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Glossary of Buddhist Terms

Below is a glossary of Buddhist Terms. Please browse this list and also page through the entries.


Thirty Seven Aspects of the Path to Enlightenment

(Skt. saptatrimsa-bodhipakshadharma; Tib. byang-chub-kyi phyogs-)

The thirty-seven aspects or 'factors of Buddhahood' are the sequentially practices that lead along the path to enlightenment. In the Hinayana traditions these thirty-seven factors lead to the attainment of Arhatship, and in the Mahayana traditions they lead through the ten Bodhisattva levels or 'grounds' (Skt. bhumi; Tib. sa) to the attainment of full enlightenment or Buddhahood. The thirty-seven aspects are grouped into seven main categories, which simultaneously correspond to the 'five paths to Buddhahood'. These seven main categories are: (1) the four foundations of mindfulness; (2) the four renunciations or right efforts; (3) the four 'legs' or supports of miraculous power; (4) the five spiritual faculties; (5) the five spiritual powers; (6) the seven factors of enlightenment; (7) the eightfold noble path.

(1) The four foundations of mindfulness or 'close contemplations' are: (1) analysis of our body (kaya) or physical existence, which leads to an understanding of the first noble truth of suffering; (2) of our emotions or feelings (vedana), which leads to an understanding of the second noble truth of the cause of suffering; (3) of our mind or intellect (chitta), which leads to an understanding of the third noble truth of the cessation of suffering; (4) of our perception of reality (dharma), which leads to an understanding of the fourth noble truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

(2) The four renunciations or 'states of abandonment' are: (1) to cultivate only virtuous actions and qualities that one has not yet developed; (2) to increase the virtues that one has already developed; (3) to cease the increase of one's non-virtuous actions and qualities; (4) to prevent the development of non-virtuous actions and qualities that one has not yet acquired.

(3) The four legs of miraculous activity are states of single-pointed concentration that lead to the attainment of miraculous powers, which enable one to benefit all beings. These 'legs' are attained through: (1) the intention or strong desire to attain mental quiescence; (2) the perseverance of mental intellect that is directed towards this attainment; (3) the contemplation on the methods of achieving it; (4) the discrimination on how to utilize it.

(4) The five spiritual or moral faculties are directed towards a deep realization of the four noble truths. They are: (1) faith or confidence (shraddha) in the four noble truths; (2) perseverance or effort (virya) in their realization; (3) mindfulness or inspection (smrti) of them; (4) concentration or mental absorption (samadhi) upon them; (5) the discriminating awareness or wisdom (prajna) of their individual aspects.

(5) The five spiritual or 'unshakable' powers are the full realizations that develop through the five moral faculties listed above: (1) the power of faith; (2) perseverance; (3) mindfulness; (4) contemplation; (5) wisdom; which overcome the five meditative hindrances of: (1) lack of faith or disbelief; (2) laziness; (3) forgetfulness; (4) distraction; (5) ignorance or lack of wisdom.

(6) The seven factors or limbs of enlightenment (sapta-bodhyanga) are the aspects of wisdom-awareness that overcome the delusions or hindrances on the path to enlightenment. They are: (1) perfect mindfulness; (2) perfect discrimination of phenomena: (3) perfect effort or energy; (4) perfect joy; (5) perfect versatility or flexibility; (6) perfect single-pointed concentration; (7) perfect equanimity.

(7) The eightfold noble path, which overcome the final hindrances on the path to enlightenment. They are: (1) correct or right view; (2) right aspiration; (3) right speech; (4) right action; (5) right livelihood; (6) right effort; (7) right mindfulness; (8) right single-minded concentration.

Thirty Three

(Skt. trayastrimsa; Tib. gsum-cu rtsa gsum)

The 'heaven of the thirty-three' is located in the desire realm of the mundane or 'earth dwelling' gods, and it is this realm that is commonly depicted as the uppermost realm in the Wheel of Life painting. The term 'thirty-three' derives from this heaven being the abode of the great sky god Indra and his thirty-two subsidiary gods or ministers. In the Indian traditions this number is sometimes multiplied by a million to correspond to the vast pantheon of different gods, which is said to number thirty-three million.

Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva

(Tib. rGyal-sras lag-len so-bdun-ma)

A text composed by the Tibetan master Ngulchu Thogme Zangpo, which covers a series of thirty-seven practices or aspects upon the Bodhisattva path to complete enlightenment.

Three Doors of Liberation

The three doors or gateways through which one may approach liberation. (1) The emptiness of cause (emptiness); (2) the emptiness of effect (lack of aspiration); (3) the emptiness of all phenomena (lack of attribution).

Three Doors or Gates

(Skt. tridvara; Tib. sgo gsum)

Body, speech and mind - which correspond to the trinity of thought (mind), word (speech), and deed (body). The aspect of body is symbolized by the white syllable Om at the crown of the head, the aspect of speech by the red syllable A at the throat, and the aspect of mind by the blue syllable Hum at the heart.

Three Poisons

(Skt. trivisha; Tib. dug gsum)

The three primary negative emotions of attachment, aversion and ignorance, which are graphically represented at the central hub of the Wheel of Life painting; (1) a black pig, symbolizing ignorance or delusion; (2) a red cockerel, symbolizing attachment or lust; (3) a green snake, symbolizing hatred or aversion. These three creatures bite each other's tails, symbolizing that primordial ignorance gives rise to attachment, which in turn gives rise to aversion, which in turn gives rise to further ignorance. See Five Poisons.

Three Principal Aspects of the Path

(lam-gyi gtso-bo-rnam gsum)

The three essential aspects on the path to enlightenment: (1) renunciation; (2) bodhichitta or compassion; (3) wisdom or the correct view of emptiness.

Three Times

(Skt. trikala; Tib. dus gsum)

Past, present, and future.

Three Vajras

(Skt. trivajra; Tib. rdo-rje gsum)

The purified body, speech and mind of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Three Worlds or Realms

(Skt. triloka, trailokya, tridhatu; Tib. khamsgsum)

Buddhist cosmology divides samsara or cyclic existence into three realms: (1) the desire realm (Skt. kamadhatu; Tib. 'dod-khams); (2) the form realm (Skt. rupadhatu; Tib. gzugs-khams); (3) the formless realm (Skt. arupadhatu; Tib. gzugs-med-khams). The desire realm encompasses beings of the six realms of cyclic existence - the hell, hungry ghost (preta), animal, human, and demi-god (asura) realms, and six lower heavens of the gods - which consist of the two heavens of the 'earth-dwelling gods' (the heaven of the four great guardian kings, and the heaven of the 'thirty-three'), and the four heavens of the 'sky-dwelling gods'. The form realm consists of seventeen or eighteen higher realms of beatific existence that are characterized by progressively subtle levels of consciousness, which have arisen from realization of one or more of the 'four concentrations' in a previous existence. The formless realm consists of four levels of bodiless existence where the individuals exist as pure consciousness, and which have arisen from the attainment of one or more of the 'four absorptions' in a previous existence. The term 'three worlds' may also refer to the three levels (sa gsum) or realms of conventional existence: (1) above the earth (sa bla), as the level or realm of the gods or deva; (2) on the earth (sa steng), as the level or realm of human existence; (3) below the earth (sa 'og), as the level or realm of the naga serpents. In the Vedic tradition the three realms (Skt. trailokya) referred to the divine, human, and infernal realms.


(Tib. rta-babs)

The torana is an archway or gateway. As the 'six-ornament' enlightenment throne of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, its upper arc is traditionally decorated with the motifs or mythological creatures, with a garuda or kirtimukha at its top, and a pair of symmetrical nagas and makaras below. Its sides are usually decorated with the motifs of a jeweled crossbar, a pair of young gods or devas, two hybrid antelopes or sharabha, two lions and two elephants. Exquisite carved wood or stone toranas can still be found in the Kathmandu valley on Nepal. In south Indian architecture the torana often takes the form of an elaborately carved gateway known as a gopura.

Twelve Links of Dependant Origination

(Skt. pratityasamutpada)

The twelve links in the chain of dependant arising is one of the most important doctrines on the Buddhist view of causation and interdependence - showing how suffering arises from primordial ignorance and its motivational actions. These twelve links are graphically depicted in the outer circle of the Buddhist painting of the 'Wheel of Life' (Skt. bhavachakra; Tib. srid-pa'i 'khor-lo):

(1) Primordial ignorance (avidya), represented by a blind man. (2) Conditioned or formative actions (samskara), as a potter making pots. (3) Consciousness (vijnana), as a playful monkey attracted by objects. (4) Name and form (namarupa), as two men in a boat. (5) The five sense bases and the mind (ayatana), as a house with five windows and a door. (6) Contact (sparsha) and its desire for an object, as a couple kissing or making love. (7) Sensation (vedana) or desire giving rise to feelings of pleasure and pain, as a man blinded by an arrow in one eye. (8) Craving (trishna) or thirst, as a man drinking alcohol. (9) Grasping (adana), as a monkey plucking all the fruit from a tree. (10) Becoming (bhava) or maturing towards rebirth, as a pregnant woman or an egg-roosting hen. (11) Birth (jati) leading to endless rebirth, as a woman giving birth. (12) Ageing and death (jaramarana) leading to endless cycles of life and death, as an old man walking with a stick, and a corpse being carried to a cemetery.

Two Accumulations

(Tib. tshogs gnyis)

(1) The accumulation of merit (bsod-nams), which is generated through the five 'method' perfections of generosity, morality, patience, effort, and meditative concentration; (2) the accumulation of wisdom or pristine cognition (ye-shes), which is cultivated through the sixth 'wisdom' perfection of wisdom.

Two Emptinesses

(Skt. dvisunya; Tib. stong-nyid gnyis)

(1) The emptiness of inherent existence in conditioned 'things' (the five aggregates); (2) the emptiness of all unconditioned or 'non-things'.

Two Truths

(Skt. dvisatya; Tib. bden-pa gnyis)

The conventional, relative or 'deceptive' truth (Skt. samvritisatya; Tib. kun-rdzob bden-pa), which is the apparent truth of the phenomenal world experienced through ordinary perception, or the way in which phenomena appear to exist and function. And the absolute or ultimate truth (Skt. paramarthasatya; Tib. don-dam bden-pa), which is the actual truth of emptiness experienced directly through enlightened wisdom, or the way in which phenomena actually exist.

Two Veils or Obscurations

(Skt. avarana; Tib. sgrib-gnyis)

The two obscurations are the factors that veil our enlightened Buddha-nature - the obscuration of emotional defilements (Skt. kleshavarana; Tib. nyon-mongs-sgrib), and the obscuration of objective knowledge (Skt. jneyavarana; Tib. shes-bya-sgrib). The first is also known as the 'obscuration to liberation', and is characterized by negative emotions, thoughts, and emotional imprints, such as anger, desire, jealousy and envy. The second is also known as the 'obscuration to knowledge', and is characterized by ignorance.


Wheel of Life

(Skt. bhavachakra; Tib. srid-pa'i 'khor-lo)

The Wheel of Life painting graphically illustrates the Buddhist teachings on impermanence, suffering, karma, death and rebirth into one of the six realms of cyclic existence, and the twelve links of dependent origination. At the central hub of the painting are a black pig, a red cockerel, and a green snake, which bite each other's tails and symbolize the three primary poisons of ignorance, desire, and aversion. The next circle of the painting depicts beings ascending to the three upper realms on its right white segment, and beings falling to the three lower realms on its left dark segment. The third circle is divided by spokes into either five or six sections, with the three lower realms of animals, hungry ghosts (preta), and the various hell realms in the lower segment, and the three upper realms of humans, demi-gods (asura), and gods (deva) in the upper two or three segments. The outer circle of the wheel depicts in a clockwise sequence twelve metaphorical images of the twelve links of dependent origination. The wheel itself is held in the claws of Yama, the lord of death - or by a red demon, symbolizing impermanence - who bites and consumes the wheel with his deadly fangs. Above and outside of this wheel stands the form of Shakyamuni Buddha, who raises his right arm to point towards the moon as a symbol of the Buddhist teachings that lead to liberation from the endless wheel of cyclic existence. The image of the Wheel of Existence, Becoming or Life, is of great antiquity and metaphorically illustrates the teachings of the Buddha. See Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, Six Realms and Three poisons.


(Skt. prajna; Tib. shes-rab)

Wisdom or 'discriminating awareness' is perhaps best defined as the intelligence or ability to understand all phenomena correctly in terms of emptiness, or as a direct insight into the true nature of reality (emptiness). The Sanskrit term jnana (Tib. ye-shes) may also be used to refer to wisdom or knowledge, and this term is perhaps best defined as the 'pristine cognition' or 'pure and uncorrupted knowledge and intuition' of the fully enlightened mind. Wisdom or prajna has always been regarded as a 'feminine' quality, with the female consort of a male deity being known as 'prajna'. As the feminine quality of emptiness - as opposed to the male quality of form - the left hand gestures and attributes of deities commonly reveal their wisdom aspects. See Method, Mother tantra, Prajnaparamita.



(Tib. dpag-tshad)

The yojana or 'league' is a large unit of ancient Indian measure, and derives from the distance that an ox cart could comfortably travel without being unyoked (yojana). In the early abhidharma system a yojana equaled 4,000 fathoms or approximately four and a half miles, but in the later Kalachakra system the yojana was doubled to approximate to nine miles. The Kalachakra Tantra lists the various units of measure: "Eight subtle particles are equal to one particle. Eight particles are equal to the tip of a fine hair. Eight fine hair tips are equal to a mustard seed. Eight mustard seeds are equal to a louse. Eight lice are equal to a barleycorn. Eight barleycorns are equal to a finger-width (angula). Twenty-four finger-widths are equal to a cubit (hasta). Four cubits are equal to a fathom or 'bow' (dhanus). Two thousand bows are equal to an 'ear-shot'. And four ear-shots are equal to one league (yojana)."

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