The Vocabulary
of Buddhism

Beit Midrash (House of Study)
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Buddha The Vocabulary
of Buddhism


See also: An Overview of Buddhism

An-Atta: Literally, “not self.” A concept in Theravada Buddhism denying the permanent existence of self as confined by physical and mental attributes.

Bhikkhu: A Buddhist monk who wanders about depending upon others for his basic necessities.

Bodhi: A Buddhist term for the wisdom by which one attains enlightenment.

Bodhisattva: In Mahayana Buddhism, one who postpones attaining nirvana in order to help others achieve this goal. In Theravada Buddhism, it is one who is on the way to becoming a Buddha. Gautama was called a Bodhisattva before he attained enlightenment.

Buddha: “The enlightened one.” This title was given to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, upon his enlightenment. Likewise, a person can attain this position through following the fourfold path to enlightenment.

Buddhism: The religion based upon the teachings of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) . The Buddha’s main teaching revolved around the causes for human suffering and the way to salvation from this suffering could be achieved. The two main branches of Buddhism are called Mahayana and Theravada or Hinayana.

Dalai Lama: The title of the head of the hierarchical system of Tibetan Buddhism. Worshipped as the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Chenresi.

Dhamma: The teachings of the Buddha. Related to the Sanskrit Dharma, or virtuous principles.

Dukkha: Suffering, which is rooted in desire and attachment.

Gohonzon: A small black wooden box used as an object of religious devotion, an altar, in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism.

Heart Sutra: One of the most important scriptures to Zen Buddhists.

Hinayana Buddhism: See Theravada.

Koan: A verbal puzzle in Zen Buddhism which aids the pupil in loosing himself from this world and moving toward enlightenment.

Mahayana: The form of Buddhism prevalent in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Literally translated, means “the great vehicle.”

Maya: In Buddhism, the mother of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha). (See Hindu terms for additional meanings.)

Nirvana: A difficult, if not impossible, word to define. In Buddhism, it is basically a blissful spiritual condition where the heart extinguishes passion, hatred and delusion. It is the highest spiritual plane on person can attain.

Pitaka: Literally, “basket.” Refers to the “three baskets” (Tri Pitaka) of sacred Buddhist writings.

Pure Land: Refers to a teaching in the Lotus Sutra which emphasizes a faith in the Buddha of immeasurable light (Buddha Amitabha) and the goal of rebirth in his heaven of the pure land. Emphasizes easy attainment of nirvana. There are also Chinese and Japanese Pure Land sects.

Pure Land Buddhism: A sect that bases its faith in the Amida Buddha (the Buddha of the infinite light) as its savior who will lead his followers into a celestial paradise. Salvation is achieved by repeating Amida’s name (the Nembutsu.).

Samsara: The cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth. See also Reincarnation.

Sangha: The Buddhist monastic order literally translated as “group” or “community.” May be the oldest order in Buddhism.

Satori: The term for enlightenment in Zen Buddhism.

Siddhartha Gautama: The founder of Buddhism

Soka Gokkai: The Creative-Value Study Society. The modern revival of a thirteenth century Buddhist sect, Nichiren Shoshu.

Stupas: Originally, burial mounds, now used as relic chambers or memorials, especially of the Buddha.

Theravada: Literally the “teachings of the elders.” The form of Buddhism that arose early among Buddha’s disciples. Also called Hinayana Buddhism. Prevails in Southeast Asia.

Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism): A sect of Buddhism that began in Tibet in the seventh century C.E. It combined Buddhist principles with the occult religion of Tibet, producing Lamaism. The priests are all called Lamas and at the head is the Dalai Lama, a man who is worshipped as the reincarnated Bodhisattva Chenresi (Avalokita).

Tri Pitaka: See Pitaka.

True Sect of The Pure Land: A sect emphasizing the teachings of Pure Land (see above entry), founded in the thirteenth century by Shinran. Today it is the largest of any Buddhist sect in Japan.

Vinaya: The first of the three parts of the Pitaka, or scriptures of Buddhism, containing the rules of discipline of the Buddhist monastic order.

Zaren: Zen meditaiton, concentrating on a problem or koan.

Page last updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:19 AM
(Updates are generally minor formatting or editorial changes.
Major content changes after May 3, 2015 are identified as "Revisions”)