Pronounced “ah-HIM-saa.” The Sanskrit word meaning non-injury in any form, including action, thought or speech. This is an important principle of Hinduism and a core principle of Jainism. For this reason, many Hindus and most Jains are vegetarians, as are significant numbers of Sikhs and Buddhists.
Category Archives: Buddhism
Pronounced “ah-MEE-dah.” Japanese name of the Buddha of Infinite Light, a celestial Buddha venerated in Chinese and Japanese Mahayana Pure Land schools, which teach that calling upon the Buddha’s name (Namu-Amida-Butsu, “Veneration to the Buddha Amida”) will bring them into his paradise, or state of Buddhahood. His name is also seen in its Sanskrit form, Amitabha (pronounced “A-mi-TAH-bhah”). See Pure Land school.
Pronounced “AAR-het.” In early Buddhism, one who has attained full realization and transcended desires and defilements and who thus will not be reborn. It is the ideal goal in the Theravada tradition. In Pali, it is called arahant.
Pronounced “BHIK-koo.” A fully ordained monk in the Theravada Buddhist tradition; a nun is a bhikkhuni. In the Mahayana tradition, the Sanskrit forms (bhikshu, bhikshuni) are used. Capitalize when used with a name.
Pronounced “Bohd guh-YAA.” The site in northeast India of the tree under which the meditating Buddha attained realization.
Pronounced “bohd-hi-SAHT-tvah.” In Mahayana Buddhism, one who strives to attain Buddhahood through the practice of prescribed virtues, while postponing his or her own entry into nirvana for the sake of helping others to enlightenment. The term also refers to various celestial beings who are venerated in some schools for their special ability to help those on the Buddhist path. See enlightenment and nirvana.
Pronounced “BUD-dah” (first syllable “u” as in “put,” not a long “oo” sound). The Buddha, meaning “the awakened one,” refers to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. A Buddha is anyone who has attained enlightenment. There are human Buddhas of the past, present and future as well as celestial Buddhas who are venerated in some Buddhist schools for their ability to help those on the path to liberation.
Buddhism, the fourth-largest organized religion in the world, was founded in India sometime between the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, or the “awakened one.” Buddhism teaches that meditation and the practice of moral behavior (and, according to some schools, rituals) can lead to the elimination of personal craving and hence the release of suffering and the attainment of absolute peace (nirvana). This is gradually achieved through successive cycles of rebirth (although some schools say such liberation may be obtained as quickly as within one lifetime). Although Buddhism is frequently described as a nontheistic tradition since the historical Buddha did not claim to be divine and there is no concept of a divine absolute God — the vast and complex tradition of Buddhism includes an intricate cosmology of beneficent and wrathful deities as well as transcendent Buddhas and bodhisattvas who can be propitiated to help Buddhist practitioners on the path to enlightenment.
There are three major forms or “vehicles” of Buddhism:
- Theravada, found in most of Southeast Asia, focuses on individual realization, with practices particularly directed to monastic life;
- Mahayana stresses the universality of Buddha-nature and the possibility of enlightenment for all beings. It developed into many variant schools in China, Japan and Korea;
- Vajrayana, or Tibetan Buddhism, is found in Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. Vajrayana developed from the Mahayana tradition but is often considered separately as a third “vehicle.”
See Buddha, Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path and Siddhartha Gautama.
Titles for Buddhist teachers or masters are capitalized when used with a name but lowercase otherwise. The title of lama generally precedes a name; rinpoche, sensei and roshi generally follow the name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. (For example, a well-known Japanese Zen teacher is always referred to as Maezumi Roshi; a well-known American Zen teacher is Roshi Bernard Glassman.) To determine how to refer to a particular Buddhist teacher, ask or try looking up the name through a database or other Web tool.
The title of the leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the spiritual and (now exiled) political leader of the people of Tibet. Dalai Lama is a title rather than a name, but it is all that is used when referring to the man. Capitalize when referring to the person who currently holds the title; lowercase when referring to the title in general. Each dalai lama is considered to be the reincarnation of the last; the current, 14th Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959 after China’s invasion and resides in Dharamsala, India. Tibetan Buddhists address him as Your Holiness and refer to him in writing as His Holiness.
Pronounced “Dhahm-muh-PAA-dah.” One of the most widely known verse texts of the Buddha’s teaching, it means “the path of dharma” and is part of a collection within the Sutta Pitaka.
Pronounced “DAHR-muh.” The mode of conduct for an individual that is most conducive to spiritual advancement. It includes universal human values as well as values that are specific to persons in various stages of life. In Hinduism it also refers to individual obligations in terms of law and social law. In Buddhism it is the teachings of Buddha from which an adherent molds his conduct on the path toward enlightenment.
In Buddhism, eight practical steps taught by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, to end craving and thus eliminate suffering. The steps are right understanding, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Together with the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path constitutes the foundation of Buddhist thought; also referred to as the Noble Eightfold Path.
The goal of life in both Buddhism and Hinduism. For Hindus, it is union with God and self-realization. For Buddhists, it is realization of the truth about reality, achieved by following a system of practices (which may especially include meditation), in accordance with the particular school to which an adherent belongs. See Four Noble Truths.
In Buddhism, principles for conduct that are followed by lay adherents. They are: Do not kill; do not steal; do not lie; do not be unchaste; do not take intoxicants. These precepts have broader, metaphorical as well as literal applications; for example, “Do not steal” means more broadly, “Do not take what is not given.”
Four Noble Truths
The fundamental truths that the historical Buddha realized in meditation and then taught to his followers: Life is suffering; the cause of suffering is craving; suffering can be eliminated by the extinguishing of craving; there is a way to achieve this goal (by following eight principles of conduct). See Eightfold Path.
Pronounced “hi-nuh-YAA-nah.” A term meaning “little vehicle” that was originally used by Mahayana Buddhists to refer to early Buddhism. It is generally considered pejorative; use Theravada instead. See Theravada.
In Buddhism and Hinduism, the universal law of cause and effect; the effect (or fruits) of a person’s actions in one’s next lifetime. Lowercase in all references.
A Tibetan Buddhist teacher or master. Capitalize when used as a title before a name, as in Lama Surya Das, or when referring to the man who holds the title Dalai Lama.
Pronounced “muhd-YAA-mih-kah.” A Mahayana Buddhist sect based on the third-century teachings of Nagarjuna. It focuses on the emptiness (shunyata) of the cycle of worldly existence (samsara) and nirvana. It rests on the scripture known as the Prajnaparamita Sutra.
Pronounced “muh-hah-YAA-nah.” Literally “great vehicle,” it is one of the two main forms of Buddhism, along with Theravada. Its traditions emphasize the Buddha-nature of all beings; the ideal is the bodhisattva, one who works for enlightenment while delaying personal attainment of liberation in order to help others, and realization is as much a goal for lay adherents as for monastics. Its followers are called Mahayanists. Mahayana has many sects in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia including the Madhyamika, Yogachara, Nichiren, T’ien-t’ai, Zen, Pure Land and Vajrayana schools. Mahayanists see Buddha as more than a man who was a great spiritual teacher; they believe he is also a universal spiritual being to whom (in his various forms) prayers may be effectively directed. Mahayana schools use different scriptures, such as the Lotus Sutra (Nichiren and T’ien-t’ai schools) and the Heart Sutra (Zen schools).
Pronounced “MUN-tra.” A syllable, word or phrase with spiritual power, it is chanted or held in the mind in connection with meditation or ritual. Mantras are commonly used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains and are traditionally drawn from Sanskrit scriptures, such as the Vedas. The adherents of some vernacular texts, such as the Hindi Ramcharitmanas, believe their verses have the power of mantra as well. Some of the more powerful mantras consist of a single syllable, the most popular of which is “om.” See om.
A quiet, alert, sustained, powerfully concentrated state in which new knowledge and insights are awakened from within as awareness focuses on an object or specific line of thought. In the West, practices that are taught as meditation are primarily techniques of concentration (“dharana” in Sanskrit). The more appropriate Sanskrit term for meditation is “dhyana”; it is more of a state of reflection on the nature of the self or of reality, and is one of the eight limbs of yoga.
By ritual and ethical practices, the Buddhist adherent accumulates merit, or adds positive karma and offsets negative karma (the spiritual fruits of former actions) on the path to liberation.
Middle Path, Middle Way
The moderate path taken by the historical Buddha to enlightenment, one that avoided both the hedonism he had seen as a prince and the total asceticism he practiced for a time.
A term in Buddhism for the central practice of an alert, objective awareness that is directed to all activities throughout the day.
A movement founded by B.R. Ambedkar in India in the mid-1950s to encourage members of the Hindu caste of untouchables to convert to Buddhism, which would assure them of social acceptance as well as spiritual guidance. Mass conversions are still held today.
A school within Mahayana Buddhism that was founded in 13th-century Japan by Nichiren. It calls on adherents to rely on the Lotus Sutra as the sole scripture needed for salvation, which is attained through veneration of the sutra’s sacred title, Namu-Myoho-renge-kyo.
Pronounced “nir-VAA-nah.” In Buddhism and Hinduism, a state of ultimate peace that is the goal of all beings, which includes freedom from suffering, desire and the cycle of rebirth. The Buddha’s entrance into nirvana at his death is referred to as his parinirvana (pronounced “PAH-rih-nir-VAA-nah”).
In Buddhism, the major tenet that no “self” exists as an individual, independent substance; rather, the ego is a transitory collection, an ever-changing process of mental formations and impressions. Also called not-self, it is referred to as anatman in Sanskrit and anatta in Pali.
om mani padme hum
Pronounced “OHM MAH-nee PAHD-may HUMM.” An important mantra in Tibetan Buddhism, roughly translated as “(Homage to) the jewel in the lotus.” It honors the Buddha-nature of all beings.
Pronounced “PRUHJ-nyaa-PAA-ruh-mi-taa SOO-trah.” The “Perfection of Wisdom Sutra,” a major scripture in Mahayana Buddhism. It teaches that all phenomena are marked by impermanence and insubstantiality and presents the bodhisattva path.
The term used for ordained clergy of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Episcopal faith. Priest also is used by Wiccans and for some clergy in Buddhism and Hinduism. It is not a formal title and is not capitalized. Avoid the term minister when referring to Catholic priests. Also, while every priest has pastoral duties toward the baptized, the term pastor refers to the priest (and in rare cases, laymen or laywomen) charged by the bishop with overseeing a parish. A pastor may have one or more assistant pastors.
Most Catholic priests in the United States are diocesan clergy, ordained by and for a particular diocese. They make promises of celibacy and obedience, but although they are expected to adhere to a modest lifestyle, they do not take vows of poverty and can own a home, for example, or a car.
The term religious priests refers to priests who belong to a religious order, such as the Jesuits, and hold possessions in common.
Pure Land school
Japanese schools of Mahayana Buddhism whose teachings are based on devotion to the celestial Buddha Amida (also known as Amitabha). Jodoshu (Pure Land School), established in the 12th century by Honan, teaches that devotees have only to call upon Amida by name to invoke his aid on the path toward liberation. Honan’s disciple Shinran established Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land School) with the same focus on the chanting of Amida’s name but specified that Amida Buddha had already provided liberation for his devotees, who need only realize it.
The belief that a person’s soul is reborn in another body after physical death. It is common in many Asian traditions — including Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism — as well as some Native American traditions. According to Hinduism and Buddhism, incarnation in the next life is determined by one’s previous actions. See karma.
An attributive form of address given to many but not all ordained Christian and Buddhist clergy. Do not use this honorific form unless you are sure that the particular denomination accepts its use. Follow AP style of using the article the to precede the abbreviation Rev. Never use the Rev. Dr. together before a name. See religious titles for guidance.
Pronounced “RAHN-poh-shay.” Literally “precious one,” rinpoche is a title of respect for a Buddhist teacher, often signaling one considered to be an incarnate lama. The title of rinpoche generally follows a name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. Capitalize when used before or after a name. See lama and tulku.
Title for Zen Buddhist master, literally “old teacher.” It generally follows a name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. Capitalize when used before or after a name.
Pronounced “sahm-SAA-rah.” The cycle of birth, death and rebirth (and thus continual return to the suffering that constitutes human life). The fundamental goal of Buddhist practice is to be freed from samsara.
Title of teacher in a Zen Buddhist lineage, it refers to one who has received dharma transmission, or formal recognition of his or her awakening. Capitalize with a name. The title sensei generally follows a name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. Sensei is also a title in Japanese martial arts.
Pronounced “SHOON-yuh-taa.” Emptiness, a key teaching in Mahayana Buddhism that all phenomena lack real and permanent substance.
Pronounced “Sid-DHART-hah GAU-tuh-mah.” Name of the historical Buddha, also known as Shakyamuni (“sage of the Shakya clan”). Born to a wealthy ruling family between the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. in an area that is part of modern-day Nepal, he left the kingdom at age 29 after encountering the outside world of illness, old age and death beyond the palace walls, to find enlightenment and release from suffering. After years as a wandering ascetic, he awoke to the true nature of reality after meditating under a bodhi tree and spent the rest of his life passing on to others what he had realized. The title Buddha means awakened or enlightened one. Gautama did not teach that he was a god; as a historical figure, he is venerated in Buddhist tradition as a perfect teacher and ultimate authority. (“Lord Buddha” is a term of respect rather than a title of divinity.) See Buddha and Buddhism.
“Value Creation Society,” a Japanese Buddhist group based on the teachings of the Nichiren school of Mahayana Buddhism. It holds the Lotus Sutra to be the only scripture needed for salvation, which is achieved by venerating and chanting its title.
Soka Gakkai International-USA
An American Buddhist association based on the teachings of the Nichiren school of Mahayana Buddhism. See Buddhism.
Burial mounds containing relics of the historical Buddha across the Indian subcontinent. Many were later developed into shrines or temple compounds.
Pronounced “SOO-trah” and “SUHT-ta.” In Buddhism, a sutra is a text containing the Buddha’s discourses. Sutras have been preserved in Sanskrit and Pali and in Chinese and Tibetan translations. The scriptures of Theravada Buddhism — the Pali canon, which are in the Pali language – include a collection of such texts, which are called suttas. They are subdivided into sections called Nikayas. These texts are said to have been transmitted from Ananda, the Buddha’s closest disciple. The schools of Mahayana Buddhism base their teachings on the interpretation of any of a number of other sutras originally written in Sanskrit. These are known by the Sanskrit term sutra. Individual Mahayana schools base their teaching on specific sutras.
Pronounced “SVA-stik-a.” It is one of the most popular symbols for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. The word swastika is derived from Sanskrit words that mean “auspicious,” “luck” and “well-being.” It is also a sign of the Sun-God Surya and his generosity. The swastika is one of the 108 symbols of Lord Vishnu and represents the sun’s rays, without which there would be no life. The swastika is used in religious and civil ceremonies in India, both public and private.
Use extreme care in stories that mention the hooked-cross symbol associated with Nazi Germany and neo-Nazi groups. Although the symbol is commonly called a swastika, some historians say Adolf Hitler and the Nazis never called it that. The emblem can be referred to as the Nazi cross or by its German name, Hakenkreuz.
An important Chinese Mahayana Buddhist school founded in the sixth century; the scripture on which it rests is a discourse of the Buddha known as the Lotus Sutra. The tradition was later brought to Japan, where it is known as Tendai.
In Buddhism, taking refuge is an important act of commitment in which a person proclaims his faith in the Three Jewels — Buddha, the dharma and the Sangha. See Three Jewels.
A building used for worship or religious purposes. Uppercase when part of a formal name or when referring to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The word temple is used differently in different religious traditions. It is the place of worship for Hindus, Buddhists and Jews, although Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews believe the only temple is the one destroyed in Jerusalem and so they call their congregational buildings synagogues. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, temples are sacred buildings with restricted access; they differ in purpose from meetinghouses, where weekly worship takes place.
Pronounced “teh-ruh-VAA-dah.” One of the two main forms of Buddhism, it means “the way of the elders.” (The other is Mahayana.) Theravada is an early tradition directed to the monastic community. Its ideal is the arhat, the individual who attains enlightenment and thus escapes the cycle of rebirth through practices involving ethical conduct, meditation and insight. Its scriptures are those of the Pali canon, held to represent the earliest direct teachings of the Buddha. Theravada Buddhism is the form found in most of Southeast Asia (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Laos). An adherent of the Theravada school is a Theravadin.
In Buddhism, the three objects Buddhists take refuge in or give themselves to: the Buddha (both the historical Buddha and the Buddha-nature that is in every sentient being), the dharma (the Buddha’s teachings as well as universal law) and the Sangha (the monastic community as well as the wider community of Buddhists everywhere). See taking refuge.
Pronounced “ti-PIH-tuh-kah.” The “Three Baskets,” or collections, of early Buddhist texts that make up the Pali canon, the scriptures of the Theravada school of Buddhism. The Vinaya Pitaka lists regulations for monks and nuns, the Sutta Pitaka consists of discourses from the historical Buddha or his disciples, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka presents a systematic organization of the teachings.
Pronounced “vuh-jruh-YAA-nah.” Considered the third major tradition or “vehicle” of Buddhism, after Mahayana and Theravada. It is also called Tibetan Buddhism, Esoteric Buddhism or Tantric Buddhism (its scriptures are called tantras). Vajrayana literally means “diamond vehicle.” It developed from Mahayana Buddhism, particularly in Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. Vajrayana Buddhists emphasize the use of ritual, meditative practices, mantras, mudras (symbolic gestures) and mandalas (symbolic diagrams in the form of a circle). Schools of Tibetan Buddhism include Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelugpa, the order to which the dalai lamas belong. See Buddhism.
Ordained monks and nuns in Theravada Buddhism are given the honorific Venerable before their names. In Roman Catholicism, the term is applied posthumously when a pope has approved the first stage in a person’s official cause for canonization, as in Venerable Fulton Sheen. Also, in the Episcopal Church, archdeacons are addressed with the honorific the Venerable, as in the Venerable Jill Smith. See religious titles.
Pronounced “vih-PAHS-suh-nah.” In Theravada Buddhism, a profound, nonjudgmental self-awareness practiced in meditation. Often called insight meditation.
Pronounced “VISH-noo.” In Hinduism, the name used when God’s role as preserver is emphasized. Shiva is the name used when the emphasis is on God’s role as lord of time and change. Brahma is the name used for God when God’s role as creator of the universe is described. The divine is always understood to be one. For most Hindus, Vishnu is either equated with or a manifestation of Brahman. Vishnu has many avatars or incarnations, the best-known of which are Ram, Krishna and the Buddha. His consort is Lakshmi.
Most often associated with body poses, stretching exercises and breathing techniques developed in India. It is a Sanskrit term that means union; yoga is a discipline found in Hinduism. It is the philosophy, process, disciplines, and practices whose purpose is the unification of individual consciousness with transcendent or divine consciousness. One of its eight “limbs” is referred to as asana (also known as “hatha yoga”) and involves various body postures meant to keep the body physically relaxed and healthy as an important prerequisite for meditation.
A Mahayana Buddhist school whose followers practice yoga and meditation and whose focus is the teaching of shunyata (emptiness).
A Mahayana Buddhist tradition that teaches enlightenment through meditation. It developed in China as Ch’an. Two major schools of Japanese Zen are the Rinzai school, which emphasizes koan practice, in which the student is given a traditional paradoxical sutra or story to consider (and, by having ultimately to transcend the logical use of mind, thereby is propelled into a direct encounter with reality beyond words), and the Soto school, whose primary practice is shikantaza (“just sitting” meditation, in which there is no object but simply a state of awareness).