Buddhist Terms Glossary

Buddhist Terms Glossary

Skt = Sanskrit
Tib = Tibetan


Abhava (Skt) = Non-becoming

Abhidharma (Skt), Abhidhamma (Pali) = (1) In the Pali Canon, these are the teachings that attempt to define and understand the teachings of the Buddha in greater detail; (2) A collection of analytical Buddhist treatises based on the lists of categories given by the Buddha which were added to the scriptures in the ensuing centuries after the death of Buddha.

Adhimoksha (Skt) = Reverent appreciation.  The attitude that leads to liberation

Ahimsa (Skt) = Non-violence or non-harming; showing gentleness toward all forms of life

Ajahn (Thai) = The term for Teacher in the Thai Buddhist (Theravadan) tradition also used as the title of senior monks in the monasteries.

Ajjhosana (Skt) = Holding

Alaya (Skt) = Originally meaning possessions or accumulation, hence clinging, this term later came to be used to describe the storing of karmic residues or mental contents.  Eventually it became reified into the part of the mind used to store these things

Arhat (Skt); Arahant (Pali) = The perfected disciple who has attained liberation, especially in the Theravadan tradition

Atman (Skt) = teaching of the “divine self” which is found in religions such as Hinduism;

Anatman (Skt), Anatta (Pali) = the teaching of non-self

Anitya (Skt), Anicca (Pali) = Impermanence

Anunaya (Skt) = Personal attachment

Arya satya (Skt) = Noble truth

Avalokiteshvara (Skt) = The Buddha of Infinite/Limitless Compassion.  Also known as Guan Yin in China

Avidya (Skt) = Not seeing, ignorance. The opposite of enlightened vision



Bhava (Skt) =  Becoming

Bhikshu (Skt, fem. Bhikshuni) = an ordained follower of the Buddha who keeps the full set of vinaya precepts or rules. Literally the term means sharer, i.e. one who is not attached to possessions.  Often referred to as a monk, though mendicant rather than monastic.  The term was used in the Buddha’s time to describe his ordained disciples and is still used.  Not all ordained Buddhists are bhikhshus/bhikshunis.

Bija (Skt) = Seed.  The term is used to describe units of karma

Bodhi (Skt) = Enlightenment

Bodhi Tree = The sacred fig tree under which Siddhartha sat that culminated in his Enlightenment;

Bodhicitta (Skt) = The aspiration to attain enlightenment for the sake of all beings

Bodhisattva (Skt) = Originally, one destined for Buddha-hood. A person or mythical figure who embodies positive, helping qualities.  In particular, one who has vowed to forgo Nirvana for the sake of saving others.  The bodhisattva vow expresses this wish.


Chanda (Skt) = aspiration, desire, will

Chetana (Skt) = Intention. The mind that is chasing something

Chitta (Skt) = The attentive mind, the heart, consciousness, or knowing


Dana (Skt) = generosity, donations, generally to the ordained community

Deva (Skt) = a celestial being

Dharma (Skt); Dhamma (Pali) = (1) The Buddhist teachings; (2) Reality, the objects themselves (3) That which holds us in freedom from suffering

Dharmapala (Skt) = Dharma protectors

Dhatus (Skt) = foundations, bases

Dyhana (Skt) Jhana (Pali) = Buddhist meditative practice

Dukkha (Skt) = Afflication; literally, a bad space

Dvesha (Skt) = Hate, one of the Three Poisons


Emanation = An animate (or inanimate) form manifested by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for the benefit of others

Eightfold Path = The Fourth Noble Truth, the path that leads to liberation from suffering

Emptiness see Shunyata


Five Precepts = The five behaviors associated with an enlightened mindset.  To not kill, steal, engage in adultery, lie, or indulge in intoxicants that cloud the mind.

Five Skandhas (Aggregates) = The five components that make up the ego or our seemingly permanent sense of self.  These include Matter (Rupa), Feeling (Vedana), Perception (sanjna/sanna), Volition (samskara, sankara), and Consciousness (vijnana, vinnana)

Four Noble Truths = The core of the teaching of the Buddha of (1)suffering,  (2)the cause of suffering, (3) liberation from suffering, and (4) the path leading to liberation from suffering


Gautama (Skt), Gotama (Pali) = The surname of the Shakya clan into which Prince Siddhartha was born

Gelukpa (Tib) = The Virtuous Order. The order of Tibetan Buddhism found by Lama Tsong Khapa in the 1400s


Heart Sutra = The heart or essence of the Prajnaparamita sutras summarized in one verse;  commonly chanted in places where Mahayana Buddhism is practiced


Indra (Skt) = a deva; king of the gods, god of sky and thunder


Jaramarana (Skt) = Decay-and-deathness

Jati (Skt) = Birth


Karma (Skt) = Action, the continuing effects of action; hence natural law of cause and effect

Klesha (Skt) = Negative mental factors

Koan (Japanese) = A question to be struggled with in order to reach a point of spiritual breakthrough.  Sometimes koans take the form of traditional questions, such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” But they can also be seen as arising naturally in daily life; hence a life issue that recurs can act as a koan for us.  Koans are not soluble by direct reason.  They require spiritual growth for the solution.

Kushalas (Skt)= Benign mental factors; the opposite of kleshas


Lama (Tib) = Tibetan Buddhist teacher

Lakshana (Skt)= a sign; often used to mean a sign or indicator of self

Lobha (Skt) = Greed, one of the Three Poisons

Losar (Tib) = New Year


Manana-vijnana (Skt) = The part of the mind that orders or moderates experience

Manaskara (Skt) = Attention.  This factor functions to “yoke the associated states to the object” (Bhikkhu Bodhi, A Comprehensive Manual of Abidharma)

Mano-vijnana (Skt) = The mind’s eye, or imagination; thought. One of the six senses.

Mantra (Skt) = a short phrase, usually of ancient, contracted words that are difficult to translate, that is repeated in order to focus the mind on the positive and to protect the mind from negative thoughts.

Marga (Skt) = A path or track

Metta (Pali)= A Buddhist practice that involves imagining sending goodwill to others

Moha (Skt) = Confusion; one of the Three Poisons


Nama-rupa (Skt)  = A phenomenon, a named object, and object that is perceived

Nirodha (Skt) = Containment (often translated as cessation)

Nirvana (Skt) = The place of completion of the process of overcoming self. A place of bliss.  Hence, by extension, the ultimate place of bliss


Object = The thing to which one gives attention. The mind is conditioned by its object.  The term object here is technical and may be a thing, an idea, a person, or whatever we give attention to, whether it is real or imaginary


Pali = The language in which the Theravadan texts are written in.

Paramita (Skt, Pali) = Perfection, ideal virtue

Prajna (Skt) = Wisdom

Pratyaya (Skt) = Conditions; All things arise dependent upon conditions, so everything is said to be conditioned.  Buddhist psychology emphasizes working with conditions to create the possibility for positive change to arise. Things that are conditioned are not determined.

Precepts (Skt) = The ethical code. Different levels of precepts are taken by lay people and monastics. Five lay precepts are common to most traditions as the basis for the committed lay life. Precepts are seen as an aid to training and a description of a wholesome life rather than as rules or commandments

Pure Land = (1) A land as seen by the Buddha. (2) A mythical land, where enlightenment is easy to attain, created by Amida Buddha, who is the manifestation of the Buddha’s teaching continuing in the world.  (3) An other-power approach to Buddhism whose practice is based on the practice of nembutsu, which is the chanting of Amida Buddha’s name and faith in rebirth in Amida’s Pure Land.


Rebirth = Coming to a new life (literally or symbolically)

Refuge = taking refuge means placing complete faith in something.  Traditionally, Buddhists take refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

Rupa (Skt) = Form; a phenomenon, an apparition; the thing perceived from our own frame of reference.


Samadhi (Skt) = The state of single-pointedness, tranquil absorption achieved in meditation, concentration

Samma (Pali) = right, skillful, authentic

Samjna (Skt); Sanna (Pali) = Entrancement, association (commonly translated as Perceptions), one of the Five Skandhas

Samsara (Skt) = The cyclical world experienced by the deluded mind

Samskara (Skt); Sankara (Pali) = Mental formations, confections, and elaborations created by the mind.

Samudaya (Skt) = Things that arise. Our response to affliction (the second of the Four Noble Truths)

Sangha (Skt) = The Buddhist community, often specifically the ordained community

Sankappa (Pali) = purpose, intention, resolve, aspiration, motivation

Sattva (Skt) = (1) being; (2) hero/heroine

Shadayatanas (Skt) = Literally, the uncontrollable.  A term used for the six senses.

Shunyata (Skt) = The teachings that the self and all thing are empty of an inherent or intrinsic self apart from everything else

Sila (Skt) = Ethics

Skandhas (Skt) = Commonly known as the five aggregates.  Five elements that make up the person.  Five stages in the process of self-creation, which form a cycle

Smriti (Skt) = Mindfulness, having a positive object in mind.  Having the mind full of Buddha

Sparsha (Skt) = Contact

Special objectivity = Seeing one’s own experience as other. Having awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions without feeling identified with them

Sukha (Skt) = Happiness; opposite of dukkha


Tantra (Skt) = A path of Buddhist practice that involves transforming everything into an opportunity for spiritual development, even if those things are commonly thoughts of as harmful or negative.

Three Marks of Existence = A teaching that states that all constructed things (samskaras) are afflictive, all phenomena are impermanent, and all things (dharmas) are non-self

Trishna (Skt) = Craving, thirst


Upadana (Skt) = Clinging, ungenerosity

Upaya (Skt) = Mahayana term meaning a means or device toward a spiritual end


Vedana (Skt) = Reaction, having three valences: positive, negative, and neutral (often translated as feeling); knowingness, prejudice

Vidya (Skt) = clear-seeing, enlightened vision

Vijnana (Skt); Vinnana (Pali) = Consciousness; one of the Five Skandhas

Vinaya (Skt) = The full set of precepts kept by ordained bhikhshus and bhikhshunis

Vipashyana (Skt), Vipassana (Pali) = Insight meditation into the Three Marks of Existence


Wat (Thai) = Buddhist monastery in Thailand

Wu (Chinese) = No; does not have; the first koan of a Zen student


Yama (Skt) = God of the Dead who appears in various sutras as the personification of death

Yana (Skt) = “vehicle” A term used to describe the means by which Buddhists implement Buddha’s teachings.  A vehicle is descriptive of a certain interpretation of Buddha’s teachings

Yasodhara (Skt) = the wife of Siddhartha Gautama, who later became a nun (bhikshuni)


Zazen (Japanese) = Seated meditation.  Also known as dhyana.

Zen (Japanese) = The Japanese form of Chan Buddhism that favors meditation above all other teachings as opposed to studying the sutras

2 Responses to Buddhist Terms Glossary

  1. Robert Lawrence says:

    I have to say that I’ve always had a genuine interest in all religions and so when I stumbled upon this website I was instantly interested.

    I love the fact that you’re laying out all of these terms here so that I can read your other articles and refer to this index of terms at any point to clear up something for me.

    As someone who is interested in religion(especially Buddhism) but still quite ignorant on the topic I’ll need to check the definition of a lot of terms. Thanks for this.


    • Ian H says:

      Hi Robert,
      Thanks for your interest. I figured that it would be good to define everything since some of the topics can get a little complicated.

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