Glossary

 

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  • a

  • abhidharma
    “About the Dharma” or “special Dharma;” an ancient collection of Buddhist philosophical and psychological texts and teachings elaborating on the nature of reality as presented by the Buddha.  
  • absolute
    A term for the fact that all things are empty of any inherent, independent, enduring self-nature, and are actually just integral parts of one, seamless, luminous whole. Contrasted with the relative truth that, at the same time, countless phenomena exist, interact, and have unique characteristics. Absolute and relative compromise the "two truths" teaching of Mahayana Buddhism.  
  • anatta
    Not-self, one of the Three Characteristics of Existence.  
  • anicca
    Impermanence, one of the Three Characteristics of Existence.  
  • arhat
    A fully awakened person who is liberated from the cycle of transmigration and will not be reborn.  
  • asura
    Demigod in the cosmology of the Six Realms of Existence; in Sanskrit, sura means "god" and the prefix a implies a negative, so an asura is a non-god. Beings in the asura realm can see into heaven and are consumed with envy for what they do not have, even though on the Wheel of Life they are relatively fortunate.
  • Avalokiteshvara
    The archetypal bodhisattva of compassion in Mahayana Buddhism. Originally portrayed iconographically (in paintings and statues) as male, but later as female, in which case she is called Kuan YinKannon, and Kanzeon.  
  • b

  • bhikkhu
    A (male) Buddhist monk, fully ordained according to the rules and regulations of the Vinaya. [Alt: bhikshu]  
  • bhikkhuni
    A Buddhist nun, fully ordained according to the rules and regulations of the Vinaya. [Alt: bhikshuni]  
  • bodhisattva
    A Buddhist practitioner who vows to attain enlightenment, but also to be reborn in the world to rescue other beings instead of entering nirvana (complete release with no rebirth); aside from the traditional definition involving rebirth, it means a practitioner who vows to benefit others beings and not just achieve liberation for themselves. [Alt: bodhisatta, Pali]  
  • bodhisattva precepts
    A particular set of precepts unique to Mahayana Buddhism, which includes taking refuge in the Three Treasures, three pure precepts, and 10 “grave” precepts (16 “precepts” in all).  
  • buddha
    “Awakened one,” or an arhat who has attained additional realizations that allow him/her to be an unsurpassed teacher of others, and who devotes him/herself to teaching the Dharma in order to liberate beings.  
  • buddhadharma
    Alternatively "buddha-dharma," a term referring to the teachings of the Buddha in their essence and entirety.
  • c

  • Chan
    [Chan Buddhism] A school of Buddhism that arose in China around the 5th century CE that focused on meditation [chan]. Later spread to Korea and Japan. See Zen Buddhism.  
  • Chanyuan Qinggui
    The oldest extant formal set of regulations for a Chan/Zen monastery, composed in 1103, containing detailed instructions for daily conduct of monks, ceremonies, and administration. The Chanyuan Qinggui heavily influenced later Chan/Zen monastic regulations, including those composed by Dogen for Japanese Soto monasteries.
  • Cycle of Transmigration
    A worldview based on the belief, originating in ancient India before the time of the Buddha, that human beings are reborn in this world over and over, having to endure the indignities of birth, loss, old age, illness, and death endlessly.    
  • d

  • deva
    In ancient Buddhist and pre-Buddhist cosmology, a deva is a god-like being residing in the Heaven Realm; like Greek or Roman gods, devas are far from perfect or omniscient beings, and often have their own agendas. According to the Six Realms cosmology, devas also live a long time but not forever.
  • dharani
    “Mystical verse,” a short or long piece of text that may or may not be translatable, sometimes representing the “heart” of an essential teaching, the mere recitation of which is believed to have real power either in the world (i.e. for protection) or on the body or mind (i.e. an aid in concentration or discipline).  
  • Dharma
    (With a capital “D”) Buddhist teachings, or, at a deeper level, truth.  
  • dharmas
    (With a lowercase “d”): “things,” meaning all phenomenal things or fundamental entities (can also be used in the singular). In parts of the Abhidharma, a dharma is considered a fundamentally-existing, indivisible thing.  
  • Dogen
    Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) - Considered the founder of Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan, Dogen traveled to China to study Zen and ended up receiving transmission in the Cao-Dong lineage of Zen. A prolific writer whose teachings have become widely studied only in the last century.
  • dukkha
    Dissatisfactoriness, stress, or suffering, one of the Three Characteristics of Existence. See Episode 9: Shakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment: What Did He Realize? and Episode 14: Buddha’s Teachings Part 1: The Three Marks and the Teaching of Not-Self (Anatta).  
  • e

  • Eighteen Dhatus
    The eighteen realms of experience, as conceived in early Buddhism, including the Six Sense Objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and thoughts), the Six Sense Organs required to receive stimulation from them, and the Six Consciousnesses (mental capacity) necessary to create perception.  
  • Eightfold Noble Path
    Part of the Buddha's original teaching, about the path of practice to liberation, including Appropriate (Right) View, Intention, Action, Speech, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration/Meditation.  
  • emptiness
    Usually a translation of term shunyata, and meaning “empty” of inherent, independent, enduring self-nature (a quality of all beings and things).  
  • f

  • Five Precepts
    The five basic moral guidelines for all Buddhists, including lay people and monastics: abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and using (for lay people, sometimes more loosely interpreted as "abusing") intoxicants. The Five Precepts are recommended but optional for lay people, but required for monastics, who are also required to abide by additional precepts and regulations.  
  • five skandhas
    See skandha.  
  • Four Noble Truths
    Part of the Buddha's original teaching, about the cause of suffering (dukkha) and how to become free from suffering, including the Truth of Dukkha, the Truth of the Cause of Dukkha (grasping and aversion), the Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha (by releasing grasping and aversion), and the Truth of the Eightfold Noble Path (how one achieves the Cessation of Dukkha).  
  • h

  • Heart Sutra
    A short text (less than 250 words) composed somewhere around the 1st century CE, probably in China, considered to contain the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. The Heart Sutra is part of a larger body of works called the Prajnaparamita Scriptures, and is chanted daily throughout the world in Chan, Zen, and other Mahayana temples.
  • hinayana
    Literally “lesser vehicle” (yana meaning vehicle), a disparaging term used by some Mahayana Buddhists for Buddhist practice aimed only/primarily at one’s own attainment of nirvana (as opposed to mahayana, or "great vehicle").  
  • Hongzhi Zhengjue
    Chinese Chan master (1091-1157) and author, famous for his teachings about the practice of silent illumination, a themeless approach to zazen (seated meditation) often contrasted with the koan study of Linji/Rinzai Chan/Zen.
  • j

  • jhana
    Deep meditative concentration, of which there are different levels. [Alt: dhyana]
  • Jukai
    A ceremony of formally becoming a Zen Buddhist by taking refuge in the Three Treasures, and vowing to follow the bodhisattva precepts.  
  • k

  • Kannon
    The archetypal bodhisattva of compassion (see Avalokiteshvara).  
  • Kanzeon
    The archetypal bodhisattva of compassion (see Avalokiteshvara).  
  • karma
    The impersonal, universal “law” of moral cause-and-effect, stating that one’s actions, depending on what they are and the intention behind them, tend to have either positive, negative, or neutral effects. [Alt: kamma] Also see personal karma.  
  • Keizan
    Keizan Jokin (1268-1325), Japanese Soto Zen master in the lineage of Eihei Dogen, who helped establish Soto Zen as a strong sect in Japan.
  • koan
    A traditional Zen story of an interaction between a Zen ancestor and a student, meant to convey a subtle aspect of Zen understanding and practice. Koans are often used by Zen students as a point of contemplation or inquiry, particularly in Rinzai.  
  • Kuan Yin
    The archetypal bodhisattva of compassion (see Avalokiteshvara).  
  • l

  • Lotus Sutra
    A incredibly influential Mahayana text composed between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE by unknown authors, containing many classic Buddhist teachings, images, and parables. The Lotus Sutra became the primary text for a number of Buddhist sects, including one that believes it contains everything necessary for one's salvation (Nichiren school).
  • m

  • Mahayana
    Literally “great vehicle” (yana meaning vehicle), or the Buddhist path of a bodhisattva.  
  • Mahayana Buddhism
    A branch of Buddhism that arose a few hundred years after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death, in which practitioners sought to avoid the hinayana and embrace the Mahayana. Most types of Buddhism that trace their lineage through China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan are in the Mahayana branch of Buddhism.  
  • mantra
    A syllable, word, series of syllables, or short verse, usually in (or transliterated from) Sanskrit, the mere recitation of which (silently or out loud) is believed to have real power either in the world (i.e. for protection or healing) or on the body or mind (i.e. an aid in concentration or discipline); similar to a dharani but, generally speaking, a mantra is much shorter.  
  • Middle Way
    Shakyamuni Buddha's term for the spiritual path he discovered and developed, which was the middle way between extreme indulgence and extreme asceticism.
  • n

  • Nidanakatha
    An non-canonical ancient Buddhist text, "The Introduction to the Jataka," that gives a chronological account of Shakyamuni Buddha's life and is the source of many myths about the Buddha. See Episode 11: Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 1: Source Texts, and Birth Through Homeleaving for a discussion of this text.
  • nirvana
    Complete enlightenment, resulting in liberation from the cycle of transmigration. [Alt: nibbana]
  • non-returner
    In original Buddhism, a practitioner who has attained a level of spiritual mastery such that they will not be reborn again in this world, but will, after death, be reborn in a heavenly realm where they will achieve nirvana.  
  • o

  • once-returner
    In original Buddhism, a practitioner who has attained a level of spiritual mastery such that they will, after death, be reborn in this world only one more time before attaining arhatship or the status of non-returner.  
  • oryoki
    Literally "just enough," a communal Zen meal ritual where each participant uses a personal set of nesting bowls wrapped in a cloth. After unwrapping the bowls, receiving food, and eating, the bowls are washed, dried, and wrapped up again - without anyone moving from their seat.  
  • p

  • parajika
    Literally, "defeat" (in Pali), the term used for the penalty for fully ordained monastics who violate the most important rules in the monastic code of discipline (Patimokkha), namely, expulsion from the Sangha of monastics and being stripped of the status of a monastic.  
  • paramita
    Literally “reaches the other shore” (of liberation or enlightenment); usually translated as “perfection,” essentially a Mahayana Buddhist ideal describing the path of practice of a bodhisattva.  
  • parivrajaka
    “Wanderer;” In India, parivrajakas renounced the restrictions of worldly life, including caste, social, and ritual expectations. They lived in forests, caves, or other humble conditions as mendicants without social status, and depended on alms. They devoted themselves full time to spiritual study and practice, either alone or within loose communities formed around teachers.  
  • Patimokkha
    The rules of discipline for fully ordained Buddhist monks (bhikkhus) and nuns (bhikkhunis) according to the Vinaya. In the Pali version, there are 248 rules for bhikkhus and 311 for bhikkunis. [Alt: pratimoksha]  
  • personal karma
    All the ways you are that have resulted from previous causes – genetic, familial, and cultural causes, plus all of the experiences you’ve had that have led to your conditioning and habitual responses, and your choices (conscious and unconscious). Also see karma.  
  • prajna
    “Wisdom;” in Mahayana Buddhism, particularly insight into shunyata.  
  • prajnaparamita
    The perfection (paramita) of wisdom (prajna), according to Mahayana Buddhists, particularly the ideal of attaining direct insight into shunyata.  
  • Prajnaparamita Scriptures
    Mahayana Buddhist texts that began to be composed about 400 years after the Buddha’s death (around the 1st century BCE), and which focus on the ideal of the bodhisattva, and on the perfection of wisdom (prajnaparamita).  
  • precepts
    The moral rules/guidelines in Buddhism.  
  • r

  • rakusu
    A bib-like garment worn around the neck, as a symbol of having taken Jukai and/or as having taken a formal teacher (in Zen).  
  • relative
    A term for the fact that countless phenomena exist, interact, and have unique characteristics. Contrasted with the absolute truth that, at the same time, all things are empty of any inherent, independent, enduring self-nature, and are actually just integral parts of one, seamless, luminous whole. Absolute and relative compromise the "two truths" teaching of Mahayana Buddhism.  
  • Rinzai
    [Rinzai Zen] One of two major extant schools of Zen (the other being Soto); Rinzai developed in China (where it was called the Linji school or branch) and practice tends to include formal koan study.  
  • s

  • samadhi
    A state of nondual awareness where the sense of separation between subject (self, observer, meditator) and object (anything/everything else) falls away, allowing you to perceive the absolute aspect of reality.  
  • samsara
    An ancient Indian Sanskrit term for the world, in which all beings were subject to the Cycle of Transmigration (and therefore doomed to face loss, illness, old age, and death over and over and over).
  • Sangha
    The Buddhist community; originally, the ordained Buddhist community, but in many modern contexts, also includes lay practitioners of Buddhism.  
  • sesshin
    A silent, residential Zen meditation retreat with a 24-7 schedule, usually lasting at least three full days and often lasting 7-10 days.  
  • Shakyamuni
    Literally, “sage of the Shakyas,” a title for the Buddha.  
  • shastra
    A revered Buddhist scripture other than a sutra (that is, spoken, written, or compiled by a respected ancestor in the Buddhist lineage, but not attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha himself).  
  • shikantaza
    Objectless, technique-less Zen meditation, literally “nothing but precisely sitting.”  
  • shunyata
    Translated as “emptiness” or “boundlessness,” a quality of all beings and things in that they have no inherent, independent, enduring self-nature but rather dependently co-arise with all things and have no fixed boundary.  
  • shuso
    A formal practice position in a Zen community in which a fairly junior student takes the role of modeling or guiding the basic practice for other students in the zendo, particularly as regards the form (established customs and rituals).  
  • Siddhartha Gautama
    The birth name of the man later to become Shakyamuni Buddha, after his enlightenment. Siddhartha is a personal name, and Gautama is a clan name. He was born in India around 500 BCE.  
  • Six Realms of Existence
    In ancient Buddhist (and pre-Buddhist) cosmology, a view of life being divided into six realms: heaven and hell, plus the asura (demigod), beast, hell, hungry ghost, and human realms. It was believed that beings were reborn after death, over and over, in one of the six realms; therefore the six realms as a whole were referred to as the Wheel of Life, or the wheel of samsara.
  • Six Sense Consciousnesses
    Part of an ancient Buddhist formulation describing the components of human experience, the Eighteen Dhatus, the Six Sense Consciousnesses are sight consciousness, sound consciousness, smell consciousness, taste consciousness, touch consciousness, and thought consciousness (the faculties of mind that allow an experience of perception).  
  • Six Sense Objects
    Part of an ancient Buddhist formulation describing the components of human experience, the Eighteen Dhatus, the Six Sense Objects are sights, sounds, smells, tastes, the objects of touch, and thoughts.  
  • Six Sense Organs
    Part of an ancient Buddhist formulation describing the components of human experience, the Eighteen Dhatus, the Six Sense Organs are eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind.  
  • skandha
    Aggregate, or heap; the entirety of a human being is composed of five skandhas – form, sensation, perception, formation, and consciousness.  
  • Soto
    One of two major extant schools of Zen Buddhism (the other bring Rinzai); Soto developed in China (where it was called Cao-Dong) and practice tends to focus on shikantaza, or “just sitting” zazen.  
  • sramana
    “Striver;” Indian seeker looking for spiritual fulfillment and answers, generally suspicious of the Vedic religions and pursuing alternative teachings and practices.  
  • stream-enterer
    In original Buddhism, a practitioner who has attained a level of spiritual mastery such that they have “entered the stream” that flows inevitably to nirvana; although it may take more than one additional lifetime (rebirth), a stream-enterer will eventually achieve nirvana. (Subsequent levels of mastery are once-returner, non-returner, and arhat.)  
  • sutra
    A scripture containing a discourse of Shakyamuni Buddha, or of a direct disciple of Shakyamuni’s empowered by him to speak the teaching. [Alt: sutta, Pali]  
  • t

  • Take Refuge
    The essential act of becoming a Buddhist by vowing to “take refuge” in the Three Treasures (that is, rely on them).  
  • tantra
    A traditional Buddhist (or Hindu) ritual considered to be an especially effective - and potentially risky - tool for spiritual insight or development, which is why tantra is also considered to be esoteric (that is, intended to be taught to a relatively small number of specialists and used under carefully prescribed conditions). Contrary to popular perception, only a small fraction of tantras include any sexual activity, and these are considered appropriate only for extremely advanced practitioners.
  • Tathagatha
    A term for a Buddha, or someone who is completely spiritually enlightened, or awakened. Means "one who has arrived in suchness" or "one who has gone to suchness" - in other words, one who has arrived/gone over to complete knowledge of the Truth.  
  • tenzo
    The head cook of a Chan or Zen monastery, an important role described in formal sets of monastic regulations such as the Chanyuan Qinggui. Also the subject of Dogen's Tenzokyokun.
  • Tenzokyokun
    A fascicle (essay or chapter) by Dogen, translated as "Instructions to the Tenzo," or head cook of a Zen monastery. The fascicle contains important teachings on the spirit of work practice in Zen.
  • the Buddha
    Specifically, Shakyamuni Buddha, born Siddhartha Gautama in India around 500 BCE.  
  • Theravadin Buddhism
    Theravada means "way of the elders;" Theravadin Buddhism traces its lineage back to the Original Buddhism of India and Southeast Asia, and preserves Buddhist teaches and practices that most closely resemble those actually taught by the Buddha and practiced by the Sangha at the Buddha's time. It relies on the Pali Canon.  
  • Three Characteristics of Existence
    The Buddha's teaching that all conditioned things are impermanent (anicca), dissatisfactory when relied upon (dukkha), and therefore all things should be identified as not-self (anatta). [Alt: Three Marks of Existence, Three Marks]  
  • Three Poisons
    In Buddhism, the three root causes of suffering: greed (or grasping), hate (or anger, or aversion), and delusion (or ignorance).  
  • Three Treasures
    The three essential aspects of Buddhism, or Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  
  • transmigration
  • Twelve Abodes
    The Six Sense Objects plus the Six Sense Organs (part of the Eighteen Dhatus, or realms of experience).  
  • v

  • Vajrayana
    A type of Buddhism that grew out of Mahayana early in Buddhist history and calls itself the "diamond" (vajra) vehicle (yana), emphasizing the use of tantra (esoteric ritual) as the fastest and most effective path to enlightenment. The most well-known and widely practiced form of Vajrayana today is Tibetan Buddhism, of which the Dalai Lama is the most famous practitioner.
  • Vinaya
    The section of the Buddhist scriptures containing, and explaining, the code of discipline for fully ordained monks (bhikkhus) and nuns (bhikkhunis).  
  • w

  • wagessa
    A strip of cloth with a decorative knot, worn around the neck, as a symbol of having taken Jukai in Zen Buddhism.  
  • Wheel of Life
    A term for the cosmology of the Six Realms, particularly when portrayed iconographically, in which beings subject to the Cycle of Transmigration are reborn again and again into one of the Six Realms of existence based on their past actions. Alt: Wheel of Samsara.
  • z

  • zazen
    Seated (“za”) meditation (“zen”) in the Zen Buddhist tradition.  
  • Zen
    A shorthand way to refer to Zen Buddhism or things having to do with Zen Buddhism, or a word for meditation itself.  
  • Zen Buddhism
    A type of Buddhism in which the primary practice is meditation (“zen”). Arose in China around the 5th century CE, where it was called Chan.  
  • zendo
    A Zen meditation (“zen”) hall (“do”).  

 

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