Glossary of Buddhist terms

Wisdom Library ( has the most comprehensive Hindu-Buddhist lexicon that I’ve found. Access to Insight has a glossary of Pali and Buddhist terms ( Southill and Hodous have compiled an excellent Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms (download). D. T. Suzuki explains Mahayana concepts in his books on Zen Buddhism, particularly Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra (1932). For the Mahaprajnaparamita there is a Sanskrit-English Dictionary of Prajnaparamita Literature (1973) by Edward Conze (download). Williams and Tribe explain Indian Buddhism in an easy-to-understand form in Buddhist Thought.


abhisamskara – (lit. unwittingly causing things to happen through expectations) Doing, effort, will, action.

“Finally, in the eighth stage, the Bodhisattva’s activity is practiced spontaneously: without effort (anabhisamskara), without thought (anabhoga), for it is unaffected by things or concepts (dharma or adharma). This is why it is called anabhisaṃskārābhogavihāra . . .” Nagarjuna (Acala)

adharma – Abstract or non-material things, e.g., concepts such as nirvana, buddha and enlightenment (bodhi).

adhitthana (Pali) – Decision; resolution; determination.

AGFLAP – (Lester Levenson) Five hindrances to Self-realization: Apathy, Grief, Fear, Lust, Anger and Pride. “Apathy” is discouragement or pessimism. It is the thought, “I can’t.”

alaya – Abode, e.g., the Himalayas are the abode of snow.

alayavijnana – (Alaya = abode, vijnana = thoughts) Sometimes called Citta, or Mind, the alayavijnana is the repository of all consciousness of existence. All consciousness from the beginning of time is stored in it. It is by nature quiescent and undifferentiated, but when stirred by expectations (samskara), the multitudinous world (vijnana) rises from it. (See Suzuki below on Citta.)

anabhisamskara – (lit. not unwittingly causing things to happen through expectations) The effortless state of non-doing.

Furthermore, the Lord said to the Venerable Subhuti: What do you think, Subhuti? Is there any Dharma (Law) that the Tathagata has known as utmost, perfect enlightenment, or is there any Dharma that the Tathagata has demonstrated?
Subhuti said: No, not as I understand what the Lord has said. And why? This Dharma which the Tathagata has fully known and demonstrated cannot be grasped; it cannot be talked about; it is neither dharma nor adharma (thing nor concept). And why? Because all sages, though they are different from one another, belong to (the realm of) non-doing (asamskara). (The Diamond Sutra, Suzuki, 1935)

anabhoga – Without thought.

animitta – Without attributes, marks or characteristics..

anusaya – Tendencies or obsessions; (the equivalent of samyojana, lit. “fetters”).

1. sensual desire  (kama-raga)
2. aversion  (patigha)
3. views  (ditthi)
4. doubt  (vicikiccha)
5. conceit  (mana)
6. craving for existence  (bhavaraga)
7. ignorance  (avijja)
Source: Access to Insight: A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms

appearances (nimitta, lakshana) – Forms, attributes, marks or characteristics; “apparency” (Lester Levenson).

2. Then, O Mahamati, by ‘appearance’ is meant that which is known as form, shape, distinctive figure, image, attribute, etc. They are seen as appearances.

3. From these appearances, ideas are formed such as a jar, etc. Then it is said: It is this, it is not something else. This is called ‘name’.

4. O Mahamati, what is known as mind or as belonging to mind, whereby a name is spoken as indicating an appearance or objects of like nature, that is discrimination (samjna). (Suzuki, Studies in the Lankvatara, p. 27)

apranihita – Desireless.

aryajnana – Noble wisdom.

asava – Attachment to existence (greed), aversion to nonexistence (anger), and ignorance. See also the three poisonous roots, or klesa.

asrava (Pali asava) Mental outflows or outflowings. Sensual desires, craving for existence and ignorance are defilements which run or flow out of the mind, pursuing things. ( It is because of this outflowing that the skandhas are said to be leaky.

anasrava – Without outflows or outflowings. Supramundane dharmas, such as miracles or powers of the Buddha are free of outflows. (Conze)

assertions – Statements made affirming the existence of nonentities. (1) Assertions about characteristics that are nonexistent; (2) Assertions about views that are nonexistent; (3) Assertions about causality that is nonexistent; and (4) Assertions about things that are nonexistent. (Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter XII)

atman – Self, ego, ego-soul. Anatman (Pali anatta) is no-self, or the doctrine of non-self; (Paramatman is the Supreme Self).

atmatmiya – The notion of an ego-soul that possesses things external to itself: “me and mine” or “self and its possessions.”

attachment, aversion, desire (thirst) – Attachments are things we hold on to. We can hold on to either desires or aversions. The attachment to a desire we hold close to us, and the attachment to a fear we hold away from us.

avidya – Ignorance; lit. not seeing or perceiving.

bhavagra – Summit of existence; ‘reality-limit’.

“The Brahmas of the formless realm are of four types, corresponding to a hierarchy of four formless meditative attainments (samapatti): (i) infinite space; (ii) infinite consciousness; (iii) nothingness, and (iv) neither perception nor non-perception. This last is also referred to as the ‘summit of existence’ (bhavagra)

bodhi – Enlightenment.

bodhisattva – Disciple of the Mahayana school who has taken the great vows.

body-property-abode (deha-bhoga-pratishtha) – Usually found in combination, it means this bodily existence with one’s possessions and physical surroundings. In short, it stands for the world generally. (Suzuki, Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, 1998, p. 97)

buddha – One who has attained bodhi; a Tathagata.

buddhadharma – (Dharma meaning doctrine, or truth) The doctrine of the Buddha.

buddhadharma – (dharma meaning things) The eighteen qualities exclusive to a buddha (sometimes translated as unshared). (

Buddha-nature (tathagata-garbha) – The true self-nature of beings (see Suzuki below).

buddhi – Reason, intellect, mind.

cast off, cast away – To dismiss, abandon or let go of, e.g., the mind and body, views.

causation – A chain of events resulting in existence: “From ignorance come expectations (samskara), from expectations consciousness (vijnana), from consciousness name and form (namarupa).” Causation does not obtain between things whose being is conditional, i.e., dependent upon a separate cause (samskrita). That separate cause is akin to the light bulb of a film projector, which casts images upon a screen.

Ch’an – A Chinese school of Buddhism; from ch’an, a phonetic match of the Sanskrit and Pali word, dhyana, the yogic practice of meditation.

citta (pronounced ‘chitta’) (pl. cittam) – 1. Mind. 2. Thought; object of which we become aware or conscious. (See Citta below)

Cittamatra – “Mind-only” (See The Doctrine of “Mind-only”)

contact – Moment in which the senses are confronted with a sensory phenomenon.

dana – The perfection of giving.

defilements – 1. (karma-abhisamskara) – Expectations conditioned by karma, sometimes called merely samskara. 2. (klesa) – Unwholesome mental states, passions, afflictions.

five desires – The desires that arise from the contact of the five sense organs with their respective sense-objects; alternatively the desire for wealth, erotic love, food and drink, fame and sleep.

Dharma – The Law; Buddhist doctrine regarding raising one’s consciousness so that it is in accord with the Law. (see below).

dharma – (Chinese fa ) Phenomena; physical, mental or spiritual things.

adharma – Nonmaterial things, i.e., abstract concepts such as bodhisattva.

dharmadhatuDharma-realm, the realm of the Law.

dharmakaya – A living being who has entered the Dharma-realm.

In order to descend to the dharmakaya, the stream of thought must be cut off just once; then we separate from the rupakaya, and here there is no dwelling of thought anywhere on anything. – Hui-neng

dhatu – Elements. The four elements are earth, water, fire, wind: these comprise the physical body. With space and consciousness there are six elements.

The dhatu of consciousness number eighteen. There are six senses (indriya) and six sense-fields (vishaya). Together these are the twelve senses-domains, or ayatana (sadayatana). There are six kinds of consciousness (vijnana): consciousness of a sight, of a sound, of a scent, of a flavor, of a sensation, of a thought. Altogether these are the eighteen dhatu.

dhyana (Pali jhana) – A trance-like state of meditation or absorption, whence come the words, “Chán” in Chinese, “Zen” in Japanese, “Seon” in Korean, “Thien” in Vietnamese, and “Samten” in Tibetan.

discrimination (samjna) – The mind’s knowledge of and attachment to things according to their characteristics, which leads to passions (klesa). Discrimination is one of the five skandhas, or creative functions of the mind.

drista-sruta-mata-jnata – The seen, the heard, the thought, the known.

dusts (vishaya) – 
sense-fields, i.e., forms seen with the eyes, sounds, scents, flavors, sensations and thoughts.

Senika said: “O Gautama! If there is no self, who sees and who hears?” 
The Buddha said: “One has six faculties within and six dusts without. The inner and outer conjoin and one has the six kinds of consciousness (vijnana). Now, these six consciousnesses get their names through causal relations.

“We gain consciousness by means of the eyes, colour, light, and desire, and we say eye-consciousness. O good man! Such eye-consciousness does not exist in the eye, nor in the colour, nor in the light, nor in the desire, etc. The four things conjoin and we have this consciousness. It is the same with mind-consciousness. If things come into being thus, we cannot say that knowing and seeing are self, that feeling is self.
“O good man! That is why we say that self is the eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, mind-consciousness, and that all things are phantoms. (Mahaparinirvana Sutra)

ekagra – Oneness.

“By tranquillity is meant oneness (ekagra), and oneness gives birth to the highest samadhi, which is gained by entering into the Tathagata-gharba (buddha-matrix), which is the realm of noble wisdom realised in one’s inmost self.” (The Lankavatara Sutra)

Mind-essence – Tathata (Chinese ti). (See below)

existence, six realms or paths – The hellish realms, the realm of beasts, the realm of hungry spirits, the realm of fighting spirits (asura), the realm of human beings, the heavenly realms. The lowest four realms are unfortunate or evil rebirths. (See below for a description of the asura)

fa – Chinese for dharma.

false – Spurious: something which is purported to be true but isn’t.

forms – See ‘appearances’ above.

false imagination (parikalpita) – A view of phenomena as real, as having self-nature.

habit-energy (vasana) – The production of universal memory.

hsin (Chinese) – Heart, mind and spirit; psyche, geist.

jnana (jñāna) – Knowledge or realization of higher truths; gnosis.

kalpa – A very long time.

karma – Action, self-will.

karma-abhisamskara – Expectations conditioned by karma; defilements. Karmic expectations lead to conditioned arising or rebirth, according to the Twelvefold Chain of Dependent Origination:

Living beings are reborn (bhava, become) because of actions of body, speech and mind (karma). The Buddha stated that all samskara (expectations) are conditioned by ignorance of impermanence and the truth of the nonexistence of the self (anatman). It is this ignorance that originates samskara and ultimately causes human suffering. The cessation of all samskara is synonymous with awakening (bodhi), the attainment of nirvana.

kensho (Japanese) – First awakening to the state of samadhi.

klesha, kleśa (Chinese fan nao) – Passions, afflictions; unwholesome mental states. In Chinese afflictions are called fan nao because they vex (fan) and torment (nao) the mind. (Wisdom Library) Three poisonous klesha are at the root of all the others: greed (attachments), anger (aversions) and delusion (ignorance). When the list is expanded to seven, they can be called anusaya, meaning tendencies or obsessions.

七使 The seven messengers, agents, or klesas — desire 欲愛; anger, or hate 瞋恚; attachment, or clinging 有愛; pride or arrogance 慢; ignorance, or unenlightenment 無明; false views 見; and doubt 疑. (Soothill and Hodous, 1937)

ksanti (kshanti) – Patience, forbearance, equanimity in the face of ill treatment or adversity. The perfection of ksanti is to patiently suffer or allow unpleasant things to happen, knowing that all events are for the good. “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day . . . ” Genesis 50:15 “You must take everything for the best.” Meister Eckhart, Sermon 19

lakshana (lakśaṇa) – Attributes, characteristics, differences: “The lakshana of existence thus presented to us are not its real nature, but our own thought-construction. But our reason (buddhi), which chases after the myriad things, fails to understand this fact and causes us to cling to appearances as realities.” Lankavatara Sutra

maha – great

Mahayana – Great Vehicle School of Buddhism

manas – The discriminating mind; the source of thoughts and will. “Manas, meaning ‘to think’, ‘to intend’, is that seat of intellection and cognition corresponding to the Western conception of the mind.” (Suzuki, Studies in the Lankavatara, p. 250)

manovijnana (manas + vijnana) – Thought-consciousness, or awareness of thoughts. (Bodhidharma: citta vijnana)

mind, the mind – the ego-soul or ego-self; the five skandas

Mind-essence – Tathata (Chinese ti).

Mind-only – Cittamatra (See The Doctrine of “Mind-only”)

mindfulness (smrti) – “To pay attention on purpose non-judgmentally in the present moment as if your life depended on it.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

moksha – Liberation from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth. Moksha is attained by dis-identification with the body and mind, which are temporary and subject to change, and realisation of our true identity. “Moksha” means “mukti”, “eternal freedom from social and natural programming”. Moksha and mukti are both from the root muc, “to let loose, let go”. (Wisdom Library)

nama – (lit. ‘name’) Mental phenomena; used as a collective name for the four nonmaterial skandhas, it means mind.

nama-rupa – Mind and body.

namo – “Be my adoration to” The first two syllables of the Nembutsu mantra, “Na-mu-a-mi-da-bu-tsu,” which is meant to be meaningless, but literally means “Be my adoration to Amitabha Buddha” (Amida, Buddha of Infinite Light).

Nembutsu – See namo, above.

nimitta – Attributes, marks, characteristics. The Absolute is animitta, empty, undifferentiated, plain, devoid of things.

nirmanakaya – Transformation body: allows a buddha to appear anywhere in any form in order to teach beings according to their various needs.

nirvana – ‘Blown out’. As air which has been released from an inflated sheep’s bladder becomes one with the atmosphere, so the breath of life, when it exits a living being, becomes one with God.

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

outflowings (asrava or asava) – Defilements of sensual pleasures, craving for existence, and ignorance which flow out from the mind towards things.

paramitas – Practices for reaching the opposite shore.

paravritti – Turning-about (See Suzuki, The Lankavatara Sutra)

parikalpita – False imagination; a view of phenomena as real, as having self-nature.

paratantra – Dependent.

prajna (prajñā) (Chinese 般若三藏) – Intuitive wisdom, the Third Eye, one’s true Self; (Abrahamic religions) the Holy Spirit.

pratyekabuddha – Buddhas who achieve enlightenment on their own, who live in solitude and do not widely spread the Dharma. (See below)

prithagjana – A simpleminded or stupid person. (Keep going: you’ll see.)

sadayatana (also ayatana) – Sense-domains. The twelve sadayatana are the six senses and the six sense-fields. The senses, or “gates” (indriya), are vision, hearing, smelling, taste and thinking. The sense-fields, or “dusts” (vishaya), are the sights, sounds, scents, flavors, sensations and thoughts.

Sadhana – Skilful means or devices. Literally “a means of accomplishing something,” sadhana is any ego-transcending spiritual practice.

samadhi – A higher state of awareness, samadhi is the eighth perfection of the Eightfold Path. Samadhi is effortless—it requires effort to not be in samadhi. Christian: ‘inwardness’ (Meister Eckhart), ‘continual prayer’ (Guyon). ‘Uninterrupted meditation’ (Hakuin).

samadhi samapatti – Meditative stage in which samadhi is experienced.

samadhi mayopama – A state of consciousness in which the world appears illusory or dreamlike.

samadhi vajra-vimbopama – The highest samadhi, that of the Tathagata. Vajra means thunderbolt, or bolt of lightning.

samapatti – The four formless meditative attainments beyond the four rupa dhyana.

samata – Sameness; knowing all things to be of the same essence.

What is the characteristic of no-mind (wu-hsin)? The characteristic is no-thought (wu-nien). What is the characteristic of no-thought? The characteristic is non-duality. What is the characteristic of non-duality? The characteristic is the sameness of things. – Tathagatajnanamudrasamadhi (Jan Yun Hua, 1989)

samacittata – Equanimity.

sambhogakaya – ‘Reward body’ or ‘body of enjoyment’ of a tathagata, which functions in perfect harmony.

samjna – Discrimination (lit. knowledge of differences); knowledge of good and evil (Genesis). Samjna is the mind’s attachment to things according to their characteristics.

samkalpa – Right thinking. Samyak samkalpa is the second perfection of the Eightfold Path.

There must not be any negative thought in the mind. “Will it be possible for me to do?” – such a question must not arise in the mind, and whenever there is such a question, it means you will not be successful in your mission. Your thinking should always be positive: “Yes, I must be successful.” There must not be any question regarding your success. Lord Shiva said: Phalisyatiiti vishvasah siddherprathama laksanamThe first factor for attaining success is the firm determination that “I must be successful”. (Shrii Shrii Anandamurti)

Samsara – The wheel or cycle of birth and death.

samskrita – Conditioned events or phenomena, lacking self-substance and therefore dependent on something else for their arising. “All conditioned phenomena have a transitory nature: that is an absolute characteristic. The transitory is unreal.”

samskara (Pali sankhara) –  Expectations. Literally “creators”, they are thoughts that become events. “Sankhara: the forces and factors that fashion things physical or mental.” Expectations lead to events, which are not real things but only mental consciousness of things. Therefore, whenever there are expectations, consciousness arises.

Then, bhikkhus, it occurred to me: What must exist in order for consciousness to come into being? By what is consciousness conditioned? Then, bhikkhus, through careful attention, there took place in me a breakthrough by wisdom: When there are samskara, consciousness comes to be; consciousness has samskara as its condition.

samyojana – Fetters, hindrances; (the equivalent of anusaya—tendencies). According to Buddhaghosa, there are ten:

  1. identification with the self (sakkaya-ditthi)
  2. doubt (vicikiccha)
  3. clinging to precepts and practices (silabbata paramasa; S. upadana)
  4. attachment to the sensuous (desire realm) (kama-raga)
  5. aversion (vyapada)
  6. attachment to the form realm (rupa-raga)
  7. attachment to the formless realm (arupa-raga)
  8. conceit (mana)
  9. restlessness (uddhacca–a wandering mind)
  10. ignorance (avijja)

satori (Japanese) – Sudden awakening.

Seven Feelings – Joy, anger, grief, pleasure, love, hatred, desire. The Seven Feelings were described in the Liji (Book of Rites) as basic feelings of which all human beings are capable. (In Orategama, Yampolsky translates the word used by Hakuin as “misfortunes”)

Four Beginnings – The Four Beginnings (compassion, shame, respect, and the sense of right and wrong) were described by Mengzi (Mencius, 372-289 BCE). (The Four-Seven Debate)

sila – Conduct, moral behavior; one of the paramitas, or perfections.

Six paths or realms of existence: The realm of hell-dwellers, the realm of hungry ghosts, the realm of beasts, the realm of asuras (demons portrayed in Indian mythology as engaged in constant angry warfare, often with the god Indra), the realm of human beings, the realm of devas. (Watson, Lin-Chi)

skandhas – The five creative functions of the mind. These are: form (rupa); feeling (vedana); discrimination (samjna); expectations (samskara); and consciousness (vijnana).

Mahamati, it is like Pisaca, who by means of his magic makes a corpse or a machine-man dance with life though it has no power of its own: the ignorant cling to the non-existent, imagining it to have the power of movement. – The Lankavatara Sutra

smrti – (Chinese nien) recollectedness, mindfulness: the seventh perfection of the Eightfold Path. Asmrti (Chinese wu-nien) – forgetfulness, oblivion.

Sravaka – A disciple of the Buddha; sometimes called “voice-hearers” because they had personally heard the teachings of the Buddha. (See below)

Sunyata – The void, emptiness; quantum physics: when physical matter disappears in the absence of a conscious observer.

Svabhava – Intrinsic nature of phenomena. The trisvabhava are the following (Lankavatara Sutra):

Parikalpita-svabhava – “imagined self-nature” (false nature)

Paratantrasvabhava – “dependent nature” (true nature)

Parinishpanna-svabhava – “perfected nature” (to view dharmas as empty)

Tao – Consciousness, the Dharma, Tathata, Mind, etc.

Tathagata – One who goes in suchness: a buddha.

Tathagata-garbha – Buddha-nature (see Suzuki below).

Tathata (lit. “that-ness”) – Suchness, beingness.

tanha, upadana, bhava – Desire, attachment, becoming.

Upadana, attachment, is both the attempt to grasp something we want and the attempt to push away or get away from something we don’t want. But we never take hold of that which we desire, and we never get rid of that which we are averse to. When we are attached to existence we attempt to avoid nonexistence; this attachment is the cause of our rebirth, or becoming.

Tattva – Suchness, reality.

Threefold World – The desire realm (kamadhatu), the form realm (rupadhatu), and the formless realm (arupadhatu) (See below).

The threefold world is made up of the desire realm, the form realm, and the realm of formlessness, and is equivalent to the six realms of existence in which unenlightened beings transmigrate. Beings in the desire realm are dominated by cravings. Beings in the  form realm have bodies but no desires. Beings in the formless realm are free of the limitations of form but remain within the realm of the unenlightened and are subject to rebirth. (Watson, 1993, p. 64),

Three poisonous roots (asava): Lobha, dosa, and moha: attachment (greed), aversion (anger), and ignorance (delusion).

Triple Emancipation: sunyata, animitta, apranihita: emptiness, formlessness, non-striving or effortlessness.

twofold egolessness –  The lack of self-nature of persons and of things.

twofold hindrance – Passions (klesa) and discrimination (samjna).

twofold passions (klesa) – Craving and the passions which follow from craving.

twofold svabhava – The imagined self-nature of phenomena and the true dependent nature of phenomena.

tun – Sudden, abrupt; the Southern School founded by Hui-neng.

upekkha – Equanimity, one of the Pali perfections.

vasana – (literally ‘perfuming’) “Habit-energy” — consciousness (memories) stored in the alayavijnana.

Vehicles, Three – That of the sravaka (sravaka-yana), that of the pratyekabuddha (pratyekabuddha-yana), and that of the bodhisattva.

vedana – Feeling or emotional sensation born of contact. The awareness of an events is a vijnana; the emotional response to it is vedana. One of the five skandhas, vedanas are of five types:

  1. agreeable bodily feeling (sukha)
  2. disagreeable bodily feeling (dukkha)
  3. agreeable mental feeling (somanassa)
  4. disagreeable mental feeling (domanassa)
  5. neither disagreeable nor agreeable (adukkha-m-asukha vedana)

vijnanaVijñāna is composed of the prefix vi, meaning “to divide”, and the root jñā, which means “to perceive” or “knowledge”. When an object is presented before the eye, one is aware of it as a red apple or a piece of white linen; the awareness is called eye-vijñāna. In the same way, there are ear-vijñāna for sound, nose-vijñāna for odour, tongue-vijñāna for taste, body-vijñāna for touch, and mind-vijñāna (manovijñāna) for thoughts. All together, six forms of vijñāna present themselves as the world external or internal. They are often called “thieves” (see below).

viviktadharma – Sole reality: from vivikta, meaning solitude, and dharma, meaning reality. “When I think how one He is with me, as if He had forgotten all creatures and nothing existed but I alone.” — Meister Eckhart (Walshe, Vol. II, Sermon Seventy)

will-body (manomakaya): A body that exhibits various powers of self-mastery and supernatural activity, which can go from place to place according to one’s will.

* * *

D. T. Suzuki:


Citta (from the root ci, “to pile up” or “to arrange in order”) is generally translated “mind”, either with the letter ‘m’ capitalised or not. When it stands in the series of citta, manas and vijnana, it means the empirical mind. Besides this, citta has an absolute sense denoting something that goes beyond the realm of relativity and yet lies at the foundation of this world of particulars. When the Lanka speaks of “Mind-only” (Cittamatra), it refers to this something defined here. (Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, 1998, p. 178)

Citta used in the sense of vijnana:

Citta (pl. cittam) used in place of vijnana means those things of which we become conscious, or thoughts. For example, the high-pitched humming of a mosquito is no more than an ear-thought. If we see it on the skin that is an eye-thought. If we feel the itch of a bite that is a body-thought. Cittam constantly arise and pass away. (Editor)

Six thieves

Bodhidharma: The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions, and evils, is rooted in the three poisons. Greed, anger, and delusion. These three poisoned states of mind themselves include countless evils, like trees that have a single trunk but innumerable branches and leaves. The three poisons are present in our six sense-organs as six kinds of consciousness (vijnana), or thieves. They’re called thieves because they pass in and out of the sense-gates, covet limitless possessions, and mask their true identity. And because mortals are misled in body and mind by these poisons or thieves, they become lost in life and death, wander through the six states of existence and suffer countless afflictions. (Bodhidharma’s Breakthrough Sermon–Red Pine)


The Parinirvana-sutra once formed the foundation of the Nirvana school in the early history of Chinese Buddhism. Its main assertion is that the Buddha-nature is present in every one of us. Before the arrival of this sutra in China it was generally believed that there was a class of beings known as Icchanti who had no Buddha-nature and were therefore barred from attaining enlightenment. This belief was expelled, however, when a statement to the contrary was found in the sutra, saying that “There is something in all beings which is true, real, eternal, self-governing, and forever unchanging—this is called Self, though quite different from what is generally known as such by the philosophers. This Self is the Tathagata-garbha, Buddha-nature, which exists in every one of us, and is characterized by such virtues as permanency, bliss, freedom, and purity.” (The Lankavatara Sutra, “The Message of the Lanka”)



Asura are spirits found in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology. They are usually portrayed as power-hungry and lusty. Even the best of the Asura can be unpredictable and prone to mood swings.

Asuras are sometimes classified as demons. Their skin is deep red or blue-green, and their hair is black. Four to six arms sprout from their bodies, as well as three heads, with faces pointing in opposite directions. They are fond of fine clothing, jewelry and elaborate helmets.

Although they are more powerful than humans, the Asura are the least powerful—and least noble—of the deities. Their low rank means that they are envious of the other gods and easily insulted if they are not praised for the powers that they do have. Above all else, the Asura are moody and unpredictable and prone to start wars.

Still, the Asura are not all bad. On one hand, they experience pleasure as deeply as negative emotions, which makes them highly romantic lovers and fun friends. Many Asura have poured their passionate emotions into religion as well, becoming loyal practitioners and even priests. They make sacrifices, perform cleansing rituals, build temples, and make holy pilgrimages with great enthusiasm.

Because of their volatile emotions, Buddhists consider birth as an Asura to be one of the four unhappy births.


Sculpture of Asura (demon) on Gopuram of Meenakshi Temple at Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

Dharma (see David K. Jordan)

= Dharma, meaning law or teaching. In Sanskrit Dharma is a complex term referring to the ultimate reality. It is often rendered in Chinese, which means both “law” and “teaching.”  is also the secret teaching given by a Master to his successor; thus, Huì-neng receives from the Fifth Patriarch the symbolic robe and begging bowl of the patriarchate, but also the .

Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas:

A Sravaka is a disciple of a buddha. Determined to achieve liberation, he carefully follows and practises the teachings of his master.

A Pratyekabuddha (solitary buddha) is one who achieves liberation on his own. A pratyekabuddha is usually a hermit an only teaches if sought out.

A Bodhisattva is one who strictly follows the Mahayana path laid out in the Prajnaparamita Sutra. This path emphasizes the taking of a vow to return from divine union in order to lead others to liberation.


“That which appears is called other-dependent (paratantra),
And its appearance is called imaginary (parikalpita),
Because the arising is dependent on conditions,
And the appearance is only a figment of the imagination.
Seeing appearances as empty
Is understood to be perfected nature (parinishpanna) because of its immutability.”
– Vasubandhu’s Trisvabhavanirdesa

“The triple world of existence is no more than thought-construction, discriminated by the twofold svabhava; but when there is a turning-away from sense-objects and the ego-self, then we have Suchness.” (The Lankavatara Sutra, p. 274)

Threefold World

“The desire realm consists of all the realms of rebirth apart from that of the gods. Beings in the desire realm have the five physical senses plus consciousness, and act from a base of sensual experience. A practitioner of meditation who dies without attaining enlightenment is reborn into the the form realm or the formless realm that corresponds to his or her meditative attainment–one of the four dhyana, or one of the four samapatti.

“Technically the gods of the form and formless realms are known not as ‘gods’ (deva), but as ‘Brahmas’. Those of the form realm are . . . divided into four classes corresponding to the four dhyanas, the four ‘meditations’ or ‘absorptions’ . . . Brahmas within the form realm are said to have only two senses: sight and hearing.

“The Brahmas of the formless realm are of four types, corresponding to a hierarchy of four formless meditative attainments (samapatti): (i) infinite space; (ii) infinite consciousness; (iii) nothingness, and (iv) neither perception nor non-perception. This last is also referred to as the ‘summit of existence’ (bhavagra) [Suzuki – ‘reality-limit’]. Brahmas within the formless realm have just consciousness, and so long as they are in that rebirth and have not attained enlightenment they enjoy uninterruptedly the appropriate meditative attainment.” (Williams, p. 77)

* * *

Conze, Edward (1973). Dictionary of the Prajnaparamita. Suzuki Research Foundation.

Conze, Edward (1975). The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom. University of California Press.

Suzuki, D. T. (1932). The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text. (Based upon the Sanskrit edition of Bunyu Nanjo). London. (

Suzuki, D. T. (1935). Manual of Zen Buddhism. (

Suzuki, D. T. (1998). Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, New Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Watson, Burton (1999). The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi. New York: Columbia University Press.

Williams, P. and Tribe (2000). A. Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition. London and New York: Routledge.

Yun-Hua, Jan. “A Comparative Study of ‘No-Thought’ (Wu-nien) in some Indian and Chinese Buddhist texts.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 16 (1989) 37-58. (


For scholars, there is this Digital Dictionary of Buddhism: English Terms, compiled by Charles Muller and his associates:

Charles Muller has also digitized the following classic:
Soothill, W. E. and Hodous, L. (1937). A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms. (A-Dictionary-of-Chinese-Buddhist-Terms-Soothill)

Walpola Rahula (1971). “Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada and Mahayana.”
Voice of Buddhism, Vol. 8 No. 2 June 1971, KDN No.5236, Published by Buddhist Missionary Society, Kuala Lumpur. (

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