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Buddhist terms, including Zen terms, come from Sanskrit; Pali (P), a language derived from Sanskrit; Chinese (C); and Japanese (J). Some terms may be Korean (K) too. Language mixtures are possible. Some Buddhist terms have found their way into English. Most words below are in Sanskrit.

Buddhism contains many yoga terms. If you do not find a word here, maybe it is among the yoga terms on-site (link above).


Acharya   Teacher; spiritual preceptor; propounder of a doctrine. As a title it is affixed to the names of learned men.

Ajna chakra   The mid-area between the eye-brows, associated with good and able use of the mind and the so-called third eye. [More]

Alaya   That from which consciousness grows and to which it returns. Similar to the concept of Brahman (q.v.).

Ananda   Bliss, happiness, joy. Also: Buddha's personal attendant, his relative Ananda.

Ananda-svarupa   Of the form of bliss.

Antar mouna   Inner stillness, and thought observation.

Arhat(a)   A perfected Soul.

Arya(n)   Indo-Aryan. Literally: noble being

Asana   Yogic posture; physical posture in which one is at ease and in harmony with one's self. A bodily pose or posture. Also: Third part of the classical Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali.

Ashtanga, Ashtanga yoga   It refers to Patanjali's yoga with eight steps or limbs, as laid bare in his Yoga Sutras. It is claimed to be genuine royal yoga (raja yoga) too.

Atman   The inner divine Self, or Soul. Individual soul; the Self, one's spirit. The highest or true self as distinct from the consciousness of ego. There is no difference between atman and paramatman except that caused by maya. The Atman (Self deep inside) is not necessarily embodied. Also taught to be the same as Brahman.

Avadhut   A naked sage, more specifically someone who transcends body and worldly consciousness.


Batto J   Lecture hall.

Beads    A string of beads may be used for counting breathing rounds or repetitions of a mantra. Same as Skt. "mala."

Bhava(na)   Essentially: attitude; continued contemplation (meditation); steady concentration of mind. Also: deep feeling and that state of being, according to Tantra.

Bhuh loka   Dimension of consciousness related to the dimension of earth and mooladhara chakra.

Bodhgaya   The place where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment.

Bodhi   Awakening; enlightenment.

Bodhi Tree   The ficus tree Buddha sat under when he was enlightened.

Bodhidharma    Also known as Daruma (the Japanese name). Thought to be the first Zen patriarch; he reputedly came to China in AD 520 and sat for nine years facing a wall at Shao-Lin temple, contemplating.

Bodhisattva   A being who, having developed the Awakening Mind (a mind infused with the aspiration to attain the state of Buddhahood), devotes his life to the task of achieving Buddhahood for the sake of sentient beings.

Bompu (bonpu) J   Ordinary Zen, free from philosophical or religious contents, and is practiced for the sole purpose of improving one's physical and mental being.

Brahma   The Creator of the Cosmos and priest of the gods, often called the Grandfather. Learning, science, music, etc. have been described as some of his great forces (shaktis).

Brahman    The cosmic Ocean of Bliss. From the root 'brih', to grow, expand. (a) God or Pan (Omnipresence). (b) Mind (consciousness) which allows growth to take place.

Brahmarandhra   The hole of Brahma, the spiritual centre at the top of the head.

Brahmin    Member of the caste of priests.

Buddha    (Sanskrit, "The awakened one"). The Enlightened One. An awakened one. More specifically and often: Siddharta Gautama Buddha (sixth century BC), the historic founder of Buddhism.
      In Sanskrit his clan name is Gautama and his personal name Siddhartha. "His mother, the queen Maha Maya, dreamed that a white elephant had entered her womb. Ten lunar months later, as she strolled in the garden of Lumbini, the child emerged from under her right arm. He was able to walk and talk immediately. A lotus flower blossomed under his foot at each step." And she died seven days later. The prince enjoyed an opulent life and a had a child with his woman, and left all to contemplate, well seated in a meditative posture. One night, in the hours before dawn, he was liberated throughout the universe. His life and teachings are elaborated on here: [More] [EB "Buddha].
      Also, according to traditions of Buddhism, there have been buddhas in the past and will be buddhas in the future. Some forms of Buddhism hold that the buddha nature (tathagatagarbha) lies deep within each one. All forms of Buddhism celebrate his birth, enlightenment, and passing away (final nirvana) into a state beyond suffering. "The life of the Buddha was written and rewritten in India and across the Buddhist world, elements added and subtracted as necessary . . . the motivation to create a single life of the Buddha, beginning with his previous births and ending with his passage into nirvana, occurred rather late in the history of Buddhism." [Ebu "Buddha"]

Buddha-nature    The original being which all sentient beings share and manifest through their particular form; Buddha allegedly said that all things have a Buddha-nature and therefore have the innate potential to become Buddhas.

Buddhi   Intellect, or rather: discerning, discriminating aspect of mind; from the route "bodh" meaning to be aware of, to know; intellect.


Ch'i C, pronounced 'ki'    A facet of the life forces system, it can be worked on and in some cases regulated by acupunture needles and so on.


Daijo J   The Mahayana (Great Vehicle) way of advancing actualisations in one's daily life.

Dakini Sanskrit: dákini; Tibetan: khandroma, "sky dancer, sky walker"    A dakini is a tantric deity described as a luminous female embodiment of awareness-enlightening energy. Said differently, dakinis are energetic beings, and the sky or space they move in, is a field of potentiality deep within. Dakinis also act somewhat as muses (or inspirational thought-forms).

Dao Chinese (Pinyin)   Pinyin for Tao

Dharma   Pali: Dhamma. The teachings of Buddha. Also: Cosmic Law, Eternal Law. Further: wise regulations, what needs to be done (obligations). Righteous way of living as enjoined by scriptures.

Dharma kaya    The body of the law of Buddha, or the Eternal Law. Kaya means body.

Dharma talk    A lecture on a Buddhistic topic.

Dharma teacher    A title for some who have met certain training requirements and have vowed to be regulated by ten precepts.

Dharmata    Suchness, also called pure Reality.

Dhyana   Pali: Jhana. Contemplation, "meditation", also called Zen; the seventh rung in the ladder of Patanjali's eightfold yoga, and hence a facet of interiorisation of the mind. Sanskrit dhyana came to be called Ch'an in Chinese and Zen in Japanese.

Dogen    Kigen (Eihei) Dogen (1200-53) brought the Soto Zen school to Japan from China, where he was taught.

Dojo J   A center for Zen training.

Dzogchen Tibetan   Dzogchen means the "great completion", and is practised by all main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Its meditations are similar to Tantric visualisation and energy practices. In Dzogchen you are told to "rest in the nature of mind". You quietly sit and let thoughts and concepts dissolve. With successful practice you begin to experience your true nature, to "live" and feel good, a deep sense of peace, contentment and confidence about yourself.

Dukkha    Suffering, stress, pain, etc.


Eightfold Path    It consists of (1) right understanding, (2) right thought, (3) right speech, (4) right action, (5) right livelihood, (6) right effort, (7) right mindfulness, and (8) right concentration. The divisions of the Path are: knowledge (and faith), conduct (with morality), and meditation.

Emaho! or e-ma-ho! Tibetan   Interjection expressive of compassion for all living creatures. [203n].


Four Noble Truths (of Buddha)    (1) Pain is universal, (2) the cause of pain is greed, (3) the source of greed is illusoriness, (4) following the Eightfold Path leads to the cessation of pain, greed, and illusion and takes the ascended into gladness.

Four Signs    Sights that propelled the quite young prince Gautama to seek enlightenment: (a) an old person, (b) an ill person (c) a corpse, and (d) an ascetic.


Gassho J   Raising the hands with palms together - a gesture.

Gong    A bowl-shaped bronze gong - to be struck on the rim with a padded club - is used during chanting. Such gongs are commonly called meditation gongs. Full-sized keisos are struck with a padded club using both hands.


Hatha    Literally "sun (ha) and moon (tha). A variant of yoga that includes postures and breathing exercises aiming at deep harmonisation and relaxations, etc. It should be good for beginners.

Hum    Sacred mantra. Many meanings are attached to Hum, in accordance with the context or use. It is found as the last part of the most famous mantra in Buddhism, the six syllabled Om mani padme hum, which in Tibetan is spelled "Om Mani Peme Hung [or Hum]". You may use it for mind purification. The six-syllables translate literally as 'OM the jewel in the lotus HUM'.
      Dalai Lama: "It is very good to recite the mantra Om mani padme hum . . . the meaning of the six syllables is great and vast . . . Purity must be achieved . . . symbolized by the final syllable hum, which indicates indivisibility." Gen Rinpoche: "The mantra Om Mani Päme Hum . . . contains the essence of the entire teaching . . . the final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom."


Indra   The king of the gods; controller of the senses. The ruler of (Indra's) heaven.


Jataka J   Moral tales of early Buddhism.

Jihi J   Here: Giving happiness by saving beings from suffering.

Jiva(n)   Literally: living being. The individual soul and incarnated Atma(n). The individual soul which in essence is one with the Universal Soul.

Joriki J   "Power of mind"; Samadhi power due to mastery of contemplation practice.


Karma    Pali: Kamma. In Hindu tradition the karma (from Skt. kri, do) is rooted in one's registry of lots of actions from many former lives. Actions operating through the law of cause and effect, or action in the manifest or unmanifest dimension; law of cause and effect; deep impressions in life which make us think, feel and act in particular ways. This theorized "action" or results of doing" is ascribed to the inevitable law of cause and effect and may last over lifetimes, it is held.

Karma is a quite complex concept. [More]

Karuna   Compassion.

Katsu J   .An expletive with no definite (exact) meaning.

Kenchuto J   Being absolutely natural

Kendo J   "The way of the sword"; the art of fencing and swordsmanship. Japanese martial art.

Kesa (kolomi) J   Japanese Buddhist monastic robe. Symbolic robe of the transmission from a master to a disciple.

Kinhin J   Literally, "to go straight". Walking Zen, Walking while serenely heeding the walking itself. In Ch'an and zen practice, to walk slowly and mindfully between sessions of meditation in order to restore circulation and feeling to the legs and clear the mind of drowsiness. Walking meditation that is practiced between long periods of the sitting meditation known as zazen. Practitioners walk while holding their hands in shashu (left fist closed, while the right hand grasps the left fist). Each step is taken after each full breath. Modify ad lib.

Koan J. From Chinese kung-en   The one answer is the experience it refers to symbolically or in other ways, as the case may be.

Kolomo    Wide-sleaved black monk's robe. The same as kesa (qv.)

Kusen J   Oral teaching during zazen; teaching while in the correct sitting position for zazen.


Lojong   A mind training practice in Tibetan Buddhism, based on focusing on short sayings in a regulated way in meditation. Much of the practice echoes the samyama practice of much older yoga in the Patajali Yoga Sutras.

Loka   (a) Realm or plane of existence. Different lokas are said to be inhabited by different beings.

Lotus    Symbol of purity and perfection, Buddha-nature.

Lotus posture    The cross-legged position that Buddha is depicted in. It is difficult for most Westerners to like to sit in it for many hours - and not necessary either.


Maha    Great

Mahaprajna    Great wisdom. Transcendental wisdom; among the highest attainments of Buddhist practice.

Mahayana    "Large Way, large vehicle". The Buddhism practiced in northern Asia; and the largest of the two main branches of Buddhism. It encompasses schools in China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet. Zen is one of the better-known Mahayana subdivisions.

Maithuna   the sexual instinct; love-making in Tantra Yoga, i.e., tantric union or ritual sexual intercourse.

Mandala   Diagram within a circumference symbolising the deeper aspects of man's psyche; complex geometrical symbol merging macrocosmic and microcosmic events.

Mangalam    Blessing, Happiness, "May blessing be upon it".

Manjusri    The bodhisattva of meditation and supreme insight, usually depicted as riding a lion and carrying a sword (of insight).

Mantra   Root sounds (syllables) or words or sound medleys used in meditation to cut through discriminating thoughts so the mind can become clear. Mantras are called subtle sound vibrations are words with inherent power to repeat and focus on mentally mainly.

Mantra yoga   Using mentally intoned sound vibrations for meditation.

Mantraraja   The shaktis (devis, or "energies") created from the spiritual process of uttering mantras.

Mantrayana   "Mantra vehicle", "mantra path.". A general term for the path of tantric Buddhism focusing on mantra recitation. The term "Mantrayana" is more widely used in traditional literature than the synonymous Vajrayana.

Maya   In Buddhism, Queen Maya is the Mother of Gautama Buddha. The Sanskrit word originally relates to "measure, or figure, meting out," etc. [More]

Mindfulness    Gentle all-round awareness.

Mondo J   "Question and answer". During mondo the Zen teacher asks questions quickly, and the student must respond quickly to allow answers to come out of the deeper or wider mind too at times. Records of such exchanges may be preserved as koans for use by subsequent students. Used much in the Rinsai school of Zen.

Mushotoku J   The desirable, fit state of doing Zen: there is no goal or object, no intention of profit.


Niyama    The second part of the classical Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali, the "do's", that is, life regulations, or disciplines. They can be defined and rendered a bit differently, and are not supposed to be stupid, not in their effects either: (1) cleanliness, (2) contentment, (3) austerity, (4) (profitable) study, and (5) inward-attunement, for example.

Nirvana    Pali: Nibbana. A state of cessation of mental activity and possibly an entry into deep and effulgent bliss. Liberated state of emancipation.


Om   (same as Aum). Universal mantra; root mantra (monosyllable) for ajna chakra; the sound symbol of Brahman.


Pada   Feet.

Padma   "Lotus".

Prajna    Essential wisdom.

Prana   "Wind", ie, the vital breath which sustains life in a physical body. Life energy, a force which governs health and its waning. In books of Yoga prana has five specialised functions: (1) prana which controls the breath; (2) apana which carries downward unassimilated food and drink; (3) vyana which pervades the whole body; (4) udana, by which one vomits etc.; (5) samana, which carries nutrition throughout the body. Thus, there are several pranas ("prana functions") in the body, it is said. Apart from being the body's energy, prana may also be rendered as life breath, even Spirit.

Pure Land School    Also called White Lotus etc. The oldest and least philosophical school of Mahayana Buddhism in China. It puts stress on meditation to attain (arrive at) the Pure Land (the Western Paradise of Amitabha Buddha)


Roshi J   A Zen teacher.


Sangsara   Same as Samsara.

Samâdhi    Samadhi is the eighth step of Patanjali's yoga. One speaks of samadhi with and without support

Samsara    The cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

Sangha    A group or community. In the Mahayana and Zen traditions, the community of all practitioners. It may also refer to a family of students under a particular master.

Sanskrit   Ancient Indo-Aryan language from which many modern languages are derived. A relative of ancient Persian, Greek and Latin.

Satori J   A (sudden) experience of awakening, enlightenment. In some Zen texts satori is one step below enlightenment.

Shastra    A commentary on a sutra text.

Skydiver    A modern phrasing of the term Boddhisattva. Its essence lies in diving (meditating, plumbing) into subtilities of Mind, at times compared to the sky, at other times to a sea. A skydiver is a subtility-diver and subtility-plumber, in other words an advancing meditator.

Sodo J   A dojo (qv.): a centre that is used for training monks.

Son K   Korean for dhyana, Ch'an, or Zen.

Sraddha   Faith or confidence.

Sutra    Pali: Sutta. Literally 'thread', i.e., thread of discourse, or aphorism. Here: Buddhist scriptures, consisting of discourses by Buddha and his disciples.


Tan J   Wooden platform used for sleeping and meditation, built along the wall of a zendo.

Tantra   Tantra is 'loom' in Sanskrit. Tantras are texts that include philosophy and culture. They deals with the transcendence of human nature: strengthening or evolution of man and liberation of bound-up energies. Tantra texts and practices that deal with yoga focuses on awakening and disciplining one's vital energies, among other things by sacred formulas (spells, mantras). Among the practices one finds ritual copulation. There is Hindu Tantra and Buddhist Tantra - Tantra is used in both religions, as a part of yoga (qv). Tantra may also be called the somewhat hidden side of the Vedas and Vedic living, according to some.

Tao Chin.   The Way, also written Dao (in Pinyin). Also the Buddha-nature in Zen.

Taoism    Ancient Chinese philosophy (etc.). Its origins can be traced back to the 600s BC. Its best known promotors are Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu.

Tathagata    "Thus come" - an epithet which Buddha used primarily to refer to himself. He also used it to refer to other buddhas before and after him. Tathagatha refers to one who has trod the path to full awakening and so reached the end - In Mahayana Buddhism, Tathagata came to mean the essential buddha nature deep in a follower.

Ten directions    The eight main compass directions plus up and down.

Ten Precepts    Avoid it and dealing in it:

  1. Killing;
  2. Stealing;
  3. Being engulfed in undue lust and desires, and pursuing such things;
  4. Lying and misleading;
  5. Poisoning the mind - and hence: alcohol for drinking;
  6. Speaking (unnecessarily) badly of others;
  7. Engaging in undue self-justification - praising oneself (unduly, insensibly) and disparaging others (just as unreasonably);
  8. Being unduly withholding - not willingly giving spiritual or material aid;
  9. Giving in (succumbing) to unreasonable anger;
  10. Defiling: disparaging Buddha, the Dharma, and the community (sangha).

Depending on the Mahayana school, there are slight variants of the these precepts.

Theravada    Lit. 'The small vehicle'. A branch of Buddhism The southern school of Buddhism - found in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma - which adheres to Pali scriptures. It is generally regarded as the oldest, most orthodox, and most conservative form of Buddhism, and counts over 100 million members worldwide.
      Theravada promotes the central concept that insight must come from the aspirant's experience, critical investigation, and reasoning, instead of by blind faith. However, one is to heed and consider sound counsel of the wise. The cardinal idea is that a practitioner by self-efforts may elevate herself or himself by awareness.

Tien Chinese   Heaven

Three jewels, three treasures    The three jewels of Buddhism are Gautama Buddha, the Dharma, and the community (sangha)

Tummo Tibetan   A yogic practice which results in bodily heat being generated. Practising hermits of the Tibetan Kargya sect practice to get such control. Deep breathing forms part of the practice. There are also psychic effects of it. Tummo is taught as one part of the six yogas of the Indian yogi and Buddhist scholar Naropa. One of best known practitioners of Tummo was perhaps Milarepa.


Vajra   (a) Adamantine. (b) Thunderbolt.

Vajrayana   "Diamond vehicle", "Diamond path". Esoteric or Tantric Buddhism, a form of Mahayana. Vajrayana emerged in India and spread to Tibet.


Wato J   A word, phrase, or other response in answer to a koan.

Wu Chin.   Chinese for Japanese 'mu': quite similar to 'non', 'un', or 'in' at times.


Yantra   Both simple and elaborate geometric symbols aiming at liberating the intently gazing deep mind somehow. Thus they turn into "magnetised stuff" inside oneself and can "have a half-life" of its own.

Yidam   (1) "Tutelary deity" (2) An aspect of Divinity. There are descriptions of various features of different yidams, and some have their own the iconography, descriptions, and given practice(s). Besides, the yidam is considered a root of successful practice.

Yin and Yang Chin.   Complementary polarities of Taoism.

Yoga    Supposed to predate Hinduism, it emphasises contemplation (dhyana and further) for self-realization - or yoga. There are many yogas.


Zafu J   A round meditation cushion. In using it, the knees should "push the Earth down, and the heavens up"

Zazen J   Sitting practice of Zen

Zen J   Zen Buddhism. The word Zen stems from Sanskrit 'dhyana' (contemplation) through Chinese 'chan'. It means contemplation and contemplation practice. Zen, then, is very much contemplative Buddhism.

Zendo J   A place where Zen is practised; it can be a room, a building, or a compound - any place, and the whole world, really.

Zenji J   A greatly venerated teacher.


Buddhist terms, Literature  

The glossary is culled from many sources.

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