Abhidharma Literally meaning “higher knowledge,” Abhidharma refers to a collection of Buddhist scriptures that pertain to psychology, phenomenology, and cosmology.

anatman Literally meaning “no-self,” anatman refers to an important Buddhist teaching according to which any notion of an eternal principle that is thought to constitute the real self of our existence is rejected.

arhat Literally “foe destroyer,” arhat refers to a person who has destroyed her or his delusions and is freed from cyclic existence.

arya A noble one who has attained high levels of spiritual realization, especially direct insight into the ultimate nature of reality.

Atisha An eleventh-century Indian Buddhist scholar, who was invited to Tibet by the king of Ngari. He is credited with reviving Buddhism in Tibet. A prolific writer and renowned teacher, he composed the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, the original prototype for the lam rim teachings.

bhumi (Skt.) The ten stages that bodhisattvas progressively move through on the path to enlightenment. Also known as the ten grounds or paths.

bodhicitta Literally “buddha mind.” The wish to practice compassion and altruism with the aim of relieving the sufferings of others.

bodhisattva Someone who possesses the compassionate motivation of bodhicitta, and devotes their life toward the achievement of enlightenment for the sake of all beings by practicing the six perfections of giving, ethics, patience, enthusiastic effort, mental stabilization, and wisdom.

Buddha The first of the Three Jewels of refuge. A buddha is a fully enlightened being. The historical Buddha was Prince Siddhartha Gautama or Buddha Shakyamuni, who lived in India 600 B.C.E.

Buddhadharma The teachings (Dharma) of the Buddha.

buddhahood The state of perfect awakening, the attainment of which results in the individual becoming a buddha, an Awakened One. The perfection of wisdom and compassion.

buddha nature The seed of perfect enlightenment that is believed to naturally exist in all beings according to Mahayana Buddhism.

calm abiding meditation (See shamatha.)

Chenrezig (Tib.) Known as Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit. A male aspect of a deity symbolizing compassion and altruism, Chenrezig is depicted with four or one thousand arms. The Dalai Lama is considered to be a living embodiment of Chenrezig in our time.

compassion The altruistic wish to help free all beings from misery and suffering.

cyclic existence (See samsara.)

Dalai Lama The temporal and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, in Tibet and in exile. The present Dalai Lama is the fourteenth. The title Dalai Lama means “Ocean of Wisdom.”

deity A figure used in meditation, visualization, or tantra; a manifestation or representation of enlightened or buddha mind.

deity yoga The practice of visualizing oneself as the deity, after receiving the initiation from a qualified teacher who holds the lineage.

Dharma The second of the Three Jewels of refuge. The spiritual teachings of the Buddha.

dharmakaya The “truth body” or the “Buddha body of reality.” This is the natural state of the Buddha’s awakened mind, which is also its ultimate nature. (See kaya.)

eight mundane concerns The eight mundane concerns refer to a pair of four concerns that tend to dominate ordinary beings’ normal state. They are: (1) being delighted when praised and being dejected when belittled, (2) being delighted when one possesses something and being dejected when not possessing it, (3) being delighted when hearing pleasant words and being dejected when hearing unpleasant words, and (4) being delighted when prosperous and being dejected when suffering misfortune.

emptiness (See shunyata.)

enlightenment The fully awakened, realized and omniscient mind, pure and cleared of all obscurations. In Buddhism every being is capable of evolving to such an enlightened state by gradually transforming their mind.

Four Noble Truths The Buddha’s first teaching in India was the Four Noble Truths, which is the foundation of Buddhist thought and practice. The Four Noble Truths are: the truth of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the cessation of suffering.

Gelugpa The most recent of the four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. Established by Lama Tsong Khapa in the fourteenth century.

geshe Meaning “spiritual friend” in Tibetan, a geshe is a teacher in the Gelug tradition who has completed formal training and attained the geshe degree.

guru A spiritual teacher or mentor. (See lama.)

initiation (Tib. wang, Skt. abhisheka) An empowerment bestowed by a qualified teacher giving permission to the student to join the family of practitioners and perform practices associated with a meditational deity.

Kagyu One of the four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. His Holiness the seventeenth Karmapa, recently exiled in India after a childhood in Tibet, is head of this lineage.

Kalachakra The “Wheel of Time” tantric system, which includes instructions on medicine, astronomy, time, yoga, and physiology, encompassing the entire universe and the path to enlightenment. The Dalai Lama taught on the Kalachakra in Sydney in 1996. It is frequently connected with the promotion of world peace.

karma Literally meaning “deed” in Sanskrit, karma refers to the law of cause and effect; of actions having consequences for oneself and others.

kaya Buddha’s body or embodiment. (See dharmakaya.)

lama Literally meaning “none higher,” lama refers to someone who can be trusted as a teacher or spiritual friend and guide. One who is qualified to bestow empowerments and show by example the path to enlightenment. (See guru.)

Lama Tsong Khapa A fourteenth-century teacher, writer and one of Tibet’s great philosophers. He founded the Gelugpa (or Gelug) lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

lojong Thought transformation, or training the mind. Comprises techniques for bringing the demands of the ego back into perspective and transforming thoughts or actions with altruistic intent, in order to reduce the self-cherishing mind and to be able to genuinely assist others.

lower realms Cyclic existence is divided into six realms: three of favorable birth and three of unfavorable birth. The three realms of unfavorable birth are referred to as the lower realms and these include the hell realms. Rebirth within cyclic existence is determined by one’s accumulated karma.

Madhyamika The most influential of the four major philosophical schools of Indian Buddhism, based on the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras of Shakyamuni Buddha and founded by Nagarjuna. The term means “Middle Way,” taking the path between the extremes of nihilism and eternalism, using the wisdom or realization of emptiness.

mahamudra Literally meaning “great seal,” mahamudra refers to a profound system of meditative practice where the primary focus is the nature of mind itself.

Mahayana Meaning the “Great Vehicle,” this system of Buddhism promotes reaching the goal of enlightenment not just to achieve nirvana for oneself, but in order to rescue all other beings from suffering. Mahayana offers a radical critique of everything we usually take seriously as existing independently, and a confidence that enlightenment is possible. Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet, Bhutan, and Vietnam follow Mahayana Buddhism. (See Theravada.)

mandala A circle or wheel representing the universe or the dwelling of a deity. When used symbolically they take the form of a two-dimensional image on cloth or an image made of colored sand, or they may also be constructed as a three-dimensional image. The visualization of a mandala plays a crucial role in tantric meditation.

Manjushri The Buddha of Wisdom.

mantra Literally “that which protects the mind,” a mantra is the recitation of primal syllables and is associated with a deity or practice.

meditation A disciplined mental process whereby one becomes familiar with different states of mind using various techniques such as breathing, visualization, and single-pointed concentration. A method to subdue, clear, and train the mind.

Middle Way (See Madhyamika.)

moksha Literally meaning “freedom,” moksha refers to the attainment of liberation whereby the individual has achieved total freedom from suffering and its origins. In Buddhism moksha is equivalent to nirvana, which is the total cessation of suffering and its conditions.

mudra Hand gestures symbolizing various activities; part of the Buddhist utilization of body, speech, and mind in harmony.

Nagarjuna A second-century C.E. Indian scholar and writer. One of his most famous works is the Precious Garland, a manual of advice for individuals as well as social and governmental policy. Nagarjuna propounded the Madhyamika or Middle Way school of emptiness.

nirmanakaya The Buddha’s emanation body, which is the physical embodiment of the Buddha that is visible to ordinary beings, such as human beings. The historical Buddha Shakyamuni is an example of such an emanation body Buddha.

nirvana The state of freedom from all suffering, delusions, and karma, called the “liberation from samsara” in the Tibetan tradition.

non-dual wisdom The wisdom directly realizing emptiness, which is said to be non-dual in that it is free of all forms of duality like subject and object, identity and difference, and so on.

Nyingma The oldest of the four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. Based on teachings introduced from India by Padmasambhava and others, as distinguished from the second spread of teachings in the eleventh century.

Padmasambhava Literally meaning “born of a lotus,” Padmasambhava is also known as Guru Rinpoche. He formally established Buddhism in Tibet in the eighth century.

penetrative insight meditation Penetrative insight meditation refers to a discipline of meditation where the primary emphasis is on deep analysis as opposed to single-pointed absorption on a chosen object. (See vipassana.)

pratyekabuddha Literally meaning “solitary realizers,” pratyekabuddhas are disciples of the Buddha who, through following the path of the “lesser vehicle,” chose to seek 

enlightenment primarily on the basis of self-reliance.

rebirth The continuum of aspects of the mind after death, which seek embodiment again according to the karma accumulated in past lives.

refuge There are three objects of refuge in Buddhism—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, which is the spiritual community. Going for refuge in these three implies entrusting one’s spiritual well-being to the Buddha as the teacher, the Dharma as the true source of refuge, and the community as the support while one is on the path.

Rinpoche Literally meaning “precious one,” this is the title given to someone formally recognized as the reincarnation of a past lama or teacher.

rupakaya The Buddha’s form body, namely the embodied form of a fully awakened one that is visible to other beings.

sadhana The practice and instructions given when taking on a commitment associated with a meditational deity. A liturgy used in daily devotions.

Sakya One of the four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.

sambhogakaya The “enjoyment body” or the “Buddha body of perfect resource.” Sambhogakaya is the extremely subtle state of the Buddha’s physical embodiment, which, according to the texts, is perceptible only to bodhisattvas on high levels of spiritual realization.

Samkhya school An ancient Indian philosophical school of thought.

samsara Cyclic existence, the wheel of continuous death and rebirth.

Sangha The Buddhist community, or ordained monks and nuns. The third of the Three Jewels of refuge.

Sanskrit The most important language of classical India; it is the language in which many of the Buddhist texts were originally written.

sentient being Any living being with consciousness that is not free from gross and subtle ignorance.

Seven Limb Practice A popular ritual in Mahayana Buddhism. The seven limbs are making prostrations, offering, purifying negativity, rejoicing, requesting the Buddhas to turn the Wheel of Dharma, appealing to the Buddhas not to enter into final nirvana, and, finally, dedication.

shamatha Calm abiding meditation. A state of mind which is characterized by the stabilization of attention on an internal object of observation, combined with the calming of external distractions to the mind.

Shantideva A well-known seventh-century Buddhist teacher who wrote the great Mahayana classic Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

shravaka Literally meaning “listener,” shravaka refers to the disciples of the Buddha whose primary concern in their spiritual path is to gain freedom from suffering for themselves and to follow the path of the “lesser vehicle.”

shunyata Translated as “emptiness,” meaning the absence of any abiding essence in things or in the contents of the mind, the insubstantiality of whatever seems solid and enduring. To realize shunyata as the condition of all human existence is to become free, by cutting the source of suffering at its root. (See ultimate truth and wisdom.)

skilful means This refers to such altruistic practices as cultivation of compassion and loving kindness, complemented with the wisdom of emptiness in Mahayana Buddhism.

suchness An epithet for emptiness, which refers to the way things really are.

Sutras The teachings or scriptures of Buddha Shakyamuni.

svabhavakaya One of the two aspects of dharmakaya that pertain to the natural state of the Buddha’s enlightened mind.

tantra Refers to the Vajrayana or “Diamond Vehicle.” The inner teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, used to progress rapidly on the path to enlightenment. Tantric practice succeeds if the practitioner has first developed considerable concentration, steadiness, equanimity, and insight. Requires confidence and dedication.

Tara A female meditational deity who is regarded as the embodiment of all the buddha’s enlightened activity. There are many different aspects of Tara; the most popular of these are Green Tara (mainly associated with protection) and White Tara (often associated with healing and longevity practices).

Tathagata An epithet of the Buddha, which literally means “He who has gone thus.”

thangka A scroll painting which depicts deities or illustrations, such as the Wheel of Life, and is used for visualization and meditational purposes. An external representation of what the meditator internalizes and imaginatively interacts with.

Theravada The Buddhism of India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia.

Three Higher Trainings Higher training in morality, higher training in concentration and higher training in wisdom, which together constitute the heart of the Buddhist path to enlightenment.

Three Jewels The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as the teacher, the teachings, and the community of practitioners respectively.

tonglen An important Buddhist practice of training one’s mind toward great compassion and altruism. Tonglen, which literally means “giving and taking,” refers to a specific visualization practice wherein practitioners mentally give away all their positive factors to other beings, while taking upon themselves all the sufferings of others and the conditions that lead them to suffer.

Tripitaka Literally meaning “the three baskets,” the Tripitaka refers to the three main scriptural collections attributed to the Buddha, these being the collections on morality, concentration, and wisdom.

Twelve Links of Dependent Origination Ignorance, volition, consciousness, name and form, sources, contact, feeling, craving, grasping, becoming, birth, and aging and death. According to Buddhism, it is through an interlocking chain of these twelve factors that an individual wanders within the cycle of unenlightened existence.

two accumulations Accumulation of merit and accumulation of wisdom; the perfection of which culminates in the attainment of perfect buddhahood in Mahayana Buddhism.

ultimate truth The ultimate truth refers to the ultimate nature of reality, which according to Mahayana Buddhism is understood in terms of the doctrine of emptiness, namely the absence of intrinsic existence of all things. It is one of the Two Truths, the other being the conventional truth.

Vajrayana The “Diamond Vehicle.” The most intensive path to enlightenment, requiring a grounding in meditative concentration and insight. (See tantra.)

Right view A conscious knowledge of Buddhism as a path. A perspective which penetrates to the heart of reality. Study of the teachings as a coherent system for attaining happiness. Along with meditation and action, they comprise the three foundations of Buddhism.

Vinaya (Skt.) Literally meaning “discipline,” the Vinaya is the code of monastic discipline and ethics for ordained Sangha (monks and nuns).

vipassana Otherwise called “penetrative insight meditation,” vipassana refers to an analytical meditative state penetrating the nature, characteristics, and function of the object of the meditation, accompanied by physical and mental suppleness of the body and mind and generated on the basis of calm abiding. Also spelled “vipasyana.”

wisdom Realization of the insubstantiality or emptiness of everything that appears to us, internal or external. (See also shunyata and vipassana.)

Yogacara An alternative Sanskrit name for the Mind Only school of Mahayana Buddhism. Two key founders of this school are the two brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu.

yogi Solitary practitioner: often meditating in retreat, in forests or caves, unconstrained by convention; or wandering in society speaking truths, singing spontaneous songs of realization, and fulfilling the wishes of others.