Anatta Literally ‘no soul’. The Buddhist idea that there is no eternal soul. Rather, each living person is an association of five skandas, which fly apart at death.
Arhat A term used primarily in Theravada Buddhism to signify a person who has fulfilled its ultimate goal: the attainment of nirvana – full enlightenment, peace and freedom. Contrast with Mahayana Buddhism, in which the ultimate goal is to become a bodhisattva – someone who uses the power of enlightenment to help others.
Atman Self, oneself.
Bhikkhu, Bikkhuni A Buddhist monk, a buddhist nun.
Bhikshu A religious mendicant, a fully ordained Buddhist monk.
Bodhi See Enlightenment.
Bodhisattva 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.
Brahma God as Creator (not to be confused with Brahman, the transcendent Godhead of the Upanishads.)
Buddha (1) A buddha is someone who has attained enlightenment. (2) The Buddha is Siddartha, the founder of Buddhism. He was the first to attain enlightenment, and then taught others how to attain it.
Chan Buddhism The Chinese name for Zen Buddhism.
Dalai Lama The bodhisattva who is the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of Compassion. He is a single person who has been reincarnated 14 times as the Dalai 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.
Dharma Law, duty, justice, righteousness, virtue; the social or moral order; the unity of life; the teachings or Way of the Buddha.
Dukkha The Buddhist understanding of the nature of life, especially human life. It includes suffering, pain, misery, and death.
Eightfold Path The Noble Eightfold path consists of the eight steps by which a person can achieve nirvana. 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
Enlightenment This is the usual English translation of the Sanskrit word bodhi, which literally means awakening. Enlightenment is reached by following the eightfold path and means achieving freedom from all desires. It is often described as emptiness and is the final step before nirvana.
Five Precepts The minimum set of moral rules for Buddhism, practiced by both the lay people and the monks of the sangha. They forbid :
(2) improper sexual practices (adultery for lay people, sexual activity of any kind for monks)
(4) lying and deceiving
(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.
Gautama The Buddha’s family name, or last name. His first name was Siddhartha.
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.
Jataka Tales of the Buddha’s former lives.
Karma The moral law of cause and effect. People build up karma (both good and bad) as a result of their actions. This determines the level to which one is reborn after birth.
Koan 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?” For a collection of koans, click here.
Lama In Vajrayana, the term for teacher or guru. He is usually the head of a monastery or sometimes several monasteries. Some important lamas are considered to be bodhisattvas, such as the Dalai Lama.
Mahayana Buddhism 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, Korea and Vietnam.
Mara Death, The Striker, Tempter, Evil One or The Killer; embodiment of the selfish attachments and temptations that bind people to the cycle of birth and death. The opposite of the Buddha nature in each person.
metta Metta means loving-kindness.
mudra 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.
nirvana The end of suffering, liberation from karma and, therefore, the passing into another world. 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.
Noble Truths See Four Noble Truths
puja An act of worship or devotion to a Buddha or a bodhisattva.
The Sakya is the clan into which the Buddha was born. Sakyamuni means wise one of the Sakya – a title given to the Buddha.
samsara The continual cycle of death and rebirth.
sangha A collective term for monks (bhikkus).
Satori Zen Buddhism term for enlightenment.
The Buddha’s given name, or first name. His surname was Gautama.
skandhas The five elements of a human that come together at birth and separate at death: body, feelings/senses, perceptions, habits and inclinations, and consciousness.
stupa A shrine in which relics of the Buddha are kept. It often has a dome shape.
sutra Sacred text.
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 entertainment
(9) Not to use high or comfortable beds
(10) Not to use money
Literally, the path of the Elders. Of the three major branches of Buddhism, this was the earliest to crystalise into form. In contrast to Mahayana and Vajrayana, Theravada emphasises the individual over the group, arguing that the individual who must reach nirvana on their own.
Three Vows (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 three main sacred scriptures of Buddhism. A pitaka, 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.
Vajrayana A vajra is a diamond and this term means The Diamond Way. It applies to the third form of Buddhism (after TheravadaTheravada and Mahayana), which is practiced largely in Tibet. It is also known as Tantric Buddhism.
yab-yum In Tibetan 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. It represents the completeness of the cosmos. The male represents action, usually that of compassion in a finite world. The female represents wisdom, the unity of the infinite.
Zazen In Zen Buddhism, the practice of extended periods of meditation, usually in a group in a meeting hall. The monks sit quietly for long periods of time in the cross-legged lotus position.
Zen BuddhismA branch of Mahayana Buddhism which was brought to China (where it was called Chan) in 520 CE by Bodhidarma. It arrived in Japan in the twelfth century. It is probably the most common form of Buddhism in the West.