Buddhism Terms Reference

Many of the terms used in this movie and during your interactive experience may be new to you. To enhance your experience, we have included this vocabulary page.

absolute truth – (Skt. paramartha satya Tib. dondam) There are two truths or views of reality—relative truth, which is seeing things as ordinary beings do with the dualism of “I” and “other,” and absolute truth, also called ultimate truth, which is transcending duality and seeing things as they are.

Analytic Meditation – Also called insight Meditation or Vipassana meditation: – Meditation that develops insight into the nature of the mind. The Dalai Lama defines Vipassana meditation as Analytic meditation. In Analytic meditation, we use our powers of logical reasoning to examine the Dharma (teachings) to determine for ourselves whether or not they are true, to eradicate doubt, and to come to a clear and unshakable conclusion about the way in which things exist.

arya – (Tib. phag pa) A person who has achieved direct realization of the true nature of reality. This person has achieved the third (path of insight) of the five paths.

atman – Sanskrit for a permanent “self” which exists after death.

Avalokiteshvara – (Tib. Chenrezig) Deity of compassion. Known as the patron deity of Tibet.

ayatanas – (Tib. kye che) These are the six sensory objects, such as a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, and body sensation; the six sense faculties such as the visual sensory faculty, the auditory sensory faculty, etc. and the six sensory consciousnesses, such as the visual consciousness, the auditory consciousness, etc. They make up the eighteen constituents for perception.

bodhicitta – (Tib. chang chup chi sem) Literally, the mind of enlightenment. There are two kinds of bodhicitta: absolute bodhicitta, which is a completely awakened mind that sees the emptiness of phenomena, and relative bodhicitta, which is the aspiration to practice the six paramitas and free all beings from the suffering of samsara.

bodhisattva – (Tib. chang chup sem pa) An individual who is committed to the mahayana path of practicing compassion and the six paramitas in order to achieve Buddhahood and free all beings from samsara. More specifically, those with a motivation to achieve liberation from samsara and who are on one of the ten bodhisattva levels that culminates in Buddhahood.

bodhisattva levels – Also called bhumi – (Skt. bhumi, Tib. sa) The levels or stages a bodhisattva goes through to reach enlightenment. These consist of ten levels in the sutra tradition and thirteen in the tantra tradition.

Bon – (Tib.) This is the religion of Tibet before Buddhism was introduced. The religion is still practiced in Tibet.

brahamin – A Hindu of the highest caste who usually performs the priestly functions.

Buddha-nature – (Skt. tathagatagarbha, Tib. de shin shek pay nying po) The original nature present in all beings which when realized leads to enlightenment. It is often called the essence of Buddhahood or enlightened essence.

buddhadharma – The teachings of the Buddha.

chakra – (Tib. kor lo) Literally “wheels.” These are points along the central channel at the forehead, throat, heart, etc., where there is a broadening of channels.

compassion – (Skt. karuna, Tib. nying je) In Buddhist terms this is the desire for liberation of all sentient beings regardless of who they are. This feeling can only be developed with extensive meditation and understanding of the Buddhist path.

Compassionate Meditation – Also known as Metta or maitrī Meditation – is used to develop selfless and altruistic love to people known and unknown. It is a distinct type of meditation from Analytic (Vipassana) and Calming (Samata) meditation.

definitive teaching – (Tib. ngedon) Teachings of the Buddha which give the direct meaning of dharma and are not changed or simplified for the capacity of the listener. This contrasts with the provisional meaning.

dharma – (Tib. chö) This has two main meanings: Any truth such as the sky is blue and secondly, as used in this text, the teachings of the Buddha (also called buddha-dharma). Dharma is capitalized when it means the teachings of the Buddha.

egolessness – (Tib. dag me) Also called selflessness. There are two kinds of egolessness—the egolessness of other, that is, the emptiness of external phenomena and the egolessness of self, that is, the emptiness of a personal self.

emptiness – (Skt. shunyata, Tib. tong pa nyi) Also translated as voidness. The Buddha taught in the second turning of the wheel of dharma that external phenomena and the internal phenomena or concept of self or “I” have no real existence and therefore are “empty.”

five paths – (Tib. lam nga) Traditionally, a practitioner goes through five stages or paths to enlightenment. These are (1) The path of accumulation, which emphasizes purifying one’s obscurations and accumulating merit. (2) The path of junction or application in which the meditator develops profound understanding of the four noble truths and cuts the root to the desire realm. (3) The path of insight or seeing in which the meditator develops greater insight and enters the first bodhisattva level. (4) The path of meditation in which the meditator cultivates insight in the second through tenth bodhisattva levels. (5) The path of fulfillment which is the complete attainment of Buddhahood.

four noble truths – (Tib. pak pay den pa shi) The Buddha began teaching with a talk in India at Saranath on the four noble truths. These are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path. These truths are the foundation of Buddhism.

geshe – (Tib.) A scholar who has attained a doctorate in Buddhist studies. This usually takes fifteen to twenty years to attain.

guru – (Tib. lama) A teacher in the Tibetan tradition who has reached realization.

insight meditation – (Skt. vipashyana, Tib. lhak thong) Meditation that develops insight into the nature of mind. The other main meditation is shamatha meditation.

interdependence – (Skt. pratityasamutpada, Tib. tren drel) Also called dependent origination. The principal that nothing exists independently, but comes into existence only on dependency of various previous causes and conditions. There are twelve successive phases of this process that begin with ignorance and end with old age and death.

karma – (Tib. lay) Literally “action.” Karma is a universal law that when one does a wholesome action one’s circumstances will improve and when one does an unwholesome action negative results will eventually occur from the act.

khenpo – (Tib.) A title of someone who has completed a ten-year study of Buddhism. It can also mean an abbot of a monastery.

karuna – In Buddhist terms, this is the desire for liberation of all sentient beings regardless of who they are. This feeling can only be developed with extensive meditation and understanding of the Buddhist path.

lama – (Skt. guru) A spiritual teacher.

lotsawa – This is Sanskrit for “translator.”

lovingkindness – (Skt. maitri, Tib. jam pa) This is compassion for oneself and is a prerequisite to compassion for others (Skt. karuna).

mala – (Tib. trengwa) A rosary which usually has 108 beads.

mandala – (Tib. chin kor) A diagram used in various vajrayana practices, which usually has a central deity and four directions. It also denotes a sacred location such as the mandala of the dharmakaya and this is how it is used in this text.

mantra – (Tib. ngak) These are invocations to various meditation deities, which are recited in Sanskrit. These Sanskrit syllables, representing various energies, are repeated in different vajrayana practices.

Meditation – There are two stages of meditation: the development and the completion stage. This is a method of tantric meditation that involves visualization and contemplating deities for the purpose of realizing the purity of all phenomena. In this stage, visualization of the deity is established and maintained.

According to the Buddha, meditation cultivates two paramount attributes: Samata: (calm), which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind; Vipassanā (insight): which enables one to see, explore and discern.

nirvana – (Tib. nyangde) Literally, “extinguished.” Individuals live in samsara and with spiritual practice can attain a state of enlightenment in which all false ideas and conflicting emotions have been extinguished. This is called nirvana.

paramarthakaya – (Skt.) The body of ultimate truth

refuge – (Tib. kyab, trs. skyabs) In the Buddhist context, to take refuge means to accept the Buddha and the Buddhist teachings as the path one wants to take.

rinpoche – Literally, “very precious” and is used as a term of respect for a Tibetan guru.

samadhi – (Tib. tin ne zin) Also called meditative absorption or one-pointed meditation, this is the highest form of meditation.

shamatha or tranquility meditation – (Tib. shinay) This is a basic sitting meditation in which one usually follows the breath while observing the workings of the mind while sitting in the cross-legged posture. The main purpose of shamatha meditation is to settle or tame the mind so that it will stay where one places it.

samaya – (Tib. dam sig) The vows or commitments made in the vajrayana, which can be to a teacher or to a practice.

sambhogakaya – (Tib. long chö dzok ku) There are three bodies of the Buddha and the sambhogakaya, also called the “enjoyment body” — a realm of the dharmakaya, which only manifests to bodhisattvas.

samsara – (Tib. kor wa) Conditioned existence of ordinary life in which suffering occurs because one still possesses attachment, aggression, and ignorance. It is contrasted to nirvana.

samvrtikaya – (Skt. samvrtikaya). This is the embodiment of relative truth.

selflessness – (Tib. dag me) Also called egolessness. In two of the hinayana schools (Vaibhashika and Sautrantika) this refers exclusively to the fact that “a person” is not a real permanent self, but rather just a collection of thoughts and feelings. In two of the mahayana schools (Chittamatra and Madhyamaka) this is extended to mean there is no inherent existence to outside phenomena as well.

six realms of samsara – (Tib. rikdruk) These are the possible types of rebirths for beings in samsara and are: the god realm in which gods have great pride; the asura realm in which the jealous gods try to maintain what they have; the human realm, which is the best realm because one has the possibility of achieving enlightenment; the animal realm characterized by stupidity; the hungry ghost realm characterized by great craving; and the hell realm characterized by aggression.

skandha – (Tib. pung pa) Literally “heaps.” These are the five basic transformations that perceptions undergo when an object is perceived: form, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness. First is form, which includes all sounds, smells, etc. everything we usually think of as outside the mind. The second and third are sensations (pleasant and unpleasant, etc.) and identification. The fourth consists of mental events which actually include the second and third aggregates. The fifth is ordinary consciousness such as the sensory and mental consciousnesses.

skillful means – (Skt. upaya, Tib. thab) On the mahayana level, this is one of the ten paramitas and refers to dedicating the merits of all one’s deeds to the benefit of all sentient beings. On the vajrayana level, it refers to practices of the internal yogas, which manipulate the internal energies and channels.

stupa – (Tib. chö ten) A dome shaped monument to the Buddha which often contains relics and remains of the Buddha or great bodhisattvas.

sugatagarbha – (Tib. der sheg nying po) Buddha nature or that enlightened essence present in all beings that allows them to have the capacity to achieve enlightenment. It is closely related to tathagatagarbha.

shunyata – (Tib. tong pa nyi) Usually translated as voidness or emptyiness. The Buddha taught in the second turning of the wheel of dharma that external phenomena and internal phenomena or the concept of self or “I” have no real existence and therefore are “empty.”

sutra – (Tib. do) These are the hinayana and mahayana texts, which are the words of the Buddha. These are often contrasted with the tantras, which are the Buddha’s vajrayana teachings and the shastras, which are commentaries on the words of the Buddha.

svabhavikakaya – (Tib. ngo wo nyi kyi ku) The essence body—refers to the dharmakaya of the Buddha.

tantra – (Tib. gyü) One can divide Tibetan Buddhism into the sutra tradition and the tantra tradition. The sutra tradition primarily involves the academic study of the mahayana sutras and the tantric path primarily involves practicing the vajrayana practices. The tantras are primarily the texts of the vajrayana practices.

Transcendental Meditation – A form of meditation that involves the use of a mantra (a sound, syllable, word or group of words). It originated in India in the 1950s and was introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

vipashyana meditation – (Tib. lha tong) Sanskrit for “insight meditation.” This meditation develops insight into the nature of reality (Skt. dharmata). The other main meditation is shamatha meditation.

yogi – (Tib. naljorpa) A Buddhist practitioner who has chosen an unconventional path of practicing.

yoga – Literally, union. In this text it refers to special movement and breathing exercises that are done to enhance meditation by clearing the subtle channels.

Primary input for the vocabulary page comes from The Namo Buddha Glossary