Fundamental Concepts of Buddhism

anuttara-samyak-sambodhi 阿耨多羅三藐三菩提 Anuttara: unsurpassed. Samyak sambodhi: right and comprehensive understanding (complete enlightenment). Unsurpassed complete enlightenment is the state of a buddha.

Arhat 阿羅漢 (Sanskrit). A Buddhist saint who has realized emptiness, having eradicated all afflictions. An arhat is no longer subject to death and rebirth.

attachments 執著 To crave or desire anything, to cling to or despise anything, to dwell in the past or grumble about the present are all examples of attachment.

Avalokitesvara 觀自在,觀世音 This bodhisattva is considered the embodiment of the Buddhist virtue of compassion. Known as Guanyin in Chinese, this is the most beloved bodhisattva in Asia. The name means “perceiver of cries of the world” and “unhindered perceiver of the truth.” Thus this bodhisattva is able to help all sentient beings.

bhiksu 比丘 (Sanskrit) An ordained monk who has renounced home life to seek enlightenment; he observes celibacy as well as 250 precepts defining the conduct of a monk. The female equivalent is called bhikshuni (比丘尼).

bodhi (Sanskrit) awakening, pure

bodhi path 菩提道 The path to awakening, to becoming a Buddha. Therein lies lasting joy.

bodhi wisdom 般若智 Wisdom from understanding the truth; wisdom of enlightenment that can overcome birth and death and all suffering.

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨大師 The 28th Zen (Chan) Patriarch of India, who founded the Zen school of Buddhism in China (and therefore is the first Zen Patriarch of China). This current text is one of the very few records we have of his teaching.

Bodhisattvas 菩薩 One who, with infinite compassion, vows to become a buddha and to liberate countless sentient beings. A bodhisattva practices all six paramitas (perfections), but it is the prajna paramita that ultimately brings true liberation. Bodhi: enlightenment, to awaken. Sattva: sentient beings, beings with consciousness.

buddhas 佛 “The enlightened one.” There are many buddhas in the past, present, and future; all sentient beings can become buddhas by practicing prajna paramita.

dana 布施(檀那) Charity. The first of the six paramitas (perfections) practiced by a bodhisattva. There are 3 types of generosity: giving of material, giving of solace (comfort, protection, removal of fear, etc.), and giving of Dharma.

Deer Park 鹿野苑 The place where the Buddha delivered his first sermon to the five bhiksus. It is in Sarnath near Varanasi, long considered a Buddhist holy place in India.

Demons 魔 Refers to the four kinds of demons (or Maras) that block one’s practice: the five skandhas (skandha-mara), the five poisons (klesha-mara), death (matyu-mara), and the heavenly demons.

Deva天人 (Sanskrit). Devas are heavenly beings with significantly higher powers than that of human beings. They are usually benevolent with some exceptions. (see *mara)

Dharma treasury The invaluable collection of the Buddhist teachings.

Dharmas 法 “Dharma” (capitalized) means the Buddha’s teaching, the Law, the Truth; “dharmas” means things, phenomena.

Dharmakaya 法身 The Buddha has three bodies (kaya): dharmakaya, the truth body, which is formless, unborn, our original nature; sambhogha-kaya 報身 , the bliss body, which can only be seen by great bodhisattvas; and nirmana-kaya 化身, the transformation body, which is the historical Buddha seen by ordinary beings.

Dharma Wheel A Buddhist emblem. Dharma, the Buddha’s teaching, is likened to a wheel because it can crush illusions and ignorance. To turn the Dharma Wheel is to spread the Buddha’s teachings.

Doctrine Here it refers to the canon of Buddhist teaching: the Dharma; the scriptures and their commentaries; and the philosophy.

Doubts In Buddhism, three types of doubt can hinder one’s practice of the Way 1) the doubt of the Dharma, i.e. whether the Dharma can free us of our sufferings, 2) the doubt of oneself, i.e. whether one can make this spiritual journey, and 3) the doubting of Dharma teachers, i.e. whether or not they can lead us to enlightenment.

Dhyana 禪那  A discipline to train the mind to focus and to develop profound insight.

eight stages 四果四向; 八輩上人 In Theravada Buddhism, this refers to the eight levels of progress toward nirvana, culminating in Arhatship. The four stages (fruits) of Arhatship(四果)are Stream-enterer, Once-returner, Non-returner, and Arhat. Each of them has a gestation stage(四向): Pre-stream-enterer, Pre-once-returner, Pre-non-returner, and Pre-Arhat.

Emptiness 空 Both the self and all phenomena are without independent existence or inherent, fixed characteristics. They are impermanent, mutable, and mutually dependent; their individuality is in appearance only.

empty nature 空 Both the self and all phenomena are without independent existence or inherent, fixed characteristics. They are impermanent, mutable and mutually dependent; their individuality is in appearance only. Buddhism provides us with several classifications of phenomena to help us understand how ordinary people perceive the world. They are: the five skandhas, the twelve bases, and the eighteen spheres. However, our perceptions of the world are founded on ignorance; therefore, these constructions are ultimately empty.

empty of effort (wu-wei) 無為  1. Free from contrived effort; free from clinging and attachments; unconditioned; absolute. Being wu-wei also means inner peace obtained by having no desires. Also translated as “unconditioned Dharma” where appropriate.

2. “free from forced or contrived effort (but not necessarily no-action), free from clinging and attachments; unconditioned; absolute. It also means inner peace obtained by having no desires, understanding that we are intrinsically complete and lacking nothing.” changed to “free from contrived effort; free from clinging and attachments; unconditioned; absolute. Being wu-wei also means inner peace obtained by having no desires.”

3. “Empty of effort” is used when the context is for state of being. “Unconditioned” or “unconditioned Dharma” are all is used for 無為法. Both of these terms (empty of effort, unconditioned) are used as translation of wu-wei.

Enlightenment 悟 An enlightened person is awakened to the truth, the ultimate nature of reality. There are many levels of enlightenment, the highest being Buddhahood.

fields of blessings 福田 Good deeds are like seeds; if planted in richer soil (those who are worthy of offerings), they yield greater merits.

The Five Powers 五力 Powers of faith(信), diligence(進), mindfulness(念), samadhi(定), and wisdom(慧).These five powers banish doubt, laziness, forgetfulness, distraction, and delusion which are hindrances to cultivation.

Five Precepts The foundation of morality in the Buddhism. They are 1) no killing, 2) no stealing, 3) no sexual misconduct, 4) no lying, and 5) no intoxication.

The Five Roots 五根 Roots of faith(信), diligence(進), mindfulness(念), samadhi(定), and wisdom(慧). These five roots help anchor wholesome thoughts and deeds.

five skandhas 五蘊 Five aggregates—form, feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness (色受想行識). Form refers to our body or the physical world, the other four are of the mind. Ordinary beings see themselves as composed of these aggregates. When we analyze them deeper, we find no real substance.

The Four Bases of Samadhi 四神足 these refer to the four bases of meditative power gained from strong aspiration to cultivate (欲),intense practice with diligence (進), mindfulness (念), and wisdom(慧).

four evil deeds of the mouth 口四過 1) Malicious speech 兩舌– divisive words; 2) Abusive speech 惡口– harsh words, profanities; 3) False speech 妄言– lying, slandering; 4) Frivolous speech 綺語– worthless talks, flirtatious talks.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness 四念處 Contemplating the body as impure, contemplating all sensation (feeling) as suffering, contemplating the mind as impermanent, and contemplating all things (dharmas) as empty of self.

four great elements 四大 Earth (solid or dry matter), water (liquid or wet matter), wind (air or motion), and fire (heat or energy). They comprise all matter.

four maras Maras are obstacles to cultivation. 1. Kleshas 煩惱魔, 2.skandhas 陰魔, 3. Death 死魔, and 4. deva-mara 天魔, the celestial evil tempter.

The Four Right Efforts 四正勤 to put an end to existing unwholesome thoughts and actions, to prevent unwholesome thoughts from arising, to bring forth wholesome thoughts and actions, and to develop and increase existing wholesome thoughts and good deeds.

the Four Truths, the Four Noble Truths the foundation of the Buddha’s teaching. They are: (1) the truth of suffering, (2) the truth of the cause of suffering, (3) the truth of the cessation of suffering, and (4) the truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering.

gatha A Sanskrit term for a religious verse or stanza.

Great Beings Highly enlightened beings; beings with great virtue and deeds; bodhisattvas and buddhas.

the great bhiksus A “great bhiksus” in Buddhism usually refers to the elder bhiksus of the Buddha’s disciples or to bhiksus who have already attained arhatship. Or, it simply includes all monastics who are present in a Dharma assembly.

great compassion The resolve of buddhas and bodhisattvas to relieve the sufferings of all sentient beings.

haritaki fruit 庵磨羅果 Haritaki fruit is a type of Indian fruit, small in size. We see the world as massive, yet the Buddha perceives the universe as a small fruit.

heavens (heavenly beings) In Buddhism there are devas or celestial beings who reside in different levels of heavens. They are born with more powers and blessings than human beings due to superior deeds, ten good deeds, in their past.

Heart Sutra The short title of this most popular and important sutra. It contains the very essence of the vast body of wisdom teachings (prajna-paramita sutras) in Buddhism.

impermanence The Buddhist principle that everything is in a state of flux and nothing remains the same.

Jetavana Grove in Anathapindika Park The place donated by Prince Jetavana and elderly Anathapindika. It is one of the most famous monastery where the Buddha delivered many important sermons such as the Diamond Sutra and the Sutra on Impermanence.

Kalpa 1. A kalpa is a very long period of time. Formally, a large kalpa is a cycle of the universe, which consists of four tages: birth (of the universe or a “buddha world”), stability, disintegration, and void. The universe is then recreated (and destroyed), over and over again, by our collective karma. Innumerable kalpas refers to the countless cycles through lifetimes in the past.2. An inconceivably long period of time. In Buddhism, a kalpa indicates the length of time between the creation and re-creation of a world or universe.

Karma, karmic consequence Karma means action, which includes physical, verbal, and mental activities. By the law of causality, each action has its corresponding consequences. Action that benefits others brings blessings and happiness; action that harms others brings suffering. We are subject to the consequences of our own karma.

Kashyapa Buddha There are buddhas in the past, present, and future. Kashyapa Buddha, one of the Past Seven Buddhas, is the one immediately preceding the historical Shakyamuni Buddha.

Kaundinya 憍陳如 The first disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha to become enlightened and one of the first five bhiksus that followed the Buddha. The other four are Bhadrika, Vaspa, Mahanama, and Ashvajit.

King Yama The ruler of Buddhist purgatory who assigns punishments to beings according to their karmic misdeeds.

lotus flower A symbol of purity in Buddhism because it grows from muddy water and blooms without a trace of mud left upon it. Mud represents defilements that soil our mind.

Mahayana 大乘 1. One of the two major traditions of Buddhism (the other is Theravada), emphasizes the path to buddhahood that involves perfection of wisdom, unconditional compassion, and liberation of countless sentient beings. Theravada, primarily the teaching of “The Four Noble Truths” and “The Eightfold Path,” emphasizes attaining nirvana and is the foundation of Mahayana.

2. The great (maha) vehicle (yana). It is the bodhisattva path which leads to Buddhahood. This involves devotion to the liberation of all beings and the perfection of wisdom. Mahayanamind: the bodhi mind, the enlightened mind, the buddha nature within all of us. To cultivate the Mahayana mind means to commit to the buddha path.

Mahayana Mind 大乘心 The bodhi mind, the enlightened mind, the original mind, the Buddha nature inherent in all of us.

Mantra “True words”, also a short phrase that contains much meaning. Mantras are usually left untranslated.

Mara天魔 literally, heavenly spirit or a god, in Sanskrit. A powerful deva who rules over the heavens does not want people to practice Buddhism, because sentient beings will then transcend birth and death and not be under his rule. The name Mara is given to such a deva, considered more like a demon. Mara actively hinders spiritual seekers who are near enlightenment, because they will soon transcend samsara and be out of his control.

Middle Way Without dualistic thoughts or harboring extreme views.

Mt. Sumeru In Buddhist cosmology, Mt. Sumeru is the highest mountain in the Desire Realm though human eyes cannot see it. Even a mountain as high as Mt. Sumeru will perish in due time.

Neither Thought nor Non-Thought Heaven This is the highest heaven in the Formless Realm of the Triple Realm (see Triple Realm).

Nirvana 涅槃 The state free from all desires and suffering; ultimate bliss and tranquility.

no self 無我 Emptiness of an independent, consistent self or selfidentity. What we perceive as “self” is actually an illusive ego.

The Noble Eightfold Path right understanding(正見), right thought(正思惟), right speech(正語), right action(正業), right livelihood(正命), right effort(正精進), right mindfulness(正念),and right samadhi(正定). These factors lead to the cessation of suffering where the state of nirvana is reached.

non-returner or anagamin The third stage of arhatship. A non-returner has eradicated all defilements of the Desire Realm and thus will never be born in that realm again.

once-returner or sakridagamin The second stage of arhatship. A once-returner has not completely eradicated the defilements of the Desire Realm and thus has to undergo one more human re-birth.

Paramita 波羅蜜多 Perfection, the practice that can bring one to liberation. Literally, “to the other shore.” To become a buddha, the bodhisattva practices the six paramitas: perfection of charity (dana), moral conduct (sila), tolerance (ksanti), diligence (virya), meditation (dhyana), and, most important of all, wisdom (prajna).

Prajna 般若 Great transcendental wisdom; wisdom from understanding the truth; wisdom of understanding the empty nature of the ‘self’ and all phenomena; wisdom that can overcome birth-and-death and all suffering, and enlighten all beings.

Pratyekabuddha 1. Persons who get enlightened and attain nirvana (1) by meditating on the principle of causality specifically the twelve links of dependent origination; (2) by awakening to the truth through their own effort because they live in time when there is no buddha or Buddhist teachings.

2. There are two kinds of pratyekabuddhas. One has ended the birth-and-death cycle by contemplating on the Twelvefold Causal Chain, twelve links of dependent origination. The other is born in a time without a buddha or the Dharma and achieves nirvana on his own.

Precepts Guidelines of moral discipline; regarded as the foundation of the Three Studies (precepts, samadhi, and wisdom) in the practice of Buddhism. Diligent observance of precepts promotes samadhi and wisdom, requisite to attaining enlightenment and realizing one’s inherent buddha nature and bodhi mind.

principle and action( Li and shi) Fundamental principle (理, li), means “principle”, here it refers to the Truth, the true nature of the mind, or the underlying principle of all phenomena. Enlightenment means the realization of this li.

Actions (事, shi), literally “things”, or “phenomena”, are the myriad phenomena which manifest in accordance with the “fundamental principle” of nature. In this context, shi refers to the various Buddhist practices such as meditation, charity, tolerance, etc., which are tangible actions that actualize the fundamental principle in real life.

prostrate To kneel with hands, knees, and forehead touching the ground in the traditional Buddhist gesture of the deepest respect to someone.

renounce the secular life Means to leave the secular home life to become a monk or a nun. In addition, it also means 1) to leave the home of the five skandhas(form, feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness), that is, to identify the five aggregates as the ‘false’ self; 2) to leave the home of klesas (greed, anger, and ignorance) or afflictions; and 3) to leave the home of samsara, that is, the home of the endless cycle of birth and death.

repent To sincerely confess our bad deeds, speech, and thoughts, to realize the harm they have caused, to make amends and vow never to repeat them again.

Samadhi (Sanskrit). A highly concentrated state of mind achieved by meditation.

Samsara 生死、輪迴 The relentless cycle of birth and death in which unenlightened beings are deeply entangled. By extension it means this world of afflictions and suffering.

Sariputra 舍利子,舍利弗 (Pronounced Shariputra). A senior disciple of the Buddha, known for his wisdom.

sentient beings All living beings with sentience; beings that have awareness. They include devas (gods or heavenly beings 天人), asuras (demi-gods 阿修羅), human beings, animals, hungryghosts, and hell-beings. Unlike buddhas and bodhisattvas, they are all trapped in samsara, but have the potential to become buddhas.

The seven branches of Awakening(七覺支) seven factors of awakening mindfulness(念), discernment(擇), diligence(精進), joy(喜), serenity(輕安), samadhi(定), and equanimity(捨), which help eradicate defilements and bring forth awakening.

Seven treasures They are the Flying Wheel which is a vehicle that carries the King to places where he wins over other countries by righteousness rather than force, elephant-treasure, horse-treasure, priceless jewelries, a beautiful and virtuous queen, a financial guru, and victorious general.

shramanas (Sanskrit). Monks. Shramanas diligently cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, striving to eradicate greed, anger, and ignorance.

shravakas 聲聞 “Hearer” in Sanskrit; literally means those who have heard the Buddha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths and eventually become arhats. Those who eventually become arhats as a result of listening to the buddhas and following their teachings.

sin Misdeeds, actions that lead to harm and suffering.

six perfections 波羅蜜多 Paramitas, the practice that can bring one to liberation. Literally, “to the other shore.” To become a buddha, the bodhisattva practices the six paramitas: perfection of charity (dana), moral conduct (sila), tolerance (ksanti), diligence (virya), meditation (dhyana), and, most important of all, wisdom (prajna). The practice of the six paramitas can remove our impurities/delusions, which are originally empty, so in the end, nothing is gained and nothing is lost. Still, one then becomes a buddha; without the practice, the buddha nature is latent and one is an ordinary sentient being imbued with suffering.

stream-enterer or srotapanna The first stage of arhatship. A stream-enterer is enlightened to emptiness, but yet has to undergo a maximum of seven rebirths as a human and seven rebirths as a heavenly being, alternately, in order to eradicate all defilements.

sufficient faith It includes 1) believing the Principle of Causality, 2) understanding “emptiness”, 3) seeing that all sentient beings have the Buddha nature and that Buddha nature is inherently whole and complete.

Supreme Vehicle The One Vehicle that brings everyone to Buddhahood.

supreme Way Ultimate enlightenment, Buddhahood.

Sutra 佛經 A Buddhist scripture containing the dialogues or discourses of the Buddha.

take refuge To abide by and return to the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

the Tamer One of the ten titles of a buddha. Like a tamer of elephants and lions, a buddha is able to help others bring their emotional distress under control so they may become the masters of their own minds. He is able to tame and convert even the most stubborn or evil beings with skillful means.

Tathagata 1. One of the ten titles of a buddha. “One who has thus come, one who has thus gone”; the term Shakyamuni Buddha often used to refer to himself, denoting the empty nature of “self”, and that a buddha is one with the Truth (“suchness”).

2. The Thus Come One, an epithet of the Buddha meaning “thus come, thus gone”, or “neither coming nor going.”

Teacher of Heavenly and Human Beings One of the ten titles of a buddha. A buddha is able to teach heavenly beings (devas) and human beings (manusyas) the path of liberation.

Ten honorable titles of Shakyamuni and all other buddhas. 如來十號

The ten titles are (in Sanskrit and Chinese):

1. Tathagata (如來): Thus Come One (one who comes from the Truth); Thus Gone One; One who Neither Comes nor Goes

2. Arhat (應供): One who is (1) worthy of offering, (2) killer of thieves – Arhat has killed the thieves of afflictions and defilements, and (3) free of future rebirths

3. Samyak-sambuddha (正遍知): Rightly Enlightened, one who knows the whole truth

4. Vidya-carana-sampanna (明行足): Perfect in Wisdom and Action

5. Sugata (善逝): Well-Gone (a good death)

6. Lokavid (世間解): Knower of the World

7. Anuttara (無上士): The Unsurpassed One

8. Purusadamya-saratha (調御大夫): The Tamer

9. Sasta devamanusyanam (天人師): Teacher of Heavenly and Human Beings

10. Bhagavan (世尊or薄伽梵): World Honored One

Three Afflictions 三惑 1. Erroneous views and thoughts (見思惑), which hinder nirvana. They are false views and thoughts that prevent one from seeing emptiness and attaining nirvana. 2. The ignorance of dharmas (塵沙惑), which hinder the bodhisattva way. It is the hindrance to understanding the true nature of all phenomena, so one does not have the skillful means to lead sentient beings to liberation. 3. Fundamental ignorance(無明惑), which hinders the Middle Way. It is the subtlest ignorance that prevents one from fully realizing the ultimate reality.

the Three Jewels The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha; also known as the Triple Gem or the Three Treasures. 

three karmas Refer to physical, verbal and mental activity.

three wretched destinies The three lower planes of existence in the realm of desire, namely animal, hungry ghost, and hell.

Triple Realm (1) The Realm of Desire, where beings such as humans and animals reside. They possess physical forms and have varying degrees of desires for wealth, lust, fame, food, and sleep. (2) The Realm of Form, where beings who have attained the four dhyana (deep mental concentration) stages reside. They have finer, uni-gender physical forms but not the desires of the lower realm. (3) The Realm of Formlessness, where beings, through more refined meditation, are reborn without physical forms and exist in various subtle consciousness states only. Beings of the Triple Realm are still subject to karma and rebirth, and therefore have not attained liberation.

True suchness; suchness 真如 the way reality is; Truth; equivalently, the original, pure, perfect state of mind.

the Twin Trees The Buddha gave his very last lecture in the Upavattana Sala Grove amidst four pairs of Sala Trees.

Unconditioned The world as perceived by ordinary people are conditioned which leads to suffering. The enlightened beings are able to transcend the conditioned existence and arrive at the Unconditioned shore which is to attain nirvana.

vajra scepter of wisdom “Vajra” is a Sanskrit word that literally means “a diamond”; the Vajra scepter is a metaphor of the indestructible nature of the Buddha’s wisdom that can shatter delusion.

Vexations. Klesas 煩惱 (pronounced “kleshas”)— greed, anger, and ignorance; causes of suffering; defilement of the mind; the chronic mental states that vex the mind and distress the body.

the Way The truth, or the path of awakening to the truth, the path to Buddhahood.

Wheel-Turning Kings (Sanskrit: Chakravartin). In pre-Buddhist Indian tradition, Wheel-Turning Kings are the most powerful rulers in the world of humanity. They are blessed with seven treasures and a thousand sons.

World Honored One (Bhagavan in Sanskrit). One of the ten titles of a buddha. The Buddha is awakened to the truth and is determined to liberate all sentient beings through his teachings. Because of his great compassion and wisdom, the Buddha is honored by all sentient beings in the world.

The translations of the Buddhist terms are still in progress.

They serve as references only.