• Agamas
    The collections of early Buddhist teachings. The Agamas are distinguished as: Dirghagama (long discourses), Madhyamagama (medium discourses), Samyuktagama (miscellaneous discourses), and Ekottaragama (numerical discourses).
  • Alaya
  • Amitabha Sutra
    The principle scripture on which the Pure Land practice is based. Reciting Amitabha Buddha’s name is the most accessible and simplest form of Buddhist practice. According to the Pure Land teaching, through Amitabha Buddha’s vow, any person who sincerely invokes his name and expresses the wish will be reborn in the Pure Land of Amitabha, also known as the Western Paradise. The Pure Land is a place of bliss, but should not be confused with nirvana, which is a higher state.
  • Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi
    Unexcelled perfect enlightenment of the buddhas.
  • Arhat
    “Worthy one.” In Buddhism, the arhat is thought of as having completed the course of Buddhist practice and attained liberation, or nirvana. As such, the arhat is no longer sub-ject to rebirth and death. Arhat is also one of the ten epithets of the Buddha. See Ten Epithets of the Buddha.
  • Asamskrita
    Lit. “unconditioned.” The term refers to a state of mind that is not caused or influenced by phenomena, therefore, free from any kind of karmic future, or “outflow.” As such, it is the opposite of samskrita. See Samskrita.
  • Asura
    One of the types of beings in the six realms of existence. Asuras, sometimes translated as “titans,” are beings who have the merit to travel to the heavenly realms but are afflicted with jealousy of the heavenly devas, or gods.
  • Avalokitesvara
    Perhaps the most important bodhisattva in the Asian Buddhism. The embodiment of compassion who hears and responds to the cries of all living beings, Avalokitesvara is de-picted as either male or female. In China, Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) is usually depicted in the female form. In Zen the bodhisattva is known as Kanzeon or Kannon, in Tibetan Buddhism as Chenresig or Chenrezi.
  • Avatamsaka Sutra
  • Avici
    The last of the eight hells in which suffering continues without interruption. Once the ret-ribution exhausts, the individual is reborn somewhere else.

  • Bhikshuni/bhikshuni
    Fully ordained Buddhist monk and nun, respectively.
  • Bhumi
    The bhumis (ground, regions, or stages) are the ten stages of the bodhisattva’s path to full buddhahood.
  • Bodhi
    Lit. “awakened.” The principal wisdom that severs all vexations and defilements and real-izes nirvana, or the wisdom that realizes the truth of every conditioned phenomenon.
  • Bodhi-mind
    The mind of wisdom, a central idea in Mahayana Buddhism. The meaning of the word varies by context: 1) The arousal of altruistic mind which aspires to buddhahood for the sake of sentient beings, 2) the actual realization of enlightenment as an awakening to the true nature of reality, 3) selfless action, a meaning extremely important, yet often over-looked.
  • Bodhisattva
    Lit. “enlightened being.” The bodhisattva is the role model in the Mahayana tradition. The bodhisattva is a being who vows to remain in the world of samsara, postponing his/her own full liberation until all other living beings are delivered.
  • Buddha
    Lit. “awakened one.” Generically, a buddha is a completely enlightened sentient being. The specific historical Buddha is the religious teacher, the Indian Sakyamuni Gautama, who founded Buddhism as we know it.
  • Buddhadharma
    See Dharma.
  • Buddha-nature
    The nature or potentiality for buddhahood, synonym for the “nature of emptiness.”

  • Caodong (Wade-Giles: Ts’ao-tung, Zen: Soto)
    One of the two major “sudden enlightnment” schools of Chan to survive to the present, stressing silent-illumination practice (shikantaza) over gong’an practice, but not exclusive-ly. The other surviving major school of Chan is the Linji (Wade-Giles: Lin-chi, Zen: Rin-zai). See Linji.
  • Chan (Zen)
    Chan is one of the main schools of Chinese Buddhism to develop during the T’ang Dyn-asty (618-907). The designation derives from the Sanskrit dhyana, transliterated as chan-na in Chinese, and as zen in Japanese. Chan can mean meditation, but it can also mean enlightenment. See Dhyana.

  • Daoism
    One of the three major spiritual disciplines of ancient China, along with Confucianism and Buddhism. The essence of Daoism is its belief in the cosmic unity of all things. Its most renowned teachers were Laozi and Zhuangzi.
  • Deva
    Lit. “shining one.” A sentient being who dwells in one of the six realms of rebirth, the godly, which is free from suffering but still subject to rebirth. The five other realms are the human, the jealous gods, the animal, the hungry ghosts, and hell.
  • Dharma
    By convention, ‘Dharma’ (upper case) refers to the teachings of the Buddha (Bud-dhadharma), while ‘dharma’ (lower case) can refer to a thing, an object, an event, any physical or mental phenomenon. In Sanskrit, with no upper or lower case, the specific meaning is determined by context.
  • Dharmadhatu
    The dharma realm, the infinite realms or worlds of reality; it can also be regarded as the ground or nature of all things.
  • Dharma Ending Age
    A period of time when the teaching of the Buddha is weak, and although there may be practitioners, no one is able to gain realization.
  • Dhyana
    Sanskrit for certain states of meditative absorption cultivated as a technique for attaining enlightenment. In some sutras, dhyana refers to a practice after enlightenment, in which one solely cultivates the non-dualistic, quiescent, and still nature of mind. ‘Chan’ and ‘zen’ are the Chinese and Japanese transliterations of dhyana, respectively.
  • Diamond Sutra
    Sk: Vajracchedika-sutra. It is a sutra that belongs to the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) system of literature which teaches the ultimate truth of emptiness. With the Heart Sutra, it is one of the most important scriptures in the Mahayana tradition.

  • Eight Consciousnesses
    A central idea in the Yogacara (Mind-Only) School of Buddhism, which understands consciousness as having eight modes of operation. These eight modes are further divided into three categories:
    1. Vijnana, referring to the first five sense consciousnesses (the “knowing” that arises from contact between the sense faculties and their corresponding sense objects), plus the sixth sense consciousness, the faculty of mental discrimination (manov-ijnana)
    2. Manas, referring to the seventh consciousness, that of the sense of self
    3. Citta, referring to the eighth consciousness, the alaya or store-house conscious-ness.
    The first six consciousnesses are named after the sense faculties that serve as their sup-port: 1) eye consciousness, 2) ear consciousness, 3) nose consciousness, 4) tongue con-sciousness, 5) body consciousness, and 6) mind consciousness. The sixth consciousness, our ordinary mind, is characterized by discrimination and has all dharmas as its object. It utilizes the previous five consciousnesses in order to identify, interpret, and define the world. The seventh consciousness is the source of the belief in a separate self; it takes the eighth consciousness as its support and its object of attachment. It can also be said to be the center of these eight consciousnesses. The eighth consciousness operates as the under-lying continuum of the mind’s workings and functions, on which delusion is ultimately based. It is a “repository” or “storehouse” that contains all experiences as karmically-charged “seeds,” which ripen under the proper causes and conditions as acts of body, speech and mind. These acts in turn create new seeds. Therefore, the eighth consciousness is unceasingly conditioned by the previous seven consciousnesses. When one is thorough-ly enlightened, these consciousnesses become the function of wisdom.
  • Eighteen Realms
    The eighteen realms collectively refer to the domains of the six sense faculties (sight, sound, smell, taste, body, and mind), which in contact with their corresponding six sense objects, results in the six sense consciousnesses.
  • Eightfold Noble Path
    The Eightfold Noble Path was expounded by the Buddha at his first sermon, in which he gave the teachings of the Four Noble Truths to his five disciple-friends. As an extension of the fourth noble truth (they way out of suffering), the Eightfold Noble Path consists of right view, right determination, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (meditation).

  • Five Precepts
    Guidelines to ethical and moral behavior that Buddhists vow to uphold. The precepts are (1) not to kill, (2) not to steal, (3) not to engage in sexual misconduct, (4) not to lie, and (5) not to consume intoxicants. The Five Precepts are frequently taken as part of taking refuge. See also Taking Refuge.
  • Five Skandhas
    The Five Skandhas (heaps or aggregates) are the factors that operate together to make up a sentient being: form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness. The first skandha, form, is the material factor; the remaining four are mental in nature. Buddhism holds that, since the Five Skandhas lack permanence, and have no enduring reality, the sentient being they comprise is also lacking in self-nature.
  • Four Fruitions of the Arhat Path
    The four progressive stages or fruition levels of a practitioner on the way to arhatship are: 1) the stream winner who has entered the stream of enlightenment; 2) the once-returner who will experience one more cycle of rebirth, 3) the non-returner who will be reborn as a deva, or deity, in the heavenly realm; and 4) the arhat, an enlightened being liberated from samsara (the cycle of birth and death).
  • Four Great Vows
    The Four Great Vows of the bodhisattva are: I vow to save all sentient beings. I vow to cut of all vexations. I vow to master all approaches to the Dharma. I vow to achieve su-preme buddhahood.
  • Four Noble Truths
    The four basic principles preached by Buddha in his first sermon: 1) existence is marked by suffering, 2) the cause of suffering is ignorance, 3) there is a way out of suffering, and 4) the way out of suffering is the Eightfold Noble Path. See Eightfold Noble Path.

  • Gong’an (Zen: koan)
    Lit. “public case.” A gong’an is a Chan method of meditation in which the practitioner energetically and single-mindedly pursues the answer to an enigmatic question usually posed by the master. The question can be answered only by abandoning logic and reason-ing and through directly generating and breaking through the “doubt sensation” under natural causes and conditions. Famous gong’an encounters were recorded and used by masters to test their disciples’ understanding, or they served as a catalyst for enlighten-ment. The term, gong’an is often used interchangeably with the term huatou.

  • Heart Sutra
    One of the most important sutras of Mahayana Buddhism, which expounds the meaning of emptiness, or the absence of self-nature in sentient beings.
  • Hinayana
    The Hinayana is the path of individual enlightenment or liberation, as distinct from the Mahayana path, in which one postpones enlightenment and practices for the good of all sentient beings. The early Mahayana practitioners used the term ‘Hinayana’ to distinguish themselves from the earlier schools of Buddhism. It is not a term used by practitioners of early Buddhism, including the Theravada, to their own practice. See Mahayana.
  • Huatou
    Lit. “source of words” (before they are uttered), a method used in the Chan School to arouse the “doubt sensation.” The practitioner meditates on such baffling questions as: “What is nothingness?” “Where am I?” or “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” In this practice, one does not rely on experience, logic, or reasoning. Often, these phrases are taken from gong’an; at other times, they are spontaneously generated by the practitioner. The term huatou is often used interchangeably with the Japanese koan.
  • Huayan
    One of the most influential schools of Chinese Buddhism of the T’ang dynasty (618-907). Based on the Avatamsaka Sutra (Huayan Jing), the fundamental teaching of this school is the equality of all things, and the unobstructed interpenetration of, and interrela-tion between, absolute reality and all phenomena.
  • Huayan Jing
    Chinese name for the Avatamsaka (Flower Adornment) Sutra, a massive Mahayana Bud-dhist sutra translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in the fifth, seventh, and late eighth cen-turies. The sutra was popular among Chinese Buddhists, who believed that it was a reve-lation from the Buddha’s enlightenment while he was in samadhi under the bodhi tree. The sutra has always been held in high regard among Chan sects, and became the basis of the Huayan School of Chan. See Huayan.

  • Incense board
    A thin, flat wooden board sometimes used by a Chan master or meditation monitor to strike the shoulders of a practitioner as a goad to more diligent effort or simply to stir the sitter from drowsiness. In more modern times, the use of the incense board (J., Kyosaku in Zen) has become more of a voluntary option, in which the sitter raises his or her hand to ask to be struck on the shoulders.

  • Kalpa
    (Skt., “world cycle”) A term used in Indian and Buddhist cosmology to indicate an im-measurably long period of time.
  • Karma
    Lit. “action.” Basically, karma is the law of cause and effect to which all sentient beings are subject. Karma is broadly construed in Buddhism to include physical, verbal, and mental actions. It is also the cumulative causal situation affecting one’s destiny as a result of past acts, thoughts, and emotions.
  • Kensho
    Zen term for the first enlightenment experience, in which one perceives one’s own true self-nature as “empty,” devoid of fixed reality.
  • Koan

  • Linji (Wade-Giles: Lin-chi, Zen: Rinzai)
    One of the two major schools of Chan to survive to the present, stressing gong’an prac-tice, over silent illumination (shikantaza), but not exclusively. It is however, in the tradi-tion of sudden enlightenment Chan. The other surviving major school of Chan is the Caodong. See Caodong.
  • Lotus Sutra
    In Sanskrit, Saddharmapundarika-sutra (Sutra of the Lotus of the True Dharma). One of the most influential scriptures in the Mahayana, translated six times into Chinese between 255-601 A.D., the Lotus Sutra describes the bodhisattva ideal and holds that the perfect vehicle to ultimate liberation is the Mahayana.

  • Madhyamika
    Lit. “the middle way.” The Madhyamika School was founded by Nagarjuna and his fol-lowers. The core teaching of Madhyamika stresses dependent origination and emptiness based on the Prajanaparamita system of thought.
  • Mahayana
    Lit. “great vehicle,” whose followers vow to follow the bodhisattva path for the sake of delivering all sentient beings from suffering. See Hinayana.
  • Mara
    (Skt.) In Buddhism, “Mara” has various meanings, one of them referring to the lord of Evil, or Lord of the Underworld. In another context, Mara is the demonic spirit who un-successfully tried to seduce Shakyamuni from his dedicated practice. On a more mun-dane level, Buddhist teachers sometimes refer to various kinds of distractions from true practice as maras, or “demonic influences.”
  • Middle Way
    There are two broad meanings to the term “Middle Way”. The first refers to the Buddha’s teaching that the proper path is to avoid both extremes: self-imposed suffering in asceti-cism and indulgence in desire and attachments. Philosophically, the Middle Way refers to the teaching of the Madhyamaka school of Buddhism (ca. 5th century C.E.) in which the true practitioner avoids he dual errors of nihilism, in which nothing exists, and eternalism, in which phenomena have independent and durable existence.

  • Nidanas
  • Nirvana
    Total extinction of desire and suffering, the state of liberation through full enlightenment.
  • Noble Eightfold Path
  • No-self
    Buddhism’s central teaching that there is no independently existing entity that can be called the self; that the self is mental construct derived from the moment-to-moment stream of perceptual experience.

  • Paramitas
    Lit “perfections,” or ways for transcendence to liberation. The six paramitas are the main practices of Mahayana bodhisattvas: giving (dana), morality (sila), patience (ksanti), dili-gence (vira), meditation (dhyana), and wisdom (prajna). The ten paramitas, practiced by bodhisattvas, consist of the six paramitas plus four others: expedient means (upayakausalya), vows (pranidhana), power (bala), and all-knowing wisdom (jnana).
  • Patriarch
    In the context of Chan/Zen Buddhism, an honorific referring to one of the six teachers considered to be the founding ancestors of the Chan/Zen tradition. The first patriarch was the Indian ( Some say central Asian) monk Bodhidharma (d. 536?); the other five are Chinese. In chronological order they are Huike (48-593), Sengcan (d. 506), Daoxin (580-651), Hongren (602-675), and Huineng (638-713).
  • Platform Sutra
    A scripture attributed to the seventh century Chan master, Huineng (638-713), who was the sixth patriarch of Chan, and perhaps the most famous of the Chinese patriarchs. He was the founder of the Southern School of Chan, which emphasized sudden enlighten-ment.
  • Pratyekabuddha
    A self-enlightened being who has attained liberation from all suffering by contemplating dependent origination.
  • Precepts
    The five basic precepts, or guidelines for Buddhist behavior, are: 1) not to kill, 2) not to steal, 3) not to engage in sexual misconduct, 4) not to lie, and 5) not to take intoxicants. There are the eight precepts for laypersons and prospective monks or nuns, which are the Five Precepts plus 6) not wearing jewelry or perfumes, not singing and dancing, and not watching entertainment, 7) not sleeping on a raised bed, and 8) not eating after the noon meal. For those taking the bodhisattva precepts, there are ten major and forty-eight minor precepts, not listed here.
  • Preta
    Lit. “departed one,” one who exists in the realm of the hungry ghosts, one of the six realms of rebirth. Pretas are characterized as beings suffering from greed, jealousy, and envy. See Deva.
  • Pure Land
    The Land of Supreme Bliss (Sanskrit: sukhavati), or the Western Paradise of Amitabha Buddha. It is a pure realm that came into existence due to the vows of Amitabha Bud-dha. Anyone who sincerely invokes his name and expresses the wish to be born there will be reborn in the Pure Land.

  • Sangha
    Lit. “crowd” or “host.” There are three significant meanings to the word. First, the Sang-ha is one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism, along with the Buddha and the Dharma. In this sense, Sangha refers to the abstract entity of all those who have devoted their lives to the teaching of the Dharma. Second, sangha can refer to a specific community of monks or nuns, such as in a monastery. Third, sangha can refer to the Buddhist community at large, including monks, nuns, and laypersons.
  • Sastras
    Scriptures written by patriarchs of Buddhism usually consisting either of theoretical syn-theses of other scriptures, or commentaries on sutras.
  • Samadhi
    Like dhyana, samadhi refers to states of meditative absorption, but it is a broader and more generic term than dhyana. Although numerous specific samadhis are mentioned in Buddhist scriptures, the term samadhi itself is flexible and not as specific as dhyana. In Mahayana sutras, the term samadhi is inseparable from wisdom, or prajna.
  • Samsara
    Lit. “journeying.” The relentless cycle of birth and death and suffering in which ordinary, unenlightened sentient beings are deeply entangled. There are three realms within samsa-ra: the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm.
  • Samskrita
    Lit. “conditioned.” The term refers to all dharmas (including our actions, words, and thoughts) that are subject to arising, subsiding, and passing away, in other words, condi-tioned, and producing karmic results, i.e., “with outflows.”
  • Sastra
    Generally, a commentary on a sutra, or a treatise based on existing sutras.
  • Sentient being
    The term “sentient being” is not restricted to human beings but includes all living things that are capable of sensation and, therefore, suffering.
  • Shakyamuni
    Lit. “sage of the Shakya.” Shakyamuni was the honorific given to Siddhartha (given name) Gautama (surname) of the Shakya (clan), as a tribute to his dedicated search for enlightenment. This name is also used to distinguish him among other buddhas as the his-torical Shakyamuni Buddha who lived and taught in India around 600 BCE. Shakyamuni is also distinguished from Maitreya Buddha, who is said to be the next buddha to appear in this world.
  • Shamata
    (Skt. “abiding in calmness”) The meditative practice of calming or stilling the mind. In some Buddhist schools, the practice of Shamata is linked with the practice of vipashyana, At a deeper level, shaman is the post-enlightenment practice of cultivating a still, mirror-likek mind. See also Vipashyana.
  • Shastra
    (Skt.) A commentary or exposition of a Buddhist sutra, usually by a scholar or monk. Ex-ample: The Mahaprajnaparamita Shastra is a commentary written by the Indian scholar Nagarjuna, based on the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra. See also Sutra.
  • Shikantaza
    (J., “just sitting”) The Japanese Soto Zen version of the Silent Illumination of the Chinese Caodong Chan. Shikantaza was most notably espoused by the Zen master Dogen (1200-1253) after he returned from China. The practice of shikantaza is one of the central themes of Dogen’s landmark work, Shobogenzo. See also Silent Illumination.
  • Shunyata
    (Skt., “emptiness” or “void”) A central concept in Buddhism, referring to the absence of an abiding “self” in all physical and mental phenomena. It should be understood in rela-tion to the so-called Three Marks of Existence: impermanence, suffering, and no-self. The direct experience of Shunyata is a necessary feature of Buddhist enlightenment.
  • Skandhas
    (Skt., “heaps” or “aggregates”) The five skandhas are the constituents of a sentient be-ing’s experience of the world. The skandhas are from, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness. The skandhas of form is the material component; the other four are mental in nature. Operating together, the five skandhas create the illusion of separate existence and the notion of self or ego.
  • Sravaka
    One who has heard the teachings of the Buddha; also, a follower of the lesser vehicle (Hinayana).
  • Sutra
    Generally, scripture. Specifically, sutra is a recorded “open” teaching of the Buddha that can be practiced by anyone. The distinctive mark of a Buddhist sutra is the opening line, “Thus have I heard.” This indicates that what follows are the direct teachings of Buddha, as remembered and recorded by his disciples. See Sastra.

  • Taking refuge
    A ceremony in which devotees take refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Buddha jewel is the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni; the Dharma jewel consists of the teachings of the Buddha; and the Sangha jewel consists of the mo-nastic orders that nurture and transmit the Dharma.
  • Ten Epithets of a Buddha
    Thus-come, Worthy of Offering, Right and Universal Knowledge, Perfect Clarity and Conduct, Understanding the World, Unsurpassable Worthy One, Instructor of People, Teacher of Heavenly and Human Beings, Buddha, the World Honored One.
  • Three Marks of Existence
    Also known as the Three Dharma Seals, the Three Marks of Existence are suffering, im-permanence, and no-self. As such they describe the underlying nature of reality and exist-ence. A full penetration and direct experience of the meaning of the dharma Seals is con-sidered to be Buddhist enlightenment. In some formulations, the third seal, no-self, is nir-vana.
  • Three Jewels (Sanskrit: triratna)
    The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, collectively the “crown jewels” of Buddhism, so to speak. As such, fealty to the Three Jewels is the highest aspiration that Buddhists may undertake. In fact, to begin the Buddhist path, one ordinarily undergoes the ceremony of taking refuge in the Three Jew-els. See Three Refuges.
  • Three Refuges
    Buddhists customarily enter the path by taking the Three Refuges, a ceremony in which they declare themselves as taking refuge in the Three Jewels. The essence of the ceremo-ny, conducted by qualified Buddhist teacher, is that the refuge taker pronounces three times, “I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.” See Three Jewels.
  • Twelve Entrances
    The six sense faculties together with the six sense objects, or “dust.” See Eighteen Realms and Eight Consciousnesses.
  • Twelve Links of Conditioned Arising
    The Twelve Links of Conditioned Arising (nidanas) are stages of samsara connecting one cycle of birth and death to the next. They are: 1) fundamental ignorance, 2) action, 3) consciousness, 4) name and form, 5) the six entries or sense faculties, 6) contact, 7) sensa-tion, 8) desire or craving, 9) grasping, 10) existence or becoming, 11) birth, and 12) old age and death. See Samsara.

  • Vexation
    Sk.: klesa. The innate mechanism to possess and to act, tainted by an attachment to self, which in turn continues the cycle of samsara. Vexations include all kinds of mental states such as joy and resentment, sadness and happiness, as well as greed, hatred, delusion, ar-rogance and doubt.
  • Vipashyana
    (Skt., “insight”): Meditative practice of contemplation or insight into the nature of exist-ence and reality as being impermanent, imbued with suffering, and empty of selfhood. Vipashyana is often practiced as an extension and adjunct of shamata, the practice of calming the mind. See also Shamata.

  • Wisdom
    In Buddhism, wisdom or prajna, is the state of mind in which one directly perceives the true nature of phenomena and existence as impermanent and void of self-identity.

  • Yogacara
    The Mahayana doctrine, referred to as Mind-Only, which posits that everything is a con-struction of the mind. Maitreya Bodhisattva is often regarded as the founder of this school. Asanga and his brother Vasubandhu developed the school in the first half of the fifth century.