A glossary of Buddhist terms
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As Buddhism spread through the East it was expressed in many languages. Terms in the Sanskrit and Pali of idea are the most common of those used in the West, although Japanese and Tibetan also occur. Pali is the language of the texts used of the Theravara school, while Sanskrit is used for general Mahayna. Zen Buddhism uses terms expressed in Japanese, and Tibetan Buddhism in Tibetan
Note: The terms are given in the form Pali spelling / Sanskrit spelling. The Pali terms are in bold unless the other form is the more usual. Words in blue are also defined in the glossary, and clicking on them will take you to the correct part of the glossary for that definition.


Abhidhamma Abhidharma Further or higher teaching. The philosophy of Buddhism in abstract, systematic form.
Abhidhamma Pitaka Abhidharma Pitaka The 3rd of the 3 principal sections of the canon of basic scripture.
  Amitabha Amitayus Also Amida (Japanese) - Buddhas having unlimited light and life respectively.
Amida (Japanese) Amitabha Buddha having unlimited light.
  Amitayus Buddha having unlimited life.
Anapanasati Anapanasmrti Mindfulness of the breath. The practice most usually associated with the development of concentration and calm but also used in the training of Vipassana (insight)
Anatta Anatman No self or no soul. Insubstantiality, denial of a real or permanent self.
Anicca Anitya Impermananence; transience. Instability of all things, including the self.
Arahat, Arahant Arhat Enlightened disciple. The 4th and highest stage of realisation recognised by the Theravra tradition. One whose mind is free from all greed. hatred and ignorance.
Arhant Arahant The Hinayana ideal of an enlightened person
Asala   Esala Annual festival in July / August for the tooth relic of Gotama Buddha .
Asoka Ashoka Emperor of India in the 3rd century BCE.
Atta Atman Self or Soul.
Avadanus   Legends of Buddhist heros and heroines.
Bhikkhu Bhikshu Fully ordained Buddhist monk.
Bhikkhuni Bhikshuni Fully ordained Buddhist nun.
Bodh Gaya    The sight of the Enlightenment of Gotma Buddha, near Gaya in Bihar; a place of pilgrimage.
Bodhi Tree    The tree (ficus religiosa) under which the Buddha realised Enlightenment. It is known as the Tree of Wisdom.
Bodhicitta   The will to enlightenment
Bodhisatta   A Wisdom Being. One intent on becoming, or destined to become, a Buddha. Gotama, before his Enlightenment as the historical Buddha.
  Bodhisattva A being destined for Enlightenment, who postpones final attainment of Buddhahood in order to help living living beings (see Mahayana).
Brahma Sahampati   The God who asked the Buddha to make the teaching known to all, for the sake of all living beings.
Brahma Viharas   The four sublime states: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and evenness of mine.
Buddha Buddha Awakened or Enlightened one.
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Dalai Lama  (Tibetan)   Great Ocean. Spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people. (formerly) the ruler and chief monk of Tibet, believed to be a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara and sought for among newborn children after the death of the preceding Dalai Lama, see also Tashi Lama
Dana   Giving
Dhamma Dharma Universal law; ultimate truth. The teachings of the Buddha. A key Buddhist term.
Dhammapada Dharmapada Famous scripture of 423 verses.
Dhamma Vijaya   Literally "Victory to the Dhamma" or conquest by means of Buddhist practices and teachings.
  Dharmakaya The truth body, truth itself
Dhyana Dana Generosity; giving; gift
Diamond Sutra   A popular Mahayana book of wisdom; associated with Vajrayana since it cuts like a thunderbolt. 
Dukkha Dukha Suffering; ill; unsatisfactoriness; imperfection. The nature of existence according to the first Noble Truth.
Enlightenment   Reaching a state of grace or realisation of the truth
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Gompa (Tibetan)   Monastry place of meditation.
Gotama Gautama Family name of the Buddha.
  Guru Religious Teacher
Hinayana   "Small vehicle": term to be avoided in favour of Theravada.
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Jataka   Birth story. Accounts of the previous lives of the Buddha.
Jhana Dhyana Also Ch'an (Chinese) and Zen (Japanese). Advanced meditation.
Juzu Mala Prayer beads used to aid with meditation and sometimes used to count the number of times that a chant has been repeated.
Kamma Karma Action. Intentional actions that affect one's circumstances in this and future lives. The Buddha's insistence that the effect depends on volition marks the Buddhist treatment of kamma as different from the Hindu understanding of karma.
Karuna Karuna Compassion
Kathina Kathin Ceremony at which the laity dedicate a cotton cloth to the monks for use as robes; usually takes place at Was.
Kesa (Japanese)   The robe of a Buddhist monk, nun or priest.
Khandha Skandha Heap, aggregate. The Five Khandas together make up the 'person' (form, feeling, perception, mental formation and consciousness).
Khanti Kshanti Patience, forbearance
Kilesa Klesa Mental defilement or fire; such as greed, hatred or ignorance.
Koan (Japanese)   A technical term used in Zen Buddhism referring to enigmatic or paradoxical questions used to develop intuition. Also refers to religious problems encountered in daily life.
Kushinara   The place where Gotama Buddha died, near Kasia in Uttar Pradesh; a place of pilgrimage.
Kwan-yin (Chinese)   Also Kannon (Japanese). Bodhisattva of Compassion, depicted in female form. Identified with Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.
Lama (Tibetan)   Teacher, or one who is revered.
Lamaism   The Buddhism of Tibet and Mongolia, a Mahayana form including non- Buddhist Indian elements as well as elements of the pre-existing Bon
shamanism. Also called Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle).
  Lakshanas Literally 'charcteristics' as in the three charcteristics of conditioned existence
  Lotus Sutra A scripture of major importance to various schools within the Mahayana tradition. It describes the virtues of the Buddha, and emphasises that all sentient beings possess Buddha-nature and can attain Enlightenment (Nirvana).
Lobha   Greed or Lust
Lumbini   Birthplace of the Gotama Buddha in Nepal; a place of pilgrimage.
Magga Marga Path, leading to cessation of suffering. The fourth Noble Truth.
  Mahayana Great Way or Vehicle. Teachings that spread from India into Tibet, parts of Asia and the far East, characterised by the Bodhisattva ideal and the prominence given to the development of both compassion and wisdom.
Mala   Also Juzu (Japanese). String of 108 beads used in Buddhist practice (like a rosary).
  Mandala Literally a circle. Adiagrammatic representation of everything
Metta Maitri Loving kindness A pure love which is neither grasping nor possessive.
Metta Sutta   Buddhist scripture which describes the nature of loving kindness.
Metteya Maitreya One who has the nature of loving kindness. Name of the future Buddha.
Moha   Delusion
Mudda Mudra Ritual gesture, as illustrated by the hands of Buddha images.
Mudita Mudita Sympathetic joy. welcoming the good fortune of others.
Nibbana Nirvana Blowing out of the fires of greed, hatred and ignorance, and the state of secure perfect peace that follows. A key Buddhist term.
  Nirmana-kaya Transformation body the means by which the Buddha is manifested for the benefit of humanity.
Nirodha Nirodha Cessation (of suffering). The third Noble Truth.
Noble Truth   A basic tenant of Buddhist teaching along with the Eightfold Path.
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Pagoda   Also Dagoba, Chorten and Wat. Alternative names in difference countries for stupa or place of worship.
Pali Canon   Buddhist sciptures of the Theravadin School
Panca-sila Pansil The five requisites of good behaviour for all lay and monastic Buddhists which are often recited in ceremonies. Bikkhus have to obey an extra five making ten or Das-sila.
Panna Prajna  Wisdom. Understanding the true nature of things.
Parami Paramita A perfection or virtue. On of the six or ten perfections necessary for the attainment of Buddhahood.
Paranibbana Paranirvana The death of the Buddha
Parinibbana Parinirvana Final and complete nirvana reached at the passing away of a Buddha.
Paticcasamuppada Pratityasamutpada Dependent origination or conditioned co-production
Pitaka   Basket. Collection of scriptures (cf Tipitaka).
  Prajna Wisdom
  Pratyekabuddha A non teaching Buddha
  Puja  Buddhist 'worship' or deveotional ceremony 
  Punya Merit
Pure Land   A school of Mahayana Buddhism which takes its name from the Lotus Sutra. It teaches salvation by faith in Amitaba, a Buddha of immeasurable light. It is particularly popular in Japan (Jodo) and China (Ching-t'u).
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Red Hats   The original sect of Tibetan Buddhist monks, whose doctrines were much influenced by the earlier Bon religion. see also Yellow Hats
Rupa Rupa  Form. Used of an image of the Buddha; also, the first of the Five Khandhas -
Sakyamuni Shakyamuni Sage of the Shakyas (The tribe of the Buddhas). Title of the historical Buddha.
Samadhi Samadhi Meditative absorption. A state of deep meditation.
Samatha Samatha A state of concentrated calmness; meditation (see Vipassana)
Samsara Samsara Everyday life. The continual round of birth, sickness, old age and death which can be transcended by following the Eightfold Path and Buddhist teaching.
Samudaya Samudaya Arising; origin (of suffering). The second Noble Truth.
Sangha Sangha community; assembly. Often used for the order of bikkhus and bhikkunis in Theravadin countries. In the Mahayana countries, the Sangha includes lay devotees and priests, e.g. in Japan.
Sankhara Samskara Mental/karmic formation. The fourth of the five Khandhas.
Sanna Samjna Perception. Third of the five Khandhas.
Satori (Japanese)   Awaking. A term used in Zen Buddhism.
Skandhas Skanda Constituent elements of being; the 5 elements which make up a personality.
Siddattha Siddhartha Wish-fulfilled. The personal name of the historical Buddha.
Sila Sila Morality.
Stupa Stupa  Monument containing Buddhist relics, also a symbol of the different elements
Sutta Sutra Text. The word of the Buddha.
Sutta Pitaka Sutra Pitaka The second of the three collections - principally of teachings - that comprise the canon of basic scripture.
Tashi Lama (Tibetan)   Any of a succession of Tibetan monks and spiritual leaders, second in importance only to the Dalai Lama. Also called Bainquen Lama, Panchen Lama, or Panchen Rimpoche [after Tashi (Lumpo) name of monastery of which this Lama is abbot]
Tanha  Trishna  Thirst; craving; desire (rooted in ignorance). Desire as the cause of suffering. The second Noble Truth
Tathagata Tathagata Another epithet for the Buddha
Theravada Sthaviravada Way of the elders. A principle school of Buddhism, established in Sri Lanka and South East Asia. Also found in the West.
Three Refuges   Threefold Refuge  "I go to the Buddha for refuge"; I go to the Dhamma for refuge"; I go to the Sangha for refuge." This prayer form the three Jewels. 
Thupa / Cetiya Stupa Reliquary (including Pagodas)
Tipitaka Tripitaka Three baskets. A threefold collection of texts (Vinaya, Sutta, Abhidamma).
Tiratana Triratna The triple refuge. Buddha, the Dharmma and the Sangha. Another way of referring to the three jewels.
Tisarana Trisharana, Triratna "Three Jewels"; threefold refuge of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.
  Trikaya The three bodies of the Buddha (Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya)
  Tri-laskhana The three characteristics or 'marks' of existence
Tulku (Tibetan)   Reincarnated Lama. 
Upaya   Any skillful means e.g. meditation on loving kindness, to overcome anger.
Upekkha Upeksa Equanimity; evenness of mind.
Uposatha   Meeting held at the new moon to teach the Dhamma and observe the Vinaya.
  Vajrayana Thunderbolt; Diamond Way. Teachings promulgated later, mainly in India and Tibet. Another term for esoteric Buddhism.
Vassa   The three month 'rainy season' retreat
Vedana   Feeling. The second of the five Khandhas.
Vihara   Dwelling place; monastery.
Vinaya   The rules of discipline of monastic life.
Vinaya Pitaka   The first of the three collections of the canon of basic scripture, containing mostly the discipline for monks and nuns, with many stories and some teachings.
Vinnana Vijnana Consciousness. The fifth of the Five Khandhas.
Vipassana Viopashyana Insight into the true nature of things. A particular form of meditation (cf Samatha)
Viriya Virya Energy; exertion.
Was Vassa Rainy Season Retreat.
Wesak  Wesak Buddha day, Name of the festival and a month. On the full moon of Wesek (in May or June), the birth, Enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha took place, although some schools celebrate only the birth at this time eg: Zen 
Yantra   A physical symbol
Yellow Hats   The sect of Tibetan Buddhist monks established after religious reforms in the 14th century. Also called Gelugpa. see also Red Hats.
Zazen (Japanese)   Meditation while seated as in Zen Buddhism.
Zen (Japanese)   Meditation. Derived from the Sanskrit 'dhyana'. A school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in China (Ch'an) and Japan.