Buddhist Glossary

Get a quick understanding of the terms related to Buddhism


  • Alms: In Buddhism, the offering of food to monks on their daily rounds and the donation of goods and money to the monasteries.
  • Amida Butsu: Japanese version of Amitabha Buddha. See Amitabha
  • Amitabha: The Bodhisattva whose name means "Budha of Boundless Light" and who dwells in the paradise called the Pure Land. He is also the founder of this sect of Buddhism.
  • Ănăpănasati(Pali): Literally, "Inhale-Exhale" (Ăna-Pănasa). Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing used in many forms of meditation. Wakefulness during inhalation and exhaling, meditation on the breath. One of the most important preliminary exercises for the attainment of the Four Absorptions (Dhyăna). Generally consists of counting the inhalations and exhalations, which has the effect of calming the mind. This exercise is the basic preliminary practice of meditation in the various schools of Buddhism. Concentration on the breathing process leads to one-pointedness of the mind; ultimately to insight that leads to Arahantship. See Dhyăna
  • Anatta: Not-self
  • Anicca: Impermanence
  • Arhat: A Buddhist monk who is free from all illusions and who has achieved personal enlightenment. This term is used primarily in Theravada Buddhism.
  • Atman: Hindu idea of a soul - the individual consciousness that was reborn again and again.
  • Avalokiteshvara: Bodhisattva of Compassion. Compassion and Wisdom represent the two main concepts of Mahayana Buddhism. See Manjushri.
  • Bardo: A human soul between the stages of after-death and rebirth.
  • Bardo Thodol: The Tibetan name for the Book of the Dead.
  • Bhikkhu: A fully ordained monk who has left his home and renounced all his possessions in order to follow the Way of the Buddha
  • Bikkhu: See Bhikkhu
  • Bikshu: See Bhikkhu
  • Bodhisattva: A being in the final stages of attaining Buddhahood, who has vowed to help all sentient beings achieve Nirvana, or enlightenment, before he himself achieves it.
  • Bo Tree: The tree beneath which the meditating Gautama sat before he achieved enlightenment.
  • Bodhi Tree: See Bo Tree
  • Bodhidharma: The legendary monk who brought Buddhism from India to China in the sixth century C.E.
  • Brahman: the Ultimate Reality. Similar to a Supreme Being.
  • Buddha: Enlightened One
  • Buddha-nature: The nature innate in every sentient being. The potential for attaining Buddhahood.
  • Butsu-dan: Japanese Buddhist household altar.
  • Chaitya: An assembly hall for monks.
  • Ch'an: Forms of Mahayana Buddhism in China. Japanese version is called Zen. See also Zen
  • Cuanda: Blacksmith that gave a meal to Buddha, causing him to become ill.
  • Dharma: The ultimate law, or doctrine, as taught by Buddha, which consists of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
  • Dhyăna(Four Absorptions): A state of mind achieved through higher meditation.
  • Dukkha: Suffering, emptiness, impermanence. (one of 4 noble truths)
  • Gassho (Japanese): (Often from term "Kongő-Gassho" with Kongő meaning "mixture" or "blend"). A Mudra (hand posture) seen in Bodhisattvas or lesser Buddhist personages. The Gassho Mudra is formed by placing the palms and fingers of the hands together in a prayer like position in front of the mouth - with the fingertips at a point just short of the bottom of the nose. The Gassho gesture or position reflects recognition of the oneness of all beings. The Gassho gesture is also used to show reverence to The Buddha, Patriarchs or Teachers. The left and right hand and posture can represent many things:
    • The right hand represents the one performing the salute; the left, the thing, idea or person to whom Gassho is being rendered.
    • Non-Duality: One hand symbolizes the mind, the other the body, and the posture reminds you that you and all other living beings are one.
    • One hand stands for you and the other for the person you are greeting or for the entire universe.
  • Gotama: Another name for Buddha.
  • Hinayana: Literally, "small vehicle." A term used by the Mahayanists to describe earlier orthodox sects of Buddhism (Theravada School). Their scriptures are written in Pali, an ancient Indian language. See also Theravada and Vajrayana
  • Imponderables: (Four Imponderables). Four things that Buddha warned against. One of these was trying to get into Karmic detail and look to find the "results" of volitional actions (Karma). It is enough to just Know and Understand and Intuitively have insight into the Fact that Volitional Action (karma) begets a result (Vipaka). It is even impossible to judge good and bad because that leads to the intellectual trap of duality and it's Dukkha. From the Pali Canon.... "These four imponderables are not to be speculated about. Whoever speculates about them would go mad & experience vexation. Which four?
    1. The Buddha-range of the Buddhas (i.e., the range of powers a Buddha develops as a result of becoming a Buddha)...
    2. The jhana-range of one absorbed in jhana (i.e., the range of powers that one may obtain while absorbed in jhana)....
    3. The results of kamma...
    4. Speculation about (the first moment, purpose, etc., of) the cosmos is an imponderable that is not to be speculated about. Whoever speculates about these things would go mad and experience vexation."
  • Kalamas(Pali): A tribe of Northeast India during the lifetime of The Buddha. They are particularly well known in Buddhist history as the recipients of The Buddha's advice on the subject of who to accept as authorities in one's search for truth. To the Kalamas, the tribal leaders who were seeking the truth and sought The Buddha's advice, Buddha spoke and were recorded in the Kalama Sutra.
  • Kalama Sutra: Buddha's advice to the Kalamas on seeking truth..."Do not accept anything on (mere) hearsay, thinking that thus we have heard it for a long time. Do not accept anything based on mere tradition, thinking that it has thus been handed down for many generations. Do not accept anything on account of mere rumors, believing what others say, without thorough investigation. Do not accept anything just because it is in accord with your scriptures. Do not accept anything by mere supposition. Do not accept anything on the basis of merely considering the reasons. Do not accept anything because it agrees with your preconceived notions. Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable. Do not accept anything, thinking, the Monk, Teacher, Holyman, Buddha, etc. is respected by us. But, when you know for yourselves, these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censored by the wise; these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to ruin and sorrow - then indeed do you reject them. (On the other hand) When you know for yourselves, these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise; these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness, then do you believe and live accordingly."
  • Karma: Literally, "deed." A concept that binds its followers to an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and, according to one's deeds in life, determines the condition of one's rebirth.
  • Koan: A riddle, tale, or short statement used by Zen masters to bring their students to sudden insight.
  • Lama: Literally, "superior one." A Buddhist monk of Tibet.
  • Magga: Path leading to the cessation of suffering (one of 4 noble truths)
  • Mahayana: Literally, "great vehicle." One of the three major forms of Buddhism, Mahayana is considered the more liberal and practical. Its scriptures are written in Sanskrit. See also Theravada and Vajrayana.
  • Maitreya: Literally, "Friendly One." The Bodhisattva who embodies the virtues of wisdom and eloquence.
  • Manjushri: Bodhisattva of Wisdom. Wisdom (prajna) is, along with Compassion, represents the two main concepts of Mahayana Buddhism. See Prajna and Avalokiteshvara.
  • Mandala: A painting or tapestry with images of Buddha, bodhisattvas, and other images. Used as a focus of meditation for monks and as an object of worship for many.
  • Mantra: Ritual sound, word, or phrase used to evoke a certain religious effect.
  • Mara: The personification of evil. The god of death.
  • Maya: Queen Maya, mother of Buddha.
  • Metta (Pali): Literally means, "Friendship" but often translated as "Loving Kindness". In a general sense it has the mood of friendliness as its characteristic; its natural function is to promote friendliness between beings. It is manifested by the disappearance of ill-will. When it succeeds in establishing its footing of general friendliness and affection for other beings it eliminates ill-will from one's thoughts and character. When it fails, it degenerates into selfish affectionate desire. The true "feeling" of Metta cannot be easily defined in a single English term; Perhaps if one were to try and imagine the feeling experienced by a young Mother for her new born first baby - which is so powerful that she would willingly give her live to save the child; that feeling would be very close to Metta. Metta, in Buddhist Doctrine is the feeling one must first have towards them self; not in a narcissistic sense but in a sense of being content with who and what one is and assured that every effort has been made to exercise love and compassion towards all fellow beings. Then, and only then, can one spread the feeling towards all other beings in the universe.
  • Moksha: Literally, "release." An idea originally developed from Upanishadic teachers. By leading a highly spiritual life (or several lives), a soul could be reunited with Brahman, the Ultimate Reality.
  • Mudra: Hand gestures often depicted on statues of the Buddha. The gestures symbolize different meaning (meditation, etc).
  • Namu Amida Butsa: Literally, "Praise to the Buddha Amitabha". In Japanese Pure Land sect, this is the phrase used to call on Amitabha Buddha. See Nembutsu
  • Nirodha: Cessation of suffering (one of 4 noble truths)
  • Nirvana: Literally, "extinction." The ultimateM#<2 goal of Buddhists, characterized as the extinction of both craving and the separate "ego." The state of peace and quietude attained by extinguishing all illusions.
  • Nembutsu: Short form of "Namu Amida Butsa". See Namu Amida Butsa
  • Parinirvana: Death of the Buddha.
  • Piti: Bliss
  • Prajna: Literally, Wisdom. This term represents the wisdom obtained during enlightenment, and one of the key insight is emptiness.
  • Prajna-Paramita Sutra: Collection of 40 Mahayana sutras dealing with Prajna and its attainment.
  • Pure Land: A sect of Mahayana Buddhism founded by Amitabha Buddha. The Pure Land is a paradise in the "west" where people can go when they die. People must call on Amitabha to enter this paradise. See Namu Amidha Butsu
  • Rahula
    1. Literally, "fetter" or "impediment."
    2. Son of Siddhartha
  • Rajah: Chief or king
  • Sakyamuni
    1. Sage of the Sakyas
    2. Another name of the Buddha
  • Samsara: The continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (reincarnation)
  • Samudaya: Cause of suffering (one of 4 noble truths)
  • Sangha: An organized assembly of Buddhist monks.
  • Shuddhodana: King Shuddhodana, father of Buddha.
  • Siddhartha
    1. He whose aim is accomplished
    2. Birth name of the Buddha
  • Skandhas: Five elements each individual is composed of.
  • Stupa: A dome, or pagoda, in which sacred relics are deposited.
  • Sunyata: (Pali: Sunnata) Emptiness; The belief that all phenomena are dependent on and caused by other phenomena, thus without intrinsic essense.
  • Sutra: Literally, "thread" or "string." A scripture containing the teachings of Buddha.
  • Sutta: See Sutra
  • Theravada: Literally, "School of the Elders." Aso known as Hinayana. One of the three major forms of Buddhism, Theravada is considered to be the original and orthodox form of Buddhism. See also Hinayana and Vajrayana.
  • Tipitaka: Literally, "Three Baskets." According to Buddhist belief, the scriptures were stored in three baskets, dividing Buddha's teachings into the code of discipline for monks, his sermons and discourses, and the higher doctrine (Buddhist philosophy and psychology)
  • Tonglen: Tibetan meditation technique related to the breath. Many people meditate to expel negative energy thereby leaving behind the positive, which of course leaves you feeling charged up but at the expense of blowing your negativism back into the world for others to deal with. In Tonglen, you suck in everyone else's negative energy, transform it to positive energy through your overwhelming compassionate radiance, and expel the positive energy back into the world. You become like a Boddhisattva who accepts the woes of the world to relieve it of suffering so that others may find nirvana. Idea is to have overwhelming compassion for others such that you accept their suffering ... in turn, because you have such overwhelming compassion, you can transform anything into positive radiance."
  • Upasaka: Followers of Buddhism that believed in Buddha's teachings, but did not follow the strict rule of the Sangha.
  • Urna: A mark on the Buddha's forehead, between his eyebrows, that signifies his great intuition.
  • Ushanisha: A protuberance atop Buddha's head that signifies his great wisdom.
  • Vajrayana: Literally, "diamond vehicle." One of the three major forms of Buddhism, Vajrayana is popular in Tibet. See also Theravada and Mahayana
  • Vihara: Cave dwellings for monks.
  • Vipaka: A result of Karma.
  • Vipassana Meditation(Insight meditation): The Insight Knowledges resultant from the practice of Vipassana Meditation are:
    1. Impermanence (Aniccanupassana - Pali).
    2. Suffering (Dukkhanupassana - Pali).
    3. No self (Anattanupassana).
    4. Aversion (Nibiddanupassana).
    5. Detachment (Viraganupassana).
    6. Extinction (Nirodhanupassana).
    7. Abandoning (Patinissagganupassana).
    8. Waning (Khayanupassana).
    9. Vanishing (Vayanupassana).
    10. Change (Viparinamanupassana).
    11. The unconditioned or signless (Animittanupassana).
    12. Desirelessness (Apanihitanupassana).
    13. Emptiness (Sunnatanupassana).
    14. Insight into phenomena which is higher wisdom (Addhi Panna-dhamma Vipassana).
    15. Knowledge and vision according to reality (Yatha-bhuta-nana-dassana).
    16. Misery or danger (Adinavanupassana).
    17. Reflection Contemplation (Patisankhanupassana).
    18. Turning away (Vivattananupassana).
  • Yasodhara: Wife of Buddha
  • Zen: Forms of Mahayana Buddhism in Japan. Chinese version is called Ch'an. See also Ch'an

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