Pali): ‘the Monk’s Rules’ of conduct.

Pratitya-samutpada/Paticcasamuppada: ‘Dependent Arising’, sometimes ‘Dependent Origination’; a twelve-step description of how ignorance leads to birth, suffering, and death.

Pratyekabuddha/Paccekabuddha (Pali): ‘Solitary Buddha’; a being that realizes enlightenment but
doesn’t teach others how to achieve it also.

Samadhi: ‘Concentration’; a single-focus of mind that leads to calmness and includes the various states of absorption (see Dhyana/Jhana).

Sangha: ‘Community’ or ‘Order’; in ‘Bhikshu-Sangha’, the Order of Monks; in 'Arya-Sangha', the Community of Arhats or awakened ones.

Samsara: ‘the Rounds of Rebirth’; the continual rebirth, moment-to-moment and life-to-life of the unenlightened being.

Satori (Japanese): 'Understanding'. An awakening to reality in the present moment. Degrees of satori are recognized in Zen Buddhism that will lead to Nirvana.

Smrti-upasthana/Satipatthana (Pali): ‘Bases of Mindfulness’ or ‘Foundations of Mindfulness’; important teachings on objects for mindful awareness in Theravada Buddhism; 1) mindfulness of the body, 2) mindfulness of feelings, 3) mindfulness of the mind, 4) mindfulness of mental objects.

Shakyamuni: ‘Sage of the Shakyas’; a title of the Buddha (Shakya being his clan name).

Shramana/Samana (Pali): ‘Striver’; an Indian homeless wanderer in search of enlightenment; equals a monk or nun in Buddhist usage.

Shunyata: ‘Emptiness’; the essential fact that all created things are inherently empty of a separate self; found in Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism but emphasized in the latter.

Siddhartha Gautama/Siddhattha Gotama (Pali): the name of the historical Buddha; Gautama was his surname.

Sila: ‘Morality’; a crucial aspect to the practice of Buddhism, sometimes overlooked!

Skandha/Khanda (Pali): ‘the Aggregates’ that make up a human being, consisting of 1) body, 2) feelings, 3) perceptions, 4) mental formations, and 5) consciousness.

Sutra/Sutta (Pali): literally ‘thread’, as in the thread of meaning that runs through some teachings; it means a discourse (usually) spoken by the Buddha; Mahayana Buddhism uses Sutra whereas Theravada Buddhism uses Sutta.

Tathagata: the ‘Thus-come-one’ or ‘Thus-gone-one’; a title of the historical Buddha.

Theravada (Pali): ‘the Doctrine of the Elders’; one of the two main kinds of Buddhism in the world today; followers believe it is the oldest extant form of Buddhism, and that its scriptures contain the actual teachings of the historical Buddha. It is predominant in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

Tipitaka (Pali): the Theravada Buddhist scriptures.

Tripitaka: the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures.

Trisharana/Tisarana (Pali): ‘the Triple Gem’ or ‘the Three Jewels’ that Buddhists take refuge in; 1) the Buddha 2) the Dharma 3) the Sangha.

Wat (Thai): ‘temple-monastery’; a Buddhist temple where monks live.

Yama: the Hindu and Buddhist god of hell that symbolizes death itself.

Zazen (Japanese): ‘Sitting Zen’; to sit in meditation in Zen Buddhism.

Zen (Japanese): 'absorption' or meditation; also indicates the reality that lies beyond words and concepts, and which Buddhists seek to discover; Chan in Chinese. See Dharma.