Glossary

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Glossary of Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist Terms   Skt =Sanskrit; Tib = Tibetan)  

Abhidhama (Skt; Tib: chö-ngön- pa)  One of the three baskets (tripitaka) of the Buddhist canon, the others being the Vinaya and the Sutra; the systematized philosophical and psychological analysis of existence that is the basis of the Buddhist systems of tenets and mind training.

Akshobhya (Skt; Tib: Mi-kyö-pa “Imperturbable”)  One of the five dhyani buddhas, or heads of the five buddha families, who represent the fully purified skandhas, or aggregates, of form, feeling, recognition, compositional factors, and consciousness. Akshobhya is blue in color, represents the fully purified aggregate of consciousness, and is lord of the vajra family.

Ajatashatru (Skt)  Early Indian king who imprisoned and killed his father, Bimbisara. Realizing the enormity of this sin and guided by the Buddha, he purified this negativity and became an arhat.

Angulimala (Skt)  A character in a classic Dharma story of choosing the wrong guru and committing horrendous actions. In this case, he killed 399 people and made a rosary out of their thumbs. He was prevented by the Buddha from killing his thousandth victim, which, according to the wrong guru, would have led him to liberation. He was able to purify and become an arhat.

Arhat (Skt)  Literally, “foe destroyer.” A person who has destroyed his or her delusions and attained liberation from cyclic existence.

Avalokiteshvara (Skt; Tib: Chenrezig)  The buddha of compassion. A male meditational deity embodying fully enlightened compassion.

Bodhicitta (Skt)  The altruistic determination to reach enlightenment for the sole purpose of enlightening all sentient beings.

Bodhisattva (Skt)  Someone whose spiritual practice is directed toward the achievement of enlightenment. One who possesses the compassionate motivation of bodhicitta.

Buddha (Skt)  A fully enlightened being. One who has removed all obscurations veiling the mind and has developed all good qualities to perfection. The first of the Three Jewels of refuge. See also enlightenment.

Central channel  See shushuma.

Chakra (Skt)  Energy wheel. A focal point of energy along the central channel (shushuma) upon which one’s concentration is directed, especially during the completion stage of highest yoga tantra. The main chakras are the crown, throat, heart, navel, and secret.

Channels (Skt: nadi)  A constituent of the vajra body through which energy winds and drops flow. The central, right, and left are the major channels; the channels total 72,000 in all.

Chu-len (Tib)  Literally, “taking the essence.” Chu-len pills are made of essential ingredients; taking but a few each day, accomplished meditators can remain secluded in retreat for months or years without having to depend upon normal food.

Compassion (Skt: karuna)  The wish for all beings to be separated from their mental and physical suffering. A prerequisite for the development of bodhicitta. Compassion is symbolized by the meditational deity Avalokiteshvara.

Completion stage (Tib: dzok- rim)  The second of the two stages of highest yoga tantra, during which control is gained over the vajra body through such practices as inner fire.

Daka (Skt; Tib: kha- dro)  Literally, a “sky-goer.” A male being who helps arouse blissful energy in a qualified tantric practitioner.

Dakini (Skt; Tib: kha-dro- ma)  Literally, a “female sky-goer.” A female being who helps arouse blissful energy in a qualified tantric practitioner. damaru (Skt)  A small hand drum used in tantric practice. Delusion (Skt: klesha; Tib: nyön- mong)  An obscuration covering the essentially pure nature of the mind, being thereby responsible for suffering and dissatisfaction; the main delusion is ignorance, out of which grow desirous attachment, hatred, jealousy, and all the other delusions.

Dharma (Skt)  Spiritual teachings, particularly those of the Buddha. Literally, that which holds one back from suffering. The second of the Three Jewels of refuge.

Dharmakaya (Skt)  The “truth body.” The mind of a Fully enlightened being, which, free of all coverings, remains meditatively absorbed in the direct perception of emptiness while simultaneously cognizing all phenomena. One of the three bodies of a buddha (see also nirmanakaya and sambhogakaya).

Divine pride   The strong conviction that one has achieved the state of a particular meditational deity. Cf. generation stage.

Dorje (Tib; Skt: vajra)  The magical weapon of the Vedic god Indra, made of metal and very sharp and hard; adamantine. A thunderbolt. A tantric implement symbolizing method (compassion or bliss), held in the right hand (the male side), usually in conjunction with a bell, which symbolizes wisdom and is held in the left hand (the female side).

Dorje Khadro (Tib; Skt: Vajradaka)  A deity who functions to purify negativities through his specific fire puja (jin-sek). See also ngön-dro. drops  A constituent of the vajra body used in the generation of great bliss. Of the two types, at conception, the red drops are received from one’s mother and the white drops from one’s father.

Dualistic view   The ignorant view characteristic of the unenlightened mind in which all things are falsely conceived to have concrete self-existence. To such a view, the appearance of an object is mixed with the false image of its being independent or self-existent, thereby leading to further dualistic views concerning subject and object, self and other, this and that, etc.

Dzok-rim (Tib)  See completion stage.

Ego-grasping   The ignorant compulsion to regard one’s self, or I, as permanent, selfexistent, and independent of all other phenomena.

Empowerment  See initiation.

Emptiness  See sunyata.

Enlightenment (Skt: bodhi)  Full awakening; buddhahood. The ultimate goal of Buddhist practice, attained when all limitations have been removed from the mind and all one’s positive potential has been realized. It is a state characterized by unlimited compassion, skill, and wisdom.

Four classes of tantra   The division of tantra into kriya (action), carya (performance), yoga, and anuttara yoga (highest yoga).

Geluk (Tib)   The Virtuous Order. The order of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Lama Tsong Khapa and his disciples in the early fifteenth century.

Generation stage (Tib: kye- rim)  The first of the two stages of highest yoga tantra, during which one cultivates the clear appearance and divine pride of one’s chosen meditational deity.

Graduated path (Tib: lam- rim)  A presentation of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings in a form suitable for the step-by-step training of a disciple. The lam-rim was first formulated by the great Indian teacher Atisha (Dipankara Shrijnana, 982-1055) when he came to Tibet in 1042.

Guhyasamaja (Skt; Tib: Sang-wa Dü- pa)  Male meditational deity from the father class of highest yoga tantra; a manifestation of the Buddha Akshobhya.

Guru (Skt; Tib: lama)  A spiritual guide or teacher. One who shows a disciple the path to liberation and enlightenment. In tantra, one’s teacher is seen as inseparable from the meditational deity and the Three Jewels of refuge. See also root guru.

Guru yoga (Skt)   The fundamental tantric practice, whereby one’s guru is seen as identical with the buddhas, one’s personal meditational deity, and the essential nature of one’s own mind.

Heruka Chakrasamvara (Skt; Tib: Kor-lo Dem-chog)  Male meditational deity from the mother tantra class of highest yoga tantra. He is the principal deity connected with the Heruka Vajrasattva practice and was Lama Yeshe’s yidam.

Highest yoga tantra (Skt: anuttara-yoga tantra)  The fourth and supreme division of tantric practice, consisting of the generation and completion stages. Through this practice, one can attain full enlightenment within one lifetime.

Hinayana (Skt)  Literally, the “Small Vehicle.” It is one of the two general divisions of Buddhism. Hinayana practitioners’ motivation for following the Dharma path is principally their intense wish for personal liberation from conditioned existence, or samsara. Cf Mahayana; see also Theravada.

Initiation   Transmission received from a tantric master allowing a disciple to engage in the practices of a particular meditational deity. It is also referred to as an empowerment

Inner fire (Tib: tum- mo)  The energy residing at the navel chakra, aroused during the completion stage of highest yoga tantra and used to bring the energy winds into the central channel. It is also called inner or psychic heat.

Inner offering (Tib: nang- chö)  A tantric offering whose basis of transformation is one’s five aggregates visualized as the five meats and the five nectars. I

nsight meditation (Pali: vipassana)  The principal meditation taught in the Theravada tradition and is based on the Buddha’s teachings on the four foundations of mindfulness. It is sometimes called mindfulness meditation. In the Mahayana, Vipasyana (Skt) has a different connotation, where it means investigation of and familiarisation with the actual way in which things exist and is used to develop the wisdom of emptiness.

Jor-chö (Tib)   The preparatory rites (see Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand pp. 131- 247, and Sopa, Geshe Lhundup, and Hopkins, Jeffrey, Cutting Through Appearances, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1989).

Kagyu (Tib)  The order of Tibetan Buddhism founded in the eleventh century by Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa, and their followers. Kalarupa (Skt)  Wrathful male meditational deity connected with Yamantaka.

Kapala (Skt; Tib: tö- pa)  Skull cup, e.g., the one held by Yum Dorje Nyem- ma.

Karma (Skt; Tib: lä)  Action; the working of cause and effect, whereby positive actions produce happiness and negative actions produce suffering.

Kriya (Skt)   First of the four classes of tantra (q.v.); action tantra. kundalini (Skt)  Blissful energy dormant within the physical body, aroused through tantric practice and used to generate penetrative insight into the true nature of reality.

Kusha (Skt)   Kind of long-stranded grass used under the retreat seat, during tantric initiations, and for making brooms in India. Shakyamuni Buddha made a seat out of kusha grass when he meditated under the bodhi tree at Bodhgaya and attained enlightenment.

Kye-rim (Tib)  See generation stage.

Lama (Tib)  See guru.

Lam-rim (Tib)  See graduated path.

Liberation  See nirvana.

Madhyamaka (Skt)  The middle way; a system of analysis founded by Nagarjuna, based on the prajñaparamita sutras of Shakyamuni Buddha, and considered to be the supreme presentation of the wisdom of emptiness.

Maha-anuttara (Skt)  Also called anuttara. See four classes of tantra and highest yoga tantra. It is divided into generation and completion stages.

Mahakala (Skt)  Wrathful male meditational deity connected with Heruka; a Dharma protector favored by Lama Yeshe.

Mahamudra (Skt; Tib: chag- chen)  The great seal. A profound system of meditation upon the mind and the ultimate nature of reality. Mahayana (Skt)  Literally, the “Great Vehicle.” It is one of the two general divisions of Buddhism. Mahayana practitioners’ motivation for following the Dharma path is principally their intense wish for all mother sentient beings to be liberated from conditioned existence, or samsara, and to attain the full enlightenment of buddhahood. The Mahayana has two divisions: Paramitayana, or Sutrayana, and Vajrayana. Cf Hinayana.

Mandala (Skt; Tib: khyil- khor)  A circular diagram symbolic of the entire universe. The abode of a meditational deity.

Manjushri (Skt; Tib: Jam-päl- yang)  The buddha of wisdom. A male meditational deity embodying fully enlightened wisdom.

Mantra (Skt) Literally, protection of the mind. Mantras are Sanskrit syllables recited in conjunction with the practice of a particular meditational deity that embody the qualities of that deity.

Mantra rosary   A mantra visualized as a rosary, its syllables representing beads; usually circular, as in the syllables of the one hundred syllable mantra standing around the edge of the moon disc.

Mara (Skt)   Personification of the delusions that distract us from Dharma practice; what Buddhists might call the “devil”; what Shakyamuni Buddha overcame under the bodhi tree as he strove for enlightenment.

Marpa (Tib; 1012-96)  Founder of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He was a renowned tantric master and translator, a disciple of Naropa, and the guru of Milarepa.

Middle way   The view presented in Shakyamuni Buddha’s prajñaparamita sutras and elucidated by Nagarjuna that all phenomena are dependent arisings, thereby avoiding the mistaken extremes of self-existence and non-existence, or eternalism and nihilism. Cf Madhyamaka.

Milarepa (Tib; 1040- 1123)  Foremost disciple of Marpa, famous for his intense practice, devotion to his guru, attainment of enlightenment in his lifetime, and his many songs of spiritual realization.

Mudra (Skt; Tib: chag- gya)  Literally, seal, token. A symbolic hand gesture, endowed with power not unlike a mantra. A tantric consort.

Nagarjuna (Skt)  The second century AD Indian Buddhist philosopher who propounded the Madhyamaka philosophy of emptiness. nang-chö (Tib)  See inner offering.

Ngön-dro (Tib)  Preliminary practice(s) found in all schools ofTibetan Buddhism, usually done 100,000 times each; the four main ones are recitation of the refuge formula, mandala offerings, prostrations, and Vajrasattva mantra recitation. The Geluk tradition adds five more: guru yoga, water bowl offerings, Damtsig Dorje purifying meditation, making tsa-tsas (small sacred images, usually made of clay), and the Dorje Khadro burnt offering (jin-sek).

Nirmanakaya (Skt)  The “emanation body”; the form in which the enlightened mind appears in order to benefit ordinary beings. One of the three bodies of a buddha. See also dharmakaya and sambhogakaya.

Nirvana (Skt; Tib: thar- pa)  The state of complete liberation from samsara; the goal of a practitioner seeking his or her own freedom from suffering (see Hinayana). “Lower nirvana” is used to refer to this state of self-liberation, while “higher nirvana” refers to the supreme attainment of the full enlightenment of buddhahood.

Nyingma (Tib)   The “ancient” order of Tibetan Buddhism, which traces its teachings back to the time of Padma Sambhava, the eighth century AD Indian tantric master invited to Tibet by King Trisong Detsen to clear away the influences obstructing the establishment of Buddhism. This school includes in its canon works and translations dating from the early period of the dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet.

Pandit (Skt)  Scholar; learned man.

Paramitayana (Skt)  The “Perfection Vehicle”; one of the two divisions of the Mahayana. This is the gradual path to enlightenment traversed by bodhisattvas practicing the six perfections of charity, morality, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom, through the ten bodhisattva levels (bhumis) over countless eons of rebirths in samsara for the benefit of all sentient beings. It is also called Sutrayana. See also Vajrayana.

Phadampa Sangye (Tib)  Indian yogi of unusual accomplishments; contemporary with Milarepa and disciple of Nagarjuna and Virupa.

Prajñaparamita (Skt)  The “perfection of wisdom”; the prajñaparamita sutras are the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha in which the wisdom of emptiness and the path of the bodhisattva are set forth. The basis of Nagarjuna’s philosophy.

Pratimoksha (Skt)  See vows.

Puja (Skt)   Literally, “offering.” The word is often used loosely, as in “Let’s do a puja,” to refer to performing a ritual, such as the Guru Puja (Offering to the Spiritual Master; Tib: Lama Chöpa), or reciting a sadhana.

Refuge   The door to the Dharma path. A Buddhist takes refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, fearing the sufferings of samsara and believing that the Three Jewels have the power to lead him or her out of suffering, to happiness, liberation, or enlightenment.

Root guru (Tib: tsa-wäi lama)  The teacher who has had the greatest influence upon a particular disciple’s entering or following the spiritual path.

Sadhana (Skt)  Method of accomplishment; the step-by-step instructions for practicing the meditations related to a particular meditational deity. samadhi (Skt)  See single-pointed concentration.

Samaya (Skt; Tib: dzm- tsig)  Sacred word of honor; the pledges and commitments made by a disciple at an initiation to keep tantric vows for life or to perform certain practices connected with the deity, such as daily sadhana recitation, or offering the Guru Puja on the tenth and the twenty-fifth of each Tibetan month.

Sambhogakaya (Skt)  The “enjoyment body”; the form in which the enlightened mind appears in order to benefit highly realized bodhisattvas. One of the three bodies of a buddha. See also dharmakaya and nirmanakaya.

Samsara (Skt; Tib: Rhor- wa)  Cyclic existence; the six realms of conditioned existence, three lower—hell, hungry spirit (Skt: preta), and animal—and three upper—human, demi-god, and god. It is the beginningless, recurring cycle of death and rebirth under the control of delusion and karma and fraught with suffering. It also refers to the contaminated aggregates of a sentient being.

Sangha (Skt)  Spiritual community; the third of the Three Jewels of refuge. Absolute Sangha are those who have directly realized emptiness; relative Sangha are ordained monks and nuns.

Secret mantra (Tib: sang- ngak)  See tantra.

Seed syllable   In tantric visualizations, a Sanskrit syllable arising out of emptiness and out of which the meditational deity in turn arises. A single syllable representing a deity’s entire mantra.

Sentient being   Any unenlightened being; any being whose mind is not completely free from gross and subtle ignorance.

Shakyamuni Buddha (563-483 B.C.)  Fourth of the one thousand founding buddhas of this present world age. Born a prince of the Shakya clan in North India, he taught the sutra and tantra paths to liberation and full enlightenment; founder of what came to be known as Buddhism. See also buddha.

Shi-dak (Tib)  Landlord; place owner. Buddhism teaches that each place has associated with it a sentient being who considers that he owns it. Offerings are made to this being to request the temporary use of that place for, e.g., retreat.

Shushuma(or avadhuti) Skt; Tib: tsa uma)  The central channel, or nadi, which runs from the crown of the head to the secret chakra. It is the major energy channel of the vajra body, visualized as a hollow tube of light in front of the spine.

Single-pointed concentration (Skt: samadhi)  A state of deep meditative absorption; single-pointed concentration on the actual nature of things, free from discursive thought and dualistic conceptions.

Sunyata (Skt)   The absence of all false ideas about how things exist; specifically, the lack of the apparent independent, self-existence of phenomena. Usually translated as emptiness or voidness.

Sutra (Skt)   A discourse of Shakyamuni Buddha; the pre-tantric division of Buddhist teachings stressing the cultivation of bodhicitta and the practice of the six perfections. See also Paramitayana.

Tantra (Skt; Tib: gyüd)  Literally, thread, or continuity. The texts of the secret mantra teachings of Buddhism; often used to refer to these teachings themselves. Cf Vajrayana.

Tathagata (Skt; Tib: de-zhin shek- pa)  Literally, one who has realized suchness; a buddha.

Theravada (Skt)   The Doctrine of the Elders; one of the eighteen schools into which the Hinayana split not long after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death; the dominant school today, prevalent in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma, and well represented in the West.

Torma (Tib)   An offering cake used in tantric rituals. In Tibet, tormas were usually made of tsampa, but other edibles such as biscuits and so forth will suffice.

T sampa (Tib)   Roasted barley flour; a Tibetan staple food.

Tsok (Tib)   Literally, gathering—a gathering of offering substances and a gathering of disciples to make the offering.

Tsong Khapa, Lama je (1357- 1417)  Founder of the Geluk tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and revitalizer of many sutra and tantra lineages and the monastic tradition in Tibet.

Tum-mo (Tib)  cf inner fire. twelve links of dependent arising (Skt pratitya samtrtpada; Tib: ten-drel chu-nyi)  Shakyamuni Buddha’s explanation of how delusion and karma bind sentient beings to samsara, causing them to be reborn into suffering again and again; depicted pictorially in the Tibetan “Wheel of Life.”

Vajradhara (Skt; Tib: Dorje Chanpa)  male meditational deity; the form through which Shakyamuni Buddha revealed the teachings of secret mantra.

Vajrapani (Skt; Tib: Chag-na Dorje)  the buddha of power. A male meditational deity embodying the power of all enlightened beings to accomplish their goals.

Vajrayogini (Skt; Tib: Dorje Nöl-jor- ma)  Female meditational deity from the mother class of highest yoga tantra; sometimes a consort of Heruka.

Vajrasattva (Skt; Tib: Dorje Sem- pa)  Male meditational deity symbolizing the inherent purity of all buddhas. A major tantric purification practice for removing obstacles created by negative karma and the breaking of vows.

Vajravarahi (Skt; Tib: Dorje Phag- mo)  female meditational deity; consort of Heruka.

Vajrayana (Skt)   The adamantine vehicle; the second of the two Mahayana paths. It is also called Tantrayana or Mantrayana. This is the quickest vehicle of Buddhism, as it allows practitioners to attain enlightenment within one lifetime. See also tantra.

Vinaya (Skt; Tib: dül- wa)  The division of the Buddhist scriptures concerned with monastic discipline—the rules for the behavior of monks and nuns and the conduct of their communal business.

Vipassana (Pali)   see insight meditation

Vows   precepts taken on the basis of refuge at all levels of Buddhist practice. Pratimoksha precepts (vows of individual liberation) are the main vows in the Hinayana tradition and are taken by monks, nuns, and lay people; they are the basis of all other vows. Bodhisattva and tantric precepts are the main vows in the Mahayana tradition. See also Vinaya.

Yamantaka  (Skt; also Vajra Bhairava);Tib: Doje Jig-je)  male meditational deity from the father tantra class of highest yoga tantra.

Yana (Skt)   Literally, vehicle; a spiritual path that takes you from where you are to where you want to be. See also Hinayana, Mahayana, etc.

Yi-dam (Tib) Literally, “mind-bound.” One’s own personal, main—or, as Lama Yeshe used to say, favorite—deity for tantric practice. The deity with which you have the strongest connection.

Yum (Tib) Literally, “mother”; female consort of a male tantric deity (the “father”-yab), as in Yum Dorje Nyem-ma Karmo, the consort of Heruka Vajrasattva.   (C) Wisdom Publications, 1995. Reprinted from ‘Becoming Vajrasattva: The Tantric Path of Purification’, with permission of Wisdom Publications, 199 Elm Street, Somerville, MA 02144 U.S.A, www.wisdompubs.org   Back to top of page