Common Buddhist Definitions


Abhidharma: (Sanskrit; Abhidhamma, Pali) Lit: higher teaching. Third division of the Theravadan scriptures, which is largely a commentary and analysis of the Sermons.

Ajahn: (Thai) Thai form of the Sanskrit Acharya (teacher). Meditation master.

Amida Buddha: (Japanese) Buddha of Infinite Light and Life, which includes Infinite Wisdom and Compassion. In Pure Land Buddhism, the intermediary between Supreme Reality and mankind.

Amitabha: (Sanskrit) One of the deities of the Tantric pantheon. The Buddha of Infinite Light, the perfected state of our faculty of perception/discrimination.

Anagarika: Lit: homeless one. Someone who has adopted a homeless life without formally ordaining as a monk.

Anapana Sati: (Pali) Meditation on mindful breathing.

Anatta: (Pali; Anatman, Sanskrit) One of the Three Marks of Existence which are part of the basic teachings of Buddhism. Doctrine of nonseparateness of all forms of life; applied to people, there is no immortal ego or self, the unchanging and immortal being the possession of no one human being.

Ango: (Japanese) Longer intensive practice period.

Anger:One of the five (poisons, i.e. negative emotions) causes of conditioned suffering (Samsara).

Anila: (Tibetan) Respectful form of address for a nun.

Atisha: (982-1054) Indian scholar; in Tibet from 1038 till his death. Entirely reformed the prevailing Buddhism. Founded the Kadampa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Attachment:One of the five (poisons, i.e. negative emotions) causes of conditioned suffering (Samsara).

Avalokitesvara: (Sanskrit) Boddhisattva of Compassion (Tibetan: Chenrizig).


Bardos: (Tibetan) The state between two other states of being, especially the intermediate state between one life and the next.

Bhavana: (Sanskrit, Pali) Self-development by any means, especially meditation, mind development, and concentration; meditative practices.

Bhikshu: (Sanskrit, Bhikkhu, Pali) Those living from alms or offerings given by lay Buddhists. Often translated as "monk."

Bhikshuni: (Sanskrit; Bhikkhuni, Pali) The feminine of the above. Often translated as "nun."

Bodhicaryavatara: (Sanskrit) A text of Shantideva (Indian seventh-century Bodhisattva).

Bodhichitta: (Sanskrit; Boddhicitta, Pali) Compassionate wish to gain Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Bodhidharma: Indian Buddhist who went to Chinese court in 520 CE; founder of Zen Buddhism.

Bodhisattva: (Sanskrit) A being pledged to become a Buddha so as to be able to help all other beings to escape suffering by becoming Enlightened.

Brahmaviharas: (Sanskrit, Pali) The four sublime states or virtues which elevate man. These are loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.

Buddha: (Sanskrit , Pali) "Awakened One." One who has attained Enlightenment. Particularly applies to Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. The Buddha principle which manifests in various forms. For Theradavans, only one Buddha is accepted in each age; for Mahayanans, there are countless transcendent Buddhas which represent embodiments of various aspects of the Buddha principle.

Buddhadharma: (Pali) The Buddha's teachings.

Buddharupa: Statue or image of the Buddha.


Cause & Effect: (Natural Law) See: Karma

Chado: (Japanese) Tea ceremony used as a meditative practice in some Zen traditions.

Chenrezig: (Tibetan) Tibetan equivalent of Avalokiteshvara, embodiment of the compassion of all the Buddhas and supreme protector and patron deity of Tibet.

Chogyal: (Tibetan) Title. Lit: Dharma Raja or Religious King or Protector of the Buddhist Religion.



Dana: (Sanskrit, Pali) One of the basic Buddhist virtues, it is the opposite of greed and translates as "generosity" or "giving."

Daruma-kata aiki: (Japanese) Movement forms designed to harmonize body, breath, speech, and mind. Esoteric Zen practice traditionally reputed to have been taught by Bodhidharma.

Dathun: Month-long meditation retreat.

Dharma: (Sanskrit; Dhamma, Pali) Has numerous meanings. Among other things it can mean truth or reality. Also stands for those teachings and methods which are conductive to gaining Enlightenment and thereby seeing things as they truly are, refers particularly to the teachings of the Buddha.

Dharmacarya: Lay Dharma teacher.

Dharmasala: Rest house for pilgrims.

Dharmata: (Sanskrit) Ground for being, the essence of everything; unifying spiritual reality; the absolute from which all proceeds.

Dojo: (Japanese) Zen training hall.

Dorje:Vajra (Sanskrit). Something invincible, something that can cut through anything else. Literal referents of dorje are "thunderbolt" and "diamond". The Dorje is a vajrayana ritual implement symbolizing method.

Dojo: (Japanese) Zen training hall.

Dokusan: (Japanese) In Zen, a question-and-answer session with the Master or Roshi during which progress is tested.


Empowerment: Ritual performed by eminent Tibetan Lamas; an essential prerequisite for the practice of Tantra.

Enlightenment: An individual's awakening to the mind's true nature. A state of perfect wisdom and limitless compassion. The achievement of a Buddha.


Four Noble Truths: [Also see: Samsara] Four fundamental insights of Buddhism, proclaimed in the Buddha's first teachings:

1) The suffering of conditioned existence
2) The Origin of suffering
3) The cessation of suffering
4) The path leading to the cessation of suffering


Gampopa: (1079-1153) Tibetan scholar, disciple of Milarepa and Marpa, whom he succeeded; one of the founders of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Gen-Mai: (Japanese) Traditional rice soup; sometimes offered after practice sessions at some Japanese Zen centers.

Geshe: (Tibetan) Gelugpa title equivalent to Doctor of Divinity.

Gompa: (Tibetan) Teaching and practice hall; isolated place or monastic site.

Green Tara: see Tara.

Guru: (Sanskrit) Teacher, particularly a spiritual master.


Hannya Shingyo: (Japanese) Diamond Sutra- main Buddhist sutra chanted by Zen practitioners.

Hatha Yoga: (Sanskrit) Form of yoga involving physical exercises and breath control.

Hatto: (Japanese) Dharma hall.

Hevajra: (Sanskrit) One of the Tantric texts of Tibetan Buddhism.

Hitsuzendo: (Japanese) Calligraphy used as a meditative practice in some Zen traditions.

Hondo: (Japanese) Sanctuary.


Ignorance:One of the five (poisons, i.e. negative emotions) causes of conditioned suffering (Samsara).

Ikebana: (Japanese) Flower-arranging used as a meditative practice in some Zen traditions.


Jealousy:One of the five (poisons, i.e. negative emotions) causes of conditioned suffering (Samsara).

Jewels, Three: The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha- the three highest values of Buddhism.

Jukai: (Japanese) Precepts-taking ceremony.


Kaisando: (Japanese) In Zen, founder's hall and dokusan room.

Kanna-Zen: (Japanese) Form of Rinzai Zen founded in the twelfth century.

Kannon: see Kuan Yin.

Karma: (Sanskrit) Lit: action. Cause and effect; our willed actions (including physical, mental and vocal) will have consequences for us in the future.

Kesa: (Japanese) Zen monk garment.

Khenpo: (Tibetan) Title usually of an Abbot; indicates high scholarship in Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu schools.

Khyentse: (Tibetan) Lit: one in whom wisdom and compassion are perfectly combined, name of a number of exceptional Nyingma Lamas during past two hundred years.

Kinhin: (Japanese) Formal marching during periods of rest from zazen to loosen stiff joints and exercise the body.

Koan: (Japanese) Formalized riddle, used in Rinzai Zen as a device to throw the student against the ultimate question of his or her own nature.

Kum Nye: (Tibetan) Gentle Tibetan yoga system.

Kusen: (Japanese) Oral teachings.

Kuti: Accommodation for individual meditation.

Kuan Yin: (Chinese; Japanese, Kannon; Tibetan, Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva of infinite compassion and mercy.

Kyudo: (Japanese) Art of archery used as a meditation practice in some Zen traditions.


Lama: (Tibetan) Spiritual teacher who may or may not be a celibate monk venerated as an authentic embodiment of the Buddhist teachings. For the Tibetan, he is particularly important because he not only teaches rituals but conducts them. May be head of one or more monasteries and possess political influence. Today, often used as a polite form of address for any Tibetan monk regardless of his spiritual development.

Lamrim: (Tibetan) Lit: Graduated Path. System of teaching founded by Atisha (eleventh-century Indian Master) in which all the stages of the path to enlightenment are laid out in a very clear and systematic manner. All four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism have produced Lamrim texts.

Lodjong: (Tibetan) Lit: mind training. Based on Lamrim teachings- explains how to train the mind in daily life for the development of Bodhicitta.

Longchen: (1308-1363) Greatest scholar of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Lotus Flower:Used as a metaphor for the potential of Buddha nature. A lotus flower can grow out of a dark muddy pond, free form any of the dirt from which it came.



Mahamudra: (Sanskrit) Has several meanings; as a practice it is popular in Kagyu and Gelug schools of Tibetan Buddhism; as a path it is a sequence of systematic advanced meditations on emptiness and pure appearance.

Mahathera: Title for Bhikku of twenty years' standing, usually called Theras.

Maitreya: (Sanskrit) Embodiment of loving-kindness of all the Buddhas; historical figure- a Bodhisattva disciple of Buddha Shakyamuni; the coming Buddha, fifth in the line of the thousand Buddhas who will descend to this world. Currently said to reside in Tushita- a Buddhist heaven.

Mandala: (Sanskrit) In the context of Tantra, a symmetrical design used as an object of meditation.

Mantra: (Sanskrit) String of sound symbols recited to concentrate and protect the mind.

Mara: (Sanskrit) Lit: death. Evil influences that impede one's spiritual transformation. Personified as a "tempter" whose baits are the sensory pleasures.

Marpa: (1012-1097) Tibetan founder of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism; most famous pupil was Milarepa.

Metta Bhavana: (Pali) Meditation on loving-kindness.

Milarepa: (1038-1122) Tibetan poet-saint; one of the founders and greatest figure in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Mudra: (Sanskrit) Lit: seal, sign. Bodily posture or symbolic gesture imbued with symbolic significance which may be used in ritual. In Tantra, may refer to a female consort.


Naropa: (eleventh century) Indian master and accomplished scholar; teacher of Marpa and Milarepa; particularly famous for his Six Yogas of Naropa.

Nembutsu: (Japanese) Recitation of The Name of Amida Buddha, which in Japanese form that most Shin Buddhists use is Namu Amida Butsu or Namuamidabu, which literally means "I take refuge in Amida Buddha." Principal practice of Pure Land Buddhism.

Ngondro: (Tibetan) Preliminary practices normally undertaken by a meditator prior to engaging in Tantric practice.

Nirvana: (Sanskrit) Ultimate goal of Buddhist endeavor- permanent cessation of all suffering.

Noble silence: During retreats, when students should not talk among themselves, but may speak to teachers and managers.

Nyinthun: (Tibetan) Meditation practice for a whole day.

Nyung-Neh: (Tibetan) Fasting ritual normally led by a monk or nun.


Oryoki: (Japanese) In Zen, formal meal.

Osho: (Japanese) Zen priest. Also: Name of a Guru based in Phoona, India.


Padmasambhava: (eighth century) Indian Buddhist who visited Tibet at the invitation of the king and taught various Buddhist principles; credited with founding the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Padmasambhava: (eighth century) Indian Buddhist who visited Tibet at the invitation of the king and taught various Buddhist principles; credited with founding the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Panna: (Pali) Wisdom.

Pagoda: (See Stupa)

Phowa: (Tibetan) Ejection of conciousness at the moment of death. Transmission of consciousness.

Precepts: 5, 8, 10, or 16 guides to behavior. 

Pride:One of the five (poisons, i.e. negative emotions) causes of conditioned suffering (Samsara).

Puja: (Sanskrit) Sacremental offering which may be associated with body, speech, and mind.


(None yet)


Rakusu: (Japanese) Zen monk garment.

Retreat: Intensive periods of meditation which may be long- or short-term.

Right livelihood: Fifth stage of the Noble Eightfold Path. Earning a living in accordance with Buddhist ethics.

Rinpoche: (Tibetan) Lit: precious one. Honorific of a high lama, denotes reincarnation of a realized master.

Roshi: (Japanese) Lit: old venerable master. Title of a Zen master who can be either monk or lay, man or woman.


Sadhana: (Sanskrit) In Tantra, a type of text and the meditation practices presented in it which relate to deities to be experienced as spiritual realities.

Sakyamuni: Sage of the Sakyas- a title applied to the Buddha.

Samadhi: (Sanskrit) Lit: union. Profound meditative state; focus on a single object through calming of mental activity; one-pointedness of mind.

Samsara: (Sanskrit, Pali) [also see Four Noble Truths] World of rebirth and death; the succession of rebirths until liberation is attained; cyclic existence.

Samu: (Japanese) Manual work used as part of meditative practice in Zen schools.

Sangha: The Buddhist community as a whole, sometimes referring to the community of Buddhist monks, nuns, and novices.

Sangye Menla: (Tibetan) Medicine Buddha. Prayer ritual for sick people.

SanZen: see dokusan.

Satipatthana: (Pali) System of mind development by the analysis of consciousness.

Sayadaw: (Myanmar) Equivalent of Mahathera or Bhikku of twenty years' standing; title given to highly respected Bhikkus.

Sensei: (Japanese) Teacher.

Sera: (Tibetan) Large monastic college in Lhasa, Tibet. One of the three main monastaries in Tibet, with Ganden and Drepung.

Sesshin: (Japanese) Lit: to search the heart. Intensive Zen retreat.

Shamatha: (Sanskrit; Samatha, Pali) Basic meditation practice common to most schools of Buddhism, whose aim is to tame and sharpen the mind as a springboard for insight (Vipashyana; Vipassana).

Shantideva: (7th century) Indian compiler and writer of important Buddhist works.

Shikantaza: (Japanese) A form of zazen consisting of just sitting with no supportive techniques such as counting the breath.

Shine: Meditation for developing calmness.

Shuryo: (Japanese) Study hall.

Silas: (Pali) Lit: obligations, precepts. Morality or virtue.

Six Yogas of Naropa: System of advanced Tantric meditation originating from the Indian Master Naropa and used by the Kagyu and Gelug schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Soji: (Japanese) Temple-cleaning after a practice session.

Stupa: (Sanskrit) Originally a structure built to commemorate a Buddha or other highly developed person, often containing relics; became a symbol for the mind of a Buddha.

Sutra: (Sanskrit; Sutta, Pali) The sermons of Gautama Buddha; any collection of teachings.



Tantra: (Sanskrit) Lit. "thread" or "continuity". Form of Buddhism using yogic practices of visualization, mantra, mudra, and mandalas, as well as symbolic ritual and meditations which work with subtle psychophysical energies; the texts or teahcings in which these are described.

Tara: (Sanskrit) An emanation from the Bodhisattva Avolokiteshvara. Embodies the feminine aspect of compassion, seen in both peaceful and wrathful depictions and in various colors, the Green Tara and the White Tara being the forms most frequently seen.

Teisho: (Japanese) Presentation by Zen Master addressing students directly in the moment.

Thangka: (Tibetan) Tibetan religious painting.

Thera: (Pali) Lit: elder. Bhikkhu of ten years' standing.

Three Jewels: see Jewels, Three.

Transmission: Passing on of oral teachings and scriptures with related commentary in an uninterrupted lineage or succession from person to person from ancient times.

Tsechu: (Tibetan) Offering ceremony.

Tsog: (Tibetan) Feast offerings.

Tsongkhapa: (1355-1417) Tibetan reformaer of Buddhism. Founded Ganden Monastery and founded the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Tulku: (Tibetan) Voluntary reincarnation of a religious figure of some distinction.


Upasaka: (Sanskrit, Pali) Buddhist lay member who takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha and who vows to observe the five precepts.

Upasika: (Sanskrit, Pali) Female upasaka.


Vajrasattava: (Sanskrit) One of the meditational deities of Tantric Buddhism.

Vajrayana: (Sanskrit) Lit: The Diamond Vehicle. Buddhist Tantra of India and the Himalayan region. Sometimes used as an alternative term for Tibetan Buddhism. Arose in first millenium in northern India from Mahayana and spread to Tibet, China, and Japan. Characterized by a psychological method based on highly developed ritual practices.

Vajrayogini: (Sanskrit) One of the female meditational deities of Tantric Buddhism.

Vihara: Buddhist temple or manastery.

Vinaya: (Sanskrit, Pali) Lit: discipline. Third part of the Tripitaka containing the rules and regulations for running and living in a monastery or nunnery, especially the ethical codes involved.

Vipashyana: (Sanskrit; Vipassana, Pali) Insight, clear seeing. With Shamatha (Samatha), one of the factors essential for the attainment of enlightenment.


Wat: (Thai) Temple or monastery.


(None yet)


Yana: (Sanskrit, Pali) Vehicle or means of progress to salvation from the wheel of Samsara as in Mahayana.

Yoga: Lit: union. A method of meditation or physical exercise designed to bring about spiritual development.

Yeshe: (Tibetan) Primodial awareness. Clear light.

Yoga: Lit: union. A method of meditation or physical exercise designed to bring about spiritual development.


Zabuton: (Japanese) Thick rectangular mat used under the zafu in Zen meditation.

Zafu: (Japanese) Round cushion used in Zen schools.

Zagu: (Japanese) Zen monk's garment.

ZaZen: (Japanese) Sitting meditation used in Zen schools.

Zazenkai: (Zen-soto) All-day sitting retreat.

Zendo: (Japanese) Zen training hall.


Sign our Guest Book

Holiday Index


Contact us

Refer This Site