Glossary of Buddhist words

dancing-boddhisatvaGlossary of Buddhist terms and names used on this website.

Definitions are not exhaustive or definitive, but help to explain their meaning within the context of our website.

(While reasonable care is taken, Gaia House is not responsible for the content of external websites.)


Ajahn Chah: An influential 20th century forest monk and Dharma teacher from Thailand.; article.

Advaita Vedanta: An Indian spiritual tradition emphasizing Non-duality. Wikipedia article.

Awakening: The unfolding process or journey towards a state of mind where suffering ceases.

Ayya Khema: A respected 20th century Buddhist nun from Germany. Wikipedia article.

Bhikkhu Payutto: A scholar monk from the Thai Forest Tradition.

Bodhisattva or Bodhisatta: One who seeks to attain Liberation for the welfare of all beings.

Brahma Viharas: (lit: divine abidings) The noble qualities of heart and mind, which can be cultivated through specific meditative practices. They are: Metta or Loving-kindness, Karuna or compassion, Mudita or appreciative joy, and Upekkha or equanimity.

Buddha: 1. The historical figure Siddhartha Gotama, who lived in what is now India, attained Awakening in the 6th century BCE, and whose teachings are followed in the Buddhist traditions.
2. Awakened One: a person who has attained Liberation/ Nibbana/ Nirvana, and who has cultivated the inner qualities necessary to optimally support the Liberation of others.

Buddhism: The teachings of the Buddha, and the various schools of thought, teaching and practice that have developed from them.

Buddhist: One who explores the meanings of the teachings of the Buddha.

Chan: The ancient Chinese ancestor of Zen. The Western Chan Fellowship is a Chan organisation based in the UK.

Chi Kung: Also Qigong. A form of contemporary movement exercise which has its roots deeply in ancient Chinese health care. New Forest Chi Kung explain about Chi Kung on their website.

Dana: A Pali word meaning generosity and sharing. Often used to refer to the making of an offering or donation.

Dharma: (Sanskrit) The teachings of the Buddha.

Dhamma: (Pali) See Dharma.

Diamond Approach: A modern spiritual practice of the Ridhwan School, founded in the later 20th Century by A.H. Almaas (Hameed Ali).

Eightfold Noble Path: The path of practice leading to the cessation of suffering and dissatisfaction laid out by the Buddha in the Four Noble Truths, and comprising Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.

Emptiness: A term denoting the transformative recognition that things do not arise independently, but are interconnected, and empty of inherent or separate self existence.

Five Precepts: Ethical commitments undertaken by lay Buddhist practitioners, participants of Insight Meditation Retreats around the world, and all retreatants at Gaia House. These are the undertakings to:

1. Refrain from harming or taking the life of any being.
2. Refrain from taking or misusing anything that does not belong to you or has not been clearly offered.
3. Refrain from harmful expressions of sexuality.
4. Refrain from harmful expressions of speech.
5. Refrain from the use of intoxicants and substances which cloud the mind.

Four Brahma Viharas: equanimity, kindness, compassion, and empathetic joy.

Four Noble Truths: The core of the Buddha’s teaching, pointing out the truth of suffering and dissatisfaction; its cause; its cessation and the path thereto.

Gelugpa: A Tibetan Buddhist lineage founded by Tsongkapa in the 14th Century. Wikipedia article.

Insight Meditation: The practice of developing a calm and mindful investigation into the nature of experience, leading to wisdom, compassion and the end of suffering, through Awakening to the Four Noble Truths. Also known as Vipassana.

Jhana: (Pali. lit: absorption) A state of mental unification where consciousness is absorbed in a specific object, arising through the cultivation of Samatha.

Karma or Kamma: (lit: action) The concept that intentions and actions have consequences – positive or negative.

Karuna: (lit: compassion) Empathy and compassionate caring expressed as a wish for others and oneself to be free of suffering, leading to action to help relieve suffering.

Koan: A teaching story employed in Zen and Chan practice to provoke the investigation of the workings of the mind. Wikipedia article.

Liberation: Freedom from suffering and dissatisfaction through the uprooting of greed, hatred, and delusion.

Loving-kindness or Metta: The quality of loving friendliness, which wishes happiness and well-being for oneself and all beings.

Loving-kindness Meditation: The meditative cultivation of Loving-kindness or Metta.

Mahasi: A particular style of Insight/ Vipassana Meditation deriving from the teachings of Mahasi Sayadaw.

Mahasi Sayadaw: An influential 20th century Burmese Meditation Teacher. Wikipedia article.

Mahayana: (lit: Great Vehicle) A later Buddhist tradition, incorporating later scriptures. The main Mahayana traditions are Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. Wikipedia article.

Master Sheng-Yen: A much respected Chan teacher from Taiwan. Wikipedia article.

Meditation: See Insight Meditation and Vipassana.

Meditation Retreat: A period of time set aside for the development of wisdom and compassion through sustained Meditation practice in which one is secluded from the activities, responsibilities, pressures and distractions of everyday life.

Metta: See Loving-kindness.

Mindfulness: The mental quality of non-judgemental attention that can see things directly as they appear in the present moment.

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy or MBCT: A specific secular training for promoting mental health and well-being through the therapeutic application of Mindfulness to cognitive (thought) activity. Courses offered at Exeter University MBCT website & Wikipedia article. How MBCT & MBSR fit with Gaia House’s offerings

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction or MBSR: A specific secular training for reducing stress and assisting in pain management through the systematic application of Mindfulness to daily experience, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. How MBSR. & MBCT. fit with Gaia House Retreats – an article by John Teasdale.

Nibbana: (Pali) The cessation of suffering and dissatisfaction through the uprooting of greed, hatred, and delusion.

Nirvana: (Sanskrit) See Nibbana.

Pali: The language in which the teachings of the Buddha were recorded, giving rise to the Pali Texts – the earliest records of the teachings of the Buddha.

Patticca-samupada: (lit: dependant origination or dependant co-arising) This is a central teaching from the Buddha, describing the process whereby suffering arises and how it can be brought to cessation.

Precepts: These are guidelines used to support wholesome behaviour through ethical commitments. (See Five Precepts)

Qigong: A meditative practice from China involving movements using the subtle energy known as Qi. See: What is Qigong? (Also see Chi Kung)

Rakusu and Okesa: A Zen practice of sewing one’s robe as part of the Buddhist ordination process.

Samatha: Meditative calm. Jhana practice is the systematic meditative development of Samatha, leading to states of refined consciousness known as absorptions.

Sangha: The community of followers and practitioners of the Buddha’s path and teaching. Sometimes used to refer specifically to Buddhist monastics.

Sanskrit: The ancient Indian language in which Mahayana scriptures were recorded.

Seva: Service; working for the benefit of others.

Sitting Group: A meditation group. A group of meditators who meet regularly to practise together and support each other as a Sangha.

Six Perfections: Generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, concentration and wisdom.

Sŏn: Korean variant of Chan Buddhism, a school better known in the West through its Japanese form: Zen.

Soto Zen: A Zen Buddhist lineage established in Japan by the teacher Dogen, in the 13th century. Wikipedia article.

Thai Forest Tradition: A Theravadan monastic lineage in Thailand emphasizing the Precepts, simplicity and renunciation. In the West the lineage has continued mainly through Ajahn Chah, and the Forest Sangha. Monasteries in the UK include Amaravati in Hertfordshire. article.

Theravada: The ‘Buddhist Tradition of the Elders’ based on the Pali scriptures, in which the Insight Meditation practice tradition is rooted. Wikipedia article.

Vipassana: (lit: seeing deeply or clearly) A Pali word that can also be translated as penetrative insight. An alternative name for Insight Meditation. Wikipedia article.

Yoga: A system of spiritual development deriving from the teachings of the 2nd century BCE Indian teacher Patanjali, incorporating the practice of specific physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation. Wikipedia article.

Zen: A meditative form of Buddhist practice that developed in China in the 5-7th Century and then spread to Japan and Korea. Wikipedia article.

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