The name of the bodhisattva who established the Pure Land form of Buddhism. The power he gained from his merit as a bodhisattva enabled him to establish the Pure Land and now allows him to help others enter the Pure Land. The laity in particular can now enter the Pure Land with Amitabha's help, they do not have to get there on their own power. All they need do is to chant and believe the Amida Butsu.
Amida Butsu *
In Japanese, the term by which devotees call on Amitabha Buddha. They usually say "Praise to the Buddha Amitabha," i.e., "Namu Amida Butsa," which can be shortened to "Nembutsu."
The Buddhist notion that there is no eternal soul, unlike in Hinduism. Instead, each living person is an association of five skandas, which fly apart at death. Linguistically, "atta" is Pali for "atman" while "an" is the negative. The term literally means "no soul."
A term used primarily in Theravada Buddhism to signify a person who has fulfilled its ultimate goal, the attainment of nirvana. Upon death, the arhat will become extinguished. The arhat, as an individual, has attained full enlightenment, peace and freedom. This should be contrasted to Mahayana Buddhism, in which the ultimate goal is to become a bodhisattva--someone who uses the power they gain from enlightenment to help others.
This term is often translated as "ogre" or "titan." They are one of the six states of existence that are in samsara. Different types of Buddhism view them differently. Asura is usually seen as positive, resulting from good karma like human beings and gods. In this interpretation, they dwell in the lower heavens. Other views treat the asuras as resulting from bad karma and hence they are seen as the enemies of the gods. Some types of Buddhism ignore this category altogether and have only five states of existence.
Popularly known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion. He has reincarnated in this world numerous times (in both male and female forms) and therefore plays many roles depending on which strand of Buddhism one follows. First, in Mahayana Buddhism, he is considered to be the manifestation of Amitabha Buddha, the founder of the Pure Land school of Buddhism, and is often represented at Amitabha's right hand. As such he is available to help all in dire need. Second, in China, she appears as Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion. In folk belief, she keeps people safe from natural catastrophe. Third, in Tibet, he appears in several forms. The most important of these are as Chenrezig (the male partner of the couple who gave birth to the Tibetan people), Tara, and as the Dalai Lama.
A Zen term for enlightenment.
bhikkhu, bikkhuni *
A Buddhist monk, a Buddhist nun.
In Mahayana Buddhism, a person who has achieved enlightenment, but has who has chosen to remain in this world to help those who are suffering, instead of going on to nirvana. This is the highest ideal. Kuan Yin is an important Chinese bodhisattva; her full name means "Hearing World's Cries Bodhisattva." Amitabha Buddha is an important Bohisattva in the Mahayana form of Buddhism called Pure Land. The idea of the bodhisattva should be contrasted to the arhat of Theravada Buddhism.
(1) The Buddha is Siddartha who was the founder of Buddhism. He was the first to attain enlightenment, and then taught others how to attain it. His first name is Siddartha, his family name was Gautama. He was a member of the Shakya clan, and hence is called Shakyamuni, "the wise one of the Shakyas." He is also known as Tathagata, "the Enlightened One." (2) Mahayana Buddhism holds that there are five Buddhas who have/will manifest themselves in the earthly realm. The fifth Buddha, who will come in the future, is known as Maitreya. (3) In Mahayana, a buddha is someone who has attained enlightenment.
The Buddha-fields are the infinite number of paradises which are populated by uncountable Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The Buddha-fields are beyond the realm of samsara. Those within them have reached enlightenment, but have not yet attained nirvana. This is where Amitabha has his Pure Land.
The Chinese name for Zen Buddhism.
The Tibetan form of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Chenrezig is viewed as the founding father of the Tibetan people, and has had several manifestations among them. The most famous are King Songtsen Gampo who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the seventh century, and the Dalai Lama. His female aspect is Tara. The mantra associated with him (om mane padme hum) was the first to enter Tibet.
The bodhisattva who is the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, a.k.a. Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of Compassion. He is a single being who has been reincarnated 14 times as the Dalai Lama. See also lama. The Dalai Lama has always been a combination the chief spiritual leader and the chief political leader of Tibet. The present Dalai Lama lives in exile in Nepal; he remains spiritual leader of his people, even under their oppression by the Chinese government. .
The teachings of the Buddha.
Another way of spelling jhana.
The Buddhist understanding of the nature of life, especially human life. It is suffering, pain, misery, and death.
The Noble Eightfold path consists of the eight steps by which a person can achieve Nirvana. This is the path by which one ceases to desire and thereby ceases to suffer (see dukkha). This path leads to a form of meditation which, similar to Raja Yoga in Hinduism, enables a person to reach enlightenment. The eight stages are:
1) Right Views.
2) Right Intent.
3) Right Speech.
4) Right Conduct.
5) Right livelihood.
6) Right effort.
7) Right mindfulness.
8) Right concentration.
To see how the Eightfold Path is described within Theravada Buddhism.
Emptiness is usually the description of Enlightenment. To the western mind, this description is often difficult to comprehend, leading to the idea that it is "nothing," and therefore quite unattractive. Two points will help correct this view. First, "emptiness" can be understood as the Buddhist way of saying that Ultimate Reality is incapable of being described, much the way that many Christian theologians view the Christian God as beyond our human attempts to describe. Second, the "emptiness" should not be thought of an another place. Instead, it is identical to the world or universe humans experience in this life. In this way, it is much like the Hindu notion that this world is simply maya (illusion), which prevents humans from seeing the true unity of the cosmos (which in Hinduism means the identity of Atman and Brahman). Thus emptiness and the phenomena of this world are the same, or as the Heart Sutra says, "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form."
This is the usual English translation of the Sanskrit word "bodhi," which literally means "awakening." It is achieved by following the Eight-fold path, and therefore constitutes freedom from all desires. Enlightenment gives the person who achieves it the wisdom of perceiving the ultimate reality, which entails the power and the ability to work to change that reality in certain ways--especially to help people in need. For example, Amitabha created the western land--the Pure Land--as a heaven for his followers. Enlightenment is often described as emptiness. This is the final step before nirvana. Gaining Enlightenment can be likened to breaking through a wall. At first, only a small hole may be created, through which one can briefly see a small part of the other side. Ultimately, the whole wall may be destroyed and all will be visible.
Factors of Conditioned Rising
There are twelve factors of conditioned arising: death, birth, craving, ignorance, consciousness, becoming, contact, sensation, the six senses, grasping, the power of formation, and mind and body.
Five Precepts *
The minimum set of moral rules for Buddhism, practiced by both the lay people and the monks of the sangha. They forbid (1) theft, (2) improper sexual practices (adultery for lay people, sexual activity of any kind for monks), (3) killing, (4) lying and deceiving, and (5) drinking alcoholic drinks.
Four Noble Truths *
The most basic statement of Buddhist belief:
(1) All is suffering (dukkha).
(2) Suffering is caused by desire.
(3) If one can eliminate desire, they can eliminate suffering.
(4) The Noble Eight-fold Path can eliminate desire.
To see how the Four Noble Truths are explained within Theravada Buddhism.
The Buddha's family name, or last name. His first name was Siddhartha.
A teacher or guide for a novice. This is an important activity in Vajrayana Buddhism.
Heart Sutra *
One of the central sutras in Mahayana Buddhism. It is particularly important in Zen because of its teaching about emptiness. The key idea of this teaching is: "Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form."
The term literally means "the Little Way." It is a derogatory term put onto Theravada Buddhism by those who follow Mahayana, which means "the Great Way (or vehicle, or raft)."
Hungry Ghost *
These ghosts are a state of existence, a type of rebirth. This state stems from negative karma. The ghosts live between the earth and hell. They are called hungry because they have large stomachs and tiny mouths. This is one of the six states of existence.
(Sanskrit: anitya, Pali: anicca) This term refers to the Buddhist notion that all things of samsara are impermanent. Once created, they decay and pass away. Although this is particularly true for human illness and death, the idea refers to the nature of all things. It is one of the reasons for suffering and is considered one of the three marks of existence.
A jhanais one of the highest levels of awareness that can be reached by the practice of samadhi. There are four jhanas, which together essentially are enlightenment. This is where the monk attains supernormal powers, sees his past lives, and gains wisdom of the true character of reality.
For Buddhism, as in Hinduism, this is the moral law of cause and effect. People build up karma (both good and bad) as a result of their actions. This then determines the state of existence to which one is reborn after birth. In Buddhism, the different levels can include hells, humans or animals in this world, or one of several heavens.
A riddle-like puzzle used for teaching in Zen Buddhism. It cannot be solved by reason, but instead forces the student to solve it through a flash of insight. A well-known example is the question, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
Kuan Yin *
The Chinese manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Although originally depicted as male, he gradually became represented as female. She appears to all who need her help, especially those threatened by water, demons, sword or fire. Childless women often turn to her for help.
An English word used to refer to the general members of a religion (in Buddhism, Christianity, etc.) as opposed to religious specialists such as monks or priests. In Buddhism, the opposite of laity is the sangha.
In Vajrayana, the term for teacher or guru. He is usually the head of a monastery or perhaps several monasteries. Some important lamas are considered to be bodhisattvas, such as the Dalai Lama.
The Lotus Sutra is probably the most important text of Mahayana Buddhism. It describes a lecture the Buddha gave and the ideas and thoughts. He discusses all the things that differentiate Mahayana Buddhism from Theravada, such as the idea of a bodhisattva, in particular the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the merit of the people who venerate the Lotus Sutra, and the key to nirvana and Buddhahood.
This is the wrathful form of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. He protects from dangers and bad influences that might hinder a monk's approach to enlightenment. Mahakala is seen as the protector of the Dalai Lamas.
Mahayana Buddhism *
Mahayana means "The Great Raft" or "The Great Vehicle." It is the largest and most influential of the three main forms of Buddhism (the other two being Theravada and Vajrayana ). It is practiced in China, Japan and Korea. Vajrayana derived from it and shares many similarities with it. Mahayana emphasizes the idea of the bodhisattva over that of the arhat. The goal of an individual is therefore not to pass out of this world into nirvana, but to attain enlightenment--with the wisdom, understanding and power that goes with it--and then to show compassion by returning to this world to help those in need. Amitabha Buddha did this to establish Pure Land Buddhism. In comparison to Theravada, Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the help that gods and bodhisattvas can give to people to help them escape samsara. It has elaborate descriptions of how this works and emphasizes prayers and rituals that enable people to seek this help. Zen is another branch of Mahayana Buddhism.
The buddha who is expected to come in the future, known to all schools of Buddhism. He is worshipped as a being who guides those who confess their wrongs, and teachers who become discouraged. He is sometimes depicted as the "Laughing Buddha" with his hands stretched over his head, a smile on his face, and a large, bare stomach. He represents all-encompassing love.
In general, an art form based on the closed circle, which is the symbol on eternal continuity. In Trantric Buddhism (Vajrayana), it is a painting or tapestry based on concentric circles. Within the circles, the Buddha usually appears with other deities, bodhisattvas, and other symbolic imagery. For the monk, a mandala serves as a focus of meditation, and a symbolic representation of the reality of the identity of samsara and nirvana. In popular religion, the mandala is often the focus of worship--or, to put it another way, the Buddhas and deities depicted in a mandala become the object(s) of worship.
The Bodhisattva of Wisdom (prajna), one of the two key Mahayana concepts; the other is compassion (represented by Avalokiteshvara). His two main symbols are the sword of knowledge and a book of the Prajna-Paramita Sutra. His wisdom casts away the darkness of ignorance.
A sound that is used as a focus for mediation or worship. Similar to Hinduism.
Marks of Existence *
There are three marks of existence: suffering (dukka), impermanence (anitya), and "no-soul" (anatman).
Merit is essentially "good Karma." It can be gained in a number of ways. Many of these involve interaction between the sangha and the laity. For example, when a lay person gives a monk food, they gain merit. Acting in a moral manner, teaching the proper belief, preaching, and chanting also gain an individual merit. Worship of the Buddha can also bring merit. The notion of merit plays the largest role in Theravada Buddhism.
Moon days *
Every lunar month has four moon days. The most important are the New Moon (which begins the month) and the Full Moon (which is the middle of the month). On these days the sangha gathers to read the rules of monk behavior and each monk examines himself to see if they have violated any of the rules. The other two moon days are halfway in between these two. Thus, there is therefore a moon day every seven days. Members of the laity often gather at the monastery on these days for religious activity.
Symbolic hand gestures used in ritual or dance. The Buddha is often depicted with his hands in the meditation mudra or in the mudra symbolizing teaching. In Vajrayana, the gestures enlarge to involve the entire body, and they enable the gesturer to interact with Tantric deities.
Nagarjuna was the first Buddhist thinker who attempted to systematize Buddhist belief. He wrote extensive commentaries on the the Prajna-Paramita Sutra. He probably lived during the second century ce. Although he founded a Mahayana school, the Madhyamikas, his systematization was much more important, being used by many Mahayana schools and as one of the intellectual bases of Vajrayana Buddhism.
In Japanese, the term by which devotees call on Amitabha Buddha. They usually say "Praise to the Buddha Amitabha," i.e., "Namu Amida Butsa," which can be shortened to "Nembutsu."
It is the cessation of suffering, the liberation from karma, and therefore the passing over into another existence. The best way to think about nirvana is that it is the final goal of Buddhism, and that Enlightenment is the step immediately before it. Thus one becomes aware of the nature of Ultimate Reality in Enlightenment, and then one becomes unified with that reality in nirvana. Thus the Buddha, when he died, passed into Nirvana, having previously attained Enlightenment during his life and sharing it with humanity. A bodhisattva is one who has attained Enlightenment, but rather than passing over into nirvana, chose to come back to this world to use their power to help other people.
A translation of the word asura.
Pali and Pali Canon
Pali is a dialect of Sanskrit and is thought to be the language the Buddha spoke; it is also the language of Therevada Buddhism. The Pali Canon (of Therevada) is the sacred. Buddhist exts written in this dialect, the Tripitaka.
These are the six virtues, or "perfections," that the bodhisattva perfects during his development. They are: generosity, discipline, patience, energy, meditation (jhana) and wisdom (prajna). The fifth paramita is meditation, or jhana. It refers to the attainment of the four levels of jhana in which non-duality is experienced. The sixth paramita is that of supreme wisdom (prajna).
This term, meaning wisdom, is the supreme wisdom considered by Mahayana Buddhism to be outside human experience and incapable of being conveyed in this-world categories. The key experience of prajna is insight into Emptiness, the true nature of the cosmos. This is usually attained during enlightenment.
This term refers to a collection of 40 Mahayana sutras which all deal with prajna and its attainment. This was the focus of Nagarjuna's writing and commentaries. The best known of the 40 is the Heart Sutra.
The Sanskrit word usually translated as hungry ghost, one of the six states of existence.
A act of worship or devotion to a buddha or a bodhisattva.
Pure Land Buddhism *
The form of Buddhism focuses on the Buddha Amitabha and the "Pure Land" he created. Appearing in China in the fourth century c.e. and later in Japan, Korea and other nations, this form of Buddhism has the largest following of all the different types of Buddhism. Pure Land is aimed at the average person in its recognition that most people cannot achieve enlightenment and so are doomed forever to stay in samsara. So Amitabha set up a "Pure Land" in the "west"--a paradise--to which people can go when they die. To gain entrance, people simply have to call on the power of Amitabha. This is done by uttering a phrase such as "Namu Amidha Butsu," (the Nembutsu) which is Japanese for "Praise to Amitabha Buddha."
Rain Retreat *
In the earliest centuries of Buddhism, monks were itinerant, wandering for nine months of the year. When the monsoons began, in July, they gathered together for teaching, instruction, meditation and encouragement. Theravada Buddhism, which is in the area of the monsoons, still keeps the rain retreats, even though its monks have long ago ceased to wander.
This is an honorific term applied to lamas in Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism. It literally means "greatly precious" and is given to masters who are highly valued for their spiritual knowledge. A Rinpoche is often believed to be the reincarnation of a lama, guru, or even a bodhisattva or a buddha.
The Sakya is the clan into which the Buddha was born. "Sakyamuni" means "wise one of the Sakya," which was a title given to the Buddha.
A form of meditation widely practiced in Theravada Buddhism in which the mind is concentrated on a single object and gradually calmed until only the object is known. The ultimate goal of this meditation is to enter the state of samadhi which is when the distinction between the object and the meditator disappears, which is the realization of non-dualism. This state is a prerequisite to entering the four levels of jhana and enlightenment.
The continual cycle of death and rebirth. This death and rebirth is of course into this world of suffering and this is viewed in a negative manner.
A general term that refers to the monks (Bhikkhus) as a whole.
The spoken language of ancient India, which belongs to the class of the Indo-European languages. It is used both in Hinduism and in some forms of Buddhism..
This is the twice-daily meeting between the student and the master in Zen Buddhism to discuss the student's progress in meditation. The main purpose is to determine whether the student has solved their koan. If not, the incorrect answer is rejected, and the master must then spur the student on to find a correct solution.
Zen Buddhism's term for enlightenment.
The Buddha's given name, or first name. His surname was Gautama.
This term means precept or rule. It usually is used in reference to the Five or Ten Precepts which form the basic guidelines for the sangha's behavior.
The five elements of a human which come together at birth and separate at death: body, feelings/senses, perceptions, habits and inclinations, and consciousness. This is linked to the notion of "no-soul."
States of Existence *
There are six states of existence (gati). The highest three are the gods, the asuras, and human beings; they result from good karma. The lowest three are animals, hungry ghosts, and demons (hell-dwellers); they result from bad karma. Some forms of Buddhism view the asuras as stemming from bad karma and other ignore them completely, having only five states of existence.
A shrine in which relics of the Buddha are kept. The center is a raised temple which is usually surrounded by a series of terraces.
(1) As in Hinduism, a term meaning sacred text. (2) The Sutra Pitaka is one of the three divisions of the tripitaka. It contains the words and teachings of Buddha himself. (3) The Sutras are the foundational texts for Mahayana Buddhism, which differentiate Mahayana from Theravada Buddhism. Two important Sutras are the Heart Sutra and the Lotus Sutra.
Tantrism and tantric ideas begin with notions in line with all forms of Buddhism, namely, the idea that Ultimate Reality is a singular Unity. It is not the apparent multiplicity of the present world around us (maya). Tantrism, which is a key component of Vajrayana, then goes beyond these notions to their representation in the symbol of the sexual union between male and female (see yab-yum). This union is a symbol of the identity of the multiple nature of this world (maya), which is represented by the male, with the unity and wisdom of cosmos, represented by the female. In some schools, the symbol of intercourse is reenacted as part of meditation.
A female manifestation in Tibet of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, whose Tibetan form is Chenrezig. She can appear in 21 different forms, which differ in attributes and are known by their color. She appears in both peaceful and wrathful manifestations. The most commonly appearing forms are Green Tara and White Tara. She is often revered as a yidam, guiding Vajrayana monks towards enlightenment. Included in her earthly manifestations are the two consorts of King Songtsen Gampo who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the seventh century, who is himself considered an manifestation of Chenrezig.
A term for the Buddha (Siddartha) which means "The Enlightened One."
Ten Precepts *
This is the code of monastic discipline for the monks. It consists of the Five Precepts (no stealing, sexual activity, killing, lying, or alcohol) which apply to all Buddhists, and five further restrictions designed specifically for members of the sangha. These are:
(6) Not to take food from noon to the next morning.
(7) Not to adorn the body with anything other than the monk's robe.
(8) Not to participate in or watch public entertainments.
(9) Not to use high or comfortable beds.
(10) Not to use money.
Theravada Buddhism *
Literally, "the path of the Elders." Of the three major branches of Buddhism, this was the earliest to crystallize into form. In contrast to Mahayana and Vajrayana, Theravada emphasizes the individual over the group, holding that it is the individual who must reach nirvana on their own. Its central virtue is thus wisdom, which is to be achieved by the arhat who attains enlightenment in this life and nirvana upon death. It discourages speculation about the nature of the cosmos, enlightenment, and nirvana, instead focusing on meditation to achieve enlightenment. The main social group is therefore the sangha, the gathered monks and nuns who support and teach each other as each one strives to achieve enlightenment.
The Three Vows, also known as The Three Refuges or The Three Jewels *
1) I take refuge in the Buddha.
2) I take refuge in the Dharma.
3) I take refuge in the Sangha.
The English word often used to translate the Sanskrit word "vajra" (Tibetan, "dorje"), which is key symbol for Vajrayana Buddhism. It means literally "Diamond Thunderbolt." It symbolizes the indestructible character of emptiness, the true nature of all things. Tibetan Buddhists use a crafted metal image of a thunderbolt in their rituals.
A translation of the term asura.
tripitaka, also tipitaka. *
The three main sacred scriptures of Buddhism. A "pitaka" is a basket and so the term refers to the "three baskets." The first basket is the teachings of the Buddha. The second is the discipline for the sangha. The third is that of special teachings.
Since a "vajra" is a diamond, this term means "The Diamond Way." It refers to the third form of Buddhism (after Theravada and Mahayana), which is practiced largely in Tibet. It is also known as Tantric Buddhism. The main claim of Vajrayana is that it enables a person to reach nirvana in a single lifetime. It is able to do this by using all of a person's powers (including those of the body) to achieve that goal.
This form of meditation is widely practiced in Theravada Buddhism. Its goal is the realization of the three marks of existence: suffering, impermanence, and "no-soul." It leads to the realization of the true character of Emptiness. Vipassana and Samadhi are considered prerequisites for attaining nirvana by Theravada Buddhism.
Wheel of Life *
(Sanskrit: Bava Chakra) In Tibetan Buddhism especially, the Wheel of Life is a symbol consisting of three concentric circles held by Yama, the God of the Underworld. It signifies samsara. The inner-most circle contains symbols of the three sources of suffering: the pig (ignorance), the snake (hate), and the cock (desire). The next circle is divided into six sections, each depicting one of the six states of being. The outside ring is divided into twelve sections, each representing a symbol of one of the twelve factors of conditioned arising (death, birth, craving, ignorance, consciousness, etc.).
This is the usual translation of prajna.
In Tibeten Buddhism, or Vajrayana Buddhism, this is the symbol of the male and female sexual union--usually a union of a god or a bodhisattva and his consort--which represents the completeness of the cosmos. The male represents action, usually that of compassion, in this finite world, and the female represents wisdom, the unity of the Infinite. The male is seen as passive and the female as active.
A bodhisattva or other "deity" assigned to a Vajrayana monk by his guru as his personal guide and protector. Once established, this link will last the monk's lifetime, and will help him work towards attaining enlightenment.
In Zen Buddhism, the practice of extended periods of mediation, usually in a group in a meeting hall. The monks sit quietly for long periods of time in the cross-legged Lotus position. While different individuals will be meditating with different goals, often meditation focuses on solving a koan.
A branch of Mahayana Buddhism which was brought to China (where it was called Chan) in 520 CE by Bodhidarma and arrived in Japan in the twelfth century. It is probably the most common form of Buddhism in the West. Practitioners of Zen must usually devote themselves to a life as a monk, for it requires extensive periods of meditation. It concentrates on making clear that reality is beyond words and language and beyond logic. To accomplish this, it makes use of the koan, zazen, and sanzen. The word "zen" derives from the Sanskrit term for the concept of jhana.