A note on language and scriptures.
Buddhist scriptures have been recorded in, or translated into,
many languages. Some words have different spellings because of the different languages
they come from, but they refer to the same thing. The two languages most important to the
Buddhist scriptures are most notably Pali and Sanskrit [in brackets after
The teaching of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka was in Pali,
a language from Western India. Pali is a spoken language with no script of its own, so it
can be written in any script phonetically.
In India Buddhist teaching was first written down in the lst
century CE. (Christian Era) It was written in Sanskrit and is known as the Sanskrit
scriptures or canon, the Tripitaka (three baskets).
Buddhism also has scriptures in other languages, including
Japanese, Korean, Tibetan and Mongolian. The whole of the Pali scriptures have been
translated into English
Ananda Buddha's cousin and follower.
Abhidharma Abhidhamma Further or higher teaching. The philosophy and psychology of
Buddhism in abstract, systematic form.
Abhidharm Abhidhamma This is the third of the three principal Pitaka Pitaka
sections of the canon of basic scripture. Is is systematic, philosophical and
psychological treatment of the teachings given in the Sutta Pitaka.
Amitabha Amitayus Also, Amida (Japanese). Buddhas having unlimited light and life
Anapanasmrti Anapanasati Mindfulness of the breath. The practice most usually
associated with the development of concentration and calm, but also used in the training
of Vipassana (insight).
Anatta No self:; no sour. Insubstantiality: denial of a real or permanent self.
Anicca [Anitya] Impermanence; transience.
Instability of all things, including the self.
Arhat Enlightened disciple. The fourth and highest stage of Realisation
recognised by the Theravada tradition. One whose mind is free from all greed hatred and
Asoka Emperor of India in the 3rd century BCE.
Atta Self; soul.
Bhikkhu [Bhikshu] Fully ordained Buddhist monk.
Bhikkhuni [Bhikshuni] Fully ordained Buddhist nun.
Bodhi Tree The tree (ficus religiosa) under which the Buddha realised
Enlightenment. It is known as the Tree of Wisdom.
Bodhisattva [Bodhisatta] A Wisdom Being. One intent on becoming,
or destined to become enlightened, a Buddha. Gotama, before his Enlightenment as the
Brahma Viharas The four sublime states: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic
joy and evenness of mind.
Buddha Founder of Buddhism, known as Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautama. Any person
awakened or enlightened to the essential truth of the universe.
Butsudan (Japanese) Lit. "seat of the Buddha" - Buddhist altar
Bodhi tree The type of tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment.
Buddhism religion begun by Siddhartha Gotama.
Canon a collection of sacred holy books.
Dana [Daan] Generosity; giving; gift. Giving of alms
(food, money, time, goods etc) to the Sangha (Buddhist monks).
Dalai Lama (Tibetan) Great Ocean. Spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan
Daimoku (Japanese) The chant of 'Nam-myoho-renge-kyo'; the central practice of
Dhamma [Dharma] Universal law; ultimate truth. The teaching of the
Buddha. A key Buddhist term.
Dharmapada Dhammapada Famous scripture of 423 verses.
Duhkha [Dukkha] Suffering; ill; unsatisfactoriness; imperfection.
The nature of existence according to the first Noble Truth.
Emperor ruler of several countries.
Enlightenment realization of the truth of the way things are this is the end of
Four Noble Truths four of the most important elements of
the Buddhist teaching.
Gompa (Tibetan) Monastery; place of meditation.
Gautama Family name of the Buddha.
Gohonzon (Japanese) Lit. 'object of worship worthy of respect' written manadala
bases on the invocation of 'Nam-myoho-renge-kyo'.
Gongyo (Japanese) Ceremony of worship in the Nichiren (Soka Gakkai).
Hinduism main religion of India.
Jataka Birth story. Accounts of the previous lives of the
Jhana [Dhyana] also Ch'an (Chinese) and Zen
Karma: Action. Intentional actions that affects one's
circumstances in this and future lives. The Buddha's insistence that the effect depends on
volition marks the Buddhist treatment of Kamma as different from the Hindu understanding
of Karma. The fundamental law of cause and effect.
Kathina Buddhist festival and ceremony of presenting new robes to monks.
Kesa (Japanese) The robe of a Buddhist monk, nun, or priest.
Khandha [Skandha ] Heap; aggregate. The Five
Khandhas together make up the 'person' (form, feeling, perception, mental formation and
Khanti [Kshanti] Patience; forbearance.
Kilesa [Klesa] Mental defilement or fire, such as
greed, hatred or ignorance.
Koan (Japanese) A technical term used in Zen Buddhism referring to enigmatic or
paradoxical questions used to develop intuition. Also refers to religious problems
encountered in daily life.
Kwan-yin (Chinese) Also, Kannon (Japanese). Bodhisattva of compassion, depicted in
female form. Identified with Bodhisattva: Avalokitesvara.
Lama (Tibetan) Teacher, or one who is revered.
Lotus Sutra A scripture of major importance to various schools within the Mahayana
tradition. It describes the virtues of the Bodhisattva, and emphasises that all sentient
beings posses Buddha-nature and can attain Enlightenment (Nirvana).
Meditation mental control and the development of
concentration, leading to calmness.
Magga [Marga] Path, leading to cessation of
suffering. The fourth Noble Truth.
Mahayana Great Way or Vehicle. Teachings that spread from India into Tibet, parts
of Asia and the Far East, characterised by the Bodhisattva ideal and the prominence given
to the development of both compassion and wisdom.
Mala Also, Juzu (Japanese). String of 108 beads used in Buddhist practice (like a
Metta [Maitri ] Loving kindness. A pure love
which is neither grasping nor possessive.
Metta Sutta Buddhist scripture which describes the nature of loving kindness.
Maitreya One who has the nature of living kindness. Name of the future Buddha.
Mandala Lit. 'circle' - pictorial or written presentation of the Buddha, the Mystic
Law or Buddhist cosmology.
Mantra Sacred words usually in the form of a vocalised chant.
Mudra Ritual gesture, as illustrated by the hands of Buddha images.
Mudita Sympathetic joy. Welcoming the good fortune of others.
Monastery place where monks live.
Monk man who dedicates his life to his religion
Blowing out of the fires of greed, hatred and ignorance, and the state of secure perfect
peace that follows. A key Buddhist term.
Nirodha Cessation (of suffering). The Third Noble Truth.
Nibbana [Nirvana] realization of the truth of the way things and the end of
Noble Eightfold Path a list of eight 'steps' which are a way of living. The fourth
Non-attachment not being attached to anything; persons, things, ideas, opinions
Nun woman who dedicates her life to her religion.
Wisdom. Understanding the true nature of things.
Parami [Paramita] A perfection or virtue. One of
the six or ten perfection necessary for the attainment of Buddhahood.
Parinibbana Final and complete nirvana reached at the passing away of a
Patimokkha The training rules of a monk or nun - 227 in the case of a
Pitaka Basket. Collection of scriptures (see Tripitaka).
Pali Canon the earliest known scriptures of Buddhism written in the 'Pali' language
around the 1st century BC.
Poson festival remembering the bringing of Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
Purowa special platform for marriage.
Refuge place or feeling of safety
Rahula Siddhartha Gautama's son.
Relic something important kept from the past.
Retreat special time of meditation away from your normal life
Rupa Form. Used of an image of the Buddha; also, the first of the five Khandas.
Sakyamuni Sage of the Shakyas (the tribe
of the Buddha). Title of the historical Buddha.
Samadhi Samadhi Meditative absorption. A state of deep meditation.
Samatha A state of concentrated calmness; meditation (see Vipassana).
Samsara Everyday life. The continual round of birth, sickness, old age and death
which can be transcended by following the Eightfold Path and Buddhist teaching.
Samudaya Arising, origin (of suffering). The second Nobel Truth.
Sangha Community; assembly. Often used for the order of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis in
Theravadin countries. In the Mahayana countries, the Sangha includes lay devotees and
priest, e.g. in Japan.
Sankhara Mental/Karmic formation. The four of the five Khandhas.
Sanna Perception. Third of the five Khandhas.
Satori (Japanese) Awakening. A term used in Zen Buddhism.
Siddattha [Siddhartha] Wish-fulfilled. The
personal name of the historical Buddha.
Sila Sila Morality.
Soka Gakkai (Japanese) "Society for the creation of value" - lay Buddhist
movement inspired by the teachings of Nichiren.
Sutta Text. The word of the Buddha.
Sutta Pitaka The second of the three collection - principally of
teachings - that comprise the cannon of basic scripture.
Stupa (thupa, cetiya, dagoba, pagoda, chorten) Reliquary.
Originally a large mound built over cremated remains of the Buddha, but later one
containing relics of revered Buddhist teachers or sacred books. The shape of the stupa is
a symbol i.e. wisdom, water, fire, air and earth. See shrines and temples.
Songkran New Year Festival (Thailand)
Sanskrit the classical language of India and Hinduism
Shrine holy place
Tipitaka [Tripitaka] A threefold collection of texts
(Vinaya, Sutta, Abhidamma). The Buddha's teaching, which were divided into these three
Triple Gem the Buddha, Dhamma (Dharma) and Sangha.
Tanha Thirst; craving; desire (rooted in ignorance). Desire as the cause of
suffering. The second Noble Truth.
Tathagate Another epithet for the Buddha.
The Middle Way The significant Buddhist teaching that liberation lies neither in
indulgence (materialism) nor in rejection (ascetism).
Tiratana The Three Treasures (or Three Jewels). The Buddha, The
Dharma (Law or teaching) and the Sangha (community of believers).
Theravada Way of the elders. A principal school of Buddhism, established
in Sri Lanka and South East Asia. Also found in the West.
Tulku (Tibetan) Reincarnated Lama.
Upaya Any skilful means, e.g. meditation on loving
kindness, to overcome anger.
Upekkha [Upeksa] Equanimity; evenness of mind.
Vihara Dwelling place, Buddhist temple, monastery or
Vajrayana Thunderbolt; Diamond Way. Teaching promulgated later, mainly in India and
Tibet. Another term for esoteric Buddhism.
Vedana Feeling. The second of the five Khandhas.
Vinaya The rules of discipline of monastic life.
Vinaya Pitaka The first of the three collections of the cannon of basic scripture,
containing mostly the discipline for monks and nuns, with many stories and some teachings.
Vinnana Consciousness. The fifth of the five Khandhas.
Vipassana Insight into the true nature of things. A particular form of
meditation (see Samatha).
Virya Energy; exertion.
Wesak or Vesak Buddha day. Name of a festival and a
(Sinhalese) month. On the full moon of Wesak in May, the birth, Enlightenment and
passing away of the Buddha took place, although some schools celebrate only the birth at
this time, e.g. Zen.
Yasodhara Siddharth Gautama's wife.
Zazen (Japanese) Meditation while seated, as in Zen
Zen name given to the Japanese branch of Mahayana
Zen (Japanese) Meditation. Derived from the Sanskrit 'dhyana'. A school of Mahayana
Buddhism that developed in China and Japan.