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Glossary of Buddhist Terms

NOTE : Buddhists originally used Pali, which was the peoples language, and did not use Sanskrit until about five hundred years after Buddha. Since the most important names and terms, such as Nirvana, Karma and Dharma, have become familiar to us in their Sanskrit form, while their Pali equivalents, Nibbana, Kamma and Dhamma, are little used, such terms are given the Sanskrit forms; but in some instances the Pali has been preferred by English authors. In this glossary, [P] indicates the Pali form, [s] the Sanskrit. Where no such designation is given, the word is the same in both languages.


ABHIDHARMA (s) or Abhidhamma (P) is a category of Buddhist scriptures that attempts to use Buddhist teachings to create a systematic, abstract description of all worldly phenomena. The Abhidharma represents a generalization and reorganization of the doctrines presented piecemeal in the narrative sūtra tradition.

ABHINNA [P]. Supernatural talent. There are six abhinnas which Buddha acquired when attaining perfect enlightenment : the intui tive insight of the nature of any object in any universe; the ability to understand any sound produced in any universe; the power of as suming any shape or form; knowledge of all forms of pre-existence of one s self and others; intuitive knowledge of the minds of all beings ; and knowledge of the finality of the stream of life.

AGNI. A god of the Brahmans, the god of fire.

AMITABHA. Endowed with boundless light, from amita, infinite, immeasurable, and abba, ray of light, splendor, the bliss of enlight enment. It is a term of later Buddhism and has been personified as Amitabha Buddha, or Amita.

ARAHAT [P] . A saint.

ATMAN [s] . Breath as the principle of life, the soul, self, the ego. To some of the old Brahman schools the atman constitutes a meta physical being in man, which is the thinker of his thoughts, the perceiver of his sensations, and the doer of his doings. Buddha denies the existence of an atman in this sense.


BALANI, or panca-balani (the singular is bala, power). The five moral powers which are: Faith, energy, memory or recollection, meditation or contemplation, and wisdom or intuition.

BHAGAVAT [p]. The man of merit, worshipful, the Blessed One. A title of honor given to Buddha.

BHAVANA. Meditation. There are five principal meditations: on love; on pity; on joy; on impurity; and on serenity.

BHIKKHU [p] . Mendicant, monk, friar.

BHIKKHUNI [p].Nun.

BODHI. Knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment.

BODHISATTVA [s] . Bodhisatta [p] . He whose essence is becoming en lightenment. The term denotes (1) one who is about to become a Buddha, but has not as yet attained enlightenment; (2) a class of saints who have only once more to be born again to enter into Nirvana; (3) in later Buddhism any preacher or religious teacher.

BODHI-TREE. The tree at Buddha-Gaya, species ficus religiosa.

BRAHMA. Anglicized form of Sanskrit stem form Brahman. The chief god of Brahmanism, the world-soul.

BRAHMAN. The priestly caste of the Indians. Priests were selected from the Brahman caste, but Brahmans were not necessarily priests; they were farmers, merchants, and often high officials in the service of kings.

BUDDHA. The Awakened One, the Enlightened One. Buddha is also called Sakyamuni (the Sakya sage) .

DAGOBA, DAGABA [s]. "Relic shrine," a mausoleum, tower containing relics,a cenotaph.

DEVA. Any celestial spirit, a god especially of intermediate rank, angel.

DHAMMAPADA [p] . Dharmapada [s] . The path of truth.

DHARMA [s] . Originally the natural condition of things or beings,

the law of their existence, truth, then religious truth, the law, the

ethical code of righteousness, the whole body of religious doctrines

as a system, religion.

DHARMAKAYA [s] . The body of the law.

DHARMARAJA [s].The king of truth.

DHYANA [s] . Intuition, beatific vision, ecstasy, rapture, the result of samadhi. Buddha did not recommend trances as means of religious devotion, urging that deliverance can be obtained only by the recog nition of the four noble truths and walking on the noble eightfold path, but he did not disturb those who took delight in ecstasies and beatific visions. Buddha s interpretation of the Dhyana is not losing consciousness but a self-possessed and purposive eradica tion of egotism. There are four Dhyanas, the first being a state of joy and gladness born of seclusion full of investigation and reflec tion; .the second one, born of deep tranquility without reflection or investigation; the third one brings the destruction of passion; while the fourth one consists in pure equanimity, making an end of sorrow.

GOTAMA [P] . Gautama [s] . Buddha s family name.

GOTAMI [s] . Name of any woman belonging to the Gotama family.

HINAYANA [s] . The small vehicle, i.e., of salvation. A name invented by Northern Buddhists, in contradistinction to Mahayana, to desig nate the spirit of Southern Buddhism. The term is not used among Southern Buddhists.

IDDHI [P] . "The deminion of spirit over matter/ It is the adjusting power to one s purpose and the adaptation to conditions. In popular belief it implies exemption from the law of gravitation and the power of assuming any shape at will.

IDDHIPADA [p]. The mode of attaining the power of mind over matter, four steps being needed : the will to acquire it, the necessary exertion, the indispensable preparation of the heart, and a diligent investigation of the truth.

INDRA. One of the principal Brahman gods.

ISVARA [s] (lit. independent existence). Lord, Creator, personal God, a title given to Shiva and other great deities. In Sanskrit Bud dhistic scriptures as well as in Brahman, Isvara means always a transcendent or extramundane God, a personal God, a deity dis tinct from, and independent of nature, who is supposed to have created the world out of nothing.

JAIN [s]. Modernized form of Jaina; an adherent of the Jain-sect which reveres Vardhamana (Nataputta) as Buddha.

JAINISM. A sect, founded by Vardhamana, older than Buddhism and still extant in India. It is in many respects similar to Buddhism. Buddha s main objection to the Jains was the habit of their ascetics of going naked. The Jains lay great stress upon ascetic exercises and self -mortification which the Buddhists declare to be injurious.

JATILA [p]. "Wearing matted hair/ The Jatilas were Brahman ascetics. Buddha converted a tribe of them, and Kassapa, their chief, became one of his most prominent disciples.

JIN A. The Conqueror, an honorary title of Buddha. The Jains use the term as an appellative of Vardhamana.

KARMA. Action, work, the law of action, retribution, results of deeds previously done and the destiny result ing therefrom. Entel defines karma as "that moral kernel [of any being] which alone survives death and continues in transmigration. " Karma is a well-defined and scientifically exact term. Professor Huxley says, "In the theory of evolution, the tendency of a germ to develop according to a certain specific type, e. g., of the kidney bean seed to grow into a plant having all the characters of Pbaseolus vulgaris is its karma/ It is the last inheritor and the last result of all the conditions that have affected a line of ancestry which goes back for many millions of years to the time when life first appeared on earth/

KHANDHA. Elements; attributes of being, which are form, sensa tion, perception, discrimination, and consciousness.

MAGGA. Path; especially used in the Pali phrase "Ariyo atthangiko maggo/ the noble eightfold path, which consists of: right views, high aims, right speech, upright conduct, a harmless livelihood, per severance in well-doing, intellectual activity, and earnest thought.


MAHAYANA. The great vehicle, i.e., of salvation. Name of the Northern conception of Buddhism, comparing religion to a great ship in which men can cross the stream of Samsara to reach the shore of Nirvana.

MARA. The Evil One, the tempter, the destroyer, the god of lust, sin, and death.

MATANGA. Literally, of low birth; the Matanga caste comprises mongrels of the lowest with higher castes.

MAYA-DEVI, also called Maha-Maya, or simply Maya. The wife of Suddhodana and mother of Buddha. She died in childbed, and Buddha ascended to heaven to preach to her the good law and the gospel of salvation.

METTEYYA [p]. "Full of kindness"; the name of the Buddha to come.

MUNI. A thinker, a sage; especially a religious thinker. Sakyamuni, the sage of the Sakyas, is Buddha.

NAGA. Literally "serpent." The serpent being regarded as a superior being, the word denotes a special kind of spiritual being; a sage, a man of spiritual insight; any superior personality.

NIDANA. Cause. The twelve nidanas form the chain of causation which brings about the misery in the world.

NIGGANTHA [p] . Literally "liberated from bonds"; a name adopted by the adherents of the Jaina sect.

NIGRODHA [P] . A tree, ficus indica, well known for its air roots.

NIRVANA [s] . Nibbana [P] . Extinction, i.e., the extinction of self; according to the Hinayana it is defined as "extinction of illusion," according to the Mahayana as "attainment of truth." Nirvana means, according to the latter, the happy condition of enlighten ment, peace of mind, bliss, the glory of righteousness in this life and beyond, the eternal rest of Buddha after death. Buddha him self has refused to decide the problem whether or not Nirvana is a final extinction of personality. When questioned, he indicated by his silence that the solution is not one of those subjects a knowledge of which is indispensable for salvation.

PATIMOKKHA [p]. Literally "disburdenment." It is the Buddhist confession.

PUKKUSA [p] . Name of a low caste.

RAGA. Pleasure, desire or lust; a synonym of rail. The name of one of Mara s daughters.

RATI. Love, liking; a synonym of raga. The name of one of Mara s daughters.

RISHI [s]. A prophet or seer, an inspired poet, a hermit having acquired wisdom in saintly retirement, a recluse or anchorite.

SAKKA [p] . Lord; a cognomen of Indra.

SAKYA. The name of a royal race in the northern frontiers of Magadha.

SAKYAMUNI [p]. The Sakya sage; a cognomen of Buddha. SALA. A tree, vatica robusta.

SAMADHI. Trance, abstraction, self-control. Rhys Davids says: "Buddhism has not been able to escape from the natural results of the wonder with which abnormal nervous states have always been regarded during the infancy of science. . . . But it must be added, to its credit, that the most ancient Buddhism despises dreams and visions; and that the doctrine of Samadhi is of small practical im portance compared with the doctrine of the noble eightfold Path/ The term Samadhi is sometimes used to designate moral self- deliverance from passion and vice.

SAM ANA [P] . An ascetic; one who lives under the vow.

SAMMAPPADHANA [P]. Right effort, exertion, struggle. There are four great efforts to overcome sin, which are: Mastery over the passions so as to prevent bad qualities from rising; suppression of sinful thoughts to put away bad qualities which have arisen; medi tation on the seven kinds of wisdom in order to produce goodness not previously existing, and fixed attention or the exertion of pre venting the mind from wandering, so as to increase the goodness which exists.

SAMSARA. The ocean of birth and death, transiency, worldliness, the restlessness of a worldly life, the agitation of selfishness, the Vanity Fair of life.

SANGHA. The brotherhood of Buddha s disciples, the Buddhist church. An assembly of at least four has the power to hear confes sion, to grant absolution, to admit persons to the priesthood, etc.

SANKHARA. Confection, conformation, disposition. It is the forma tive element in the karma as it has taken shape in bodily existence.

SAVAKA [P]. He who has heard the voice (i.e. of Buddha), a pupil, a beginner. The name is used to designate (1) all personal disciples of Buddha, the foremost among whom are called Maha-sa-vakas, and (2) an elementary degree of saintship. A savaka is he who is still superficial in practice and comprehension, being compared to a hare crossing the stream of Samsara by swimming on the surface.

SATI-PATTHANA [P]. Meditation; explained as "fixing the atten tion." The four objects of earnest meditation are : the impurity of the body, the evils arising from sensation, ideas or the imperma- nence of existence, and reason and character, or the permanency of the dharma. The term is different from "bhavana," although translated by the same English word.

SIDDHATTHA [P] . Siddhartha [s] . Buddha s proper name. Etymol ogy, "He who has reached his goal."

SOMA. Derived from the root su, to press in a winepress. Name of a plant and of its juice, which is intoxicating and is used at Brah-manical festivals; the Soma drink is sometimes identified with the moon and personified as a deity.

SUDDHODANA [p] . Buddha s father. The word means "possessing pure rice/ Buddhists always represent him as a king, but this does not appear in the oldest records.

SUTTA [p] . Sutra [s] . Literally "thread/ any essay, or guide of a religious character.

TANHA [p]. Thirst; the word denotes generally all intense desire, cleaving and clinging with passion. The name of one of Mara s daughters.

TATHAGATA. Generally explained as "the Perfect One." The high est attribute of Buddha.

THERAVADA (P): theravāda; (s) sthaviravāda; literally, "the Way of the Elders") is the oldest surviving Buddhist school, and for many centuries has been the predominant religion of Sri Lanka and most of continental Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand).

TIRATANA [P] . The three jewels or the holy trinity of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, a doctrine peculiar to Northern Buddhism.

TRIKAYA. The three bodies or personalities of Buddha; the Dhar- makaya, the Sambhoga-kaya, and the Nirmana-kaya.

UPOSATHA [p] . The Buddhist sabbath.

VARANA. A tree, crataeva roxburghii.

VARDHAMANA [s] . Proper name of the founder of Jainism.

VARUNA. A Brahman deity, the god of heaven and regent of the sea; one of the guardians of the world.

VASSA [p]. Rainy season. During the rainy season of Northern India, which falls in the months from June to October, the samanas could not wander about, but had to stay in one place. It was the time in which the disciples gathered round their master, listening to his instructions. Thus it became the festive time of the year. In Ceylon, where these same months are the fairest season of the year, Buddhists came together and lived in temporary huts, holding re ligious meetings in the open air, reading the Pitakas and enjoying the Jatakas, legends, and parables of Buddhism.

VEDAS. Ancient religious poems.

VIHARA. Residence of Buddhist monks or priests; a Buddhist con vent or monastery; a Buddhist temple.

YAMA. Also called Yama-raja, death, the god of death.

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