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Several Buddhist terms and concepts lack direct translations into English that cover the breadth of the original term. Below are given a number of important Buddhist terms, short definitions, and the languages in which they appear. In this list, an attempt has been made to organize terms by their original form and give translations and synonyms in other languages along with the definition.
dhamma/dharma Often refers to the doctrines and teachings of the faith, but it may have broader uses. Also, it is an important technical term meaning something like "phenomenological constituent." This leads to the potential for confusion, puns, and double entendres, as the latter meaning often has negative connotations
from √dhṛ: to hold
Bur: ဓမ္မာ dha ma
Thai: ธรรมะ tam-ma
Tib: ཆོས་, choi
Mn: дээдийн ном, deediin nom
dhammavinaya The dharma and vinaya (roughly "doctrine and discipline") considered together. This term essentially means the whole teachings of Buddhism as taught to monks
doan In Zen, a term for person sounding the bell that marks the beginning and end of Zazen
dokusan A private interview between a Zen student and the master. It is an important element in the Zen training, as it provides an opportunity for the student to discuss problems in his or her practice and to demonstrate understanding
Age of enlightenment (解脱堅固 Cn: jiětuō jiāngù; Jp: gedatsu kengo)
Age of meditation (禅定堅固 Cn: chándìng jiāngù; Jp: zenjō kengo) These two ages comprise the Former Day of the Law (正法時期 Cn: zhèngfǎ; Jp: shōbō)
Age of reading, reciting, and listening (読誦多聞堅固 Cn: sòngduōwén jiāngù; Jp: dokuju tamon kengo)
Age of building temples and stupas (多造塔寺堅固 Cn: duōzào tǎsì jiāngù; Jp: tazō tōji kengo) These two ages comprise the Middle Day of the Law (像法時期 Cn: xiàngfǎ; Jp: zōhō)
Age of conflict (闘諍堅固 Cn: zhēng jiāngù; Jp: tōjō kengo), an age characterized by unrest, strife, famine, and other natural and human-made disasters. This age corresponds to the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law (末法時期 Cn: mòfǎ; Jp: mappō) when the (historical) Buddha's teachings would lose all power of salvation and perish (白法隠没 Cn: báifǎméi; Jp: byakuhō onmotsu) and a new Buddha would appear to save the people.
The three periods and the five five-hundred year periods are described in the Sutra of the Great Assembly (大集 Cn: dàjí; Jp: Daishutu-kyō, Daijuku-kyō, Daijikkyō, or Daishukkyō).
gassho A position used for greeting, with the palms together and fingers pointing upwards in prayer position; used in various Buddhist traditions, but also used in numerous cultures throughout Asia. It expresses greeting, request, thankfulness, reverence and prayer. Also considered a mudra or inkei of Japanese Shingon. See also: Añjali Mudrā, Namaste and Wai.
geshe A Tibetan Buddhist academic degree in the Gelug tradition, awarded at the conclusion of lengthy studies often lasting nine years or more
Mn: гэвш gevsh
gongan, lit. "public case", A meditative method developed in the Chán/Seon/Zen traditions, generally consisting of a problem that defies solution by means of rational thought; see koan
Chinese 公案 gōng-àn
Vi: công án
Guan Yin The bodhisattva of compassion in East Asian Buddhism, with full name being Guan Shi Yin. Guan Yin is considered to be the female form of Avalokiteshvara but has been given many more distinctive characteristics.
koan A story, question, problem or statement generally inaccessible to rational understanding, yet may be accessible to Intuition
Japanese: 公案 kōan
Vi: công án
ksanti The practice of exercising patience toward behaviour or situations that might not necessarily deserve it—it is seen as a conscious choice to actively give patience as a gift, rather than being in a state of oppression in which one feels obligated to act in such a way.
kyosaku In Zen, a flattened stick used to strike the shoulders during zazen, to help overcome fatigue or reach satori
makyo In Zen, unpleasant or distracting thoughts or illusions that occur during zazen
Japanese: 魔境 makyō
mantra Chant used primarily to aid concentration, to reach enlightenment. The best-known Buddhist mantra is possibly Om mani padme hum
Thai: มนตร์ moan
Mn: маань, тарни; maani, tarni
Vi: chân âm
Mappo The "degenerate" Latter Day of the Law. A time period supposed to begin 2,000 years after Sakyamuni Buddha's passing and last for "10,000 years"; follows the two 1,000-year periods of Former Day of the Law (正法 Cn: zhèngfǎ; Jp: shōbō) and of Middle Day of the Law (像法 Cn: xiàngfǎ; Jp: zōhō). During this degenerate age, chaos will prevail and the people will be unable to attain enlightenment through the word of Sakyamuni Buddha. See the Three periods
namo An exclamation showing reverence; devotion. Often placed in front of the name of an object of veneration, e.g., a Buddha's name or a sutra (Nam(u) Myōhō Renge Kyō), to express devotion to it. Defined in Sino-Japanese as 帰命 kimyō: to base one's life upon, to devote (or submit) one's life to
oryoki A set of bowls used in a Zen eating ceremony
Japanese: 応量器 ōryōki
osho A term used to address a monk of the Zen Buddhist tradition. Originally reserved for high ranking monks, it has since been appropriated for everyday use when addressing any male member of the Zen clergy
Pointing-out instruction The direct introduction to the nature of mind in the lineages of Essence Mahamudra and Dzogchen. A root guru is the master who gives the 'pointing-out instruction' so that the disciple recognizes the nature of mind
pratitya-samutpada "Dependent origination," the view that no phenomenon exists (or comes about) without depending on other phenomena or conditions around it. In English also called "conditioned genesis," "dependent co-arising," "interdependent arising," etc.
A famous application of dependent origination is the Twelve Nidana, or 12 inter-dependences (Sanskrit: dvādaśāṅgapratītyasamutpāda; 十二因緣, 十二因縁 Cn: shíàr yīnyuán; Jp: jūni innen; Vi: thập nhị nhân duyên), which are:
rinpoche, lit. "precious one", An honorific title for a respected Tibetan lama, such as a tulku
Mn: римбүчий, rimbuchii
Rinzai Zen sect emphasizing sudden enlightenment and koan study; named for master Linji
Japanese: 臨済宗 Rinzai-shū
Vi: Lâm Tế tông
Rohatsu A day traditionally honored as the day of the Buddha's enlightenment. While deep in meditation under a bodhi tree, he attained enlightenment upon seeing the morning star just at dawn; celebrated on the 8th day either of December or of the 12th month of the lunar calendar
Japanese: 臘八 Rōhatsu or Rohachi
roshi, lit. "Master", An honorific given to Zen teachers that mastered koan.
tangaryō A period of waiting for admission into a Zenmonastery at the gate, lasting anywhere from one day to several weeks—depending on the quality of one's sitting. Refers to the room traveling monks stay in when visiting, or await admittance into the sōdō.
tanto In Zen, one of the main leaders of a sesshin. In a Zen temple, the Tanto is the officer in charge of practice standards, i.e. teaching monks and lay practitioners how to sit, walk, bow, and chant in formal situations
teisho A presentation by a Zen master during a sesshin. Rather than an explanation or exposition in the traditional sense, it is intended as a demonstration of Zen realisation
Japanese: 提唱 teishō
tenzo In Zen, the head cook for a sesshin. In Zen temples, the officer in charge of the kitchen
Japanese: 典座 tenzo
Vi: điển toạ
Theravada, lit. "words of the elders", Most popular form of Buddhism in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka.
Thai: เถรวาท tera-waad
Vi: Thượng toạ bộ
thera or theri, lit. "elder", Honorific applied to senior monks and nuns in the Theravada tradition.
Three Jewels Three things that Buddhists take refuge in: the Buddha, his teachings (Dharma) and the community of realized practitioners (Sangha), and in return look toward for guidance (see also Refuge (Buddhism))
Three divisions of the time following the historical Buddha's passing: the Former (or Early) Day of the Law (正法 Cn: zhèngfǎ; Jp: shōbō), the first thousand years; the Middle Day of the Law (像法 Cn: xiàngfǎ; Jp: zōhō), the second thousand years; and the Latter Day of the Law (末法 Cn: mòfǎ; Jp: mappō), which is to last for 10,000 years.
The three periods are significant to Mahayana adherents, particularly those who hold the Lotus Sutra in high regard; e.g., Tiantai (Tendai) and Nichiren Buddhists, who believe that different Buddhist teachings are valid (i.e., able to lead practitioners to enlightenment) in each period due to the different capacity to accept a teaching (機根 Cn: jīgēn; Jp: kikon) of the people born in each respective period.
The three periods are further divided into five five-hundred year periods (五五百歳 Cn: wǔ wǔbǎi suì; Jp: go no gohyaku sai), the fifth and last of which was prophecized to be when the Buddhism of Sakyamuni would lose all power of salvation and a new Buddha would appear to save the people. This time period would be characterized by unrest, strife, famine, and other, natural disasters.
The three periods and the five five-hundred year periods are described in the Sutra of the Great Assembly (大集経 Cn: dàjí jīng; Jp: Daishutu-kyō, Daijuku-kyō, Daijikkyō, or Daishukkyō). Descriptions of the three periods also appear in other sutras, some of which ascribe different lengths of time to them (although all agree that Mappō will last for 10,000 years).
upaya Expedient though not necessarily ultimately true. Originally used as a polemical device against other schools - calling them "merely" expedient, lacking in ultimate truth, later used against ones own school to prevent students form forming attachments to doctrines
In Mahayana, exemplified by the Lotus Sutra, upaya are the useful means that Buddhas (and Buddhist teachers) use to free beings into enlightenment