Color A Buddhist Glossary
Amitabha: Sanskrit; Amida (Japanese); one of the major buddhas of Mayahana school; he created a Pure Land free from suffering in which one can attain rebirth by calling out his name.
Arhat: Sanskrit; literally, "worthy one"; one who has attained the highest level in the Theravada school; the fruition of arhatship is nirvana.
Avalokitesvara: Sanskrit; Kannon (Japanese), Chen Resig (Tibetan), Kwan Um (Korean); the bodhisattva of compassion.
Bodhidharma: (ca. 470-543) Considered the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism; according to legend, he was the "Barbarian from the West" who brought Zen from India to China; "Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?" is a famous koan in Zen Buddhism.
Bodhisattva: Sanskrit; Bosatsu (Japanese), Bosal (Korean); one who postpones his or her own enlightenment in order to help liberate other sentient beings from cyclic existence; compassion, or karuna, is the central characteristic of the bodhisattva; important bodhisattvas include Avaloikitesvara, Manjusri, and Jizo.
Buddha: Sanskrit; literally, "awakened one"; a person who has been released from the world of cyclic existence (samsara) and attained liberation from desire, craving, and attachment in nirvana; according to Theravadins, Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, is considered to be the first Buddha of this age who was preceded by many others and will be followed by Maitreya; Mahayanists believe that there are countless Buddhas for every age.
Dharma: Sanskrit; dhamma (Pali); the central notion of Buddhism; it is the cosmic law underlying all existence and therefore the teaching of the Buddha; it is considered one of the three "jewels" of Buddhism; it is often used as a general term for Buddhism.
Dogen: (1200-1253) Credited with bringing the Soto school of Zen Buddhism to Japan; he stressed shikan taza, or just sitting, as the means to enlightenment.
Dzogchen: Tibetan; literally, "great perfection"; the supreme teachings of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism; its adherents believe these teachings are the highest and therefore that no other means are necessary; also known as ati-yoga.
Gelugpa: One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism; His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is considered the spiritual head of this school. Enlightenment: The word used to translate the Sanskrit term bodhi ("awakened"); generally used by Mahayanists instead of the Theravada term nirvana; it connotes an awakening to the true nature of reality rather than the extinguishing of desire implied by the term nirvana.
Kagyupa: One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism; the teaching was brought to Tibet in the 11th century by Marpa; the school places strong emphasis on the transmission of knowledge from master to student.
Karma: Sanskrit; literally, "action"; universal law of cause and effect which governs rebirth and the world of samsara.
Koan: A seemingly paradoxical riddle or statement that is used as a training device in Zen practice to force the mind to abandon logic and dualistic thought.
Mahayana: Sanskrit; literally, "the Great Vehicle"; one of the three major schools of Buddhism which developed in India during the first century C.E.; it is called the "Great Vehicle" because of its all-inclusive approach to liberation as embodied in the bodhisattva ideal and the desire to liberate all beings; the Mahayana school is also known for placing less emphasis on monasticism than the Theravada school and for introducing the notion of sunyata.
Maitreya: the Buddha expected to come in the future as the fifth and last of the earthly Buddhas; he is believed to reside in the Tushita heaven until then (about 30,000 years from now); the cult of Maitreya is widespread in Tibetan Buddhism.
Nirvana: Sanskrit; literally, "extinction, blowing out"; the goal of spiritual practice in Buddhism; liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering.
Nichiren: (1222-1282) Japanese monk who believed in the supreme perfection of the Lotus Sutra; he advocated the devout recitation of "Namu myoho renge kyo," the title of the sutra, in order to attain instantaneous enlightenment.
Nyingmapa: One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism; the Dzogchen teahings are considered to be the supreme embodiment of this school.
Pure Land: A realm free from suffering in which it is easier to attain nirvana; the most famous one, Sukhavati, is the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha and requires only calling out his name in order to be reborn in it; "Pure Land Buddhism" refers to this devotion directed towards Amitabha.
Rinzai: Japanese; Lin-chi (Chinese); one of the two major schools of Zen Buddhism; it was founded by the Chinese master Lin-chi I-hsuan (Japanese; Rinzai Gigen) and brought to Japan by Eisai Zenji at the end of the twelfth century; it stresses koan Zen as the means to attain enlightenment.
Sakyapa: One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism; it is named after the Sakya Monastery in southern Tibet and had great political influence in Tibet during the 13th and 14th centuries .
Samsara: Sanskrit; the cyclic existence of birth, death and rebirth from which nirvana provides liberation.
Sangha: Sanskrit; a term for the Buddhist monastic community which has recently come to include the entire community of Buddhist practitioners; it is considered one of the three jewels of Buddhism (along with the Buddha and the Dharma).
Shakyamuni: (ca. 563-422 BCE) The historical Buddha; Theravadins believe that he was the first to attain enlightenment in this age.
Soto: Japanese; Ts'ao-tung (Chinese); one of the two major schools of Zen Buddhism; it was brought to Japan by Dogen in the thirteenth century; it emphasizes zazen, or sitting meditation, as the central practice in order to attain enlightenment.
Sunyata: Sanskrit; sunnata (Pali); literally, "emptiness"; a central Buddhist idea which states that all phenomena are "empty," i.e. dependent and conditioned on other phenomena and therefore without essence; Theravadins applied this idea to the individual to assert the non-existence of a soul; Mahayanists later expanded on this idea and declared that all existence is empty; emptiness became the focus of the Madhyamika school of the Mahayana Buddhism; the notion of emptiness has often led to Buddhism being wrongfully confused with a nihilistic outlook.
Sutra: Sanskrit; a discourse attributed to the Buddha; sutras comprise the second part of the Buddhist canon, or Tripitaka; they traditionally begin with the phrase "Thus have I heard. . . " and are believed to have been written down by the Buddha's disciple Ananda one hundred years after his death.
Theravada: Sanskrit; literally, "the School of the Elders"; one of the three major schools of Buddhism which is widely practiced in the countries of Southeast Asia; its teachings focus on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path; also pejoratively referred to as the Hinayana, or "Lesser Vehicle," school due to its emphasis on personal rather than collective liberation.
Tripitaka: Sanskrit; literally, "the three baskets"; this term is commonly used for the Buddhist canon, which consists of three parts: the Vinaya, or monastic code; the Sutras; and the Abhidharma, or Buddhist philosophical treatises.
Vajrayana: Sanskrit; literally, "the Diamond Vehicle"; one of the three major schools of Buddhism; this form of Buddhism developed out of the Mahayana teachings in northwest India around 500 CE and spread to Tibet, China and Japan; it involves esoteric visualizations, rituals, and mantras which can only be learned by study with a master; also known as Tantric Buddhism due to the use of tantras, or sacred texts.
Zen: Japanese; Ch'an (Chinese); a branch of Mahayana Buddhism which developed in China during the sixth and seventh centuries after Bodhidharma arrived; it later divided into the Soto and Rinzai schools; Zen stresses the importance of the enlightenment experience and the futility of rational thought, intellectual study and religious ritual in attaining this; a central element of Zen is zazen, a meditative practice which seeks to free the mind of all thought and conceptualization.