BUDDHISM > glossary

acquired wisdom. The wisdom attained from outside of one. As opposed to fundamental wisdom, which is the wisdom that is already within one.

affliction of dust and sand. Discrimination.

afflictions. Conditions or causes of pain, distress, and suffering that disturb the body and mind. Some examples are selfishness, greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance.

Amitabha Buddha. As the monk Dharmakara, he made forty-eight vows to aid all beings. With his vows accomplished, he became Amitabha Buddha and formed the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, an ideal land for beings to learn and practice in. The purpose of being born there is to be close to Amitabha Buddha and the bodhisattvas, and to complete one’s learning and practice there. Once completed, one becomes a Buddha.   

Amitabha Sutra. One of the three primary Pure Land sutras spoken by Sakyamuni Buddha, it introduces the profound principles of the Pure Land school in addition to describing some of the physical elements of the Western Pure Land. Sakyamuni further urged people three times to seek birth in the Western Pure Land, to have belief, and to single-mindedly chant the Buddha’s name.

arhat. A being who by eradicating the affliction of views and affliction of thoughts has attained liberation from the cycle of birth and death. 

asamkhyeya kalpa. Although a kalpa is a measure of time, this phrase at times expresses the meaning of being uncountable. (Please also see KALPA.) 

asura. A race of beings who fought the devas for sovereignty over the heavens and lost. Jealous beings, they accumulated much good fortune by being competitive.

attachments. These are desires, the emotional cravings for family, friends, possessions, sensuous pleasures, erroneous views, life, the idea of the self as an individual, and more. Two basic attachments are ego-attachment,  in which one clings to the idea of self, and dharmas-attachment, in which one clings to sensuous desires and false views. 

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. Equal-enlightenment bodhisattva in the Western Pure Land. When Amitabha Buddha’s lifespan ends and he passes into final nirvana, Avalokitesvara will become the next Buddha in that Pure Land.  

beings of superior goodness.  Such beings in the lowest land, the Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, are the practitioners of the ten virtuous karmas. Such beings in the Land of Real Reward are equal-enlightenment bodhisattvas.

bhiksu, bhiksuni. (Sanskrit) An ordained Buddhist monk (bhiksu) or nun (bhiksuni).

bodhi mind. The aspiration for enlightenment in which the being seeks to benefit both self and others.

bodhisattva. Awakened being who has vowed to become a Buddha, seeking enlightenment for self as well as for all sentient beings. While Buddhas symbolize our virtuous nature, bodhisattvas represent the virtue of practice, without which, the innate virtuous nature cannot be revealed.

Buddha. Buddha is a Sanskrit word, meaning “wisdom and enlightenment.” A Buddha is one who has reached supreme perfection both in self-realization and in helping others to attain realization. The innumerable Buddhas are not gods to be worshipped but compassionate and wise beings to be respected and emulated.

Buddha-land. A great galaxy, the space in which one Buddha dwells and teaches. The Western Pure Land is a hundred billion buddha-lands to the west of us. 

Buddha-name. Amitabha Buddha of the Pure Land school. The phrase “chanting the buddha-name” refers to chanting his name.

Buddha-nature. The true, immutable, and eternal nature of all beings. Also called true nature, it is beyond the understanding of ordinary beings because it cannot be understood with the mind or explained with words. Words are too limited to describe the truth. There is a limit to one’s thinking and imagination. The limit is the store consciousness. The true nature is not the store consciousness, so it is beyond detection. (Also see TRUE NATURE.)

causal connections. Causal connections are external factors, and favorable causal connections refer to favorable conditions. Required for birth in the Pure Land, together with abundant good roots and good fortune. (Please also see CONDITIONS.)

causal vows. Vows made before one becomes a Buddha.

causality, or cause and effect. Everything that happens to us is the result of what we have thought, said, or done. In this lifetime, we are undergoing the consequences of what we had done primarily in our previous lifetimes and sometimes earlier in our current lifetime. What we do now will determine what we will undergo in our future lifetimes. 

compassion. Affection that is sincere, pure, equitable, and based on wisdom.

conditions. The elements that enable one’s karmic causes to either grow or flounder. Favorable conditions help in one’s learning and cultivation. Such conditions can dissolve afflictions and residual habits; fortify the determination to seek enlightenment; and strengthen one’s belief, vow, and practice. Unfavorable conditions often draw out the dormant afflictions and residual habits in one’s eighth consciousness.

consciousness. The false mind. Consciousness has eight sub-components, each with its respective function or activity. The first to the fifth sub-consciousnesses are the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body respectively, and individually they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, in that order. The sixth consciousness, mental awareness, discriminates. The seventh consciousness, the thinking mind, attaches. The eighth consciousness stores the seeds of our past physical, verbal, and mental karmas, and gives rise to wandering thoughts. 

constant mindfulness. Achieved through chanting the buddha-name, it is the state in which one is continuously aware of Amitabha Buddha. When meditating on the name, one single-mindedly chants the name and is focused on it. With this sole thought of Amitabha, there are no wandering thoughts. But focus will easily be divided when one is working on a task. Even though one is not single-mindedly concentrating on the name as when chanting, one is still continuously thinking of Amitabha. Here as well, wandering thoughts do not arise.

correct enlightenment. Beings at this stage no longer have incorrect views such as thinking that one’s physical body is oneself. Nor do they have the affliction of thoughts. Arhats are at this stage.

correct, universal enlightenment. Beings who have attained correct, universal enlightenment, have eliminated a part of ignorance, seen a part of the true nature, and attained a part of the truth body. Bodhisattvas are at this stage.

cycle of rebirth. Refers to when a being is reborn over and over again in the six paths of the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and the heavens. Also called samsara, also the six paths.

desire realm. Paths of the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and the six lowest heavens. Beings in the desire realm undergo all three kinds of suffering: contact with unpleasant things, the deterioration of form, and the passage of time. 

Dharma. Truth of life and the universe. It is taught by Buddhas. The plural form, dharmas, refers to phenomena, events, things, etc.

Dharma door. School or method. One enters Buddhism through a Dharma door.

Dharmakara. The monk who made forty-eight vows to create the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. With his vows fulfilled, he became Amitabha Buddha.

discrimination. One of the root causes of a being remaining in samsara. Discrimination occurs when phenomena are mistakenly viewed from the perspective of duality.

Dixian, Master. (1858–1932) Forty-third patriarch of the Tiantai school.

eight consciousnesses. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, mental awareness, thinking mind, and store consciousness.

eight types of suffering. Birth; aging; illness; death; separation from loved ones; association with those we dislike; unfulfilled desires; and suffering due to the five aggregates of form, feeling, conception, impulse, and consciousness.

eight winds. Four pairs of influences that hinder one’s practice: gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disgrace, and happiness and suffering.

eightfold path. Right view, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. 

eighty secondary physical characteristics. Minor physical characteristics of a Buddha. They include a face like a clear full moon, fragrance emitting from the pores and mouth, deportment as majestic as that of a lion, and a graceful and steady gait.

enjoyment body. A Buddha’s celestial body. It resides in a Pure Land and never appears to ordinary people. The enjoyment body has a beginning but is without an end. Once attained, this body will never again be mired in delusion. The enjoyment body is a wisdom body, a body of innate prajna wisdom. 

equal-enlightenment bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas who are just one level below that of Buddhas.

evil. That which obstructs beings and holds them back from acting from their buddha-nature, their true nature. This nature is intrinsically good.

extraordinary powers. Abilities that all beings possess, but which lie dormant in those who are not yet awakened. They include the ability to be anywhere at will, to see all forms, to hear all sounds, to know the thoughts of others, and to accomplish something by willing it. 

field of good fortune. Those making offerings to deserving beings are planting seeds of good fortune.  Just like a well-planted field will yield good harvests, a field of good fortune will yield good karmic results.

fifty-one levels of bodhisattvas. The first forty levels comprise ten levels of faith, ten levels of abiding, ten levels of practice, and ten levels of dedication. The next eleven levels are mahasattva levels. Here great bodhisattvas are at any of the ten levels of ground or at the level of equal enlightenment.

five aggregates. Form, feeling, conception, impulse, and consciousness.

five corruptions. Age, views, afflictions, sentient beings, and life.

five desires. Wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep.

five guidelines. The three conditions, the six harmonies, the three learnings, the six paramitas, and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s ten great vows.

five powers. Belief, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom.

five precepts. No killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxicants.

five Pure Land sutras and one treatise. Buddha Speaks of the Infinite Life Sutra of Adornment, Purity, Equality, and Enlightenment of the Mahayana School (Infinite Life Sutra); Amitabha Sutra; Visualization Sutra; the “Chapter on the Vows and Practices of Samantabhadra” from the Avatamsaka Sutra; the “Chapter on the Perfect and Complete Realization of Mahasthamaprapta” from the Surangama Sutra; and the Rebirth Treatise.

five roots. Belief, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom.

form realm. Consists of eighteen heavens. Beings in these heavens have achieved a certain degree of meditative concentration and have severed the desires for wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep. But due to having form, they still undergo birth, old age, sickness, and death. (Please also see HEAVENS and THREE REALMS.)

formless realm. Consists of the four highest heavens. Beings in these heavens have achieved deep meditative concentration. With lifetimes that can last as long as 80,000 eons, they are the most advanced beings in samsara. (Please also see HEAVENS.)

forty-eight vows. Different bodhisattvas make different vows. Dharmakara Bodhisattva made forty-eight vows before he became Amitabha Buddha. He wished to create an ideal land for all those who wished to transcend rebirth within samsara. These beings would be born in the Pure Land as Bodhisattvas who would never regress in their practice. They would learn all the ways to help other beings transcend birth and death, and to attain buddhahood.

four attributes of nirvana. Permanence, joy, true self, and purity.

four bases of supranormal abilities. Strong aspiration, diligence, mindfulness, and inquiry.

four foundations of mindfulness. Mindfulness of the body as impure, of feelings as suffering, of the mind as impermanent, and of all things as dependent and without self-nature.

four great vows. (1) Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to help them all. (2) Afflictions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them all. (3) Ways to practice are boundless; I vow to master them all. (4) Enlightenment is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.

four kindnesses. The Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), parents, teachers, and all sentient-beings.

four lands in Western Pure Land. The Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together, The Land of Expedient Liberation, The Land of Real Reward, and The Land of Eternally Quiescent Light. (Also see individual entries.)

four precious jewels. Gold, silver, lapis lazuli, and crystal. These gems represent the four attributes of nirvana, which are permanence, joy, true self, and purity, respectively. 

four right efforts. Preventing new evil from arising, ending existing evil, generating new virtues, and enhancing existing virtues.

fundamental wisdom. Innate prajna wisdom, which frees people from afflictions and ignorance. Achieved by delving deeply into one method and immersing oneself in that method for a long time.

good fortune. All the goodness in one’s life, which may manifest as wealth, happiness, health, family, prosperity, social position. For a Pure Land practitioner, good fortune is making the vow to be born in the Western Pure Land, mindfully chanting the buddha-name, and practicing the teachings. 

good men and good women. In the Pure Land school, the standard for being a good man or good woman is to be mindful of Amitabha Buddha. In other schools, the standard is to fulfill the ten virtuous karmas.

good roots. Virtuous deeds accumulated over numerous lifetimes. They are called roots because they form the basis for future virtues. Properly cultivated, the roots will grow, mature, and bear fruit. For Pure Land practitioners, having good roots is having firm belief and firm vow. 

great perfect mirror wisdom. The wisdom that enables one to be clear about all causes and effects. Clarity without the slightest confusion.

heavens. The path of heavens comprises twenty-eight levels: six heavens in the desire realm, eighteen heavens in the form realm, and four heavens in the formless realm. 

Huineng, Master. (638–713) Sixth Patriarch of the Zen school.

ignorance. The absence of wisdom. Here, a person is indecisive and in a state of great confusion, unable to differentiate good from bad, right from wrong, virtuous from evil, beneficial from harmful, and truth from falsehood.

impartiality. Acting toward all phenomena without discriminatory thoughts, attachments, or expectations.

Infinite Life Sutra. One of the three primary Western Pure Land sutras, it provides a detailed description of that land. It tells of the time when Amitabha Buddha was still the monk Dharmakara and of the forty-eight vows Dharmakara made relating to the formation of the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. The sutra also presents the principle of cause and effect, explaining how both moral behavior and chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha will result in being born in the Western Pure Land. 

kalpa. Explained as the time in which a mountain that measures 16x16x16 miles would wear away if it was rubbed by a small cloth once every 100 years. An asamkhyeya kalpa is often said to refer to a number that is roughly equal to 10 to the 51st power or even 10 to the 63rd power. Also called an eon.

karma. Deed leading to future consequences, both pleasant and dire. Karma is often used to refer to causality, to the irrefutable law of cause and effect.

Land of Eternally Quiescent Light. Highest of the four lands in the Western Pure Land. It is the land where Buddhas dwell.

Land of Expedient Liberation. Second lowest of the four lands in the Western Pure Land. Accomplished through a lower level of one-mind undisturbed. Where arhats, pratyekabuddhas, and lower-level bodhisattvas dwell.

Land of Real Reward. Second highest of the four lands in the Pure Land. Accomplished through a higher level of one-mind undisturbed. Where higher-level bodhisattvas dwell.  

Land Where Sages and Ordinary Beings Dwell Together. Lowest of the four lands in the Western Pure Land. Accomplished through constant mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha. Constant mindfulness enables one to use the buddha-name to control afflictions, residual habits, and wandering thoughts.

mahasattvas. Great bodhisattvas who are at any of the ten levels of ground or at the level of equal enlightenment. (Please also see FIFTY-ONE LEVELS OF BODHISATTVAS.) 

Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva. Equal-enlightenment bodhisattva in the Western Pure Land. He will become the third Buddha in the Western Pure Land, after Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, who will be the second Buddha there. Amitabha Buddha is the first Buddha there and is still teaching.

Mahayana. The bodhisattva path of both attaining enlightenment for oneself as well as helping all sentient beings attain enlightenment.

Maitreya. Equal-enlightenment bodhisattva, who in 5,670 million years will become the next Buddha in this buddha-land.

manifestation body. A Buddha’s body that is incarnated by the truth body and is visible to ordinary beings. The appearance of a Buddha’s manifestation body varies in accordance with the thoughts of the beings it appears to. The manifestation body, therefore, has countless different appearances, not just one. Additionally, one truth body can have many manifestation bodies. 

Mara. Often portrayed as a physical demon, Mara stands for our afflictions, our personal demons.

meditative concentration. State in which one’s mind is clear and does not give rise to wandering thoughts, discriminations, or attachments when one’s sense organs come into contact with the environment.

merits and virtues. Merits are accumulated by selflessly doing good deeds without wandering and discriminatory thoughts, or attachments. Merits are also accumulated by correcting our erroneous thoughts and behavior. Virtues arise from deep concentration and wisdom.

non-retrogression. The level at which practitioners no longer fall back in their practice. Non-retrogression comprises three stages: no falling back from one’s level, no falling back from one’s practice, and no falling back from one’s mindfulness. Those who have perfectly attained non-retrogression are bodhisattvas of the seventh ground and above.

one-mind undisturbed. A being who achieves one-mind undisturbed at the level of phenomena has eradicated the affliction of views and thoughts. One who achieves one-mind undisturbed at the level of inner truth (noumenon) has eradicated both the affliction of views and thoughts, and the affliction of dust and sand. 

Ouyi, Great Master. (1599–1655) Tiantai master who was later recognized as the ninth patriarch of the Pure Land school. He wrote the commentary titled Essentials of the Amitabha Sutra.

parinirvana. The final passage of a Buddha into final nirvana.

phenomena. Things, events, happenings: everything in the universe. Noumenon is the principle or essence and is perceived through intuition or thought. Phenomena is the event or form and is perceived through the senses. Noumenon is the theory: Phenomena is the reality. 

Polar Mountain. Also called Mt. Sumeru. In Buddhist cosmology, it is at the center of the universe.

prajna wisdom. Intuitive wisdom, which is innate in the true nature.

pratyekabuddha. One who has attained enlightenment through his own efforts. He does not exert himself to teach others.

precepts. In Buddhism, precepts are rules that were laid down by the Buddha to guide his students from erroneous thoughts, speech, and behavior. However, one need not be a Buddhist to uphold these precepts. In the more general sense, precepts are rules or principles that prescribe a particular course of action or conduct.

purity. A mind with no attachments. 

residual karmas. Karmas stored in the store consciousness. They have not yet met the conditions to have their resultant effects come about.  

root of goodness. Good qualities or seeds sown in a good life to be reaped later. The ultimate benefit of deep roots of goodness for Pure Land practitioners is rebirth in the Western Pure Land.

Sakyamuni Buddha. The historical Buddha of this world.

samsara. The continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Also known as the six paths.

sangha. Buddhist community of four or more practitioners, monastic or lay, who practice together.

scattered and chaotic mind. A mind in which a practitioner’s thoughts constantly wander, even when chanting.

scattered mind. Not yet able to concentrate solely on the buddha-name, the practitioner is sometimes mindful of Amitabha Buddha and at other times has wandering thoughts. While a scattered mind is not the goal, with this mind the person has begun to use the buddha-name to eliminate wandering thoughts.

sentient-being. A living being that is self-aware and that can experience feeling or sensation.

seven factors of enlightenment. Mindfulness, correct choice of teaching, diligence, joy, ease, concentration, and equanimity.

Sakra. King of the trayastrimsa heaven, the second lowest heaven in the desire realm.

sincerity. A mind without wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. With sincerity there is no doubt, no intermingling, and no interruption.

six directions. North, south, east, west, the nadir, and the zenith.

six paramitas. Giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and prajna wisdom.

six paths. Consists of the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and the heavens.

six principles of harmony. Harmony in having the same viewpoints, observing the same precepts, living together, speaking without conflict, experiencing Dharma bliss, and sharing benefits.

sound-hearer. Theravada Buddhism practitioner who seeks to attain arhatship.

store consciousness. The consciousness that stores all of a being’s past karmas, which have yet to bear fruit.

stream-enterer. First of the four stages of enlightenment in Theravada Buddhism. A stream-enterer has a maximum of seven more rebirths in samsara, but none of these will be in the three paths of the hells, hungry ghosts, or animals.

supreme, perfect enlightenment. The highest stage of enlightenment. Buddhas are at this stage, having realized the untroubled and nondiscriminatory mind, and having attained the perfect wisdom that comprehends all truths. 

sutra. Teachings of the Buddha, initially passed down verbally and later written down. Can also be teachings of enlightened beings; for example, Master Huineng’s Platform Sutra.

ten directions. The six directions plus the intermediate directions of the northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest. Used as a symbol to indicate all directions. 

ten evil karmas. Killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, divisive speech, harsh speech, enticing speech, greed, anger, and ignorance.

ten great vows. Respect all Buddhas, praise Tathagata, make offerings extensively, repent karmic obstacles, rejoice at others’ meritorious deeds, request the turning of the Dharma wheel, request the Buddha to remain in this world, constantly follow the Buddha’s teachings, accommodate all sentient beings, and dedicate all merits universally. 

ten virtuous karmas. No killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, divisive speech, harsh speech, enticing speech, greed, anger, and ignorance.

Theravada. One of the two major forms of Buddhism. Practitioners seek to attain arhatship. 

thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment. The four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four bases of supranormal abilities, the five roots, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the eightfold path. 

thirty-two major marks. Major physical characteristics of a Buddha, including a golden complexion, light radiating from between the eyebrows, a circle of light, and an excellent voice. 

three ages. The first age is the Dharma Perfect Age, during which a practitioner could succeed in cultivation by observing the precepts. The second is the Dharma Semblance Age, during which a practitioner could succeed in cultivation by practicing meditative concentration. The third age, which is the current age, is the Dharma-Ending Age, during which a practitioner will be able to succeed in cultivation by learning and practicing the Pure Land method. 

three bodies of a Buddha. The truth body, enjoyment body, and manifestation body. The truth body is that which creates; the enjoyment body and the manifestation body are that which are created. (See individual entries.)

three conditions. The first of our five practice guidelines. The first condition is be filial and care and provide for parents, be respectful to and serve teachers, be compassionate and do not kill, and cultivate the ten virtuous karmas. The second condition is take the Three Refuges, abide by all precepts, and behave in a dignified and appropriate manner. The third condition is generate the bodhi mind, believe deeply in the law of cause and effect, recite and uphold the Mahayana sutras, and encourage others to advance on the path to enlightenment 

three kinds of suffering. Suffering arising from contact with unpleasant things, from the deterioration of form, and from the passage of time.

three learnings. The third of our practice guidelines. Moral self-discipline, or precepts keeping, leads to meditative concentration that gives rise to innate wisdom. The three learnings are the fourth of our five practice guidelines. To practice according to the teachings is self-discipline. When our minds are settled and focused on one method of cultivation, we will have meditative concentration. With meditative concentration, we will uncover our innate wisdom.

three realms. The desire realm, which comprises the hells through asuras paths and six lowest heavens; the form realm, which comprises eighteen mid-level heavens; and the formless realm, which comprises the four highest heavens. (Please also see individual realms.)

three requisites. Belief, vow, and practice. Required for birth in the Western Pure Land.

true nature. Original, true self that all beings have but is currently covered by deluded thoughts and evil karma.  In essence, since all beings have the same true nature that Buddhas have, all are equal to the Buddhas. Once delusion is eliminated, one will uncover this true nature and attain supreme, perfect enlightenment.  

truth body. A Buddha’s true body, the ultimate body—formless, transcendental, inconceivable. It is the true self, which neither arises nor ceases and has neither beginning nor end.

Visualization Sutra. One of the three primary Pure Land sutras, it contains sixteen meditations for attaining birth in the Western Pure Land. 

wandering thoughts. Arise when one’s true nature is mired in delusion. To have no wandering thoughts means to have absolute proper and virtuous thoughts, not that our minds are empty of all thoughts. As ordinary beings, we use an illusory mind, the mind that arises and ceases, and that has innumerable wandering thoughts. Enlightened beings use the true mind that constantly dwells on truth. They do not have wandering thoughts but meditative concentration, the state without discriminatory, wandering thoughts or attachments.

water of eight virtues. Clarity and purity, coolness, sweetness, lightness and softness, softening, peaceful, nourishing, and nurturing.

Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. The Pure Land formed by Amitabha Buddha through the fulfillment of his great vows. It is an ideal land in which to learn and practice.

wisdom. The ability to truly differentiate between true and false, proper and deviated, right and wrong, and beneficial and harmful, while still interacting with phenomena appropriately.

wisdom of completion of actions. With this wisdom, one’s actions can benefit oneself as well as others. 

wisdom of equality in nature. Attained when attachments are eliminated. 

wisdom of wondrous observation. With wondrous observation, one understands all that is perceived, with no wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments. It is like a mirror that reflects clearly.

Yinguang, Great Master. (1861–1940) Thirteenth patriarch of the Pure Land school.

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