Basic Buddhist Vocabulary


Abhidharma pitaka -- higher teachings, philosophy
Alaya-vijñana -- “store” consciousness (similar to collective unconscious?)
Amitabha -- the Buddha of the Western “Pure Land."  Also known as Amida.
Ananda -- Buddha’s friend, cousin, and favorite disciple, and the monk who remembered the Sutras.
Anatman (anatta) -- not-self, self or ego not ultimately real.
Annitya (anicca) -- change, impermanence of all things, including us.
Arahant -- Worthy one, a name for the Buddha.
Arhat -- a monk who has achieved nirvana.
Asanga -- one of two brothers who lived in India in the 300's ad who developed Yogachara.
Asita -- the astrologer who predicts Buddha’s fate
Asuras -- titans or demigods.
Avalokiteshwara  -- boddhisattva of compassion
Avidya (avijja) -- ignorance, delusion.
Bardo -- (Tibet) the period between death and rebirth.
Bhagava -- The blessed one, a name for the Buddha.
Bhikshu -- monk.
Bhikshuni -- nun.
Bodh-gaya -- a town in Bihar where Buddha was enlightened at 35.
Bodhi -- enlightenment, awakening.
Bodhi tree -- the fig tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment.
Bodhicitta -- sanskrit word for 'mind of enlightenment'
Bodhidharma -- monk who brought Buddhism to China.
Bodhisattva -- enlightened being who remains in this existence to help others, a saint.
Brahma -- the supreme deva, who convinced Buddha to teach.
Brahma vihara -- four "sublime states" of the boddhisattva: Maitri, Karuna, Mudita, Upeksa.
Buddha -- The awakened one, the enlightened one.
Ch’an -- Chinese for Zen Buddhism.
Chandaka -- Buddha’s squire, who helped him leave his princely life.
Ching-T’u -- Chinese for Pure Land.
Citta -- basic mind or consciousness
Citta-matra -- mind only, idealism
Dalai Lama -- the leader of Tibetan Buddhists.
Deer Park -- where Buddha gave his first sermon, in Sarnath, near Benares, to the five sadhus.
Dependent origination -- “one thing leads to another,”  all is connected.
Devadatta --  Buddha’s “evil” cousin. "Theodore."
Devas -- gods.
Dhamma -- Pali for dharma.
Dharma (dhamma) --  the teachings of the Buddha.
Dharmakaya -- Buddha-mind, the pervasive essence
Dharmas -- ultimate elements of the universe (not dharma as in teachings!)
Dhyana (ch’an, zen) -- meditation.
Dogen (1200-1253) -- monk who brought Soto Zen to Japan.
Duhkha (dukkha) -- suffering, distress, lack of peace.  First noble truth.
Dzogchen -- Tibetan tantric techniques for rapid enlightenment.
Dvesha (dosha) -- hatred, anger, avoidance.
Eightfold Path -- right view, aspiration, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, concentration.
Five sadhus -- the five ascetics who practiced self-mortification with the Buddha.
Flower Adornment School -- a sect which attempted to consolidate all forms of Buddhism.  Also known as Hua-Yen or Kegon.
Gandharvas -- angelic beings who provide the gods with music.
Gati -- realm.  Used to refer to the six realms (gods, titans, humans, animals, ghosts, and demons)
Gautama (Gotama) -- Buddha's family name.
Hinayana -- southern Buddhism (“small or lesser vehicle or journey”).
Ho-tei -- Japanese name for Pu-tai
Indra -- a major deva, originally the Hindu sky god.
Jodo, Jodoshin -- Japanese for Pure Land.
Kalpa -- millions of years, an eternity.
Kamma -- Pali for karma.
Kanthaka -- Buddha’s horse.
Kapilavastu -- Shakyan capital, where Buddha grew up.
Karma (kamma) --  intentional or willed act.
Karuna -- compassion or mercy, the special kindness shown to those who suffer.  One of the four brahma vihara.
Kashinagara -- were Buddha died (near Lumbini), in a grove of sala trees.
Koan -- a very brief story demonstrating the paradoxical nature of dualistic thinking.  Used in Zen meditation.
Kwan Yin , Kwannon -- Chinese and Japanese names for Avalokiteswara.
Lama -- Tibetan tantric master, now often used to refer to any respected monk.
Lumbini Grove -- where Buddha was born, during his mother’s trip to her parents home.
Madhyamaka -- middle way, negative logic, not this -- not that
Mahakyashapa -- the monk who understood the silent sermon and led the first council.
Mahamaya, or Mayadevi -- Buddha’s mother, who died seven days after his birth
Mahaprajapati -- Buddha’s aunt and stepmother, founder of Buddhist nuns.
Mahayana -- northern Buddhism (“large or greater vehicle or journey”).
Maitreya -- the future Buddha, who will be born 30,000 years from now.
Maitri -- caring, loving kindness displayed to all you meet.  One of the four brahma   vihara.
Manas -- I-consciousness, mind, intelligence
Mandala -- a complex, circular, symmetrical image used in meditation
Mantra -- a phrase or syllable repeated during meditation
Mara -- a deva associated with death and hindrances to enlightenment. It was Mara who tempted Buddha under the bodhi tree.
Marga -- the path, track.  The eightfold noble path.  Fourth noble truth.
Metta -- Pali for Maitri.
Mudita -- sympathetic joy, being happy for others, without a trace of envy.  One of the four brahma vihara.
Mudra -- symbolic hand positions
Nagarjuna -- monk who developed Madhyamaka in India about 150 ad.
Nagas -- great serpents (or dragons, or water creatures). The king of the Nagas protected Buddha from a storm.
Narakas -- demons (hell beings)
Nibbana -- Pali for nirvana.
Nichiren --  Japanese school popular in west, and the name of its founder.  Emphasizes chanting.
Nirmankaya -- Gotama, the historical Buddha.
Nirodha -- containment of suffering.  Third noble truth.
Nirvana (nibbana) -- liberation, enlightenment, release from samsara.
Pali -- a language related to Sanskrit in which the earliest scriptures were recorded in Sri Lanka.
Pali canon -- see the Tripitaka.
Pancha shila -- five moral precepts:  Avoid killing, or harming any living thing;  Avoid stealing; Avoid sexual irresponsibility;  Avoid lying, or any hurtful speech;  Avoid alcohol and drugs which diminish clarity of consciousness.
Pañña -- Pali for prajña
Pitaka -- basket, referring to the Tripitaka or scriptures.
Prajña (pañña) -- wisdom.
Prajña -- goddess of knowledge.  Buddha’s mother was considered an incarnation.
Prajñaparamita -- a massive collection of Mahayana texts, including the Heart and Diamond Sutras.
Prateyaka-buddha -- solitary realizer.
Pretas -- hungry ghosts.
Puja -- ceremony in which offerings and other acts of devotion are performed.
Pu-tai -- the laughing buddha, chinese monk, incarnation of Maitreya
Pure Land -- Chinese/Japanese sect, emphasizing worship of Amitabha Buddha.  Ching- T'u, Jodo and Jodoshin.
Rahula -- Buddha’s son.
Rinzai Zen -- a Zen sect that makes extensive use of koans.
Rupa -- form, the physical body and senses
Samadhi -- meditation.
Samatha -- Pali for Shamatha.
Sambhogakaya -- Buddha as a deva or god.
Samjña -- perception
Samsara -- the wheel of cyclic existence, birth-life-suffering-death-rebirth...
Samskara -- mental formations (emotions and impulses)
Samudaya -- arising or root of suffering.  Second noble truth.
Sangha -- the community of monks and nuns.
Sanskrit -- an early language of northern India, modified and used as a religious language by some Buddhists.
Sanzen -- interview with a master in Zen Buddhism
Sati -- Pali for smrti.
Satori -- Zen term for enlightenment.
Shakyamuni -- Sage of the Sakyas, a name for the Buddha.
Shakyas -- a noble clan, ruled an area of southern Nepal.
Shamatha (samatha) -- “calm abiding,” peacefulness.
Shikantaza -- mindfulness meditation in Zen Buddhism.
Shila (sila) -- morality.
Shravaka -- “hearer,” one who needs the help of others to become enlightened.
Shrota-appana -- “stream-winner” (only seven more rebirths!).
Shuddodana -- Buddha’s father.
Shunyata -- emptiness, lack of inherent existence of “own nature.”
Siddhartha Gautama -- “He who has reached his goal.”
Sila -- Pali for shila.
Six realms -- realms of the gods, asuras, humans, animals, pretas, narakas.
Skandhas -- parts of the self.
Smrti (sati) -- mindfulness, meditation.
Son -- Korean for Zen Buddhism.
Soto Zen -- A Zen sect emphasizing Shikantaza meditation
Sthaviravada -- Sanskrit for Theravada, "way of the elders"
Sujata -- the village girl who gave Buddha milk-rice.
Sukhavati -- Sanskrit for Blissful Land, the "Pure Land" of Amitabha.
Sutra (sutta) pitaka -- sacred texts, sayings of the Buddha.
Tantra -- yogic, magico-ritual form.
Taras -- a set of 21 female saviors, born from Avalokiteshwara’s tears.  Green Tara and   White Tara are the best known.
Tathagata -- “thus gone,” a name for the Buddha.
Tendai -- see White Lotus School.
Thangka -- a traditional Tibetan painting of a holy being.
The Four Noble Truths:  duhkha, samudaya, nirodha, marga.
Theravada -- “way of the elders,” only surviving form of southern Buddhism.
Three bodies -- nirmankaya, sambhogakaya, dharmakaya.  Three meanings of    "Buddha."
Three fires (or poisons) -- the causes of suffering.
Tipitaka -- Pali for Tripitaka.
Tripitaka (three baskets) -- earliest Buddhist scriptures:  Vinaya pitaka, sutra pitaka,   abhidarma pitaka.
Trishna (tanha) -- thirst, craving, desire.
Upali -- the first person ordained as a monk by the Buddha, a barber, and the monk who  remembered the Vinaya or code of the monks.
Upeksa (upekkha) is equanimity, levelness, or grace.  One of the four brahma vihara.
Vajrayana -- tantric Buddhism (“thunderbolt vehicle”), esp. Tibetan Buddhism.
Vasubandhu -- one of two brothers who lived in India in the 300's ad who developed   Yogachara.
Vedana -- sensation, feeling.
Vijñana -- consciousness or mind.
Vinaya pitaka -- discipline basket (code of behavior for monks).
Vipaka -- “fruit” of willed act, the consequences.
Vipashyana (vipassana) -- insight, mindfulness.
White Lotus School -- sect focusing on the Lotus Sutra.  Also known as T'ien T'ai or Tendai.
Yama -- the king of the 21 hells.
Yashodhara -- Buddha’s wife, whom he married when they were both 16
Yidam --  mental image of a god or other entity used for meditation
Yogacara (or vijñañavada) -- school emphasizing primacy of consciousness
Zazen -- sitting meditation in Zen Buddhism
Zen -- a group of Buddhist sects that focus on meditation.  Also known as Ch'an, Son, or Dhyana.


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