Glossary

Age of Declining Dharma. Chinese: 末法.

The Age of Declining Dharma is the period when the Buddha’s teachings go into decline. Sentient beings misunderstand and cannot distinguish between true teachings and false ones, and become stubborn and difficult to teach. Meanwhile, non-Buddhist teachers who invoke the name of the Buddha do as they please.

Age of Right Dharma. Chinese: 正法.

The Age of Right Dharma is the period not long after the Buddha has passed into final nirvana, during which his disciples are still able to maintain monastic discipline and uphold the Buddha’s teachings in form and essence without misinterpretation.

Age of Semblance Dharma. Chinese: 像法.

The Age of Semblance Dharma is the period after the Buddha’s final nirvana has receded into the past, and the esteem and admiration that sentient beings hold for the Buddha’s teachings have waned. Different ideas and understandings of the Buddha’s teachings appear, and this leads to ideas about the Buddha’s teachings that only resemble the Right Dharma.

anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Chinese: 阿耨多羅三藐三菩提.

A Sanskrit term meaning “complete, unexcelled enlightenment”; an attribute of all Buddhas.

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. Chinese: 觀世音菩薩.

The bodhisattva of compassion whose name means “Observing the Sounds of the World.” He is known as one of the great bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism and is very popular throughout China.

bodhi. Chinese: 菩提.

In Sanskrit and Pāli, “awakening” or “enlightenment”; liberation from the cycle of birth and death by means of perfecting spiritual practice and understanding.

bodhi mind. Chinese: 菩提心.

An aspiration to enlightenment. A mind that strives for enlightenment and to benefit all sentient beings.

bodhi path. Chinese: 菩提道.

The path leading to the benefit of all sentient beings and the aspiration of enlightenment.

bodhisattva. Chinese: 菩薩.

One who vows to attain Buddhahood and liberate all sentient beings from suffering. While the term can describe a practitioner anywhere on the path to Buddhahood, it usually refers to a class of beings who practice all perfections and remain in the world to help sentient beings achieve enlightenment.

bodhisattva path. Chinese: 菩薩道.

The path that leads to accomplishing the bodhisattvas’ vows and liberating all sentient beings from suffering.

Buddha. Chinese: 佛陀.

In Sanskrit, “Awakened One.” Though there are many Buddhas, the term typically refers to Sakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha and founder of Buddhism.

Buddhahood. Chinese: 佛道.

It is the state of a Buddha’s attaining of enlightenment.

Buddhism. Chinese: 佛教.

Founded by Sakyamuni Buddha around 2,500 years ago.

cycle of birth and death. Chinese: 生死輪迴; Sanskrit: samsara

Also known as transmigration. When sentient beings die, they are reborn into one of the six realms of existence (heavenly beings, asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings) in a continuous cycle due to the karmic effects of one’s deeds.

Dharma. Chinese: 佛法.

A Sanskrit term with multiple meanings, including truth, fundamental principle, and phenomena. When capitalized, it denotes both the ultimate truth and the Buddha’s teachings. When the term appears lowercase, it refers to anything that can be thought of, experienced, or named. This usage is close in meaning to the concept of phenomena.

emptiness. Chinese: 空.

The concept that everything in the world arises due to dependent origination and has no permanent self or substance. All phenomena are said to be empty of an inherently independent self.

enlightenment. Chinese:覺.

The state of awakening to the ultimate truth. This is freedom from all afflictions and suffering.

five aggregates. Chinese: 五蘊.

The five aggregates make up a human being. They are: form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness.

five precepts. Chinese: 五戒; Sanskrit: pancasila.

The fundamental principles of conduct and discipline that were established by the Buddha for wholesome and harmonious living: to refrain from killing, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from lying, and from consuming intoxicants.

Flower Adornment Sutra. Chinese: 大方廣佛華嚴經; Sanskrit: Mahavaipulya-buddhavatamsaka-sūtra.

Also known as the Avatamsaka Sūtra. It has been the foundation for many Buddhist thinkers and practitioners throughout the ages. It is the basis for the East Asian Huayan (華嚴) School of Buddhist philosophy.

Giving. Chinese: 布施.

Giving is like planting a field: Regardless of the seeds being planted, they must be planted in a good field to yield a good harvest. Those who are worthy of respect are the best fields of merit, such as the Triple Gem, bodhisattvas, and arhats.

Great Vehicle. Chinese: 大乘.

Also known as Mahayana Buddhism. It is one of the major branches of Buddhism, and is the form of Buddhism prominent in North Asia, including China, Mongolia, Tibet, Korea, and Japan.

Heaven of the Four Kings. Chinese: 四天王天.

It located on the upper slopes of Mount Sumeru, which is the lowest of the six heavens in the desire realm. There are four kings who are the protectors of the world guarding over the four cardinal directions: Dhrtarastra guards the east and commands the gandharvas; Virudhaka guards the south and commands kumbhandas; Virupaksa guards the west and commands the nagas; and Vaisravana, the chief of the four kings, guards the north and commands the yaksas.

intrinsic nature. Chinese: 自性.

It has many names, including “Buddha nature,” “Dharma body,” “body of inherent purity,” “Tathagata nature,” and “awakened nature.” It is a quality that is originally complete in and of itself. It cannot be influenced or altered by external factors.

kalpa. Chinese: 劫.

An Indic unit of time measurement, roughly equivalent to the concept of an eon.

karma. Chinese: 業.

All wholesome and unwholesome physical actions, speech, and thoughts, and their effects.

King of Hell. Chinese: 閻羅王.

Also called King Yama or King of the Dead. He is said to supervise the hell realm.

King Wen of Zhou. Chinese: 周文王.

King Wen of Zhou was king of Zhou during the late Shang dynasty in ancient China. He was born in 1152 BC and died in 1056 BC.

liberation. Chinese: 解脫; Sanskrit: vimoksa.

Freedom from all afflictions, suffering, and the cycle of birth and death.

Māra. Chinese: 魔.

In Sanskrit, a malevolent being that embodies desire and is an adversary of the Buddha. The name is also used to refer to mental qualities that impede spiritual progress.

merit. Chinese: 福.

Blessings that occur because of wholesome deeds.

nine ranks of the Western Pure Land. Chinese: 西方淨土九品.

There are nine ranks of rebirth in the Pure Land. In the Contemplation of the Buddha of Infinite Life Sutra, the Sakyamuni Buddha mentions human beings can achieve rebirth into the Pure Land if they contemplate Amitabha or recite Amitabha’s name.

nirvana. Chinese: 涅槃.

In Sanskrit, “extinction.” A state of perfect tranquility that is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice. It refers to the absolute extinction of all afflictions and desires, the state of liberation beyond the cycle of birth and death.

paramita. Chinese: 波羅蜜多.

A Sanskrit word meaning “crossed over” or “perfection.” This denotes passage to the other shore of the tranquility of nirvana. This is spiritual success.

patience of non-arising of phenomena. Chinese: 無生忍.

Buddhism speaks of three levels of patience. The last and the highest of these comes from the realization that, on a supramundane level, phenomena do not truly arise or cease, all things are simply as they are.

prajna. Chinese: 般若.

A Sanskrit word meaning “wisdom.” This typically refers to a transcendent variety of wisdom that comes from seeing the true nature of reality. Prajna wisdom is considered the highest form of wisdom, the wisdom of insight into the true nature of all phenomena.

precept. Chinese: 戒.

The precepts are the basis for all good deeds, and the cornerstone of all moral conduct. The Buddha instructed his disciples to treat the precepts as their teacher when he was about to enter final nirvana.

Pure Land. Chinese: 淨土.

A transcendent realm created through the power of a Buddha’s vow to help ease the suffering of sentient beings, should they choose to be reborn there. One of the most commonly discussed Pure Lands is the “Western Pure Land,” the realm where Amitabha Buddha presides. It came into existence due to Amitahba Buddha’s forty-eight great vows. Sentient beings can make a vow to be reborn there.

Saha World. Chinese: 娑婆世界.

Saha literally means “endurance.” It indicates the present world where we reside, which is full of suffering to be endured. The beings in this world endure suffering and afflictions due to their greed, anger, hatred, and ignorance. Also referred to as “samsara,” or the cycle of birth and death. When sentient beings die, they are reborn into one of the six realms of existence: heaven, human, asura, animal, hungry ghost, and hell. The cycle continues as a result of one’s karmic actions. Outside of the Saha World exist four additional realms: that of the sravaka, pratekyabuddha, bodhisattva, and Buddha. Taken together with the six realms previously mentioned, they are called the ten realms.

Sakyamuni Buddha. Chinese: 釋迦牟尼佛.

Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha and founder of the religion known today as Buddhism. The name Sakyamuni means sage of the Sakyans. Sakya was the name of his clan.

Sangha. Chinese: 僧伽.

The Buddhist monastic community.

Sariputra. Chinese: 舍利佛.

One of the ten great disciples of the Buddha. He is known as foremost in wisdom.

sentient being. Chinese: 有情 Sanskrit: sattva.

Any being with consciousness, including heavenly beings, asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings. From the Mahāyāna viewpoint, all sentient beings inherently have Buddha nature and therefore possess the capacity to attain enlightenment.

Shixian. Chinese: 實賢 (1686-1734 AD)

The ninth patriarch of the Pure Land School.

six sense organs Chinese: 六根.

The six sense organs of human beings are eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and consciousness.

skillful means. Chinese: 方便.

The ability to bring out the spiritual potentialities of different people by statements or actions that are adjusted to their needs and adapted to their capacity for comprehension.

sutra. Chinese: 經.

A Sanskrit word used to describe a variety of religious and non-religious writings, but most commonly used in a Buddhist context to refer to the recorded discourses of the Buddha.

Tathagata. Chinese: 如來.

In Sanskrit, literally, “Thus Come One”; one of the ten epithets of the Buddha, meaning the one who has attained full realization of suchness, true essence, or actuality. One who dwells in the absolute beyond all transitory phenomena, with the ability to freely come and go everywhere.

thirty-two marks. Chinese: 三十二相.

The “major and minor marks” refer to the Buddha’s bodily appearance. Those characteristics that can be observed in a glance are known as “major marks,” while those that are not directly perceived but produce a feeling of pleasantness are known as the Buddha’s “notable characteristics.” As recorded in the sutras, the Buddha was endowed with thirty-two marks of excellence and eighty notable characteristics.
three realms. The realms where sentient beings reside and transmigrate: the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm.

three thousandfold world system. Chinese: 三千大千世界.

According to Buddhist cosmology, there are an infinite number of worlds. Each world has at its center a Mount Sumeru surrounded by seven oceans with seven rings of golden mountains separating each ocean. Surrounding these are four continents and eight subcontinents. Humans reside on the southern continent of Jambudvipa. When one thousand of these worlds are grouped together it is called a “small world system,” one thousand small world systems equal a “medium world system,” and one thousand medium world systems equal a “large world system.” A “three thousandfold world system” is a combination of these three types of world systems.

upasaka.

A male lay follower of the Buddha who does not renounce the household life or enter a monastery but still strives to live a spiritually cultivated life and upholds the teachings and the five precepts.

Way. Chinese: 道.

“The Way” has long been a part of Chinese philosophy. In Buddhism, the Way refers both to the way we should live, as well as the way things are. The Way is the truth of Buddhism, as it exists in the world around us and within ourselves.

World-honored One. Chinese: 世尊.

One of the ten epithets of the Buddha.