Glossary of Buddhist terms

Wisdom Library ( has the best Hindu-Buddhist lexicon that I’ve found. Southill and Hodous compiled an excellent Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms (download). D. T. Suzuki explains Buddhist terms in his many books on Zen Buddhism, particularly  Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra (1932). Also, there is a 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 – 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 dharma or adharma. This is why it is called anabhisaṃskārābhogavihāra . . .” Nagarjuna, “Acala

adharma – Abstract or non-material things, e.g., concepts such as ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Buddha.

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

Alayavijnana – Storehouse consciousness, seat of consciousness, matrix; sometimes synonymous with citta (see the post “Alayavijnana“). The Lankavatara Sutra attempts to change the term to Tathagata-gharba, or buddha-matrix.

anabhisamskara – The effortless state of non-doing.

7. “Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata attained the supreme enlightenment? Has he something about which he would preach?”

Subhuti said: “World-honoured One, as I understand the teaching of the Buddha, there is no fixed Dharma taught by the Tathagata. Why? Because the Dharma about which he teaches can neither be possessed nor demonstrated; it is neither dharma nor adharma. How is this so? Because all sages belong to non-doing (asamskara or asamskrta), though they are distinct from one another. (The Diamond Sutra, Suzuki, 1935)

anabhoga – no-thought

animitta – without signs or marks or characteristics: undifferentiated.

apranihita – desireless

aryajnana – noble wisdom

asrava (Pali asava) Mental outflows or outflowings. Sensual desires, craving for existence and ignorance are defilements which run or flow out of the mind, chasing after things. ( It is because of this outflowing that the skandha — the mind — is 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) The assertion about marks or traits that are nonexistent; (2) the assertion about philosophical views that are nonexistent; (3) the assertion about causality, which is nonexistent; and (4) the assertion about objects that are nonexistent. (Lankavatara Sutra, Chapter XII)

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

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

avidya – Ignorance; literally, not seeing or perceiving.

ayatana (twelve) – The six senses or “doors” (vision, touch, hearing, smelling, taste, mind) and the sense-objects that they perceive (visual field, physical sensations, sounds, scents, flavors, thoughts) — sometimes called the six thieves who pass through the six gates.

bodhi – Wisdom of enlightenment: attaining bodhi is synonymous with attaining enlightenment.

bodhisattva – Student, disciple of the Mahayana school.

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 teaching) The doctrine of the Buddha.

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

buddhi – Reason, intellect, mind.

causation – A chain of events resulting in existence: “from ignorance come predispositions, from predispositions consciousness, from consciousness name and form.” Causation does not obtain between things that depend on something else for their existence (conditioned things) as a thing that has no self-substance cannot have an effect on another thing that likewise has no self-substance.

ch’an – A derivative of the Indian dhyana, the yogic practice of attaining samadhi in meditation.

citta -Mind.

Citta (pl. citam) means consciousness. It is the nature that is aware of its object. No other dharma or nature can know anything including themselves. But citta can know everything possible including cittam.

Citta always leads other nama dharma and rupa dharma (names and forms). A citta arises, it passes away immediately after its arising. Another citta arises, and again it falls away. Next arises and dies out immediately. This kind of uninterruptedness is the manifestation of citta. There are immediate causes for arising of citta. They are cittam themselves, nama dhamma and rupa dhamma. (Wisdom Library)

citta-caitta-kalapa – mentation-system; from cittacaitta – mind and mental events, and kalapa – a unit composed of parts (Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, p. 235)

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

conditioned (samskrita) – That which does not exist on its own account but depends upon something else for its arising; that which is not its own support but is supported by something else.

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

consciousness – Awareness; the states of awareness of one being; individual consciousness is called a source of bondage in the Nirvana Sutra.

contact – Moment in which the senses are confronted with a sense-object.

dana – The perfection of giving.

defilements (asava) – Sensual pleasures (greed), craving for existence (anger) and ignorance (folly). See also the three poisonous roots, or klesha.

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 – Absolute truth or reality; the laws of reality; Buddhist doctrine regarding reality and how to know it (see below).

dharma – (Chinese fa ) Material things, physical phenomena.

adharma – Abstract or nonmaterial things; concepts.

dharmadhatuDharma-realm. 1. The realm or sphere of the ultimate reality. 2. The entire universe. (Watson, 1993, p. 136)

dharmakaya – A living being who is in 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 four comprise the physical body. With space and consciousness there are six elements.

The dhatu of consciousness number eighteen. There are the six sense-faculties or organs (indriya), and the six sense-objects (vishaya): together these are the twelve ayatana (senses and their objects). With the six types of sense-awareness (vijnana) the dhatu number eighteen. Thinking (samjna) is the sixth sense: it is comprised of the manas (the mind as a thought-organ), dharma (thought-objects) and the manovijnana (thought-awareness).

dhyana (Pali jhana) – Meditation, concentration or absorption, whence come the words Ch’an and Zen.

rupa dhyana  – Form dhyana: the first four meditative attainments (see Threefold world, below).

arupajhana (ayatana or arupa) – Formless

dhyana, meditative states five through eight — also called samapatti (see Threefold world, below).

drista-sruta-mata-jnata – The seen, the heard, the perceived (thought), the known — the four activities of the mind.

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, which is the realm of noble wisdom realised in one’s inmost self.” (The Lankavatara Sutra)

Emptiness – Sunyata, the void. Quantum physics: when physical matter disappears in the absence of a conscious observer.

Mind-essence – Tathata (Chinese ti); the one Self (see below).*

fa – Chinese for dharma.

false imagination (parikalpita) – something believed to be real, but which is in reality void of self-substance, having no objective or independent existence.

habit-energy (vasana) – memory stored in the Alayavijnana (See the post “Alayavijnana“)

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

ignorant – benighted, deluded

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

kalpa – a very long time

karma – Thoughts and actions which come from self-will and take place in a universe. Karma condtion samskara, the volitions which create existence. These conditioned volitions (karma-abhisamskara) are the cause of one’s birth.

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

klesha, kleśa (Chinese fan nao) – Passions and illusions: unwholesome mental states that cloud the mind. Three poisonous klesha are at the root of all the others: greed (attachments), anger (aversions) and ignorance (avidya).

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)

koshas, sheaths or coverings (Hindu) – Outer coverings or states of the self: the gross body, the energy body, the mind body, the wisdom body, the bliss body.

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 it is all for the good.

lakshana, lakśaṇa) – Marks, characteristics, traits, marks, signs, features: “The lakshana of existence thus presented to us are not its real nature, but our own thought-construction. But our buddhi (reason), which chases after multiplicities, 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; an organ of thought and will: “Manas meaning “to think,” “to intend,” is that seat of intellection and cognition corresponding to the Western conception of the mind.”

manovijnana (manas + vijnana) – Discriminating consciousness. The manovijnana represents the whole vijnana-system, which differentiates that which is seen, heard, felt, smelled, tasted and thought. Manas and manovijnana are used interchangeably in The Lankavatara Sutra: “Another name for Manas is discrimination (vikalpa), and it goes along with the five vijnana (senses).”

Mind-essence – Essence of Mind, Tathata, (Chinese ti).

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

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

moksha (mukti) – Liberation from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth. Moksha is attained by disidentification 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’) Mind, mentality, consciousness; nama is used as a collective name for the four mental skandha (besides rupa–form) ( Sometimes seen in conjunction with rupa: nama-rupa.

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 – Signs, traits, marks, characteristics. The Absolute is animitta, undifferentiated, uniform, without a mark.

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 skandha, or mind, towards things.

paramitas – Practices for reaching the opposite shore.

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

parikalpita – False imagining; something believed to be real, but which is in reality void of self-substance; figments of the imagination.

paratantra – Dependent origin of things, meaning that they have no objective existence as they do not come into being on their own but are dependent on a cause. This cause is discrimination leading to the rising of vijnanas or thoughts.

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, live in solitude and do not spread the Dharma. Often a hermit. “One who has attained to supreme and perfect insight, but who dies without proclaiming the Dharma to the world.” (Wikipedia)

prithagjana – A simpleminded person

samadhi – A perfect meditative state: the eighth perfection of the Eightfold Path. Also called ‘inwardness’ (Eckhart), ‘continual prayer’ (Guyon), ‘uninterrupted meditation’ (Hakuin).

“If, through practice, especially tso-ch’an (sitting dhyana), one can get one’s mind to a unified state, this state can be called samadhi. To say that the mind is unified doesn’t mean that the person has a sense or idea of being coextensive with the universe. Rather, it means that the mind is simply not moving. There is no distinction between inside and outside, self and environment. There is no sense of time and space. There is only the sense of existence. So this state of unified mind is called samadhi. This is not a state of no-thought, or no-mind, since there is at least the awareness of self experiencing samadhi. It is a state of one-thought, or one-mind, and is not considered enlightenment in Ch’an.” — Master Sheng Yen, “Tso-Ch’an

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 following the four rupa dhyana.

samata – Sameness; the perception that all is 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)

sambhogakaya – ‘Reward body’ or ‘body of enjoyment’ of a tathagata, which functions in perfect harmony. (Sometimes translated ‘retribution’, but retribution is usually understood to mean punishment.)

samjna – Knowledge of characteristics. Samjna is typically translated as perception, but it is more than that. Samjna is what the mind (citta) does, which is to attach itself to the good or bad characteristics of things, based on our perception of them as benign or malignant. In Genesis this is the knowledge of good and evil.

“The psychological faculty of discernment. Samjna is said to recognize the distinctive characteristics of things, for example, by identifying different colours.” (Wisdom Library)

samkalpa – Will, volition, resolve, purpose, aim, intention, determination. 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 laksanam – “The 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 phenomena; lacking self-substance and therefore dependent on something else for its arising. “All conditioned phenomena (saṃskṛta) have a transitory (anitya) nature: that is an absolute mark. The transitory is unreal (asatya).” (Antonym: bhutasvabhava)

samskara (Pali sankhara) –  Volitional formations, or proto-thoughts, which are the seeds of creation.

(Wikipedia) Saṅkhāra (Pali; Sanskrit saṃskāra) is a term figuring prominently in Buddhism. The word means ‘that which has been put together’ and ‘that which puts together’.

In the first (passive) sense, saṅkhāra refers to conditioned phenomena generally but specifically to all mental “dispositions”. These are called ‘volitional formations’ both because they are formed as a result of volition and because they are causes for the arising of future volitional actions. English translations for saṅkhāra in the first sense of the word include ‘conditioned things,’ ‘dispositions’ and ‘formations’ (or, particularly when referring to mental processes, ‘volitional formations’).

In the second (active) sense of the word, saṅkhāra is joined with karma (Pali sankhara-khandha) [Sanskrit karma-abhisamskārā]. [In this compound sense it] leads to conditioned arising, dependent origination (paṭiccasamuppāda). In this sense, the term Sankhara is karmically active volition or intention, which generates rebirth and influences the realm of rebirth. Sankhara herein is synonymous with karma, and includes actions of the body, speech and mind.

The saṅkhāra-khandha states that living beings are reborn (bhava, become) by means of actions of body and speech (kamma). The Buddha stated that all volitional constructs are conditioned by ignorance of [both] impermanence and non-self [anatman]. It is this ignorance that leads to the origination of the sankharas and ultimately causes human suffering. The cessation of all such sankharas is synonymous with awakening (bodhi), the attainment of nirvana.

satori (Japanese) – sudden awakening.

sila – conduct, moral behavior

skandha (see Suzuki below) – The five aggregates or functions of the self. These are: form (rupa), feeling perceived as pleasant or unpleasant (vedana), knowledge of good and bad (samjna), volitional formations (samskara), and consciousness (vijnana). The last four are collectively known as nama or ‘mind’: altogether the five skandha are namarupa, mind and form. (See

To give an example, a person feels the prick of a mosquito bite. His own body is rupa. The unpleasant sensory impression is vedana. The knowledge that mosquitoes are bad is samjna. Later on, the person has the following thought: “I hope that no mosquitoes come tonight.” This conditioned thought creates a volitional formation samskara. The samskara causes consciousness, vijnana, to arise, which has the appearance, sound, feel, etc., of mosquitoes. (See “Yogananda and Mosquito Consciousness” below)

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

Sravaka – Pali term for disciple. In Mahayana sutras, Sravakas or Arhats, sometimes called “voice-hearers” because they had heard the teachings of the Buddha, were contrasted negatively with Bodhisattvas. Although they had attained the eighth stage, Acala, they took a dualistic view of the Absolute (viviktadharma)—rejecting the world of dharmas as pure illusion and seizing upon Nirvana as pure emptiness.

“Further, Mahamati, the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas at the eighth stage of
Bodhisattvahood are so intoxicated with the happiness that comes from the
attainment of perfect tranquillisation, and, failing to understand fully that there is nothing in the world but what is seen of the Mind itself, they are thus unable to
overcome the hindrances and habit-energy growing out of their notions of generality [unity?] and individuality; and adhering to the egolessness of persons and things and cherishing views arising therefrom, they have the discriminating idea and knowledge of Nirvana, which is not that of the truth of absolute solitude (viviktadharma).” (Suzuki, The Lankavatara Sutra, p. 214)

Sunyata (Sunata)- The Void, Emptiness; quantum physics: when physical matter disappears in the absence of a conscious observer.

Svabhava – Inherent nature, intrinsic nature. The trisvabhava are the three natures:

Parikalpita-svabhava – false imagination; imagined self-nature

Paratantrasvabhava – dependent nature (physical or phenomenal things)

Parinishpanna-svabhava – perfected nature: when things are perceived truly, as having no self-nature

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

Tathagata – One who goes in suchness: a buddha.

Tathagata-garbha – Tathagata-womb or matrix: “Buddha-nature, which exists in every one of us, and is characterised with such virtues as permanency, bliss, freedom, and purity.”

Tathata – Suchness (literally “that-ness”): the essence (ti) of Consciousness; one’s Mind-essence or Original Nature.

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 world of desire, the world of form, and the world of formlessness and is equivalent to the six realms of existence in which unenlightened beings transmigrate. Beings in the world of desire are dominated by
desires for food, sex, etc. Beings in the world of form have material form but no desires. Beings in the world of formlessness are free from the restrictions of form but remain within the realm of the unenlightened and are subject to rebirth. (Watson, 1993, p. 64),

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 relative knowledge.

twofold passions (klesa) – Craving born of ignorance and the passions that follow from craving.

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

upekkha – Equanimity, one of the Pali perfections.

vasana – (literally ‘perfuming’) Habit-energy; memory-seeds stored in the Alayavijnana, which condition the constant flow of appearances that make up the universe.

vedana – Feeling, sentience or reaction born of contact. One of the five skandha, vedana falls into five categories:

  1. agreeable bodily feeling (sukha);
  2. disagreeable bodily feeling (dukkha);
  3. agreeable mental feeling (somanassa);
  4. disagreeable mental feeling (domanassa);
  5. indifferent or neutral (adukkha-m-asukha vedana = upekkha).

vijnana – Discriminating consciousness; awareness of a thing as not-oneself. The manifestation of a thought (samskara) as reality; both citta and vijnana are used in this sense, e.g., ‘the rising of the vijnanas‘ or ‘the rising of cittam‘. The manovijnana represents the whole vijnana-system (see Suzuki, below).

viviktadharma – Sole (undivided) 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)

Void – Sunyata, Emptiness. Quantum physics: when physical matter disappears in the absence of a conscious observer.

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

D. T. Suzuki:

The five Skandhas (“aggregates” or “elements”) are form (rupam), sensation or sense-perception (vedana), thought (samjna), confection or conformation (samskara), and consciousness (vijnana). The first Skandha is the material world or the materiality of things, while the remaining four Skandhas belong to the mind. Vedana is what we get through our senses; samjna corresponds to thought in its broadest sense, or that which mind elaborates; samskara is a very difficult term and there is no exact English equivalent; it means something that gives form, formative principle; vijnana is consciousness or mentation. There are six forms of mentation, distinguishable as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking. (Manual of Zen Buddhism, 1935, p. 14)

Vijñāna is composed of the prefix vi, meaning “to divide”, and the root jñā which means “to perceive,” “to know.” Thus, Vijñāna is the faculty of distinguishing or discerning or judging. When an object is presented before the eye, it is perceived and judged as a red apple or a piece of white linen; the faculty of doing this 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—altogether six forms of Vijñāna for distinguishing the various aspects of the world external or internal. (1998)

Citta (from the root ci, “to pile up,” “to arrange in order”) is generally translated “mind,” either with the “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)

Dharma (see David K. Jordan)

= Sanskrit: Dharma, “law” or “teaching” [doctrine]. In Sanskrit Dharma is a complex term referring to what the ultimate reality is. 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 .

Edward Conze on Samskara (Sankhara):

The purpose of the “Aids to penetration” is to bring about a condition which makes the path of vision appear, and which destroys the quality of being an average, unconverted person. . . .  As a result of these meditations, indifference or repulsion to complexes sankhara, or conditioned events, is established. One wants to be released from them, grasps them in contemplation, sees nothing in them one could seize upon as ‘I’ or ‘mine’ (atmatmiya), puts away fear or delight, and becomes indifferent and impartial to all “complexes” as not really concerning one at all. One turns away from them and views the tranquil Path, Nirvana, as calm. All signs which indicate anything conditioned stand out as mere impediments or obstacles. One makes Nirvana into the object, which is signless, procedureless, without complexes, the stopping of complexes, by means of a cognition “which passes beyond the kinship and plane of average men, which enters into the kinship and plane of the Ariyas”. It is the first turning to, the first laying to heart, the first bringing to mind of Nirvana as object. (The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, p. 8)


“That which appears is called other-dependent (paratantra),
And the way it appears is called imaginary (parikalpita),
Because the former originates in dependence on conditions,
And the latter only exists as imagination.
The state where that which appears is seen as void
Is understood to be perfected nature because of its immutability.” (Vasubandhu’s Trisvabhavanirdesa)

The three natures can be described as follows:

paratantra-svabhava / other-dependent nature (physical phenomena)

parikalpita-svabhava / imagined self-nature

parinispanna-svabhava / perfected nature: realized when phenomena are seen as devoid of self-nature or substance

“The triple world of existence is no more than thought-construction, which is
discriminated by the twofold Svabhava; but when a turning-away from the course of sense-objects and the ego-soul takes place, 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 ‘peak of existence’ (bhavagra) [Suzuki – ‘limit of existence’]. Brahmas within the formless realm have just consciousness, and so long as they are in that rebirth and have not attained enlightenment they presumably enjoy uninterruptedly the appropriate meditative attainment.” (Williams, p. 77)

Yogananda and Mosquito Consciousness

My early months with Sri Yukteswar culminated in a useful lesson-“How to Outwit a Mosquito.” At home my family always used protective curtains at night. I was dismayed to discover that in the Serampore hermitage this prudent custom was honored in the breach. Yet the insects were in full residency; I was bitten from head to foot. My guru took pity on me.
“Buy yourself a curtain, and also one for me.” He laughed and added, “If you buy only one, for yourself, all mosquitoes will concentrate on me!”
I was more than thankful to comply. Every night that I spent in Serampore, my guru would ask me to arrange the bedtime curtains.
The mosquitoes one evening were especially virulent. But Master failed to issue his usual instructions. I listened nervously to the anticipatory hum of the insects. Getting into bed, I threw a propitiatory prayer in their general direction. A half hour later, I coughed pretentiously to attract my guru’s attention. I thought I would go mad with the bites and especially the singing drone.
No responsive stir from Master; I approached him cautiously. He was not breathing. This was my first observation of him in the yogic trance; it filled me with fright.
“His heart must have failed!” I placed a mirror under his nose; no breath-vapor appeared. To make doubly certain, for [some] minutes I closed his mouth and nostrils with my fingers. His body was cold and motionless. In a daze, I turned toward the door to summon help.
“So! A budding experimentalist! My poor nose!” Master’s voice was shaky with laughter. “Why don’t you go to bed? Is the whole world going to change for you? Change yourself: be rid of the mosquito consciousness.”
Meekly I returned to my bed. Not one insect ventured near. I realized that my guru had previously agreed to the curtains only to please me; he had no fear of mosquitoes.

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 (1993). The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi. Shambhala Publications. (Lin-chi Watson)

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

Yogananda, Paramhansa (1946). Autobiography of a Yogi. New York: The Philosophical Library.

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)

45 thoughts on “Glossary of Buddhist terms

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