Official Buddhism Glossary

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The name of a Hindu diety, one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He is the god of fire and the acceptor of sacrifices.

Amitabha Buddha
The name of the bodhisattva who established the Pure Land form of Buddhism. The power he gained from his merit as a bodhisattva allows him to help get to the Pure Land. They do not have to get there on their own power.

Amida Butsu
In Japanese, the term by which devotees call on Amitabha Buddha. They usually say "Praise to the Buddha Amitabha," i.e., "Namu Amida Butsa," which can be shortened to "Nembutsu."

The Buddhist notion that there is no eternal soul, unlike in Hinduism. Instead, each living person is an association of five skandas, which fly apart at death. (Linguistically, "atta" is Pali for "atman" while "an" is the negative. The term literally means "no soul.")

A term used primarily in Theravada Buddhism to signify a person who has fulfilled its ultimate goal, the attainment of nirvana. Upon death, the arhat will become extinguished. The arhat, as an individual, has attained full enlightenment, peace and freedom. This should be contrasted to Mahayana Buddhism, in which the ultimate goal is to become a bodhisattva--someone who uses the power they gain from enlightenment to help others (over many lifetimes.)

Self, oneself; in Sanskrit, also a technical term for the transcendent Self of the Upanishads.

Popularly known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion. He has reincarnated in this world numerous times (in both male and female forms) and therefore plays many roles depending on which strand of Buddhism one follows. First, in Mahayana Buddhism, he is considered to be the manifestation of Amitabha Buddha, the founder of the Pure Land school of Buddhism. As such he is available to help all in dire need. Second, in China, she appears as Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion. In folk belief, she keeps people safe from natural catastrophe. Third, in Tibet, he appears in several forms. The most important of these are as Chenrezig, the male partner of the couple who gave birth to the Tibetan people, and as the Dalai Lama.

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bhikkhu, bikkhuni
A Buddhist monk, a buddhist nun.

A religious mendicant; a fully odained Buddhist monk.

Sanskrit for Enlightenment. Also Perfect knowledge or wisdom by which a person becomes a Buddha.

In Mahayana Buddhism, a person who has achieved enlightenment, but has who has chosen to remain in this world to help those who are suffering, instead of going on to nirvana. This is the highest ideal. Kuan Yin is an important Chinese bodhisattva; her full name means "Hearing World's Cries Bodhisattva." Amitabha Buddha is an important Bohisattva in the Mahayana form of Buddhism called Pure Land. The idea of the bodhisattva should be contrasted to the arhat of Theravada Buddhism.

God as Creator (not to be confused with Brahman, the transcendent Godhead of the Upanishads.)

(1) A buddha is someone who has attained enlightenment.
(2) The Buddha is Siddartha who was the founder of Buddhism. He was the first to attain enlightenment, and then taught others how to attain it.

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Chan Buddhism
The Chinese name for Zen Buddhism.

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Dalai Lama
The bodhisattva who is the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of Compassion. He is a single person who has been reincarnated 14 times as the Dalai Lama. See also lama. The Dalai Lama has always been a combination the chief spiritual leader and the chief political leader of Tibet. The present Dalai Lama lives in exile in Nepal; he remains spiritual leader of his people, even under their oppression by the Chinese government.

A Chinese concept signifying 'way', 'path', 'route', or sometimes more loosely, 'doctrine' or 'principle'.

Dharma, Dhamma
Law, duty, justice, righteousness, virtue; the social or moral order; the unity of life; the teachings or Way of the Buddha; also, in a separate sense, a mental state or moment or unit of thought.

See Thunderbolt.

The Buddhist understanding of the nature of life, especially human life. It is suffering, pain, misery, and death.

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Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path consists of the eight steps by which a person can achieve Nirvana. This is the path by which one ceases to desire and thereby ceases to suffer (see dukkha). This path leads to a form of meditation which, similar to Raja Yoga in Hinduism, enables a person to reach enlightenment. The eight stages are:

(1) Right Views.
(2) Right Intent.
(3) Right Speech.
(4) Right Conduct.
(5) Right livelihood.
(6) Right effort.
(7) Right mindfulness.
(8) Right concentration.

Emptiness is usually the description of Enlightenment. To the western mind, this description is often difficult to comprehend, leading to the idea that it is "nothing," and therefore quite unattractive. Two points will help correct this view. First, "emptiness" can be understood as the Buddhist way of saying that Ultimate Reality is incapable of being described, much the way that many Christian theologians view the Christian God as beyond our human attempts to describe. Second, the "emptiness" should not be thought of an another place. 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). Thus emptiness and the phenomena of this world are the same, or as the Heart Sutra says, "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form."

This is the usual English translation of the Sanskrit word "bodhi," which literally means "awakening." It is achieved by following the Noble Eightfold Path, and therefore constitutes freedom from all desires. Enlightenment gives the person who achieves it the wisdom of perceiving the ultimate reality, which entails the power and the ability to work to change that reality in certain ways -- especially to help people in need. For example, Amitabha created the western land -- the Pure Land -- as a heaven for his followers. Enlightenment is often described as emptiness. This is the final step before nirvana.

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Five Precepts
The minimum set of moral rules for Buddhism, practiced by both the lay people and the monks of the sangha. The Ten Precepts are the code of monastic discipline for the monks. The Five Precepts forbid:

(1) theft
(2) improper sexual practices (adultery for lay people, sexual activity of any kind for monks)
(3) killing
(4) lying and deceiving
(5) drinking alcoholic drinks

Four Noble Truths
The most basic statement of Buddhist belief:

(1) All is suffering (dukkha).
(2) Suffering is caused by selfish desire (trishna).
(3) If one can eliminate desire, they can eliminate suffering.
(4) The Noble Eightfold Path can eliminate desire.

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The Buddha's family name, or last name. His first name was Siddhartha.

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Heart Sutra
One of the central sutras in Mahayana Buddhism. It is particularly important in Zen because of its teaching about emptiness. The key idea of this teaching is: Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form."

The term literally means "the Little Way." It is a derogatory term put onto Theravada Buddhism by those who follow Mahayana, which means "the Great Way (or vehicle, or raft)."

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Tales of the Buddha's former lives.

The Jhanas are eight altered states of consciousness which can arise during periods of strong concentration. See The Jhanas in Theravadan Buddhist Meditation.

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For Buddhism, as in Hinduism, this is the moral law of cause and effect. People build up karma (both good and bad) as a result of their actions. This then determines the level to which one is reborn after birth. In Buddhism, the different levels can include hells, humans or animals in this world, or one of several heavens.

A riddle-like puzzle used for teaching in Zen Buddhism. It cannot be solved by reason, but instead forces the student to solve it through a flash of insight. A well-known example is the question, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" For a collection of koans, click here.

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An English word used to refer to the general members of a religion (in Buddhism, Christianity, etc.) as opposed to religious specialists such as monks or priests.

In Vajrayana, the term for teacher or guru. He is usually the head of a monastery or perhaps several monasteries. Some important lamas are considered to be bodhisattvas, such as the Dalai Lama.

Lotus Sutra
The Lotus Sutra is probably the most important text of Mahayana Buddhism. It describes a lecture the Buddha gave and the ideas and thoughts. He discusses all the things that differentiate Mahayana Buddhism from Theravada, such as the idea of a bodhisattva, in particular the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the merit of the people who venerate the Lotus Sutra, and the key to nirvana and Buddhahood.

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Mahayana Buddhism
Mahayana means "The Great Raft" or "The Great Vehicle." It is the largest and most influential of the three main forms of Buddhism (the other two being Theravada and Vajrayana ). It is practiced in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Vajrayana derived from it and shares many similarities with it. Mahayana emphasizes the idea of the bodhisattva over that of the arhat. The goal of an individual is therefore not to pass out of this world into nirvana, but to attain enlightenment--with the wisdom, understanding and power that goes with it--and then to show compassion by returning to this world to help those in need. Amitabha Buddha did this to establish Pure Land Buddhism. In comparison to Theravada, Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the help that gods and bodhisattvas can give to people to help them escape samsara. It has elaborate descriptions of how this works and emphasizes prayers and rituals that enable people to seek this help. Zen is another branch of Mahayana Buddhism.

The Buddha who is expected to come in the future, known to all schools of Buddhism. He is worshipped as a being who guides those who confess their wrongs, and teachers who become discouraged. He is sometimes depicted as the "Laughing Buddha" with his hands stretched over his head, a smile on his face, and a large, bare stomach.

In general, an art form based on the closed circle, which is the symbol on eternal continuity. In Trantric Buddhism (Vajrayana), it is a painting or tapestry based on concentric circles. Within the circles, the Buddha usually appears with other deities, bodhisattvas, and other symbolic imagery. For the monk, a mandala serves as a focus of meditation, and a symbolic representation of the reality of the identity of samsara and nirvana. In popular religion, the mandala is often the focus of worship -- or, to put it another way, the buddhas and deities depicted in a mandala become the object(s) of worship. For further information about mandalas, click here.

mantra, mantram
A sound that is used as a focus for medition or worship; a short prayer. Similar to Hinduism.

Death, "the Striker" or "Tempter" or "The Evil One" or "The Killer"; embodiment of the selfish attachments and temptations that bind one to the cycle of birth and death. The opposite of the Buddha nature in each person. Mara personifies unwholesome impulses, unskillfulness, the "death" of the spiritual life. He is a tempter, distracting humans from practicing the spiritual life by making the mundane alluring or the negative seem positive.

Metta means "Loving-kindness".

A meditation practice that develops loving kindness toward all sentient beings.

Merit is essentially "good Karma." It can be gained in a number of ways. Many of these involve interaction between the sangha and the laity. For example, when a lay person gives a monk food, they gain merit. Acting in a moral manner, teaching the proper belief, preaching, and chanting also gain an individual merit. Worship of the Buddha can also bring merit. The notion of merit plays the largest role in Theravada Buddhism.

Symbolic hand gestures used in ritual or dance. The Buddha is often depicted with his hands in the meditation mudra or in the mudra symbolizing teaching. In Vajrayana, the gestures enlarge to involve the entire body, and they enable the gesturer to interact with Tantric deities.

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It is the cessation of suffering, the liberation from karma, and therefore the passing over into another world. The best way to think about nirvana is that it is the final goal of Buddhism, and that Enlightenment is the step immediately before it. Thus one becomes aware of the nature of Ultimate Reality in Enlightenment, and then one becomes unified with that reality in nirvana. Thus the Buddha, when he died, passed into Nirvana, having perviously attained Enlightenment during his life and sharing it with humanity. A bodhisattva is one who has attained Enlightenment, but rather than passing over into nirvana, chose to come back to this world to use their power to help other people. Nirvana has a beginning, but once attained it has no end.

Noble Truths
See Four Noble Truths

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A Sanskrit word for radiant wisdom.

Means "the Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom." Praj˝aparamita combines the Sanskrit words praj˝a ("wisdom") with paramita ("perfection").

A act of worship or devotion to a Buddha or a Bodhisattva.

Pure Land Buddhism
The form of Buddhism established by the Boddhisattva Amitabha. In China and Japan, this form of Buddhism has the largest following of all the different types of Buddhism. This form of Buddhism is aimed at the average person in its recognition that most people cannot achieve enlightenment and so are doomed forever to stay in samsara. So Amitabha set up a "Pure Land" in the "west"--kind of like a heaven--to which people can go when they die. To gain entrance, people simply have to call on the power of Amitabha. This is done by uttering a phrase such as "Namu Amidha Butsu," which is Japanese for "Praise to Amitabha Buddha."

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See Three Vows.

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Sakya, Sakymuni
The Sakya is the clan into which the Buddha was born. "Sakyamuni" means "wise one of the Sakya," which was a title given to the Buddha.

The continual cycle of death and rebirth. This death and rebirth is of course into this world of suffering and this is viewed in a negative manner. Samsara, the ceaseless round of birth and death, has no beginning, but it has an end: Nirvana.

A general term that refers to the monks (Bhikkhus) as a whole. (a spiritual community)

This is the twice-daily meeting between the student and the master in Zen Buddhism to discuss the student's progress in meditation. The main purpose is to determine whether the student has solved their koan. If not, the incorrect answer is rejected, and the master must then spur the student on to find a correct solution.

Zen Buddhism's term for enlightenment.

The Buddha's given name, or first name. His surname was Gautama.

See the Five Precepts.

The five elements of a human which come together at birth and separate at death (the aggregates that compose our whole mental and physical existence.)

(1) body
(2) feelings/senses
(3) perceptions
(4) habits & inclinations
(5) consciousness

A shrine in which relics of the Buddha are kept. It often has a dome shape.

As in Hinduism, a sacred text.

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See Vajrayana.

Tantrism and tantric ideas begin with notions in line with all forms of Buddhism, namely, the idea that Ultimate Reality is a singular Unity. It is not the apparent multiplicity of the present world around us (maya). Tantrism, which is a key component of Vajrayana, then goes beyond these notions to their representation in the symbol of the sexual union between male and female (see yab-yum). This union is a symbol of the identity of the multiple nature of this world (maya), which is represented by the male, with the unity and wisdom of cosmos, represented by the female. In some schools, the symbol of intercourse is reenacted as part of meditation.

Tathagata is a title of the Buddha meaning "he or she who has come from the world of suchness (ultimate reality)."

Ten Precepts
This is the code of monastic discipline for the monks. It consists of the Five Precepts (no stealing, sexual activity, killing, lying, or alcohol) which apply to all Buddhists, and five further restrictions designed specifically for members of the sangha. These are:
(6) Not to take food from noon to the next morning.
(7) Not to adorn the body with anything other than the monk's robe.
(8) Not to participate in or watch public entertainments.
(9) Not to use high or comfortable beds.
(10) Not to use money.

Literally, "the path of the Elders." Of the three major branches of Buddhism, this was the earliest to crystalize into form. In contrast to Mahayana and Vajrayana, Theravada emphasizes the individual over the group, holding that it is the individual who must reach nirvana on their own. Its central virtue is thus wisdom, which is to be achieved by the arhat who attains enlightenment in this life and nirvana upon death. It discourages speculation about the nature of the cosmos, enlightenment, and nirvana, instead focusing on meditation to achieve enlightenment. The main social group is therefore the sangha, the gathered monks and nuns who support and teach each other as each one strives to achieve enlightenment.

The Three Vows, also known as The Three Refuges, Triple Gem, Three Treasures, Precious Triad or The Three Jewels

(1) I take refuge in the Buddha.
(2) I take refuge in the Dharma (the teachings).
(3) I take refuge in the Sangha (the community).

The English word often used to translate the Sanskrit word "vajra" (Tibetan, "dorje"), which is key symbol for Vajrayana Buddhism. It means literally "Diamond Thunderbolt." It symbolizes the indestructible character of emptiness, the true nature of all things. Tibetan Buddhists use a crafted metal image of a thunderbolt in their rituals.

tripitaka, tipitaka
The three main sacred scriptures of Buddhism. A "pitaka" is a basket and so the term refers to the "three baskets." The first basket is the teachings of the Buddha. The second is the discipline for the sangha. The third is that of special teachings. For further information about the tripitaka, click here.

Trishna, which literally means thirst and is also translated as desire, clinging, greed, craving, or lust. Because we and the world are imperfect, impermanent, and not separate, we are forever "clinging" to things, each other, and ourselves, in a mistaken effort at permanence.

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True or sacred knowledge; name of celebrated works which constitute the basis of the first period of the Hindu religion.

Since a "vajra" is a diamond, this term means "The Diamond Way." It refers to the third form of Buddhism (after TheravadaTheravada and Mahayana), which is practiced largely in Tibet. It is also known as Trantric Buddhism. The main claim of Vajrayana is that it enables a person to reach nirvana in a single lifetime. It is able to do this by using all of a person's powers (including those of the body) to achieve that goal.

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In Tibeten Buddhism, or Vajrayana Buddhism, this is the symbol of the male and female sexual union--usually a union of a god or a bodhisattva and his consort--which represents the completeness of the cosmos. The male represents action, usually that of compassion, in this finite world, and the female represents wisdom, the unity of the Infinite.

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In Zen Buddhism, the practice of extended periods of medition, usually in a group in a meeting hall. The monks sit quietly for long periods of time in the cross-legged Lotus position. While different individuals will be meditating with different goals, often meditation focuses on solving a koan. For more information than you ever wanted to know about zazen, click here.

Zen Buddhism
A branch of Mahayana Buddhism which was brought to China (where it was called Chan) in 520 CE by Bodhidarma and arrived in Japan in the twelfth century. It is probably the most common form of Buddhism in the West. Practitioners of Zen must usually devote themselves to a life as a monk, for it requires extensive periods of meditation. It concentrates on making clear that reality is beyond words and language and beyond logic. To accomplish this, it makes use of the koan, zazen, and sanzen.

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Buddha's Birthdate is April 8th, 563 B.C.

Aum Mani Padmé Hum or Om Mani Padmé Hung or Om Mani Peme Hung
"The All is a precious jewel in the lotus flower which blooms in my heart". (92k .wav file)

In the Chandogya Upanishad it is said:
The essence of all beings is the earth.
The essence of the earth is water.
The essence of water is the plant.
The essence of the plant is man.
The essence of man is speech.
The essence of speech is the Rigveda.
The essence of Rigveda is the Samveda.
The essence of Samveda is OM.
Thus OM is the best of all essences, deserving the highest place.    (OM by Nitin Kumar)

Om Gate Gate Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha
        meaning (depending on the translation):
"Om Beyond, Beyond, the Great Beyond, Beyond that Beyond, to Thee Homage" or
"Om gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond; praise to enlightenment" or
"Om Beyond, beyond, totally beyond, perfectly beyond: Awakening ....Yes!".

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