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A Glossary of Pali & Buddhist terms

See also the Index by Subject.

This glossary covers many of the terms you'll come across in the books and articles available at this website. This is not meant to be an exhaustive Pali-English dictionary; you'll find many additional terms listed in the Subject Index.

The "[MORE]" link that follows some entries will take you to a more detailed article on the topic.

Many of the entries have been adapted (with permission) from the glossaries in the books Straight from the Heart, Things As They Are, and The Wings to Awakening.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | XYZ


Abhidhamma: (1) In the discourses of the Pali Canon, this term simply means "higher Dhamma," and a systematic attempt to define the Buddha's teachings and understand their interrelationships. (2) A later collection of analytical treatises based on lists of categories drawn from the teachings in the discourses, added to the Canon several centuries after the Buddha's life.
acariya: Teacher; mentor.
adhitthana: Determination; resolution. One of the ten perfections (paramis).
ajaan: (Thai; also "Ajarn", "Ajahn", etc.). Teacher; mentor. Equivalent to the Pali acariya.
akaliko: Timeless; unconditioned by time or season.
anagami: Non-returner. A person who has abandoned the five lower fetters that bind the mind to the cycle of rebirth (see sanyojana), and who after death will appear in one of the Brahma worlds called the Pure Abodes, there to attain nibbana, never again to return to this world.
anatta: Not-self; ownerless.
anicca: Inconstant; unsteady; impermanent.
anupadisesa-nibbana: Nibbana with no fuel remaining (the analogy is to an extinguished fire whose embers are cold) -- the nibbana of the arahant after his passing away.
anupubbi-katha: Gradual instruction. The Buddha's method of teaching Dhamma that guides his listeners progressively through increasingly advanced topics: generosity (see dana), virtue (see sila), heavens, drawbacks, renunciation, and the four noble truths. [MORE]
apaya: State of deprivation; the four lower levels of existence -- rebirth in hell, as a hungry ghost, as an angry demon, or as a common animal. None of these states are permanent.
apaya-mukha: Way to deprivation -- extra-marital sexual relations; indulgence in intoxicants; indulgence in gambling; associating with bad people.
arahant: A "worthy one" or "pure one"; a person whose mind is free of defilement (see kilesa), who has abandoned all ten of the fetters that bind the mind to the cycle of rebirth (see sanyojana), whose heart is free of mental effluents (see asava), and who is thus not destined for further rebirth. A title for the Buddha and the highest level of his Noble Disciples.
arammana: Preoccupation; mental object.
ariya-puggala: Noble person; enlightened individual. An individual who has realized at least one of the four noble paths (see magga) or their fruitions (see phala). Compare puthujjana (worldling).
ariya-sacca: Noble Truth. The word "ariya" (noble) can also mean ideal or standard, and in this context means "objective" or "universal" truth. There are four: stress, the origin of stress, the disbanding of stress, and the path of practice leading to the disbanding of stress.
asava: Mental effluent, pollutant, or fermentation. Four qualities -- sensuality, views, becoming, and ignorance -- that "flow out" of the mind and create the flood of the round of death and rebirth.
Asura: A race of heavenly beings who, like the Titans of Greek mythology, fought the devas for sovereignty over the heavens and lost. [MORE]
avijja: Unawareness; ignorance; obscured awareness; delusion about the nature of the mind. [MORE]
ayatana: Sense medium. The inner sense media are the sense organs -- eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The outer sense media are their respective objects.

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bhikkhu (bhikkhuni): A Buddhist "monk" ("nun"); a man (woman) who has given up the householder's life to live a life of heightened virtue (see sila) in accordance with the Vinaya in general, and the Patimokkha rules in particular. See sangha, parisa.
bodhi-pakkhiya-dhamma: "Wings to Awakening" -- seven sets of principles that are conducive to Awakening and that, according to the Buddha, form the heart of his teaching: [1] the four frames of reference (see satipatthana); [2] four right exertions (sammappadhana) -- the effort to prevent evil from arising in the mind, to abandon whatever evil has already arisen, to give rise to the good, and to maintain the good that has arisen; [3] four bases of success (iddhipada) -- desire, persistence, intentness, circumspection; [4] five dominant factors (indriya) -- conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, discernment; [5] five strengths (bala) -- identical with [4]; [6] seven factors of Awakening (bojjhanga) -- mindfulness, investigation of phenomena, persistence, rapture (see piti), serenity, concentration, equanimity; and [7] the eightfold path (magga) -- Right View, Right Attitude, Right Speech, Right Activity, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration. [MORE]
bodhisatta: "A being (striving) for Awakening"; the term used to describe the Buddha before he actually become Buddha, from his first aspiration to Buddhahood until the time of his full Awakening. Sanskrit form: Bodhisattva.
brahma: "Great One" -- an inhabitant of the non-sensual heavens of form or formlessness. [MORE]
brahmin: The brahmin caste of India has long maintained that its members, by their birth, are worthy of the highest respect. Buddhism borrowed the term brahmin to apply to those who have attained the goal, to show that respect is earned not by birth, race, or caste, but by spiritual attainment. Used in the Buddha sense, this term is synonymous with arahant.
buddho: Awake; enlightened. An epithet for the Buddha.
Buddha: The name given to one who rediscovers for himself the liberating path of Dhamma, after a long period of its having been forgotten by the world. According to tradition, there is a long line of Buddhas stretching into the distant past. The most recent Buddha was born Siddhattha Gotama in India in the sixth century BCE. A well-educated and wealthy young man, he relinquished his family and his princely inheritance in the prime of his life to search for true freedom and an end to suffering (dukkha). After seven years of austerities in the forest, he rediscovered the "middle way" and achieved his goal, becoming Buddha. [MORE]

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cetasika: Mental concomitant (see vedana, sa˝˝a, and sankhara).

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dana: Giving, liberality; offering, alms. Specifically, giving of any of the four requisites to the monastic order. More generally, the inclination to give, without any expectation of reward. Dana is the first theme in the Buddha's system of gradual training (see anupubbi-katha), the first of the ten paramis, and one of the seven treasures (see dhana). [MORE]
deva (devata): Literally, "shining one" -- an inhabitant of the heavenly realms. [MORE]
Devadatta: A cousin of the Buddha who tried to effect a schism in the Sangha and who has since become emblematic for all Buddhists who work knowingly or unknowingly to undermine the religion from within.
dhamma (Skt. dharma): (1) Event; a phenomenon in and of itself; (2) mental quality; (3) doctrine, teaching; (4) nibbana. Also, principles of behavior that human beings ought to follow so as to fit in with the right natural order of things; qualities of mind they should develop so as to realize the inherent quality of the mind in and of itself. By extension, "Dhamma" (usu. capitalized) is used also to denote any doctrine that teaches such things. Thus the Dhamma of the Buddha denotes both his teachings and the direct experience of nibbana, the quality at which those teachings are aimed.
Dhamma-vinaya: "doctrine (dhamma) and discipline (vinaya)." The Buddha's own name for the religion he founded.
Dhana: Treasure(s). The seven qualities of conviction, virtue (see sila), conscience & concern, learning, generosity (see dana), and wisdom.
dhatu: Element; property, impersonal condition. The four physical elements or properties are earth (solidity), water (liquidity), wind (motion), and fire (heat). The six elements include the above four plus space and cognizance.
dhutanga: Ascetic practices that monks may choose to undertake from time to time in order to cultivate renunciation and contentment, and to stir up energy. There are thirteen such practices: (1) using only patched-up robes; (2) using only one set of three robes; (3) going for alms; (4) not by-passing any donors on one's alms path; (5) eating no more than one meal a day; (6) eating only from the alms-bowl; (7) refusing any food offered after the alms-round; (8) living in the forest; (9) living under a tree; (10) living under the open sky; (11) living in a cemetery; (12) being content with whatever dwelling one has; (13) sleeping in the sitting posture (i.e., never lying down).
dukkha(m): Stress; suffering; pain; distress; discontent. [MORE]

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ekagattarammana: Singleness of preoccupation (see jhana).
ekayana-magga: A unified path; a direct path. An epithet for the practice of being mindful of the four frames of reference: body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities.
evam: Thus; in this way. This term is used in Thailand as a formal closing to a sermon.

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Frame of reference: see Satipatthana.

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gotarabhu-˝ana: "Change of lineage knowledge": The glimpse of nibbana that changes one from an ordinary person (puthujjana) to a Noble One (ariya-puggala).

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Hinayana: "Inferior Vehicle," originally a pejorative term -- coined by a group who called themselves followers of the Mahayana, the "Great Vehicle" -- to denote the path of practice of those who adhered only to the earliest discourses as the word of the Buddha. Hinayanists refused to recognize the later discourses, composed by the Mahayanists, that claimed to contain teachings that the Buddha felt were too deep for his first generation of disciples, and which he thus secretly entrusted to underground serpents. The Theravada school of today is a descendent of the Hinayana.

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idappaccayata: This/that conditionality. This name for the causal principle the Buddha discovered on the night of his Awakening stresses the point that, for the purposes of ending suffering and stress, the processes of causality can be understood entirely in terms of forces and conditions that are experienced in the realm of direct experience, with no need to refer to forces operating outside of that realm.

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jhana (Skt. dhyana): Mental absorption. A state of strong concentration focused on a single physical sensation (resulting in rupa jhana) or mental notion (resulting in arupa jhana). Development of jhana arises from the temporary suspension of the five hindrances (see nivarana) through the development of five mental factors: vitakka (directed thought), vicara (evaluation), piti (rapture), sukha (pleasure), and ekaggatarammana (singleness of preoccupation). [MORE]

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kamma (Skt. karma): Intentional acts that result in states of being and birth. [MORE]
kammatthana Literally, "basis of work" or "place of work". The word refers to the "occupation" of a meditating monk: namely, the contemplation of certain meditation themes by which the forces of defilement (kilesa), craving (tanha), and ignorance (avijja) may be uprooted from the mind. In the ordination procedure, every new monk is taught five basic kammatthana that form the basis for contemplation of the body: hair of the head (kesa), hair of the body (loma), nails (nakha), teeth (danta), and skin (taco). By extension, the kammatthana include all the forty classical meditation themes. Although every meditator may be said to engage in kammatthana, the term is most often used to identify the particular Thai forest tradition lineage that was founded by Phra Ajaan Mun and Phra Ajaan Sao. [MORE]
kayagata-sati: Mindfulness immersed in the body. This is a blanket term covering several meditation themes: keeping the breath in mind; being mindful of the body's posture; being mindful of one's activities; analyzing the body into its parts; analyzing the body into its physical properties (see dhatu); contemplating the fact that the body is inevitably subject to death and disintegration. [MORE]
khandha: Heap; group; aggregate. Physical and mental components of the personality and of sensory experience in general (see rupa, vedana, sa˝˝a, sankhara, and vi˝˝ana).
khanti: Patience; forbearance. One of the ten perfections (paramis).
kilesa: Defilement -- passion, aversion, and delusion in their various forms, which include such things as greed, malevolence, anger, rancor, hypocrisy, arrogance, envy, miserliness, dishonesty, boastfulness, obstinacy, violence, pride, conceit, intoxication, and complacency.

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loka-dhamma: Worldly phenomenon -- fortune, loss of fortune, status, disgrace, praise, censure, pleasure, and pain.
lokavidu: Expert with regard to the cosmos. An epithet for the Buddha.
lokuttara: Transcendent; supramundane (see magga, phala, and nibbana).

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magga: Path. Specifically, the path to the cessation of suffering and stress. The four transcendent paths -- or rather, one path with four levels of refinement -- are the path to stream entry (entering the stream to nibbana, which ensures that one will be reborn at most only seven more times), the path to once-returning, the path to non-returning, and the path to arahantship.
mahathera: "Great elder." An honorific title automatically conferred upon a bhikkhu of at least twenty years' standing. Compare mahathera.
majjhima: Middle; appropriate; just right.
mara: The personification of evil and temptation.
metta: Loving-kindness; goodwill. One of the ten perfections (paramis).

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Naga: A term commonly used to refer to strong, stately, and heroic animals, such as elephants and magical serpents. In Buddhism, it is also used to refer to those who have attained the goal of the practice.
nekkhamma: Renunciation; literally, "freedom from sensual lust". One of the ten paramis. [MORE]
nibbana (Skt. nirvana): Liberation; literally, the "unbinding" of the mind from the mental effluents (see asava), defilements (see kilesa), and the round of rebirth (see vatta), and from all that can be described or defined. As this term also denotes the extinguishing of a fire, it carries the connotations of stilling, cooling, and peace. (According to the physics taught at the time of the Buddha, a burning fire seizes or adheres to its fuel; when extinguished, it is unbound.) "Total nibbana" in some contexts denotes the experience of Awakening; in others, the final passing away of an arahant. [MORE]
nirodha: Cessation; disbanding; stopping.
nivarana: Hindrances to concentration -- sensual desire, ill will, torpor & lethargy, restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty.

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opanayiko: Referring inwardly; to be brought inward. An epithet for the Dhamma.

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paccattam: Personal; individual.
Pali: The canon of texts preserved by the Theravada school and, by extension, the language in which those texts are composed. [MORE]
pa˝˝a: Discernment; insight; wisdom; intelligence; common sense; ingenuity.
parami: Perfection of the character. A group of ten qualities developed over many lifetimes by a bodhisatta, which appear as a group in the Pali Canon only in the Jataka ("Birth Stories"): generosity (dana), virtue (sila), renunciation (nekkhamma), discernment (pa˝˝a), energy/persistence (viriya), patience/forbearance (khanti), truthfulness (sacca), determination (adhitthana), good will (metta), and equanimity (upekkha).
parinibbana: Total Unbinding; the complete cessation of the khandhas that occurs upon the death of an arahant.
parisa: Following; assembly. The four groups of the Buddha's following are monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. Compare sangha. See bhikkhu/bhikkhuni, upasaka/upasika.
Patimokkha: The basic code of monastic discipline, consisting of 227 rules for monks (bhikkhus) and 310 for nuns (bhikkhunis). See Vinaya.
phala: Fruition. Specifically, the fruition of any of the four transcendent paths (see magga).
phra: (Thai) Venerable. Used as a prefix to the name of a monk (bhikkhu).
piti: Rapture (see jhana).
pu˝˝a: Merit; worth; the inner sense of well-being that comes from having acted rightly or well and that enables one to continue acting well.
puthujjana: One of the many-folk; a "worlding" or run-of-the-mill person. An ordinary person who has not yet realized any of the four stages of Awakening (see magga). Compare ariya-puggala.

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run-of-the-mill person: See puthujjana.
rupa: Body; physical phenomenon; sense datum.

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sabhava-dhamma: Condition of nature; any phenomenon, event, property, or quality as experienced in and of itself.
sacca: Truthfulness. One of the ten perfections (paramis).
saddha: Conviction, faith. A confidence in the Buddha that gives one the willingness to put his teachings into practice. Conviction becomes unshakeable upon the attainment of stream-entry (see sotapanna).
sakadagami: Once-returner. A person who has abandoned the first three of the fetters that bind the mind to the cycle of rebirth (see sanyojana), has weakened the fetters of sensual passion and irritation, and who after death is destined to be reborn in this world only once more.
sakya-putta: Son of the Sakyan. An epithet for Buddhist monks, the Buddha having been a native of the Sakyan Republic.
sallekha-dhamma: Topics of effacement (effacing defilement) -- having few wants, being content with what one has, seclusion, uninvolvement in companionship, persistence, virtue (see sila), concentration, discernment, release, and the direct knowing and seeing of release.
samadhi: Concentration; the practice of centering the mind in a single sensation or preoccupation. [MORE]
samana: Contemplative. Literally, a person who abandons the conventional obligations of social life in order to find a way of life more "in tune" (sama) with the ways of nature.
sambhavesin: (A being) searching for a place to take birth.
sammati: Conventional reality; convention; relative truth; supposition; anything conjured into being by the mind.
sampaja˝˝a: Alertness; self-awareness; presence of mind; clear comprehension.
samsara: Transmigration; the round of death and rebirth. See vatta. [MORE]
sanditthiko: Self-evident; immediately apparent; visible here and now. An epithet for the Dhamma.
sangha: On the conventional (sammati) level, this term denotes the communities of Buddhist monks and nuns; on the ideal (ariya) level, it denotes those followers of the Buddha, lay or ordained, who have attained at least stream-entry (see sotapanna), the first of the transcendent paths (see magga) culminating in nibbana. Recently, particularly in the West, the term "sangha" has been popularly adapted to mean the wider sense of "community of followers on the Buddhist path," although this usage finds no basis in the Pali Canon. The term "parisa" may be more appropriate for this much broader meaning. [MORE]
sankhara: Formation. This can denote anything formed or fashioned by conditions, or -- as one of the five khandhas -- specifically thought-formations within the mind.
sa˝˝a: Label; perception; allusion; act of memory or recognition; interpretation.
sanyojana: Fetter that binds the mind to the cycle of rebirth (see vatta) -- self-identification views (sakkaya-ditthi), uncertainty (vicikiccha), grasping at precepts and practices (silabbata-paramasa); sensual passion (kama-raga), irritation (vyapada); passion for form (rupa-raga), passion for formless phenomena (arupa-raga), conceit (mana), restlessness (uddhacca), and unawareness (avijja).
sati: Mindfulness; alertness; self-collectedness; powers of reference and retention. [MORE]
satipatthana: Foundation of mindfulness; frame of reference -- body, feelings, mind, and mental events, viewed in and of themselves as they occur.
sa-upadisesa-nibbana: Nibbana with fuel remaining (the analogy is to an extinguished fire whose embers are still glowing) -- liberation as experienced in this lifetime by an arahant.
sila: Virtue, morality. The quality of ethical and moral purity that prevents one from falling away from the eightfold path. Also, the training precepts that restrain one from performing unskillful actions. Sila is the second theme in the gradual training (see anupubbi-katha), one of the ten paramis, and the second of the seven treasures (see dhana). [MORE]
sotapanna: Stream winner. A person who has abandoned the first three of the fetters that bind the mind to the cycle of rebirth (see sanyojana) and has thus entered the "stream" flowing inexorably to nibbana, ensuring that one will be reborn at most only seven more times.
stream-entry, stream-winner: see sotapanna.
stupa (Pali: thupa): Originally, a tumulus or burial mound enshrining relics of a holy person -- such as the Buddha -- or objects associated with his life. Over the centuries this has developed into the tall, spired monuments familiar in temples in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma; and into the pagodas of China, Korea, and Japan.
sugato: Well-faring; going (or gone) to a good destination. An epithet for the Buddha.
sukha: Pleasure (see jhana).
sutta (Skt. sutra): Literally, "thread"; a discourse or sermon by the Buddha or his contemporary disciples. After the Buddha's death the suttas were passed down in the Pali language according to a well-established oral tradition, and were finally committed to written form in Sri Lanka around 100 BCE. Over 10,000 suttas are collected in the Sutta Pitaka, one of the principal bodies of scriptural literature in Theravada Buddhism. The Pali Suttas are widely regarded as the earliest record of the Buddha's teachings. [MORE]

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tadi: "Such," an adjective to describe one who has attained the goal. It indicates that the person's state is indefinable but not subject to change or influences of any sort.
tanha: Craving, the cause of stress, which takes three forms -- craving for sensuality, for being, and for not-being. [MORE]
tapas: The purifying "heat" of meditative practice.
Tathagata: Literally, "one who has truly gone (tatha-gata)" or "one who has become authentic "(tatha-agata)," an epithet used in ancient India for a person who has attained the highest spiritual goal. In Buddhism, it usually denotes the Buddha, although occasionally it also denotes any of his arahant disciples.
than: (Thai; also "tan") Reverend, venerable.
thera: "Elder." An honorific title automatically conferred upon a bhikkhu of at least ten years' standing. Compare mahathera.
Theravada: The "Doctrine of the Elders" -- the only one of the early schools of Buddhism to have survived into the present; currently the dominant form of Buddhism in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma. See also Hinayana. [MORE]
ti-lakkhana: Three characteristics inherent in all conditioned phenomena -- being inconstant, stressful, and not-self.
tipitaka (Skt. tripitaka): The Buddhist Canon; literally, the three "baskets" -- disciplinary rules, discourses, and abstract philosophical treatises. [MORE]
tiratana: The "Triple Gem" consisting of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha -- ideals to which all Buddhists turn for refuge. See tisarana. [MORE]
tisarana: The "Threefold Refuge" -- the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. See tiratana. [MORE]

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ugghatita˝˝u: Of swift understanding. After the Buddha attained Awakening and was considering whether or not to teach the Dhamma, he perceived that there were four categories of beings: those of swift understanding, who would gain Awakening after a short explanation of the Dhamma, those who would gain Awakening only after a lengthy explanation (vipacita˝˝u); those who would gain Awakening only after being led through the practice (neyya); and those who, instead of gaining Awakening, would at best gain only a verbal understanding of the Dhamma (padaparama).
Unbinding: See nibbana.
upasika (upasaka): A female (male) follower of the Buddha. Compare parisa.
upekkha: Equanimity. One of the ten perfections (paramis). [MORE]
uposatha: Observance day, corresponding to the phases of the moon, on which Buddhist lay people gather to listen to the Dhamma and to observe special precepts. Monks assemble to recite the Patimokkha rules on the new-moon and full-moon uposatha days. [MORE]

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vassa: Rains Retreat. A period from July to October, corresponding roughly to the rainy season, in which each monk is required to live settled in a single place and not wander freely about.
vatta: The cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. This denotes both the death and rebirth of living beings and the death and rebirth of defilement (kilesa) within the mind. See samsara.
vedana: Feeling -- pleasure (ease), pain (stress), or neither pleasure nor pain.
vicara: Evaluation (see jhana).
vijja: Clear knowledge; genuine awareness; science (specifically, the cognitive powers developed through the practice of concentration and discernment).
vijja-carana-sampanno: Consummate in knowledge and conduct; accomplished in the conduct leading to awareness or cognitive skill. An epithet for the Buddha.
vimutti: Release; freedom from the fabrications and conventions of the mind.
Vinaya: The monastic discipline, whose rules and traditions comprise six volumes in printed text. The Buddha's own name for the religion he founded was "this dhamma-vinaya" -- this doctrine and discipline. The essence of the rules for monastics is found in the Patimokkha. [MORE]
vi˝˝ana: Cognizance; consciousness; the act of taking note of sense data and ideas as they occur.
vipassana: Clear intuitive insight into physical and mental phenomena as they arise and disappear, seeing them for what they actually are -- in and of themselves -- in terms of the three characteristics (see ti-lakkhana) and in terms of stress, its origin, its disbanding, and the way leading to its disbanding (see ariya-sacca).
viriya: Persistence; energy. One of the ten perfections (paramis), the five faculties (bala; see bodhi-pakkhiya-dhamma), and the five strengths/dominant factors (indriya; see bodhi-pakkhiya-dhamma).
Visakha (also Vesakha, Vesak, Wesak, etc.): The ancient name for the Indian lunar month in spring corresponding to our April-May. According to tradition, the Buddha's birth, Awakening, and Parinibbana each took place on the full-moon night in the month of Visakha. These events are commemorated on that day in the Visakha festival, which is celebrated annually throughout the world of Theravada Buddhism.
vitakka: Directed thought (see jhana).

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Revised: 9 November 1998