Buddhist terminology

Amitabha

Sanskrit; Amida (Japanese). He is one of the major Buddhas of the Mahayana school, and presides over the Western Pure Land.

Ananda

One of Sakyamuni Buddha’s Ten Great Disciples. He recorded the Buddha’s teachings as sutras.

Anatta

There is no permanent self or soul. This belief is one of the Three Marks of Existence, along with Anicca and Dukkha.

Anicca

No existence is permanent.

Arhat (Arhant)

Sanskrit; literally, "worthy one". A Buddhist saint who has attained Nirvana.

Asura (Ashura)

Powerful demons, and one of the Six Realms of Existence.

Attachment

The cause of suffering.

Avalokitesvara

Sanskrit; Kannon (Japanese), Chenrezig (Tibetan), Kwan Um (Korean), Kuan Yin (Chinese). The Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Avatamsaka

Literally, “Flower Ornament” Sutra. One of the longest sutras in the Buddhist Canon, and the epitome of Buddhist thought, sentiment, and experience. It is cited by all Mahayana Buddhist schools.

Avijja

Sanskrit; Avidya (Pali). Ignorance and delusion, See Delusion.

Bhikshu, Bhikshuni

Buddhist monk or nun who renounces the worldly to pursue liberation.

Bodhi

Sanskrit for “enlightenment”.

Bodhi Mind

Bodhicitta, or Great Mind. The spirit of Enlightenment and the aspiration to achieve it.

Bodhidharma (ca. 470-543)

The first patriarch of Zen Buddhism. According to legend, he was the "Barbarian from the West" who brought Zen from India to China. "Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?" is a well-known Zen koan.

Bodhisattva

Sanskrit; one who postpones his or her own Enlightenment, to help liberate other sentient beings from their cyclic existence. Compassion is the main characteristic of the Bodhisattva.

Brahma Net Sutra

Contains the Ten Major and 48 Minor Bodhisattva precepts. These 58 precepts constitute the Bodhisattva vows taken by most Mahayana nuns and monks, and some advanced lay practitioners.

Buddha

Sanskrit; Butsu (Japanese). Literally, "awakened one". A Buddha is a person who has been released from the world of cyclic existence, samsara, and has been liberated from desire and attachment in nirvana.

Buddha Nature

The true, immutable nature of all beings.

Buddha Recitation (Buddha Remembrance)

Recitation of Amitabha Buddha's name, or contemplation of His auspicious marks.

Chakra

The Dharma wheel.

Dedication of Merit

See Transference of Merit.

Degenerate Age

See Dharma Ending Age.

Delusion (Ignorance)

Unawareness of the meaning of existence, or the true nature – Buddha nature – of things.

Demons

Influences which disturb the mind and hinder cultivation.

Devas

Literally, "shining one". Deities, gods.

Dharma

Sanskrit; dhamma (Pali). The central idea of Buddhism, and the cosmic law underlying all existence and, therefore, the teaching of the Buddha. One of the three "jewels" of Buddhism, and often used as a general name for Buddhism.

Dharma Discourse (Dharma Talk)

Formal discussion of a koan by a spiritual teacher.

Dharma Ending Age

Present age. The time following Sakyamuni Buddha's age is divided into (1) the Perfect Age of the Dharma, which lasted 500 years, (2) the Dharma Semblance Age, which lasted about 1000 years, and (3) the Dharma Ending Age, lasting about 10,000 years.

Dharma Nature

The nature of all things. "Emptiness" and "Reality". See also Buddha Nature.

Dharmakara

The Bodhisatva who became Amitabha Buddha. See the Longer Amitabha Sutra, famous for its 48 vows. The 18th vow promises rebirth in the Pure Land to those who recite His name with utmost sincerity and faith at the time of death.

Diamond Sutra

A self-contained section of the Prajnaparamita Sutra. It shows that phenomenal appearances are not the ultimate reality, but rather illusions of one's own mind.

Dogen (1200-1253)

Brought the Soto school of Zen Buddhism to Japan. He emphasized meditation as the means to Enlightenment.

Dukkha

Suffering and discontent. Duhhka is central to human life, and one of the Three Marks of Existence.

Dusts

All mundane things that can cloud our otherwise bright self-nature, including form, sound, scent, taste, touch, and external opinion. Dusts correspond to the six senses.

Dzogchen

Tibetan; literally, "great perfection". The supreme teachings of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Adherents believe that these teachings are superior, and that no other means are necessary.

Easy Path of Practice

Also Pure Land Practice. It is called the “Easy Path” as it involves reliance on the power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to attain enlightenment.

Eightfold Path (Noble Eightfold Path)

The way to Enlightenment consists of right understanding, right motives, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

Endurance World

See Saha World.

Enlightenment

Translation of the Sanskrit term bodhi ("awakened"). Generally used by Mahayanists. It is an awakening to the true nature of reality, rather than the extinguishing of desire implied by the Theravada term nirvana.

Evil Paths

The paths of hells, hungry ghosts, and animality. Can be interpreted as states of mind.

Expedient Means

Or Skillful Means, skill-in-means, Upaya. Methods targetted to the capacities of individualso as to lift them to Enlightenment.

Externalists

Followers of non-Buddhist paths.

Five Desires (Five Sensual Pleasures)

Desires of the five senses – form, sound, aroma, taste, and touch. The sixth sense is the mind itself.

Five Precepts

Precepts taken by lay Buddhists vowing to abstain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and consuming intoxicants. See Ten Precepts.

Flower Store World

The entire cosmos as described in the Avatamsaka Sutra.

Four Noble Truths

There will always be suffering, or dukkha, in life. Suffering stems from desire. If there is no desire, suffering will cease. The Noble Eightfold Path will lead to the extinguishing of desire.

Gelugpa

One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is considered the spiritual head of the Gelugpa school.

Guru

Spiritual teacher.

Heretical Views

The 62 externalist views prevalent in Sakyamuni Buddha's time.

Jodo-shin-shu

Literally, the "True School of the Pure Land". Founded by Shinran, it is the dominant school of Japanese Buddhism today. It is a lay community with no monastics, and emphasizes reliance on Amida Buddha (Amitabha) for salvation.

Jodo-shu

Literally, "School of the Pure Land". A school of Japanese Buddhism, derived from the Pure Land School of China in the 9th century. It was officially founded by Honen in the 12th century, to provide an easier path to liberation by invoking the Amida Buddha (Amitabha). In contrast to the Jodo-shin-shu school, Jodo-shu adherents enter the monastic life, and consider Buddha Recitation as an act of gratitude rather than a way to strengthen trust in Amida.

Kagyupa

One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It emphasizes the transfer of knowledge from master to student.

Karma

Sanskrit; literally, "action". Universal law of cause and effect that governs rebirth and the world of samsara.

Kensho

Japanese; sudden realization of one’s nature and enlightenment in Zen Buddhism.

Koan

A paradoxical story or riddle used as a training device in Zen, to force the mind to abandon logic and dualistic thought.

Lama

Tibetan Buddhist monk of higher rank.

Lankavatara Sutra

The only sutra recommended by Bodhidharma, the First Zen Patriarch of China.

Last Age

See Dharma Ending Age.

Lotus Grades

Nine grades of rebirth in the Western Pure Land.

Lotus Sutra

Major Buddhist text, and one of the most widely read sutras today.

Lotus Treasury World

See Ocean-Wide Lotus Assembly.

Mahayana

Sanskrit; literally, "the Great Vehicle". One of the three major schools of Buddhism which developed in the 1st century C.E., in India. It is called the Great Vehicle for its all-inclusive approach to liberation, as embodied in the bodhisattva desire to liberate all beings. The Mahayana school introduced the notion of sunyata, and places less emphasis on monasticism than the Theravada school.

Mahasthamaprapta (Shih Chih, Seishi)

One of the three sages in Pure Land Buddhism. She is recognized by the jewelled pitcher adorning her crown.

Maitreya

The fifth and last of the earthly Buddhas. Expected to arrive about 30,000 years from now, and believed to reside in the Tushita heaven until then.

Marks

Characteristics, forms, physiognomy.

Meditation Sutra

One of the three core sutras of the Pure Land School. The others are the Amitabha Sutra and the Longer Amitabha Sutra.

Merit and Virtue

Merits are the blessings of the human and celestial realms. They are temporary, and subject to birth and death. Virtues transcend birth and death and lead to Buddhahood.

Mindfulness of the Buddha

See Buddha Recitation.

Nagarjuna

Founder of the Madhyamika school of Buddhism.

Nirvana

Sanskrit; literally, "extinction, blowing out". It is the goal of Buddhist spiritual practice, which is liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering.

Non-Birth (No-Birth)

The nature of Nirvana. No-birth is the elimination of discursive thinking.

Nyingmapa

One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Ocean-Wide Lotus Assembly

The gathering of Amitabha Buddha, the Bodhisattvas, the sages and the saints, and all other superior beings in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. The term is generally associated with the Avatamsaka Sutra.

Once Returner

A sage who has but one rebirth left before reaching Arhatship, and escaping birth and death.

One-life Bodhistava

A Bodhisattva who is one lifetime away from Buddahood. Maitreya is a One-life Bodhisattva.

Paramita

Perfection in virtue.

Prajnaparamita Hrdaya

The Heart Sutra.

Pure Land

A realm free from suffering, in which it is easier to attain nirvana. Sukhavati is the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha; individuals need only to call out His name to be reborn in it. Pure Land Buddhism is based on this devotion to Amitabha.

Pratyeka Buddhas

Buddhas who become enlightened by meditating upon the principle of causality, but do not exert themselves to teach others.

Pure Land

The realms of the Buddhas. When the mind is pure, any environment can be a pure land.

Rinzai

Japanese; Lin-chi (Chinese). One of the two major schools of Zen Buddhism which uses koan meditation as the means to achieve Enlightenment.

Saha World

World of Endurance. It refers to this world of suffering and afflictions.

Sakyamuni (ca. 563-422 BCE)

The historical Buddha. Theravadin Buddhists believe that He was the first person to attain Enlightenment in this age.

Sakyapa

One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Samadhi

Meditative absorption; usually the final stage of pure concentration.

Samantabhadra

A major Bodhisattva who personifies the transcendental practices of the Buddhas. Usually depicted as being seated on an elephant with six tusks, for the six paramitas.

Samatha (Vipasyana)

Tranquility after stopping evil thoughts and meditating on truth.

Samsara

Sanskrit; the cyclic existence of birth, death, and rebirth, from which nirvana provides liberation.

Sangha

Sanskrit; the Buddhist monastic community, which has come to include all Buddhist practitioners. It is one of the three jewels of Buddhism, along with the Buddha and the Dharma.

Sariputra

One of the great disciples of Sakyamuni Buddha.

Satori

Enlightenment and the realization of truth, in Zen Buddhism.

Seven Treasures

Gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, agate, red pearl, and carnelian. They represent the seven powers of faith, perseverance, the sense of shame, avoidance of wrongdoings, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom.

Six Directions

North, South, East, West, above, and below.

Six Dusts

See Dusts.

Six Planes of Existence

The paths within the realm of birth and death. They include the three paths of evil (hells, hungry ghosts, animality), and the paths of humans, asuras, and celestials. These paths can be regarded as states of mind.

Sixth Patriarch

Hui Neng (638-713), the Sixth Patriarch of the Chinese Zen school, and author of the Platform Sutra.

Shinran (1173-1262)

Founder of the Jodo-shin-shu school of Japanese Buddhism.

Skillful Means

See Expedient Means.

Soto

Japanese; Ts'ao-tung (Chinese). One of the two major schools of Zen Buddhism, brought to Japan by Dogen in the 13th century. Its emphasis is on zazen, or sitting meditation.

Sunyata

Sanskrit; sunnata (Pali). Literally, "emptiness". Sunyata is a core Buddhist idea which states that all phenomena are "empty". Theravadin Buddhists apply this idea to the individual, to assert the non-existence of a soul. Mahayanists expanded on the idea and declared that all existence is empty. Emptiness is the focus of the Madhyamika school.

Surangama Sutra (Heroic Gate Sutra)

Emphasizes the power of Samadhi meditation through which Enlightenment can be attained.

Sutra

Sanskrit; a discourse attributed to the Buddha. Sutras comprise the first part of the Buddhist canon, or Tripitaka, and generally begin with "Thus have I heard". They are believed to have been recorded by the Buddha's disciple Ananda a hundred years after Sakyamuni Buddha's death.

Tantrayana

See Vajrayana.

Tathagatha

“Thus Come One”. One of the highest titles for a Buddha.

Theravada

Sanskrit; literally, "the School of the Elders". One of the three major schools of Buddhism. It is widely practiced in Southeast Asia, and its teachings focus on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Theravada Buddhism emphasizes personal, rather than collective, liberation.

T'ien T'ai (Tendai)

A major school that uses the Lotus Sutra as its main text.

Transference of Merit

Sharing one's merits and virtues with others.

Triple Jewel

The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Tripitaka

Sanskrit; literally, "the three baskets". It refers to the Buddhist canon, which has three parts: the sutras, the Vinaya, or monastic code, and the Abhidharma – Buddhist philosophical treatise.

Vaidehi

Consort of King Bimbisara of Magadha, India. The Meditation Sutra records Sakyamuni Buddha’s preachings in response to the queen’s entreaties.

Vajrayana

Sanskrit; literally, "the Diamond Vehicle". One of the three major schools of Buddhism. It developed from Mahayana teachings in northwest India around 500 C.E., and then spread to Tibet, China, and Japan. It involves esoteric visualizations, rituals, and mantras, which can only be learned from a master. Vajrayana Buddhism is also known as Tantric Buddhism due to the use of tantras, or sacred texts.

Vairocana

Represents the Dharma Body of Sakyamuni Buddha, and all Buddhas.

Vimalakirti Sutra

An important Mahayana sutra popular with Zen and Pure Land followers.

Vipassana (Vipashyana)

Meditation upon one’s own thoughts and actions, or insight into the Three Marks of Existence.

Virtue

See Merit and Virtue.

Way, The

The path to Buddhahood.

Wisdom Life

As an ordinary person's life is sustained by food, the life of a Buddha or Bodhisattva is sustained by wisdom.

Yogacara School

Also the Mind Only School, founded in the 4th century.

Zazen

Seated meditation in Zen Buddhism.

Zen

Japanese; Ch'an (Chinese). A branch of Mahayana Buddhism which developed in China during the 6th and 7th centuries after the arrival of Bodhidharma. It later divided into the Soto and Rinzai schools. Zen stresses the importance of Enlightenment, and the futility of trying to attain it through rational thought, intellectual study, or religious ritual. The heart of Zen is zazen, which helps to free the mind of all thought. Zen buddhists also hold that everything has Buddha Nature.

Last updated by Nelson Sep 12, 2010.

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