Buddhism Glossary

Buddhism Glossary





adj.: healthy; n.: antidote, panacea, universal remedy.


Generic term applied to a collection of traditional doctrines and precepts; also means the home or collecting-place of the law or truth; the peerless law; the ultimate absolute truth.  The Four Agamas are as follows: (1) Dirghagama, “law treatises on cosmogony; (2) Madhyamagama, “middle” treatises on metaphysics; (3) Samyuktagama, “miscellaneous” treatises on abstract contemplation; (4) Edottaragama, “numerical” treatises on subjects treated numerically.The sutras of Theravada are referred to at times as the Agamas.


House, dwelling, receptacle; also, used in the sense of a Bodily organ, e.g., the ear for sound, etc.


Sandalwood incense.

Alaya Consciousness

The fundamental consciousness of all sentient beings. As defined by the Yogacara School, Alaya means the “storehouse”, implying that this consciousness contains and preserves all past memories and potential psychic energy within its fold; it is the reservoir of all ideas, memories and desires and is also the fundamental  cause of both Samsara and Nirvana.


see charity.

Amitabha(Amida, Amita, Amitayus)

Amitabha is the most commonly used name for the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life.  A transhistorical Buddha venerated by all Mahayana schools (T’ien T’ai, Esoteric, Zen  …) and, particularly, Pure Land. Presides over the Western Pure Land (Land of Ultimate Bliss), where anyone can be reborn through utterly sincere recitation of His name, particularly at the time of death.

Amitabha Buddha at the highest or noumenon level represents the True Mind, the Self-Nature common to the Buddhas  and  sentient  beings  –   all encompassing  and all-inclusive. This deeper understanding provides the rationale for the harmonization of Zen and Pure Land, two of the most popular schools of Mahayana Buddhism. See also “Buddha Reatation,” “Mind,” “Pure Land.”

Amitabha Sutra

See “Three Pure land Sutras.”


(Skt.) Opposite of asrava.


The incomparably, completely and fully awakened mind; it is the attribute of buddhas.


States of woe: the three realms of existence characterized by extreme discomfort and delusion–i.e., hell-states, animal-birth and the hungry ghosts, or pretas.


Arhatship is the highest rank attained by Sravakas. An Arhat is a Buddhist saint who has attained liberation from the cycle of Birth and Death, generally through living a monastic life in accordance with the Buddhas’ teachings. This is the goal of Theravadin practice, as contrasted with Bodhisattvahood in Mahayana practice. (A Dictionary of Buddhism.)  The stage is preceded by three others: 1. Stream Winner, 2. Once-Returner, 3. Non-Returner. See also “Sravakas.”


One of the Four All-Embracing Virtues: performance of conduct profitable to others in order to lead them toward the truth.


Any individual ennobled by his/her own continuing effort on the path to enlightenment.

Asamkhiya (kalpa)

Term related to the Buddhist metaphysics of time. Each of the periodic manifestations and dissolutions of universes which go on eternally has four parts, called asamkhiya kalpas.


(Skt.) Pain causing impurity, defilement.


Titanic demons, enemies of the gods, with whom-especially Indra-they wage war.


In the Four Noble truths, Buddha Shakyamuni taught that attachment to self is the root cause of suffering:

From craving [attachment] springs grief, from craving springs fear; For him who is wholly free from craving, there is no grief, much less fear. (Dhammapada Sutra. In Narada Maha Thera, The Buddha and His Teachings.)

If you don’t have attachments, naturally you’re liberated … In ancient times, there was an old cultivator who asked for instructions from a monk, “Great Monk, let me ask you, how can I attain liberation?”  The Great monk said, “Who tied you up?”  This old cultivator answered, “Nobody tied me up.” The monk said, “Then why do you seek liberation?” (Hsuan Hua, tr., Flower Adornment Sutra, “Pure Conduct,” chap. 11.)

For the seasoned practitioner, even the Dharma must not become an attachment. As an analogy, to clean one’s shirt, it is necessary to use soap. However, if the soap is not then rinsed out, the garment will not be truly clean. Similarly, the practitioner’s mind will not be fully liberated until he severs attachment to everything, including the Dharma itself.


The name is a compound of Ishwara, meaning Lord, and avalokita, looked upon or seen, and is usually translated as the Lord Who Observes (the cries of the world); the Buddhist embodiment of compassion as formulated in the Mahayana Dharma. Also called Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Guan Yin is one of the triad of Amitabha Buddha, represented on his left, Usually recognizable by the small Buddha adorning Her crown. Guan Yin can transform into many different forms in order to cross over to the beings. Guan Yin is one of the most popular Bodhisattva in China.

Avatamsaka (Flower Ornament) Sutra

The basic text of the Avatamsaka School. It is one of the longest sutras in the Buddhist Canon and records the highest teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni, immediately after Enlightenment.   It is traditionally believed that the Sutra was taught to the Bodhisattvas and other high spiritual beings while the Buddha was in samadhi. The Sutra has been described as the “epitome of Buddhist thought, Buddhist sentiment and Buddhist experience” and is quoted by all schools of Mahayana Buddhism, in particular, Pure Land and Zen.

Awakening vs. Enlightenment

A clear distinction should be made between awakening to the Way (Great Awakening) and attaining the Way (attaining Enlightenment). (Note: There are many degrees of Awakening and Enlightenment. Attaining the Enlightenment of the Arhats, Pratyeka Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, etc. is different from attaining Supreme Enlightenment, i.e., Buddhahood.)

To experience a Great Awakening is to achieve (through Zen meditation, Buddha Recitation, etc.) a complete and deep realization of what it means to be a Buddha and how to reach Buddhahood. It is to see one’s Nature, comprehend the True Nature of things, the Truth. However, only after becoming a Buddha can one be said to have truly attained Supreme Enlightenment (attained the Way). A metaphor appearing in the sutras is that of a glass of water containing sediments. As long as the glass is undisturbed, the sediments remain at the bottom and the water is clear. However, as soon as the glass is shaken, the water becomes turbid.  Likewise, when a practitioner experiences a Great Awakening (awakens to the Way), his afflictions (greed, anger and delusion) are temporarily suppressed but not yet eliminated.  To achieve Supreme Enlightenment (i.e., to be rid of all afflictions, to discard all sediments) is the ultimate goal. Only then can he completely trust his mind and actions. Before then, he should adhere to the precepts, keep a close watch on his mind and thoughts, like a cat stalking a mouse, ready to pounce on evil thoughts as soon as they arise. To do otherwise is to court certain failure, as stories upon stories of errant monks, roshis and gurus demonstrate.

Awakening of the Faith (Treatise)

A major commentary by the Patriarch Asvaghosha (lst/2nd cent.), which presents the fundamental principles of Mahayana Buddhism.   Several translations exist in English.





Ban T’o

Suddhidanthaka in Sanskrit.  Ban T퉛 was a disciple of Buddha, and he was very forgetful; for when the Buddha taught him the second sentence of a gatha of a sutra he would forget the first one, and when he was taught the third one he would forget the second one.  Ultimately, however, with persistence he became an Arhat.


The intermediate existence between death and  reincarnation — a stage varying from seven to forty-nine days,  after which the Karmic body from previous lives will  certainly be reborn.


Religious mendicant;  Buddhist fully ordained monk. Bhiksuni is the equivalent term designating a woman.


“Most virtuous”; honorific title apllied to a Buddha.


Sanskrit word, the Buddha of Medicine, who quells all diseases and lengthens life. His is the Buddha in the Pure Land of the Paradise of the East.


The true character of reality. The real as thus, always or eternally so. True Suchness.


Sanskrit for Enlightenment. Also Perfect knowledge or wisdom by which a person becomes a Buddha.


Bodhi-path: The way or path to the Supreme Enlightenment of Buddhahood.

Bodhi Mind (Bodhicitta, Great Mind)

The spirit of Enlightenment, the aspiration to achieve it, the Mind set on Enlightenment.  It involves two parallel aspects: i) the determination to achieve Buddhahood and ii) the aspiration to rescue all sentient beings.


Truth-plot, holy sits, place of Enlightenment, the place where the Buddha attained Enlightenment.


Those who aspire to Supreme Enlightenment and Buddhahood for themselves and all beings. The word Bodhisattva can therefore stand for a realized being such as Avalokitesvara or Samantabhadra but also for anyone who has developed the Bodhi Mind, the aspiration to save oneself and others.


The way of the practitioner of Mahayana Buddhism.  One following this path aspires to the attainment of Enlightenment for the sake and benefit of all sentient beings.

Brahma Net Sutra (Brahmajala Sutra)

This is a sutra of major significance in Mahayana Buddhism.  In addition to containing the ten major precepts of Mahayana (not to kill, steal, lie, etc.) the Sutra also contains forty-eight less important injunctions.  These fifty-eight major and minor precepts constitute the Bodhisattva Precepts, taken by most Mahayana monks and nuns and certain advanced lay practitioners.


Lit., Brahma or purified life, usually connoting the practice of celibacy.


Or Indra’s net, characterized by holding a luminous gem in every one of its eyes. (Hindu mythology).


The highest of the four Castes in Hinduism. They served Brahma, his offering, the keepers of the Vedas, i.e. priestly.


Lit., the Awakened One; one who through aeons of spiritual development has attained Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi. This epithet usually refers to Sakyamuni Buddha, who lived and taught in India some 2,600 years ago.

Buddha Nature

The following terms refer to the same thing: Self-Nature, True Nature, Original Nature, Dharma Nature, True Mark, True Mind, True Emptiness, True Thusness, Dharma Body, Original Face, Emptiness, Prajna, Nirvana, etc.

According to the Mahayana view, [buddha-nature] is the true, immutable, and eternal nature of all beings. Since all beings possess buddha-nature, it is possible for them to attain enlightenment and become a buddha, regardless of what level of existence they occupy … The answer to the question whether buddha-nature is immanent in beings is an essential determining factor for the association of a given school with Theravada or Mahayana, the two great currents within Buddhism. In Theravada this notion is unknown; here the potential to become a buddha is not ascribed to every being. By contrast the Mahayana sees the attainment of buddhahood as the highest goal; it can be attained through the inherent buddha-nature of every being through appropriate spiritual practice. (The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen.)

See also “Dharma Nature.”

Buddha Recitation

See “Buddha-Remembrance”.


General term for a number of practices, such as i) oral recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name and ii) visualization/contemplation of His auspicious marks and those of the Pure Land.

In reciting the buddha-name you use your own mind to be mindful of your own true self: how could this be considered seeking outside yourself?

Reciting the buddha-name proceeds from the mind. The mind remembers Buddha and does not forget. That’s why it is called buddha remembrance, or reciting the buddha-name mindfully.

The most common Pure Land technique is recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name. See also “Amitabha,” “Pure Land.”


Lit., Teaching of Enlightenment.
Originally apllied to designate the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha; supplanted
by the term “Buddhism” in its later historical development.


A statue or Image of the Buddha,
used for devotional purposes.





Tumulus, a mausoleum; a place where
the relics of Buddha were collected; hence, a place where the sutras or
images are placed.


The nine cakravala or concentric
mountain ranges or continents, separated by eight seas, of a universe.


White candana, or white sandalwood.


See Zen.


Lit., mind still and quiet: the
Chinese translation of the Sanskrit terms Dhyana-Samadhi, meaning deep
contemplative practice or yogic absorption.


or almsgiving, the first Paramitas.
There are three kinds of charity in terms of goods, teaching (Dharma) and
courage (fearlessness). Out of the three, the merits and virtues of
the teaching of the Buddha Dharma is the most surpassing. Charity done
for no reward here and hereafter is called pure or unsullied, while the
sullied charity is done for the purpose of personal benefits. In Buddhism,
the merits and virtues of pure charity is the best.


Countless Universes.


In practice there are three contemplations; seeing such
abstractions: (1) by fixing the mind on the nose, navel, etc. (2) by stopping
every thought as it arises; (3) by dwelling on the thought that no thing
exists of itself, but from a preceding cause.

Chung Yin Shen

See Bardo.


The talismanic pearl, a symbol of bestowing fortune and
capable of fulfilling every wish.


Mind or heart. the two terms being
synonymous in Asian religious philosophy.

Conditioned (compounded)

Describes all the various phenomena
in the world – made up of separate, discrete elements, “with outflows,”
with no intrinsic nature of their own. Conditioned merits and virtues lead
to rebirth within samsara, whereas unconditioned merits and virtues are
the causes of liberation from Birth and Death.   See also “Unconditioned.”





The practice of generosity or charity:
one of the Paramitas as well as one of the All-Embracing Virtues, where
it means, in the latter, giving others what they want just to lead them
towards the truth.

Dedication of Merit

See “Transference of Merit.”

Delusion (Ignorance)

“Delusion refers to belief in something
that contradicts reality. In Buddhism, delusion is … a lack of awareness
of the true nature or Buddha nature of things, or of the true meaning of
existence.  “According to the Buddhist outlook, we are deluded by
our senses– among which intellect (discriminating, discursive thought)
is included as a sixth sense. Consciousness, attached to the senses, leads
us into error by causing us to take the world of appearances for the world
of reality, whereas in fact it is only a limited and fleeting aspect of
reality.” (The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen.)


Evil influences which hinder cultivation.
These can take an infinite number of forms, including evil beings or hallucinations.
Disease and death, as well as the three poisons of greed, anger and delusion
are also equated to demons, as they disturb the mind.

The Nirvana Sutra lists four types
of demon: i) greed, anger and delusion; ii) the five skandas, or obstructions
caused by physical and mental functions; iii) death; iv) the demon of the
Sixth Heaven (Realm of Desire).

The Self-Nature has been described
in Mahayana sutras as a house full of gold and jewelry. To preserve the
riches, i.e., to keep the mind calm, empty and still, we should shut the
doors to the three thieves of greed, anger and delusion. Letting the mind
wander opens the house to “demons,” that is, hallucinations and harm. Thus,
Zen practitioners are taught that, while in meditation, “Encountering demons,
kill the demons, encountering Buddhas, kill the Buddhas.”  Both demons
and Buddhas are mind-made, Mind-Only.

For a detailed discussion of demons,
see Master Thich Thien Tam, Buddhism of Wisdom and’ Faith, sect. 51.


Goddess in general attendance on
the regents of the sun and moon.


Lit., “A shining one”. An inhabitant
of the heavenly realms, which is characterized by long life, joyous surroundings
and blissful states of mind. In the Buddhist tradition, these states are
understood to be impermanent, not eternal.

Deva King

The four Deva Kings in the first,
or lowest, Devaloka on its four sides are the following: East-Dhrtarastra;
South-Virodhaka; West-Viropaksa; North-Dhanada, or Vaisravana.


Extended mantra used in esoteric
branch of Buddhism to focus and expand the mind. Its words, or sounds,
should not communicate any recognizable meaning.


a) The teachings of the Buddhas
(generally capitalized in English); b) duty, law, doctrine; c) things,
events, phenomena, everything.


The Law-doctrine that is the reality
behind being and non-being. It is interpenetrative and all-inclusive, just
as the rotation of the earth holds both night and day.

Dharma-Ending Age, Degenerate
Age, Last Age.

The present spiritually degenerate
era, twenty-six centuries after the demise of Shakyamuni Buddha. The concept
of decline, dissension and schism within the Dharma after the passing of
the Buddha is a general teaching of Buddhism and a corollary to the Truth
of Impermanence. See, for example, the Diamond Sutra (sect. 6 in the translation
by A.F. Price and Wong Mou-lam). The time following Buddha Shakyamuni’s
demise is divided into three periods: i) the Perfect Age of the Dharma,
lasting 500 years, when the Buddha’s teaching (usually meditation) was
correctly practiced and Enlightenment often attained; ii) the Dharma Semblance
Age, lasting about 1,000 years, when a form of the teaching was practiced
but Enlightenment seldom attained; iii) the Dharma-Ending Age, lasting
some ten thousand years, when a diluted form of the teaching exists and
Enlightenment is rarely attained.

Dharma Gate

School, method, tradition.

Dharma Nature

The intrinsic nature of all things.
Used interchangeably with “emptiness,” “reality.” See also “Buddha Nature.”


The Bodhisattva who later became
Amitabha Buddha, as related in the Longer Amitabha Sutra.  The Bodhisattva
Dharmakara is famous for forty-eight Vows, particularly the eighteenth,
which promises rebirth in the Pure Land to anyone who recites His name
with utmost sincerity and faith at the time of death.


See “Three bodies of the Buddha.”


The practice of concentration–i.e.,
meditation. Also, more specifically, the four form concentrations and the
four formless concentrations.

Diamond Sutra

“An independent part of the Prajnaparamita
Sutra, which attained great importance, particularly in East Asia.
It shows that all phenomenal appearances are not ultimate reality but rather
illusions, projections of one’s own mind … The work is called Diamond
Sutra because it is ‘sharp like  a  diamond  that
cuts  away  all  unnecessary conceptualizations and brings
one to the further shore of enlightenment.'” (The Shambhala Dictionary
of Buddhism and Zen.)

Difficult Path of Practice (Path
of the Sages, Self-Power Path)

According to Pure Land teaching,
all conventional Buddhist ways of practice and cultivation (Zen, Theravada,
the Vinaya School …), which emphasize self-power and self-reliance. This
is contrasted to the Easy Path of Practice, that is, the Pure Land method,
which relies on both self-power and other-power (the power and assistance
of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas).


Wrongdoing, evil action, misdeed,
sin; external sins of the body and the mouth; a light sin.

Dusts (Worldly Dusts)

A metaphor for all the mundane
things that can cloud our bright Self-Nature. These include form, sound,
scent, taste, touch, dharmas (external opinions and views). These dusts
correspond to the five senses and the discriminating, everyday mind (the
sixth sense, in Buddhism).


Lit., two vehicles. The two vehicles
or practice paths of Sravakayana and Pratyekabuddhayana.


An unusual term indicating one
who has practiced the Tao  with great diligence and blessing during
his lifetime and  who, after his death, does not want to enter just
any womb,  but prefers to wait for some auspicious condition, usurping
such a good position from another, less highly developed  spirit.




Easy Path of Practice

Refers to Pure Land practice. The
Easy Path involves reliance on the power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,
in particular Buddha Amitabha (“other-power”) in addition to one’s own
cultivation(“self-power”). Usually contrasted with primary reliance on
self-power (Difficult Path of Practice), taught in other Buddhist schools.
Equal reliance on self-power and other-power distinguishes the Pure Land
School from most other schools of Buddhism.  The distinction is, however,
a matter of emphasis, as all schools of Buddhism rely, to a greater or
lesser extent, on both self-power and other-power. See also “Other-power”.

Eight Divisions of Gods and Dragons

Devas (gods), Nagas (Dragons) and
others of eight divisions (classes): deva, nagas, yakas, ganharvas, asuras,
gaudas, kinaras, mahoragas.

Eight Sufferings

(1) Suffering of Birth; (2) Suffering
of Old Age; (3) Suffering of Sickness; (4) Suffering of Death; (5) Suffering
of being apart from the loved ones; (6) Suffering being together with the
despised ones; (7) Suffering of not getting what one wants; (8) Suffering
of the flouishing of the Five Skandhas.

Eight Winds

Winds of Eight Directions. Most
people are usually moved by the winds of the eight directions: (1) Praise;
(2) Ridicule; (3) Suffering; (4)Happiness; (5) Benefit; (6) Destruction;
(7) Gain; (8) Loss.

Eightfold Path

The eight right ways leading to
the cessation of sufferings. (1) Right View; (2) Right Thought; (3) Right
Speech; (4) Right Action; (5) Right Livelihood; (6) Right Effort; (7) Right
Remembrance; (8) Right Concentration.

Endurance (World)

See “Saha World.”


See “Awakening vs. Enlightenment.”

Evil Paths

The paths of hells, hungry ghosts,
animality. These paths can be taken as states of mind; i.e., when someone
has a vicious thought of maiming or killing another, he is effectively
reborn, for that moment, in the hells.

Expedient means (Skillful means,
Skill-in-means, Upaya)

Refers to strategies, methods,
devices, targetted to the capacities, circumstances, likes and dislikes
of each sentient being, so as to rescue him and lead him to Enlightenment.
“Thus, all particular formulations of the Teaching are just provisional
expedients to communicate the Truth (Dharma) in specific contexts.” (J.C.
Cleary.) “The Buddha’s words were medicines for a given sickness at a given
time,” always infinitely adaptable to the conditions of the audience.


Literally, followers of non-Buddhist
paths. This term is generally used by Buddhists with reference to followers
of other religions.




Five Bhikshus

The first five of Buddha’s converts:
Ajnata-Kaundinya, Asvajit, Bhadrika, Dasabala-Kasyapa, and Mahanama-Kulika.
They were the first five disciples that Shakyamuni preached when he became

Five Corruptions

See “Five Turbidities.”

Five Desires (Five Sensual Pleasures)

Desires connected with the five
senses, i.e., form, sound, aroma, taste and touch.

Five Eyes

1. human eye; 2. devine eye; 3.
dharma eye; 4. wisdom eye; 5. Buddha eye.

Five Fundamental Conditions of
Passions and Delusions

1. Wrong views which are common
to triloka; 2. Clinging or attachment in the desire realm; 3. Clinging
or attachment in the form realm: 4. Clinging or attachment in the formless
realm which is still mortal; 5. The state of unenlightenment which is the
root-cause of all distressful delusion.

Five Natures

The natures of (1) Bodhisattvas,
(2) Sravakas and  Pratyekabuddhas, (3) ordinary good people, (4) agnostics,
(5) heretics.

Five Offenses

The five rebellious acts or deadly
sins: (1) parricide; (2) matricide; (3) killing an arhat; (4) shedding
the blood of a Buddha;  (5) destroying the harmony of the sangha,
or fraternity.

Five Precepts

The precepts taken by lay Buddhists,
prohibiting i) killing, ii) stealing iii) lying, iv) sexual misconduct,
v) ingesting intoxicants. See also “Ten Precepts.”

Five Skandhas

The five groups of elements (Dharmas)
into which  all existences are classified in early Buddhism. The five
are: Rupa (matter), Vedana (feeling), Sanjna (ideation);  Samskara
(forces or drives) Vijnana (consciousness or  sensation). Group, heap,
aggregate; the five constituents of  the personality; form, feeling,
perception, impulses,  consciousness; the five factors constituting
the individual


Five Turbidities (Corruptions,
Defilements, Depravities, Filths, Impurities)

They are. 1. the defilement of
views, when incorrect, perverse thoughts and ideas are predominant; 2.
the defilement of passions, when all kinds of transgressions are exalted;
3. the defilement of the human condition, when people are usually dissatisfied
and unhappy; 4. the defilement of the life-span, when the human life-span
as a whole decreases; S. the defilement of the world-age, when war and
natural disasters are rife. These conditions, viewed from a Buddhist angle,
however, can constitute aids to Enlightenment, as they may spur practitioners
to more earnest cultivation.

Flower Store World

The entire cosmos, consisting of
worlds upon worlds ad infinitum, as described in the Avatamsaka Sutra.
It is the realm of Vairocana Buddha, the transcendental aspect of Buddha
Shakyamuni and of all Buddhas. The Saha World, the Western Pure Land and,
for that matter, all lands and realms are within the Flower Store World.

Four Aspects (of Buddha Dharma)

(1) the teaching; (2) the principle;
(3) the practice; (4) the fruit/reward/result.

Four Elements

All matters are formed and are
composed by four conditioned causes :

(1) earth, which is characterized
by solidity and durability; (2) water, which is characterized by liquid/fluid
and moisture; (3) fire, which is characterized by energy and warmth; (4)
wind, which is characterized by gas/air movement.

Four Fruits of the Arhat

See under Arhat entry.

Four Great Bodhisattva

They represent the four major characters
of Bodhisattva:

1.Manjusri – Universal Great Wisdom

2.Samantabhadra – Universal Worthy
Great Conduct Bodhisattva;

3.Ksitigarbha – Earth Store King
Great Vow Bodhisattva;

4.Avalokitesvara – Guan Shr Yin
Great Compassion Bodhisattva.

Four Great Vows (Four Universal

The four vows held by all Bodhisattvas.
These vows are called great because of the wondrous and inconceivable compassion
involved in fulfilling them. They are as follows: Sentient beings without
number we vow to enlighten; Vexations without end we vow to eradicate;
Limitless approaches to Dharma we vow to master; The Supreme Awakening
we vow to achieve.

Four Noble Truths

1)Sufferings; 2)Cause of Sufferings;
3)Cessation of sufferings; 4)The Path leading to the cessation of sufferings.

Four Pure Lands

A classification by the Pure Land
and T’ien T’ai schools of the pure realms subsumed under the Land of Amitabha
Buddha, as described in the sutras. They are:

i) the Land of Common Residence
of Beings and Saints (Land Where Saints and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together),
where all beings, from the six lower worlds (hells, hungry ghosts …)
to the Buddhas  and Bodhisattvas, live together (further divided into
two, the Common Residence Pure Land and Common Residence Impure Land);

ii) the Land of Expediency (Land
of Expedient Liberation), inhabited by Arhats and lesser Bodhisattvas;

iii) the Land of Real Reward, inhabited
by the highest Bodhisattvas;

iv) the Land of Eternally Quiescent
Light, in which the Buddhas dwell.

These distinctions are at the phenomenal
level. At the noumenon level, there is, of course, no difference among

Four Reliance (to learning Buddhist

The four standards of Right Dharma
which buddhist should rely on or abide by:

(1) to abide by the Dharma,
not the person;

(2) to abide by the sutras of ultimate
truth, not the sutras of incomplete truth;

(3) to abide by the meaning, not
the word;

(4) to abide by the wisdom, not
the consciousness.

Four Unlimited Mind

The mind of Bodhisattva: 1. Kindness;
2. Compassion; 3. Delight; 4. Renunciation.

Four Virtues

The four Nirvanic virtues: (1)
Eternity or permanence; (2) Joy; (3) Personality; (4) Purity. These four
important virtues are affirmed by the sutra in the transcendental or nirvana-realm.

Four Ways (of learning Buddhist

(1) Belief/faith; (2) Interpretation/discernment;
(3) Practice/performance; (4) Verification/assurance. These are the cyclic
process in learning a truth.

Four Wisdom

The forms of wisdom of a Buddha.
(1) the Great- Mirror wisdom of Aksobhya; (2) the Universal Wisdom of
Ratnaketu; (3) the Profound Observing Wisdom of Amitabha;  (4) the
Perfecting Wisdom of Amoghsiddhi.

Fourfold Assembly

Or the Four Varga (groups) are
bhiksu, bhiksuni, upasaka and upasika, i.e. monks, nuns, male and female




Good Spiritual Advisor

Guru, virtuous friend, wise person,
Bodhisattva, Buddha — anyone (even an evil being!) who can help the practitioner
progress along the path to Enlightenment. This notwithstanding, wisdom
should be the primary factor in the selection of such an advisor: the advisor
must have wisdom, and both advisor and practitioner must exercise wisdom
in selecting one another.

Great Awakening

See “Awakening vs. Enlightenment.”

Great Vehicle

See Mahayana.




Hua T’ou

Lit., ante word. The reality prior
to the arising of thought.

Heaven of the Thirty-Three

A heaven in the Realm of Desire,
with thirty-two god-kings presided over by Indra, thus totaling thirty-three,
located at the summit of Mt. Sumeru (G.C.C. Chang).

Heretical views

The sutras usually refer to sixty-two
such views. They are the externalist (non-Buddhist) views prevalent in
Buddha Shakyamuni’s time.


The Lesser Vehicle; a term applied
by the Mahayana to those schools of Buddhism that practice to  attain
the  fruits  of  Sravakayana  and Pratyekabuddhayana
and do not attempt to attain the Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi of Buddha.

Holy One

Holy or Saintly One; One who has
started on the path to  Nirvana.





One who has no interest in the
path to Awakening, or one whose good roots are completely covered.





Jambu River gold; the golden sand
of the Jambu river.


A park near the city of Sravasti,
said to have been obtained from Prince Jeta by Anathapindika, in which
monasterial buildings were erected; the favorite resort of Sakyamuni.

Jewel Net of Indra

This is a net said to hang in the
palace of Indra, the king of the gods. At each interstice of the net is
a reflecting jewel, which mirrors not only the adjacent jewels but the
multiple images reflected in them. This famous image is meant to describe
the unimpeded interpenetration of all and everything.





Periodic manifestations and dissolutions
of universes which go on  etemally.  Great  kalpas
consist  of four  asamkhiya  kalpas corresponding to childhood.
maturity, old age and the death of the universe.


Volition, volitional or intentional
activity. Karma is always followed by its fruit, Vipaka. Karma and Vipaka
are oftentimes referred to as the law of causality, a cardinal concern
in the Teaching of the Buddha.

Common karma: the difference
between personal and common karma can be seen in the following example:
Suppose a country goes to war to gain certain economic advantages and in
the process, numerous soldiers and civilians are killed or maimed. If a
particular citizen volunteers for military service and actually participates
in the carnage, he commits a personal karma of killing. Other citizens,
however, even if opposed to the war, may benefit directly or indirectly
(e.g., through economic gain). They are thus said to share in the common
karma of killing of their country.

Fixed karma: in principle,
all karma is subject to change. Fixed karma, however, is karma which can
only be changed in extraordinary circumstances, because it derives from
an evil act committed simultaneously with mind, speech and body. An example
of fixed karma would be a premeditated crime (versus a crime of passion).


The monk퉠 robe, or cassock.


An inconceivably short mind-moment.


Patience or forbearance, one of
the Six Paramitas.


The second of the four Hindi Castes
at the time of Shakyamuni, they were the royal caste, the noble landlord,
the warriors and the ruling castes.





A distinctive mark, sign, indication,
characteristic or designation. A Buddha is recognized by his thirty-two
characteristic physiological marks.

Lankavatara Sutra

The only sutra recommended by Bodhidharma,
the First Zen Patriarch in China. It is a key Zen text, along with the
Diamond Sutra (recommended by the Sixth Patriarch), the Surangama Sutra,
the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra … The last four sutras are
referred to frequently in Pure Land commentaries.

Last Age

See “Dharma-Ending Age.”

Law of Interdependent Causation

It states that all phenomena arise
depending upon a number of casual factors. In other word, a phenomenon
exists in condition that the other exist; it has in condition that others
have; it extinguishes in condition that others extinguish; it has not in
condition that others have not. For existence, there are twelve links in
the chain:

  • Ignorance is the condition for karmic
  • Karmic activity is the condition for
  • Consciousness is the condition for
    the name and form;
  • Name and form is the condition for
    the six sense organs;
  • Six sense organs are the condition
    for contact;
  • Contact is the condition for feeling;
  • Feeling is the condition for emotional
  • Emotional love/craving is the condition
    for grasping;
  • Grasping is the condition for existing;
  • Existing is the condition for birth;
  • Birth is the condition for old age
    and death;
  • Old age and death is the condition
    for ignorance; and so on.

Lesser Vehicle

The early Buddhism. A term coined
by Mahayanists to distinguish this school of Buddhism [whose modern descendent
is Theravada] from Mahayana. It is so called because the teaching of this
school puts emphasis on one’s own liberation, whereas the teaching of Mahayana
stresses the attainment of Buddhahood for all sentient beings. Theravada
is now prevalent in southeast Asia, while Mahayana has spread over the
northern area (China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan …) (G.C.C. Chang).

Lotus Grades

The nine possible degrees of rebirth
in the Western Pure Land.  The more merits and virtues the practitioner
accumulates, the higher the grade.

Lotus Sect

A Buddhist sect founded by the
great Master Hui Yuan  about 390 A.D. at his monastery on Mount Lu
in Kiangsi Province   in China. The Lotus Sect believes in and
honors Amitabha Buddha and declares that, through the chanting of his name
and by purifying and finally ridding oneself of desire, one can be reborn
in the Pure Land. There one is born of a lotus, and, depending on one’s
degree of purification and practice, one is born into one of the nine grades
of the lotus: upper superior,   middle superior, lower superior,

Lotus Sutra

Or Saddharma-pundarika, Dharma
Flower, or “The Lotus of the True Law.” The sutra is the basis for the
Lotus sect (T’ien-t’ai in Chinese). Among the sutras of the Mahayana canon.

One of the earliest and
most richly descriptive of the Mahayana sutras of Indian origin. It became
important for the shaping of the Buddhist tradition in East Asia, in particular
because of its teaching of the One Vehicle under which are subsumed the
usual Hinayana [Theravada] and Mahayana divisions. It is the main text
of the Tendai [T’ien T’ai] school. (Joji Okazaki.)

This School has a historically close
relationship with the Pure Land School. Thus, Master T’ai Hsu taught that
the Lotus Sutra and the Amitabha Sutras were closely connected, differing
only in length.

Lotus Treasury World

See “Ocean-Wide Lotus Assembly.”





Also, Mahasattva; a great Bodhisattva
who has  reached the advanced stage of Enlightenment.


Great compassion.


Also, Kasyapa; one of Buddha’s
disciples. The Ch’an  Sect, according to its tradition, claims him
as its first  patriarch.


A great or superior king.


The mother of Shakaymuni. She was
a Koliyan Princess and married to Suddhodana.


Lit., great vehicle; the dominant
Buddhist tradition of East Asia. Special characteristics of Mahayana are
1. Emphasis on bodhisattva ideal, 2. The accession of the Buddha to a superhuman
status, 3. The development of extensive philosophical inquiry to counter
Brahmanical and other scholarly argument, 4. The development of elaborate
devotional practice.


See Maha-Bodhisattva.

Mahasthamaprapta (Shih Chih,

One of the three sages in Pure
Land Buddhism, recognizable by the water jar (jeweled pitcher) adorning
Her crown. Usually represented in female form in East Asian iconography.
Amitabha Buddha is frequently depicted standing between the Bodhisattvas
Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta.


Sanskrit word, literally means
friendly and benevolent. He will be the next Buddha in our world. He is
now preaching in Tusita Heaven. In China, he is usually represented as
the fat laughing Buddha.




The name of the seventh of the
eight consciousnesses. I  refers to the faculty of thought, the intellectual
function  of consciousness.


A jewel, gem, precious stone; especially
a pearl bead or other globular ornament.


A syllable, word or verse which
has been revealed to a seer in meditation, embodiment in sound of a deity;
spell or incantation.


Characteristics, forms, physiognomy.
Marks are contrasted with essence, in the same way that phenomena are contrasted
with noumenon. True Mark stands for True Form, True Nature, Buddha Nature,
always unchanging. The True Mark of all phenomena is like space: always
existing but really empty; although empty, really existing. The True Mark
of the Triple World is No-Birth/No-Death, not existent/not non-existent,
not like this/not like that. True Mark is also called “Self-Nature,” “Dharma
Body,” the “Unconditioned,” “True Thusness,”  “Nirvana,”  “Dharma
Realm.11    See  also “Noumenon/Phenomena.”

Meditation Sutra

One of the three core sutras of
the Pure Land school.  It teaches sixteen methods of visualizing Amitabha
Buddha, the Bodhisattvas and the Pure Land. This sutra stresses the element
of meditation in Pure Land. See also “Three Pure Land Sutras,” “Vaidehi,”

Merit and Virtue

These two terms are sometimes used
interchangeably. However, there is a crucial difference: merits are the
blessings (wealth, intelligence, etc.) of the human and celestial realms;
therefore, they are temporary and subject to Birth and Death. Virtues,
on the other hand, transcend Birth and Death and lead to Buddhahood. Four
virtues are mentioned in Pure Land Buddhism: eternity; happiness; True
Self; purity.     An identical action (e.g., charity)
can lead either to merit or virtue, depending on the mind of the practitioner,
that is, on whether he is seeking mundane rewards (merit) or transcendence
(virtue).  Thus, the Pure Land cultivator should not seek merits for
by doing so, he would, in effect, be choosing to remain within samsara.
This would be counter to his very wish to escape Birth and Death.

Middle Vehicle

Also called Middle Doctrine School
or Madhyarnika; one of the two main schools of Mahayana thought; it upholds
the Void as the only really real or independent, unconditioned Reality.


Key concept in all Buddhist teaching.

Frequent term in Zen, used
in two senses: (1) the mind-ground, the One Mind … the buddha-mind, the
mind of thusness … (2) false mind, the ordinary mind dominated by conditioning,
desire, aversion, ignorance, and false sense of self, the mind of delusion
… (J.C. Cleary, A Buddha from Korea.)

The ordinary, deluded mind (thought)
includes feelings, impressions, conceptions, consciousness, etc. The Self-Nature
True Mind is the fundamental nature, the Original Face, reality, etc. As
an analogy, the Self-Nature True Mind is to mind what water is to waves
— the two cannot be dissociated. They are the same but they are also different.
To approach the sutras “making discriminations and nurturing attachments
is no different from the Zen allegory of a person attempting to lift a
chair while seated on it. If he would only get off the chair, he could
raise it easily.  Similarly, the practitioner truly understands the
Dharma only to the extent that he “suspends the operation of the discriminating
intellect, the faculty of the internal dialogue through which people from
moment to moment define and perpetuate their customary world of perception.”
(See this book, Introduction.)

See also the following passage:

The mind … “creates”
the world in the sense that it invests the phenomenal world with value.
The remedy to this situation, according to Buddhism, is to still the mind,
to stop it from making discriminations and nurturing attachments toward
certain phenomena and feelings of aversion toward others. When this state
of calmness of mind is achieved, the darkness of ignorance and passion
will be dispelled and the mind can perceive the underlying unity of the
absolute. The individual will then have achieved the state of enlightenment
and will be freed from the cycle of birth and death, because such a person
is now totally indifferent to them both. (Burton Watson, The Zen Teachings
of Master Lin-Chi.)

Mindfulness of the Buddha

Synonymous with Buddha Recitation.
See “Buddha Recitation.”

Mount Sumeru

The central mountain of every universe.
Also called  Wonderful Height, Wonderful Brilliancy, etc.




Nagarjuna (2nd/3rd cent.)

“One of the most important philosophers
of Buddhism and the founder of the Madhyamika school. Nagarjuna’s
major  accomplishment  was  his systematization  of
the teaching  presented  in the Prajnaparamita Sutras. Nagarjuna’s
methodological approach of rejecting all opposites is the basis of the
Middle Way (Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen.)


Name of a deva, a strong, manly
hero having divine power.


See “Three bodies of the Buddha.”


The deathless; the cessation of
all suffering. The very opposite of the Wheel of Birth-and-Death; it is
what those in the Buddhist tradition aspire to experience. The Absolute,
which transcends designation and mundane characterization.

Nirvana Sutra

The last of the sutras in the Mahayana
canon. It emphasizes the importance of Buddha-nature, which is the same
as Self-Nature.

Non-Birth (No-Birth)

“A term used to describe the nature
of Nirvana. In Mahayana Buddhism generally, No-Birth signifies the ‘extinction’
of the discursive thinking by which we conceive of things as arising and
perishing, forming attachments to them.” (Ryukoku University.)  See
also “Tolerance of Non-Birth.”




Ocean-Wide Lotus Assembly

The Lotus Assembly represents the
gathering of Buddha Amitabha, the Bodhisattvas, the sages and saints and
all other superior beings in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. This Assembly
is “Ocean-Wide” as the participants are infinite in number — spreading
as far and wide as the ocean. The term Ocean-Wide Assembly is generally
associated with the Avatamsaka Sutra, a text particularly prized by the
Pure Land and Zen schools alike.


A sage who has only one rebirth
left before reaching Arhatship and escaping birth and death.

One-Life Bodhisattva

A Bodhisattva who is one lifetime
away from Buddhahood.  The best known example is the Bodhisattva Maitreya.

One-Vehicle Dharma

The one Yana, the vehicle of Oneness.
The one  Buddhayana, the One Vehicle, i.e., Mahayana, which contains
the final or complete Law of the Buddha and not merely a  part, or
preliminary stage, as in Hinayana.


The issue of other-power (Buddhas’
power) is often misunderstood and glossed over by many Buddhists. However,
it must be pointed out that, in Buddhism, other-power is absolutely necessary
if a Bodhisattva is to attain Ultimate Enlightenment.  The Lankavatara
Sutra (the only sutra recommended by Bodhidharma) and the Avatamsaka Sutra
(described by D.T. Suzuki as the epitome of Buddhist thought) are emphatically
clear on this point:

As long as [conversion]
is an experience and not mere understanding, it is evident that self-discipline
plays an important role in the Buddhist life . but .. we must not forget
the fact that the Lanka [Lankavatara Sutra] also emphasizes the necessity
of the Buddha’s power being added to  the Bodhisattvas’, in their
upward course  of  spiritual  development  and
in  the accomplishment of their great task of world salvation. (Daisetz
Teitaro Suzuki, tr., The Lankavatara Sutra, p. xviii.)

The Avatamsaka Sutra states:

Having purified wisdom and means
in the seventh stage …

The great sages attain acceptance
of non-origination …

On the basis of their previous
resolution, the buddhas further exhort them …:

“Though you have extinguished the
burning of the fire of affliction,

Having seen the world still afflicted,
remember your past vows;

Having thought of the welfare of
the world, work in quest Of the cause of knowledge, for the liberation
of the world.”

(T. Cleary, tr., The Flower Ornament
Sutra, Vol II, p. 86)

See also “Easy Path of Practice.”





Lit., defeat or the conditions
leading to the defeat of the Bodhicitta. Also. the conditions leading to
the defeat of the Bhiksu’s life.


: Refers to the six practices,
the perfection of which  ferries one beyond the sea of suffering and
mortality to  Nirvana. The six Paramitas are the following: (1) Dana,
charity or giving, including the bestowing of truth on  others; (2)
Sila, keeping the discipline; (3) Ksanti,  patience under suffering
and insult; (4) Virya, zeal and  progress; (5) Dhyana, meditation
or contemplation; (6)  Prajna, wisdom, the power to discern reality
or truth. It is  the perfection of the last one — Prajna — that
ferries  sentient beings across the ocean of Samsara (the sea of incarnate
life) to the shores of Nirvana.


The Buddha’s final Nirvana, entered
by him at the time of death.

Polar Mountain

In Buddhist cosmology, the universe
is composed of worlds upon worlds7 ad infinitum. (Our earth is only a small
part of one of these worlds). The Polar Mountain is the central mountain
of each world.


The North Star, polestar; star
of the second magnitude, standing alone and forming the end of the tail
of the constellation Ursa Minor; it marks very nearly the position of the
north celestial pole.


True or transcendental wisdom.
Last of the paramitas. One of the highest attainments of Buddhist practice.

Pratyeka Buddha

A solitary Buddha; one who has
achieved Awakening through insight into the dependent origination of mind
and body. Pratyekabuddhas lead only solitary lives, and they do not teach
the Dharma to others nor do they have any desire to do so.


Hungry ghosts. who are tormented
by continual and unsatisfied cravings. The preta-realm is one of the three
states of woe (apaya-bhumi) and one of the six realms of existence.


Lit., loving or affectionate speech.
This beautiful and affectionate speech is one of the Four All-Embracing
Virtues and is used to lead sentient beings toward the truth.

Pure Land

Generic term for the realms of
the Buddhas. In this text it denotes the Land of Ultimate Bliss or Western
Land of Amitabha Buddha. It is not a realm of enjoyment, but rather an
ideal place of cultivation, beyond the Triple Realm and samsara, where
those who are reborn are no longer subject to retrogression. This is the
key distinction between the Western Pure Land and such realms as the Tusita
Heaven. There are two conceptions of the Pure Land: as different and apart
from the Saha World and as one with and the same as the Saha World. When
the mind is pure and undefiled, any land or environment becomes a pure
land (Vimalakirti, Avatamsaka Sutras …). See also “Triple Realm.”

Pure Land School

When Mahayana Buddhism spread to
China, Pure Land ideas found fertile ground for development. In the fourth
century, the movement crystallized with the formation of the Lotus Society,
founded by Master Hui Yuan (334-416), the first Pure Land Patriarch.
The school was formalized under the Patriarchs T’an Luan (Donran) and Shan
Tao (Zendo).  Master Shan Tao’s teachings, in particular, greatly
influenced the development of Japanese Pure Land, associated with Honen
Shonin (Jodo school) and his disciple, Shinran Shonin (Jodo Shinshu school)
in the 12th and 13th centuries.   Jodo Shinshu, or Shin Buddhism,
places overwhelming emphasis on the element of faith.

[Pure Land comprises the
schools] of East Asia which emphasize aspects of Mahayana Buddhism stressing
faith in Amida, meditation on and recitation of his name, and the religious
goal of being reborn in his “Pure Land” or “Western Paradise.” (Keith Crim.)

Note: An early form of Buddha Recitation
can be found in the Nikayas of the Pali Canon:

In the Nikayas, the Buddha
… advised his disciples to think of him and his virtues as if they saw
his body before their eyes, whereby they would be enabled to accumulate
merit and attain Nirvana or be saved from transmigrating in the evil paths
… (D.T. Suzuki, The Eastern Buddhist, Vol.3, No.4, p.317.)

Pure Land Sutras

See “Three Pure Land Sutras.”











See entry under Lotus Sutra.

Saha World

World of Endurance. Refers to this
world of ours, filled with suffering and afflictions, yet gladly endured
by its inhabitants.


God of the sky who fights the demons
with his vajra, or thunderbolt.


A wise and virtuous person, an
accomplished one who is  second in rank to a saint.


Or Salavana, the grove of sal(teak)
trees near Kusinagara, the place of the Buddha’s death.


Deep concentration: the state of
one-pointedness of mind characterized by peace and imperturbability. Samadhi
is also one of the Paramitas and is indispensable on the path to Bodhi.


Cooperation with and adaptation
to others for the sake of leading them towards the truth. Samanarthata
is one of the Four All-Embracing Virtues.


Also called Universal Worthy or,
in Japanese, Fugen. A major Bodhisattva,  who personifies  the
transcendental practices and vows of the Buddhas (as compared to the Bodhisattva
Manjusri, who represents transcendental wisdom). Usually depicted seated
on an elephant with six tusks (six paramitas). Best known for his “Ten
Great Vows.”


Quiet, tranquillity, calmness of mind, absence of mind.


See “Three bodies of the Buddha.”


Cycle of rebirths; realms of Birth
and Death.


Lit.,  harmonious community.
In  the Buddhadharma, Sangha means the order of Bhiksus, Bhiksunis,
Sramaneras and Sramanerikas. Another meaning is the Arya Sangha, made up
of those individuals, lay or monastic, who have attained one of the four
stages of sanctity. Also, the Bodhisattva Sangha.

Sangharama Body

A monastery with its garden or
grove, a  universal body.


Learned language of India. Canonical
texts of Mahayana Buddhism in its Indian stage were written in Sanskrit.


Major disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha,
foremost in wisdom among His Arhat disciples.


Commentary; the commentaries constitute
one of the three parts of the Buddhist canonical scrptures.


One’s own Original Nature, one’s own Buddha Nature.


See “Difficult Path of Practice.”

Seven Treasures

Gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal,
agate, red pearl and carnelian. They represent the seven powers of faith,
perseverance, sense of shame, avoidance of wrongdoing, mindfulness, concentration
and wisdom.


Blessed, endowed with supernatural
faculties. This same term refers to the Sankrit alphabet also and is, likewise,
transliterated as Hsi-ta in Chinese.


The four siddhanta.  The Buddha
taught by (1) mundane of ordinary modes of expression; (2)individual treatment,
adapting his teaching to the capacity of his hearers; (3) diagnostic treatment
of their moral diseases; and (4) the perfect and highest truth.


A lay-disciple who maintains the
eight precepts, either temporarily or as preparation for leaving home.


Moral precepts. These number 5,8,10,250
or 350. Also, one of the Paramitas.

Six Directions

North, South, East, West, above
and below, i.e., all directions. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, they are expanded
to include points of the compass in between and are referred to as the
Ten Directions.

Six Dusts

See “Dusts.”

Six Organs

The six indriyas, or sense organs:
eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind.

Six Planes of Existence (Six

The paths within the realm of Birth
and Death. Includes the three Evil Paths (hells, hungry ghosts, animality)
and the paths of humans, asuras and celestials. These paths can be understood
as states of mind. See also “Evil Paths.”

Sixth Patriarch

Hui Neng (638-713), the Sixth Patriarch
of the Chinese Zen school and author of the Platform Sutra.


As taught by the Buddha, the skandhas
are the components of the human so-called entity that is constantly changing.
They are: I. Name/form; 2. Feeling; 3. Conception; 4. Impulse; 5. Consciousness.

Skillful Means

See “Expedient Means.”

Small Vehicle

See entry under Hinayana.

Spiritual power

Also called miraculous power. Includes,
inter alia, the ability to see all forms (deva eye), to hear all sounds
(deva ear), to know the thoughts of others, to be anywhere and do anything
at will.


Lit., laborer; applied to those
who wholeheartedly practice toward enlightenment; root word of the designation
for novice monk.


A novice monk holding the 10 precepts.


A novice nun holding the 10 precepts.


“Lit., ‘voice-hearers’: those who
follow [Theravada] and eventually become arhats as a result of listening
to the buddhas and following their teachings”  (A. Buzo and T. Prince.)
See also “Arhat.”

Sudhana (Good Wealth)

The main protagonist in the next-to-last
and longest chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Seeking Enlightenment, he
visited and studied with fifty-three spiritual advisors and became the
equal of the Buddhas in one lifetime. Both his first advisor and his last
advisor (Samantabhadra) taught him the Pure Land path.


Pure Rice King, the father of Shakyamuni,
ruled over the Sakyans at Kapilavatthu on the Nepalese border.


The lowest of the four Hindi Castes
at the time of Shakyamuni. They were peasants, slaves and serfs.


Lit., exalted, excellent; the mythical
“world mountain” that rises through the center of a Buddhist universe.

Surangama Sutra

Also called Heroic Gate Sutra.

The “Sutra of the Heroic
One” exercised a great influence on the development of Mahayana Buddhism
in China [and neighboring countries]. It emphasizes the power of samadhi,
through which enlightenment can be attained, and explains the various methods
of emptiness meditation through the practice of which everyone … can
realize … enlightenment ä (Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and


An aphorism; a thread of suggestive
words or phrases summarizing religious and philosophical instruction. In
buddhism, it refers to a discourse by the Buddha or one of his major disciples.
The Sutra collection is one of the three divisions of the Buddhist scriptures.





Path or Way. The Sanskrit equivalent
to this Chinese term is marga.


Usually translated as “Thus Come

He who came as did all Buddhas,
who took the absolute way of cause and effect, and attained to perfect
wisdom; one of the highest titles of a Buddha (Charles Luk).

Ten Directions

North, South. East, West; N-F,
N-W, S-F, S-W, Zenith and Nadir.

Ten Evil Acts (Ten Evil Deeds,
Ten Sins)

1. Killing; 2.stealing; 3. sexual
misconduct; 4. lying; 5. slander; 6. coarse language; 7. empty chatter;
8. covetousness; 9. angry speech; 10. wrong views. See also “Ten Precepts.”

Ten Great Vows

The famous vows of the Bodhisattva
Samantabhadra in the Avatamsaka Sutra. These vows represent the quintessence
of this Sutra and are the basis of all Mahayana practice. Studying the
vows and putting them into practice is tantamount to studying the Avatamsaka
Sutra and practicing its teachings. See also “Samantabhadra.”

Ten Precepts

Include an expanded version of
the Five Precepts of body and mouth (not to kill, steal, engage in illicit
sex, lie, or take intoxicants) with the addition of the virtues of the
mind (elimination of greed, anger and delusion). See also “Five Precepts,”
“Ten Evil Acts.”

Ten Stages of a Bodhisattva’s

They are the following:  (1)
Joy at having overcome former difficulties and at now  entering the
path to Buddhahood; (2) Freedom from all  possible defilement, the
stage of purity; (3) The stage of  further enlightenment; (4) Glowing
wisdom; (5) Mastery of the  utmost or final difficulties; (6) The
open way of wisdom  that is beyond purity and impurity; (7) Proceeding
afar,  above the concept of “self” in order to save others; (8)
Attainment of calm imperturbability; (9) Achievement of the  finest
discriminatory wisdom; knowing, expediently, where  and how to save;
possessing the ten powers; (10) Attainment  of the fertilizing powers
of the Law Cloud.

Ten Virtues

The virtuous modes of behavior,
which are the positive counterparts to the Five Precepts.


Lit., the School of the Elders;
one of the two main forms of Buddhism known in the world today; practiced
chiefly in south-east Asia; has the Pali Canon for textual foundation;
this tradition advocates the Arahantship.

Third Lifetime

In the first lifetime, the practitioner
engages in mundane good deeds which bring ephemeral worldly blessings (wealth,
power, authority, etc.) in the second lifetime. Since power tends to corrupt,
he is likely to create evil karma, resulting in retribution in the third
lifetime. Thus, good deeds in the first lifetime are potential “enemies”
of the third lifetime. To ensure that mundane good deeds do not become
“enemies the practitioner should dedicate all merits to a transcendental
goal, i.e., to become Bodhisattvas or Buddhas or, in Pure Land teaching,
to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land — a Buddha land beyond Birth and Death.

In a mundane context, these three
lifetimes can be conceived of as three generations. Thus, the patriarch
of a prominent family, through work and luck, amasses great power, fortune
and influence (first lifetime). His children are then able to enjoy a leisurely,
and, too often, dissipated life (second lifetime). By the generation of
the grandchildren, the family’s fortune and good reputation have all but
disappeared (third lifetime).

Thirty-seven Limbs of Enlightenment

These are: a. the four mindfulnesses;
b. the four right efforts; c. the four bases of miraculous powers; d. the
five roots; e. the five powers; f. the seven factors of enlightenment;
and g. the eightfold noble path (G.C.C. Chang).

Three bodies of the Buddha (Skt.

1. Dharmakaya: The Dharma-body,
or the “body of reality”, which is formless, unchanging, transcendental,
and inconceivable. Synonymous with suchness, or emptiness. 2. Sambhogakaya:
the “body of enjoyment”, the celestial body of the Buddha. Personification
of eternal perfection in its ultimate sense. It “resides” in the Pure Land
and never manifests itself in the mundane world, but only in the celestial
spheres, accompanied by enlightened Bodhisattvas. 3. Nirmanakaya: the “incarnated
body” of the Buddha. In order to benefit certain sentient beings, a Buddha
incarnates himself into an appropriate visible body, such as that of Sakyamuni

The incarnated body of the Buddha
should not be confused with a magically produced Buddha. The former is
a real, tangible human body which has a definite life span, The latter
is an illusory Buddha-form which is produced with miraculous

powers and can be withdrawn with
miraculous powers (G.C.C. Chang).

Three Evil Paths

See “Evil Paths.”

Three Jewels (Three Precious
Ones, Three Treasures)

In Sanskrit, Rathatraya. Buddha,
Dharma and Sangha; sometimes referred to as the Teacher, the Teaching and
the Taught.

Three Karmas

The three conditions, inheritances
or karmas, of which there are several groups, including the karmas of deeds,
words and thoughts.

Three Poisons

Craving, aversion and delusion;
also, these are termed the three root-stains  or the three roots of

Three Pure Land Sutras

Pure Land Buddhism is based on
three basic sutras:

a) Amitabha Sutra (or Shorter
Amitabha Sutra, or Smaller Sukhavati-Vyuha, or the Sutra of Amida);

b) Longer Amitabha Sutra (or Longer
Sukhavati-Vyuha, or the Teaching of Infinite Life);

c) Meditation Sutra (or the Meditation
on the Buddha of Infinite Life, or the Amitayus Dhyana Sutra).

Sometimes the last chapter of the Avatamsaka
Sutra (“The Practices and Vows of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra”) is considered
the fourth basic sutra of the Pure Land tradition. Note: in Pure Land,
the Longer Amitabha Sutra is considered a shorter form of the Lotus Sutra.

Three Realms (Triple Realm, Three

The realms of desire (our world),
form (realms of the lesser deities) and formlessness (realms of the higher
deities). The Western Pure Land is outside the Triple Realm, beyond samsara
and retrogression. See also “Pure Land.”

Three Refuges

Taking refuge and possessing confidence
in the Buddha’s Awakening, in his Teaching and in the Sangha of enlightened

Three Vehicles

The yanas of Sravakas, Pratyekabuddhas
and Bodhisattvas.

T’ien T’ai (Tendai) School

A major school that takes the Lotus
Sutra as its principal text. Historically, it has had a close relationship
with Pure Land. See also “Lotus Sutra.”

Tolerance of Non-Birth

“Tolerance” (insight) that comes
from the knowledge that all phenomena are unborn. Sometimes translated
as “insight into the non-origination of all existence/non-origination of
the dharmas.”

A Mahayana Buddhist term
for the insight into emptiness, the non-origination or birthlessness of
things or beings realized by Bodhisattvas who have attained the eighth
Stage [Ground] of the path to Buddhahood. When a Bodhisattva realizes this
insight he has attained the stage of non-retrogression. (Ryukoku University.)

The Pure Land School teaches
that anyone reborn in the Pure Land attains the Tolerance of Non-Birth
and reaches the stage of non-retrogression, never to fall back into samsara.
See also “Non-Birth.”

Transference of Merit

The concept of merit transference,
or sharing one’s own merits and virtues with others, is reflected in the
following passage:

Some of us may ask whether
the effect of [evil] karma can be… [changed] by repeating the name of
Kuan-Yin. This question is tied up with that of rebirth in Sukhavati [the
Pure Land] and it may be answered by saying that invocation of Kuan-Yin’s
name forms another cause which will right away offset the previous karma.
We know, for example) that if there is a dark, heavy cloud above, the chances
are that it will rain. But we al50 know that if a strong wind should blow,
the cloud will be carried away somewhere else and we will not feel the
rain. Similarly, the addition of one big factor can alter the whole course
of karma

It is only by accepting the idea
of life as one whole that both Theravadins and Mahayanists can advocate
the practice of transference of merit to others. With the case of Kuan-Yin
then, by calling on Her name we identify ourselves with Her and as a result
of this identification, Her merits flow over to us. These merits which
are now ours then counterbalance our bad karma and save us from calamity.
The law of cause and effect still stands good. All that has happened is
that a powerful and immensely good karma has overshadowed the weaker one.
(Lecture on Kuan-Yin by Tech Eng Soon – Penang Buddhist Association, c.
1960. Pamphlet.)

Triloka or Trailoka

See “Threee Realms.”


Lit., three baskets: The earliest
Buddhist canonical text consisting of three sections: 1. Buddha’s discourses
(sutras), 2 Rules of Discipline (Vinaya), 3. Analytical and explanatory
texts or commentaries (sastras); usually referred to as the Pali canon.

Triple Jewel

See “Three Treasures.”

Two Truths

1) Relative or conventional, everyday
truth of the mundane world subject to delusion and dichotomies and 2) the
Ultimate Truth, transcending dichotomies, as taught by the Buddhas.

According to Buddhism,
there are two kinds of Truth, the Absolute and the Relative. The Absolute
Truth (of the Void) manifests “illumination but is always still,” and this
is absolutely inexplicable. On the other hand, the Relative Truth (of the
Unreal) manifests “stillness but is always illuminating,” which means that
it is immanent in everything. (Hsu Heng Chi/P.H. Wei).

Pure Land thinkers such as the Patriarch
Tao Ch’o accepted “the legitimacy of Conventional Truth as an expression
of Ultimate Truth and as a vehicle to reach Ultimate Truth. Even though
all form is nonform, it is acceptable and necessary to use form within
the limits of causality, because its use is an expedient means of saving
others out of one’s compassion for them and because, even for the unenlightened,
the use of form can lead to the  revelation of form as nonform” (David
Chappell). Thus to reach Buddhahood, which is formless, the cultivator
can practice the Pure Land method based on form.


A term originally used to mean
“sect”, but later  appropriated by the intuitional school known as
Ch’an  (Japanese, Zen) for use in special contexts.




Unconditioned (Transcendental)

Anything  “without outflows,”
i.e., free of the three marks of greed, anger and delusion. See also “Conditioned.”


Buddhist lay disciple (man/woman),
who formally received five precepts or rules of conduct.





The Queen of King Bimbisara of
Magadha, India. It was in response to her entreaties that Buddha Shakyamuni
preached the Meditation Sutra, which teaches a series of sixteen visualizations
(of Amitabha Buddha, the Pure Land …) leading to rebirth. in the Land
of Ultimate Bliss.


A precious substance, perhaps lapis
lazuli or beryl.


The main Buddha in the Avatamsaka
Sutra. Represents the Dharma Body of Buddha Shakyaniuni and all Buddhas.
His Pure Land is the Flower Store World, i.e., the entire cosmos.


One of the four maharaja-deva graudians
of the first or lowest devaloka on its four sides. Vaisravana guards the


The third of the four Hindi Castes
at the time of Shakyamuni. They were merchant, entrepreneurs, traders,
farmers, manufacturers, etc., but not well-educated.


God of the sea and of the waters;
guardian of the western quarter of the compass.


True or sacred knowledge or lore;
name of celebrated works which constitute the basis of the first period
of the Hindu religion.

Vimalakirti Sutra

Also called Vimalakirti Nirdesa
Sutra. A key Mahayana sutra particularly popular with Zen and to a lesser
extent Pure Land followers. The main protagonist is a layman named Vimalakirti
who is the equal of many Bodhisattvas in wisdom, eloquence, etc. He explained
the teaching of Emptiness in terms of non-duality … “The true nature
of things is beyond the limiting concepts imposed by words.” Thus, when
asked by Manjusri to define the non-dual Truth, Vimalakirti simply remained


Disciplined conduct, referring
specifically to the monastic rules for the disciples who have left home;
also, one of the three divisions of the Buddhist scriptures.


Discernment; also, insight, correct perception or view.


See “Merit and Virtue.”

Virya: Energy

The energy necessary to maintain
and progress in spiritual development. Also, one of the Paramitas.


See Meditation Sutra for explanation.

The visualizations [in
the Meditation Sutra] are distinguished into sixteen kinds [shifting from
earthly scenes to Pure Land scenes at the third Visualization]: (1) visualization
of the sun, (2) visualization of water, (3) visualization of the ground
[in the Pure Land], (4) visualization of the trees, (5) visualization of
the lake[s], (6)  unified  visualization  of  the
[50  billion] storied-pavilions, trees, lakes, and so forth, (7) visualization
of the [lotus throne of Amitabha Buddha], (8) visualization of the images
of the Buddha [Amitabha] and Bodhisattvas [Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta],
(9) visualization of the [Reward body of Amitabha Buddha, i.e., the form
in which He appears in the Pure Land], (10) visualization of Avalokitesvara,
(11) visualization of Mahasthamaprapta, (12) visualization of one’s own
rebirth, (13) [see below], (14) visualization of the rebirth of the highest
grades, (15) visualization of the rebirth of the middle grades and (16)
visualization of the rebirth of the lowest grades. (K.K. Tanaka, The Dawn
of Chinese Pure Land Doctrine.)

The 13th Visualization has been summarized
as follows:

If one cannot visualize
the [Reward body of Amitabha Buddha], focus on the small body, which is
sixteen cubits high (the traditional height of Shakyamuni while he dwelt
on earth); contemplate an intermingling of the [Reward] and small bodies.
(1oji Okazaki, p.52.)

Visualizations 14-16 refer to the nine
lotus grades (of rebirth), divided into three sets of three grades each.




Way (Path, Tao)

The path leading to Supreme Enlightenment,
to Buddhahood.


The life of a Buddha or Bodhisattva,
which is sustained by wisdom, just as the life of an ordinary being is
sustained by food.








In the Vedas, the god of the dead.


Sankrit term, commonly translated
as vehicle; means spiritual vehicle, path or career.


The wife of Siddhartha Goutama.
Later became a nun.

Yogacara School.

Another name for the Mind-Only
school, founded in the fourth century by the brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu.





A major school of Mahayana Buddhism,
with several branches. One of its most popular techniques is meditation
on koans, which leads to the generation of the Great Doubt. According to
this method:

The master gives the student
a koan to think about, resolve, and then report back on to the master.
Concentration intensifies as the student first tries to solve the koan
intellectually. This initial effort proves impossible, however, for a koan
cannot be solved rationally. Indeed, it is a kind of spoof on the human
intellect. Concentration and irrationality — these two elements constitute
the characteristic psychic situation that engulfs the student wrestling
with a koan. As this persistent effort to concentrate intellectually becomes
unbearable, anxiety sets in.  The entirety of one’s consciousness
and psychic life is now filled with one thought. The exertion of the search
is like wrestling with a deadly enemy or trying to make one’s way through
a ring of flames. Such assaults on the fortress of human reason inevitably
give rise to a distrust of all rational perception.  This gnawing
doubt [Great Doubt], combined with a futile search for a way out, creates
a state of extreme and intense yearning for deliverance. The state may
persist for days, weeks or even years; eventually the tension has to break.
(Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism, Vol. I, p.253.)

An interesting koan is the koan of
Buddha Recitation. Unlike other koans, it works in two ways. First of all,
if a cultivator succeeds in his meditation through this koan, he can achieve
awakening as with other koans. However, if he does not succeed, and experience
shows that many cultivators do not, then the meditation on the Buddha’s
narne helps him to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land.  This is so provided
he believes (as most practitioners in Asia do) in Amitabha and the expedient
Pure Land.  Thus, the Buddha Recitation koan provides a safety net,
and demonstrates the underlying unity of Zen and Pure Land.


Korean English Dictionary of Buddhism