Buddhist terms and concepts

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Several Buddhist terms and concepts lack direct translations into English that cover the breadth of the original term. Below are given a number of important Buddhist terms, short definitions, and the languages in which they appear. In this list, an attempt has been made to organize terms by their original form and give translations and synonyms in other languages below the definition.

Languages and traditions dealt with here:

Contents: Top - 0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z



  • "teacher"
  • Sanskrit; Pāli; Thai: Ajahn; 阿闍梨, 阿闍梨耶; Cn: ???; Jp. ajari, ajariya




  • A white-robed student in the Theravada tradition, who for a few months, awaits being considered for Samaneras ordination
  • Pāli


  • Mindfulness of the breath meditation
  • Pāli


  • Impermanence
  • Pāli; Sanskrit: anitya


  • Doctrine of the nonexistence of the soul
  • Pāli; Sanskrit: anātman; 無我 Cn: wwǒ; Jp: muga


Literally it means the "Worthy One".

  • A living person who has reached Enlightenment
  • Pāli: arahat, arahant; Sanskrit: arhat, arhant; 阿羅漢 Cn: ???; Jp: arakan



  • A monk
  • Pāli; Sanskrit: bhikṣu; 比丘 Jp: biku
  • Derivates: bhikkhuni/bhikṣuni; 比丘尼 Jp: bikuni: a Buddhist nun


  • Awakening or Enlightenment
  • Sanskrit; Pāli; 菩提 Cn: pt; Jp: bodai

bodhi tree

  • The Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa) tree under which Gautama reached Enlightenment.
  • 菩提樹 Cn: ptsh, Jp: bodaiju


  • A person with the intention to become a Buddha in order to liberate all other sentient beings from suffering.
  • Sanskrit (Pali: bodhisatta); 菩薩 Cn: psā; Jp: bosatsu


  • A Buddha. Also, the Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama
  • From √budh, to awaken
  • Sanskrit; Pāli; Cn: 佛 f Jp: 仏 butsu, hotoke

buddha nature

  • The ability shared by sentient beings to achieve Enlightenment; the innate (latent) Buddha nature (esp. in Tendai/Tiantai, Nichiren thought).
  • Cn: 佛性 fxng; Jp: 仏性 busshō


dependent origination


  • Suffering, dissatisfaction, stress
  • Pāli; Sanskrit: duḥkha


  • A difficult term to define. Often refers to the doctrines and teachings of the faith, but it may have broader uses. Also, it is an important technical term meaning something like “phenomenological constituent.” This leads to the potential for confusion, puns, and double entendres, as the latter meaning often has negative connotations.
  • Sanskrit; Pāli;: dhamma
  • 法 Cn: fă; Jp: hō


  • The dharma and vinaya (roughly "doctrine and discipline") considered together. This term essentially means the whole teachings of Buddhism as taught to monks.

dhyana (see jhāna)


  • In Zen, a term for person sounding the bell that marks the beginning and end of Zazen
  • Japanese


  • A private interview between a Zen student and his master. It is an important element in the Zen training, as it provides an opportunity for the student to discuss problems in his practice and to demonstrate his understanding.
  • Japanese


Early Buddhist Schools

  • The schools of Buddhism which arose in India after the time of the historical Buddha but before the time of the Mahāyāna, and which the Mahāyāna later criticized. These are sometimes identified as "Hīnayāna" by later schools. Also called śravakayāna. The Theravada is the only surviving of what are usually numbered the eighteen early schools (though it's not always clear which precise sects are meant).
  • 小乘佛敎, 小乗仏教 Cn: ????; Jp: shōjōbukkyō


Five five-hundred year periods

  1. Age of enlightenment (解脱堅固 Jp: gedatsu kengo)
  2. Age of meditation (禅定堅固 Jp: zenjō kengo)
    These two ages comprise the Former Day of the Law (正法 Jp: shōbō)

  3. Age of reading, reciting, and listening (読誦多聞堅固 Jp: dokuju tamon kengo)
  4. Age of Age of buidling temples and stupas (多造塔寺堅固 Jp: tazō tōji kengo)
    These two ages comprise the Middle Day of the Law (像法 Jp: zōhō)

  5. Age of conflict (闘諍堅固 Jp: tōjō kengo), an age characterized by unrest, strife, famine, and other, natural and human-made disasters.
    This age corresponds to the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law (末法 Jp: Mappō) when the (historical) Buddha's teachings would loose all power of salvation and perish (白法隠没 Jp: byakuhō onmotsu) and a new Buddha would appear to save the people.
  • The three periods and the five five-hundred year periods are described in the Sutra of the Great Assembly, or 大集経 (Jp: Daishutu-kyō, Daijuku-kyō, Daijikkyō, or Daishukkyō).


  • In Zen, term for person who strikes the Han
  • Japanese



  • A position used for greeting, with the palms together and fingers pointing upwards in prayer position. It is used in the Zen tradition, but also common in many cultures in the East. It expresses greeting, request, thankfulness, reverence and prayer. Also a mudra or inkei of Japanese Shingon.
  • Japanese: 合掌; Sanskrit: Anjali
  • Chinese: What is the equivalent ???


  • Lit. "Public case." A meditative method developed in the Chan/Seon/Zen traditions, generally consisting of a problem that defies solution by means of rational thought
  • Chinese; Japanese: koan (公案); Korean: gong'an



  • In Zen monasteries, wooden board that is struck announcing sunrise, sunset and the end of the day
  • Japanese



  • In Zen, one of the leaders of a sesshin
  • In Zen temples, the Ino is the temple official in charge of maintaining the zendo, or meditation hall
  • Japanese, literally translates to English as "bringer of joy to the assembly"



  • Meditative contemplation. More often associated with śamatha practices than vipaśyana. See also: shamata, samadhi, samapatti
  • Pāli; Sanskrit: dhyāna


  • In Zen, a senior priest's attendant
  • Japanese



  • In Zen, enlightenment. Kensho has the same meaning as satori, but is customary used for an initial awakening experience.
  • Japanese


  • Zen walking meditation
  • Japanese



  • In Zen, a flattened stick used to strike the shoulders during zazen, to help overcome fatigue or reach satori. (Japanese)



  • A Tibetan teacher or master. Equivalent to Sanskrit "guru".
  • Tibetan


  • The official record of the historical descent of dharma teachings from one teacher to another.
  • By extension, may refer to the sect of a set of practitioners.



  • In Zen, unpleasant or distracting thoughts or illusions that occur during zazen.
  • Japanese


  • Buddhist philosophical school, founded by Nāgārjuna. Members of this school are called Mādhyamikas.
  • Sanskrit; Chinese: Sanlun ("Three Treatise")


  • In Zen, a wooden drum carved from one piece, usually in the form of a fish.
  • Japanese: 木魚


  • Liberation
  • Sanskrit


  • In Zen, a short dialogue between teacher and student.
  • Japanese


  • 末法 Cn: ??, Ko: ??, Jp.: mappō. The "degenerate" Latter Day of the Law. A time period supposed to begin 2,000 years after Sakyamuni Buddha's passing and last for "10,000 years"; follows the two 1,000-year periods of 正法 Jp.: shōbō and 像法 Jp.: zōhō. During this degenerate age, chaos will prevail and the people will be unable to attain enlightenment through the word of Sakyamuni Buddha. See the Three periods.

middle way

  • The practice of avoidance of extreme views and lifestyle choices
  • 中道 Jp: chūdō



  • Pali: An exclamation showing reverance; devotion. Often placed in front of the name of an object of veneration, e.g., a Buddha's name (Namo Amitabha, Jp.: Namu Amida Butsu), Three Jewels (Namu Sambō), or a sutra (Nam-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō), and used to express devotion to it. Defined in Sino-Japanese as 帰命 kimyō: to base one's life upon, to devote (or submit) one's life to.
  • Sanskrit: namaḥ, namas
  • 南無; Cn.: Nammu; Jp.: Namu, Nam


  • Extinction or extinguishing; ultimate enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition.
  • Pāli: nibbāna, Sanskrit: nirvāna; 涅槃 Jp: nehan
  • Derivates: paranibbana/parinirvana - Final liberation (Pāli/Sanskrit)



  • A term used in Japan to address a monk of the Zen Buddhist tradition. Originally reserved for high ranking monks, it has since been appropriated for everyday use when addressing any male member of the Zen clergy.
  • Japanese


  • Zen eating ceremony
  • Japanese



  • Absolute as opposed to merely conventional truth or reality. See also: saṃv{{subst:r}}ti.
  • Sanskrit


  • Lit. "reaching the other shore," usually rendered in English as "perfection." The Mahayana practices for obtaining enlightenment
  • Sanskrit; 波羅蜜 Jp: haramitsu


  • "Dependent origination," the view that no phenomenon exists (or comes about) without depending on other phenomena around it.
  • Pāli; Sanskrit: pratātya-samutpāda


  • The practicing Buddhist community as a whole; Sangha and laity



  • The process of continuity of life after death


Tibetan for 'Precious one' Title for:

  • Recognized rebirth of a (Tibetan) Buddhist teacher (also called tulku in Tibetan)
  • Tibetan teacher
  • Tibetan

Rinzai see Lin Chi

  • Zen sect emphasizing sudden enlightenment and koan study. Named for master Linji.
  • Japanese; Chinese: Linji


  • A day marking the attainment of Nirvana by Buddha; celebrated on the 8th day either of December or of the 12th month of the lunar calendar. According to the lunar calendar, the next Rohatsu will be January 17, 2005.
  • Japanese: 臘八 rōhatsu


  • Zen title
  • Japanese



  • A male novice monk, who, after a year or until the ripe age of twenty, will be considered for the higher Bhikkhu ordination.


  • Mental stabilization; tranquility meditation. Distinguished from vipāssana meditation.
  • Pāli; Sanskrit: śamatha


  • Work, conceived as a part of Zen training.[1] (http://www.mbzc.org/glossary#samu)
  • Japanese: 作務


  • The cycle of birth and rebirth; the world as commonly experienced
  • Sanskrit and Pali


  • Conventional, as opposed to absolute, truth or reality. See also, paramārtha.
  • Sanskrit


  • The community of Buddhist monks and nuns.
  • Sanskrit; 僧 Jp:


  • Burmese meditation master


  • Awakening; understanding. A Japanese term for enlightenment
  • Japanese: 悟り; Cn: 悟 wu


  • Teacher; Zen teacher
  • Japanese: 先生


  • The five constituent elements into which an individual is analyzed. These are rūpa, "form", saṃjā, "cognition", vedanā, "perception", *saṃskāras, "mental formations", *vijāna, "consciousness".
  • Sanskrit; Pāli: khandha


  • A Zen retreat where practitioners meditate, eat and work together for several days.
  • Japanese: 接心, also 摂心


  • Soto Zen. "Only concentrated on doing sitting" is the main meditation-method of Soto school of Zen-Buddhism in Japan.
  • Japanese: 只管打座


  • Emptiness. See also: Nāgārjuna
  • Sanskrit; Pāli: suatā
  • 空 Jp:


  • Sect of Zen emphasizing shikantaza as the primary mode of practice. See also: Dogen
  • Japanese: 曹洞宗 sōtō-shū

store consciousness


  • Scripture. Originally referred to short aphoristic sayings and collections thereof.
  • Pāli; Sanskrit: sutra; 經, 経 Jp: kyō



  • Craving or desire
  • Pali (Sanskrit: trsna)


  • In Zen, one of the main leaders of a sesshin.
  • In a Zen temple, the Tanto is the officer in charge of practice standards, i.e. teaching monks and lay practitioners how to sit, walk, bow, and chant in formal situations.
  • Japanese


  • The "Thus-Come One" or “Thus-Gone One”; One of the Buddha's ten epithets
  • Sanskrit; 如来 Jp: nyorai


  • Buddha-nature or the seed of enlightenment
  • Sanskrit


  • A presentation by a Zen master during a sesshin. Rather than an explanation or exposition in the traditional sense, it is intended as a demonstration of Zen realisation.
  • Japanese


  • In Zen, the head cook for a sesshin
  • In Zen temples, the officer in charge of the kitchen
  • Japanese

Three periods

  • Three divisions of the time following the historical Buddha's passing: the Former (or Early) Day of the Law, the first thousand years; the Middle Day of the Law, the second thousand years; and the Latter Day of the Law, which is to last for 10,000 years.
  • 三時 (Jp: sanji): 正法 (Jp: Shōbō), 像法 (Jp: Zōhō), and 末法 (Jp: Mappō)
  • The three periods are significant to Mahayana adherents, particularly those who hold the Lotus Sutra in high regard; e.g., Tiantai (Tendai) and Nichiren Buddhists, who believe that different Buddhist teachings are valid (i.e., able to lead practitioners to enlightenment) in each period due to the different capacity to accept a teaching (機根 Jp: kikon) of the people born in each respective period.
  • The three periods are further divided into five five-hundred year periods (五五百歳: Jp: go no gohyaku sai), the fifth and last of which was prophecized to be a when the Buddhism of Sakyamuni would loose all power of salvation and a new Buddha would appear to save the people. This time period would be characterized by unrest, strife, famine, and other, natural disasters.
  • The three periods and the five five-hundred year periods are described in the Sutra of the Great Assembly, or 大集経 (Jp: Daishutu-kyō, Daijuku-kyō, Daijikkyō, or Daishukkyō). Descriptions of the three periods also appear in other sutras, some of which ascribe different lengths of time to them (although all agree that Mappō will last for 10,000 years).

Three poisons

  • The three primary causes of unskillful action or creation of "negative" karma:
  • Greed or selfish desire (Sanskrit trsna; Jp: 貪 ton)
  • Hatred or anger (Sanskrit dvesa; jp: 瞋 jin;)
  • Ignorance or delusion (Sanskrit avidya; jp: 癡 chi; Tibetan: Marigpa)
  • 三毒 Jp: sandoku


  • The "Three Baskets"; canon containing the sacred texts for Buddhism (Pāli)
  • Sanskrit; Pāli: Tipiṭaka; 三蔵 Jp: Sanzō


  • A re-incarnated Tibetan teacher
  • Tibetan



  • Expedient or expedient means; i.e., something useful (for elevating a believer to a higher level of understanding) though not necessarily ultimately true. Originally used as a polemical device against other schools—calling them “merely” expedient, lacking in ultimate truth. Later sometimes used against ones own school as well, to prevent students form forming attachments to doctrines.
  • In Mahayana doctrine, as exemplified in the Lotus Sutra, upāya are the useful means that Buddhas (and Buddhist teachers) use to free beings into enlightenment
  • Sanskrit
  • Jp: 方便 Hōben


  • a concave circular dot on the forehead between the eyebrows
  • Sanskrit



  • "Discripline", the first basket of the canon, whichh deals with the rules of monastic life.
  • Pāli; Sanskrit


  • Usually translated as “Insight” (lit. from √vis-drś, to “see apart”) meditation, most associated with the Theravada tradition, but present throughout Buddhism as an evolved tradition. Distinguished from śamatha meditation.
  • Pāli; Sanskrit: vipaśyana



  • Zen meditation
  • Japanese


  • In Zen, a hall where Zen (usually meaning zazen) is practiced (see Dojo)
  • Japanese

See also

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