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 – 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, buddha and enlightenment (bodhi).

AGFLAP – (Lester Levenson) Five hindrances to Self-realization: Apathy, grief, fear, lust, anger, pride. “Apathy” is discouragement, pessimism. It is expressed by 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: everything that all beings have become aware of from the beginning of time is stored in it. It is by nature quiescent and undifferentiated, but when stirred by expectations, samskara, thoughts and apparent sense-objects (vijnana) rise from it. (See Suzuki below on Citta.)

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, 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, signs, marks or characteristics; “apparency” (Lester Levenson).

2. Then, O Mahamati, by Appearance is meant that which is known as form, shape, distinctive figure, image, mark, 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 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. (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.

ayatana – The ayatana number twelve; they are the six sense-faculties and the six domains of the senses. The sense-faculties or “gates” (indriya) are vision, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting and thinking. The sense-domains (vishaya) are sights, sounds, sensations, odors, tastes and thoughts. Sometimes called the six dusts or the six thieves, sense-phenomena are said to enter the mind through the six gates.

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, from consciousness name and form.” Causation does not obtain between things whose being is conditional, or dependent upon a cause (samskrita).

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 sense-object.

dana – The perfection of giving.

defilements (karma-abhisamskara) – Expectations conditioned by karma, sometimes called merely samskara.

dusts (rajas) – (Hinduism) Impurity: one of three all-pervading and interpenetrating qualities (gunas) of all beings, the other two qualities being purity (sattva) and ignorance (tamas). (Buddhism) Sense-phenomena: sights, sounds, sensations, odors, tastes and thoughts. Because the world of multiplicity draws our attention away from what we are, sullying our minds, “dusts” is an apt metaphor for the world.

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 – Truth or reality; the laws of reality; Buddhist doctrine regarding reality and how to attain 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 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 sense-faculties (indriya), and six domains, ranges or fields of the senses (vishaya) (e.g., sights and sounds in general). Together the senses and their domains are the twelve ayatana. With the things we become aware of (vijnana) (e.g., a particular sound) there are eighteen dhatu. Thinking is the sixth sense: the manas (mind) is the faculty and the manovijnana is manas + vijnana—the mind with all of its accumulated thoughts.

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

drista-sruta-mata-jnata – The seen, the heard, the 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)

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

fa – Chinese for dharma.

false – Spurious: something which claims 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. 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 non-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: 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). When the list is expanded to seven, they are also 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 it is all for the good.

lakshana (lakśaṇa) – Marks, 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) – The mind with all of its accumulated thoughts. The manovijnana differentiates that which is seen, heard, felt, smelled, tasted and thought. Manas and manovijnana are used interchangeably in The Lankavatara Sutra.

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 skandhas apart from rupa, 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 – Signs, traits, marks, characteristics. The Absolute is animitta, undifferentiated, uniform, empty of marks.

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 person.

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

samadhi – A perfect meditative state: the eighth perfection of the Eightfold Path. Also called ‘inwardness’ (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 thingsto 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 of mind.

sambhogakaya – ‘Reward body’ or ‘body of enjoyment’ of a tathagata, which functions in perfect harmony; sometimes rendered as ‘retribution body’.

samjna – Knowledge of differences, of good and evil. Samjna is the mind’s attachment to things according to their characteristics.

samkalpa – Will, resolve, purpose, 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 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) (plural) –  Expectations. Literally “creators,” they turn our thoughts into events. “Saṃskāra: the effect of past deeds and experience as conditioniṇg a new state.” “Sankhara: the forces and factors that fashion things physical or mental.”

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: 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 components or functions of the self. These are: form (rupa); feeling (vedana); knowledge of differences, or of good and evil (samjna); expectations (samskara); and thoughts (vijnana).

The skandhas are five miraculous functions performed by our unlimited Self, but we take them as proof of the existence of a separate self. It is like a man who makes a wooden puppet and takes it with him everywhere, making it move and speak in a lifelike manner. Forgetting that he made it and not realizing that he is manipulating the strings and speaking for it, he believes that he is the puppet.

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 a buddha; sometimes called “voice-hearers” because they had 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 – Inherent nature, intrinsic nature. The trisvabhava are the following (Lankavatara Sutra):

Parikalpita-svabhava – “imagined self-nature” (the way things are imagined to be)

Paratantrasvabhava – “dependent nature” (the way things really are)

Parinishpanna-svabhava – “perfected nature” (the perfected view)

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 relative knowledge (samjna).

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

twofold svabhava – The nature of phenomena is dependent; the way one views phenomena is as if they had a self-nature (see svabhava, below)

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

upekkha – Equanimity, one of the Pali perfections.

vasana – (literally ‘perfuming’) “Habit-energy”; patterns of awareness 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, sensation or reaction born of contact. 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)

vijnana – Thoughts or phenomena that we become aware of. Sometimes cittam is also used.

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,” “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)


When the Citta is thus considered in its specific sense, it may seem to be an abstract principle devoid of content. But, according to the Lankavatara, this is not the case: for the Citta is rich in content, and just because of this inner richness, it is able to evolve out of itself a world of infinite multitudinousness. It is, indeed, an inexhaustible reservoir of seeds that have been accumulated therein since the beginningless past. So the definition of Citta is as follows: Cittena ciyate karma. That karma is accumulated by Citta means that the latter takes in all that goes on in the mind and also all that is done by the body. Technically stated, every deed (karma), mental and physical, leaves its seeds behind which are deposited in the Citta, and the Citta has been hoarding them since time immemorial. It is the rich repository of all the thoughts, feelings, desires, instincts, etc., no matter how they have come to act, that is, whether merely stirred up in the inmost recesses of one’s consciousness, or carried out by the body into deed, or checked in the incipient stages of their activity. (op cit pp. 248-249)

Citta used in the sense of vijnana:

Citta (pl. cittam) used in place of vijnana means that which we become conscious of, or thoughts. For example, the high-pitched humming of a mosquito is no more than an ear-thought. If it alights on the skin there is a sensation-thought. Cittam constantly arise and pass away; their appearance and disappearance is so continuous that it gives the illusion of a world with time and movement. (Editor)


The Parinirvana-sutra. This 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 people known as Icchanti who had no Buddha-nature in them and therefore who were eternally barred from attaining enlightenment. This belief was entirely 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 Ego, though quite different from what is generally known as such by the philosophers. This Ego is the Tathagata-garbha, Buddha-nature, which exists in every one of us, and is characterised with such virtues as permanency, bliss, freedom, and purity.” (The Lankavatara Sutra, “III The Message of the Lanka”)

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 .

Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas:

A Sravaka is a disciple of a Buddha. A disciple may be a monk or a nun, a layman or a laywoman. Bent on his liberation, a Sravaka follows and practises the teaching of the Buddha and finally attains Nirvana. He also serves others, but his capacity to do so is limited.

A Pratyekabuddha (Individual Buddha) is a person who realizes Nirvana alone by himself at a time when there is no Samyaksambuddha in the world. He also renders service to others, but in a limited way. He is not capable of revealing the Truth to others as a Samyaksambuddha, a Fully Enlightened Buddha, does.

A Bodhisattva is a person (monk or layperson) who is in a position to attain Nirvana as a Sravaka or as a Pratyekabuddha, but out of great compassion (mahakaruna) for the world, he renounces it and goes on suffering in samsara for the sake of others, perfects himself during an incalculable period of time and finally realizes Nirvana and becomes a Samyaksambuddha, a Fully Enlightened Buddha. He discovers the Truth and declares it to the world. His capacity for service to others is unlimited. (Walpola Rahula, 1971)


“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 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 ‘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)


Vijñāna is composed of the prefix vi, meaning “to divide”, and the root jñā which means “to perceive,” “to know.” 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.

* * *

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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