A Glossary of Pali & Buddhist terms
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
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.
with no fuel remaining (the analogy is to an extinguished fire whose embers are
cold) -- the nibbana of the arahant after his
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.
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:  the four
frames of reference (see satipatthana); 
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;  four bases of success (iddhipada)
-- desire, persistence, intentness, circumspection;  five dominant factors (indriya)
-- conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, discernment;  five
strengths (bala) -- identical with ;  seven factors of Awakening (bojjhanga)
-- mindfulness, investigation of phenomena, persistence, rapture (see piti),
serenity, concentration, equanimity; and  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: 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]
cetasika: Mental concomitant (see vedana,
sa˝˝a, and sankhara).
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
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;
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.
Frame of reference: see Satipatthana.
gotarabhu-˝ana: "Change of lineage
knowledge": The glimpse of nibbana that
changes one from an ordinary person (puthujjana)
to a Noble One (ariya-puggala).
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.
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.
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]
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,
khanti: Patience; forbearance. One of the ten
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
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).
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
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
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.
nirodha: Cessation; disbanding; stopping.
nivarana: Hindrances to concentration -- sensual
desire, ill will, torpor & lethargy, restlessness & anxiety, and
opanayiko: Referring inwardly; to be brought
inward. An epithet for the Dhamma.
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
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.
run-of-the-mill person: See puthujjana.
rupa: Body; physical phenomenon; sense datum.
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
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
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]
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
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,
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.
tisarana: The "Threefold Refuge" -- the
Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. See tiratana.
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).
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]
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.
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).
9 November 1998