Terminology I :: Buddhist

I want to become more familiar with the terminology used in Buddhist and other traditions, so here is a beginning of my own little dictionary drawn from various sources. I have noticed that many definitions seem overly dry, and want to find some that have precision but also aliveness and immediacy. I will also include several definitions as I find them. To be continued.

v = varjayana.
z = zen.
a = advaita vedanta.
t = taoism.
c = christianity.
s = sufism.
dh = douglas harding.


(a) Ground, Absolute
(b) Big Mind, awakening
(c) Aspects of the Buddha
(d) Relative, obscurations
(e) Process
(f) Practices, tools
(g) Other

The Path of the Human Being, Genpo Roshi.
The Hazy Moon of Enlightenment, Maezumi Roshi.
The Dzogchen Primer, Marcia Binder Schmidt.
Wild Awakening,Dzogchen Ponlop.

(a) Ground, Absolute

Rigpa v

The state of awareness devoid of ignorance and dualistic fixation. ** [Dzogchen primer]

Self-existing awareness that is cognizant and nonconceptual is called rigpa. In Mahamudra, it is called ordinary mind – tamal gyi shepa. Ordinary mind is defined as dharmakaya that is not dependent upon the three conditions of bliss, clarity and nonthought. It is also beyond the four joys – the four types of bliss. **

Rigpa is the primordial, nondual awareness advocated by the Dzogchen teachings.

Nondual pure awareness.

Rigpa itself is totally free from the duality of an object of observation and an observer

Awareness (same as dharmakaya). *

Ordinary Mind v

Same as rigpa (in Mahamudra). *

Dharmata v

The ultimate nature or reality of mind and phenomena. Synonymous with emptiness. [Wild Awakening.]

Primordial Purity v

Emptiness (Sanskrit: shunyata)

All phenomena beyond the extremes of existence and nonexistence. [Wild Awakening.]

The true nature or suchness of all phenomena that is devoid of true, inherent, independent existence and is beyond all levels of conceptual elaboration. [Wild Awakening.]

The fundamental nature of all phenomena; the absence of inherent existence. [The Path.]

Suchness (San. tathata)

Synonym for emptiness or dharmata, the ultimate nature. [Wild Awakening.]


A synonym for emptiness. Also translated as nonarising. [Wild Awakening.]

Great Emptiness

The inseparability of appearances and emptiness, or the inseparability of clarity and emptiness. [Wild Awakening.]

Mu (Japanese)

Literally, nothing, not, nothingness. Often used synonymously with emptiness. In Zen the word Mu is used to point directly at reality and has no discursive content. [The Path.]


The all-ground. Literally “foundation of all things”, the basis of mind and both pure and impure phenomena. This word has different meanings in different contexts, and should be understood accordingly. Sometimes it is synonymous with buddha nature or dharmakaya, sometimes it refers to a neutral state of dualistic mind that has not been embraced by innate wakefulness. ** [Dzogchen primer]

Dharmadatu (Sanskrit)

Literally, realm of Dharma. The uncaused and immutable totality in which all phenomena arise, dwell, and pass away. [The Path.]

The ultimate, primordial expanse of the phenomena of samsara and nirvana, which is nonarising and unceasing, unconditioned and unchanging. [Wild Awakening.]

(b) Big Mind

Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi (sanskrit)

Literally, supreme perfect enlightenment. [Hazy Moon.]

Supreme complete awakening. [The Path.]

Big Mind

Also Buddha Mind. One’s original mind or true mind. Big Min has neither beginning nor end and is limitless, formless, and colorless, yet manifests all things. [The Path.]

Bodhi Mind

The mind in which an aspiration to enlightenment has been awakened. [Hazy Moon.]

Literally, awakened mind. Also Buddha Mind, unborn Buddha Mind. The mind in which an aspiration to attain enlightenment has been awakened. [The Path.]

Buddha (Sanskrit)

Literally, awakened one. A term that variously indicates the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, enlightened persons who have attained Buddhahood, and the true nature of all beings.

Buddha Nature

The intrinsic nature of all beings; true nature, true self. [Hazy Moon.]

Also true nature, true Self, the Unborn. The complete and perfect nature intrinsic to all beings. [The Path.]

Heart-Mind (Japanese: shin)

Also Buddha nature, true nature. Based on the Japanese derivation (shin) of the Chinese character hsin, which can be translated as “heart, spirit, consciousness, soul, mind, thought,” Heart-Mind refers to one’s entire consciousness, whole being (body-mind-spirit), or true nature, which transcends the distinction between mind and matter. [The Path.]


Realization of one’s true nature. [Hazy Moon.]

The experience of emptiness, the true nature of all things, in which duality and separation disappear; the direct experience of one’s intrinsic wholeness and complete interconnectedness with all things. Often used synonymously with dai kensho and satori. [The Path.]


Buddha nature or Buddha essence. It is the seed or essence of enlightenment possessed by all sentient beings, and which allows them to have the potential to attain buddhahood. Also known as sugatagarha. [Wild Awakening.]

Tathagata (Sanskrit, Japanese: nyorai)

Literally, thus coming, thus going. A title used to refer to the Buddha; more generally, the state of complete enlightenment (also “suchness”). [The Path.]

The name the Buddha used in referring to himself; literally means “thus-come” or “thus-gone”, indicating the enlightened state. [Hazy Moon.]

Essence, Nature & Capacity v

The three aspects of the sugatagarbha according to the Dzogchen system. Essence is the primordially pure wisdom of emptiness. The nature is the spontaneously present wisdom of cognizance. The capacity is the all pervasive wisdom of invisibility. ** [Dzogchen primer]

Samyak (Sanskrit)

Literally, right, perfect, complete. Used by Maezumi Roshi and Genpo Roshi as a prefix to denote a state of wholeness or completeness and the wisdom that comes from an experience of oneness. [The Path.]


Those gone to bliss. An epithet for the Buddha or buddhas. [Wild Awakening.]

Bodhisattva (Sanskrit)

Literally, enlightened being. One who practices the Buddha Way and compassionately foregoes final enlightenment for the sake of helping others becoming enlightened. [The Path.]


Ten stages of the Bodhisattva.



Literally, unconditioned. Non-action, i. e. activity in which there is no dichotomy between the one doing and what is done, and which thus is unconditioned by subject and object, time and space, activity and non-activity. Wu-wei indicates the heart of Zen practice in daily life. [Hazy Moon.]

(c) Aspects of the Buddha

Dharmakaya (Sanskrit) (Japanese: Hosshin)

First of three aspects of the Buddha nature, known as the trikaya (three bodies). Dharmakaya indicates the absolute reality beyond all discrimination and conceptualization; the unity of Buddha with all beings. [The Path.]

One aspect of the threefold body of Buddha; the absolute beyond all discrimination. [Hazy Moon.]

Devoid of constructs, like space.


The second aspect [of the trikaya] refers to the Buddhas who manifest the powers arising from perfect enlightenment. [The Path.]


The third [of the kayas] is Buddha nature in human form acting for the benefit of all beings. [The Path.]

Emanation body.

Prajna (Sanskrit, Japanese: Hannya)

Wisdom or transcendental knowledge relating to insight into emptiness; also, the naturally sharp discriminating quality of awareness. While prajna functions in our mundane activities, on the highest level it is the awareness that sees impermanence, egolessness and shunyata. [Wild Awakening.]

Enlightened wisdom; wisdom that transcends duality of subject and object. [The Path.]

Enlightened wisdom. [Hazy Moon.]


Subtle Vajra Body

The vital life energy of consciousness within the physical body, permeated with an elaborate network of nadis, pranas, and bindus. [Wild Awakening.]


Skilful means



(d) Relative, obscurations

Interdependent Origination

The interconnectedness of all things; the fact that they arise in dependence of cause and conditions. [Wild Awakening.]

Everything has infinite causes and infinite effects.

Dharmas (Sanskrit)

Phenomena, elements or constituents of existence. [Hazy Moon.]

Karma (Sanskrit)

The principle of causality, which holds that for every effect there is a cause. Regarding the human sphere, karma refers to the principle that by our actions we determine the quality of our lives and influence the lives of others. [The Path.]

Sentient Being

Generally, a being or person possessing consciousness. More broadly, all things, existence. In Buddhism a sentient being is one who has not yet awakened to his or her true nature. [The Path.]

Three Marks (Sanskrit: trilakshana)

The three aspects of conditioned existence: impermanence, suffering, and the absence of an independently existing self; also commonly accepted as the three hallmarks of Buddhist doctrine. [The Path.]


The eighteen aspects of perception. [Wild Awakening.]

Skandhas (Sanskrit)

Literally, heaps or aggregates. In Buddhist psychology, the five modes of being which, taken collectively, give rise to the illusion of self. They are: form, sensation, conception, discrimination and awareness. [Hazy Moon.]

Sem v

Thinking. *

Dukha (Sanskrit)

Suffering; our basic dissatisfaction, suffering, alienation, and loneliness; not being at peace; the first noble truth taught by Shakyamuni Buddha.


The lack of awareness of the true nature of all things, which is emptiness; belief in the separate objective existence of things; the erroneous ascription of inherent existence to the world of appearances, which in turn leads to clinging and suffering. In Buddhism, the word delusion is used synonymously with ignorance. [The Path.]

Dualistic Thinking

Thinking that is based on duality; the belief in the separate existence of oneself; thinking characterized by the separation of subject and object. [The Path.]

Makyo (Japanese) z

Literally, demons of the objective world. Illusions, fantasies, hallucinations; more generally, any phenomena or experiences which distracts one from practice or to which one becomes attached. [Hazy Moon.]


The deluded states of mind that afflict sentient beings. [Wild Awakening.]

Three Poisons

Greed, anger and ignorance. In Zen, ignorance (delusion) is viewed as the basis of the other two. When a person is ignorant of his or her true nature and intrinsic wholeness, clinging (the root of greed) and aversion (the root of anger) arise as ways to perpetuate the illusion of a separate self. [The Path.]

(e) Process

Buddha Way

Also Tao, the Way, the Path. In Zen, the word Tao is used to indicate the way to, or of, enlightenment, and also Buddha nature. [The Path.]


The act of becoming aware of the true nature (emptiness) of all things, including oneself. An alternative term to the Sanskrit Bodhi (lit. “awakened”). [The Path.]


Generally an insight into the true nature of all things (emptiness). Realization experiences can vary in clarity and depth, from a glimpse to complete enlightenment. [The Path.]

Jijuyu-Zanmai (Japanese) z

Literally, joyful self-fulfilling samadhi. The hallmark of Zen, which has been transmitted from Buddha to Buddha through zazen. [The Path.]

Joriki (Japanese) z

Literally, Samadhi power. The vital, stabilizing energy arising from strong zazen practice. [Hazy Moon, The Path.]

Samadhi (Sanskrit, Japanese: zammai)

Literally, stream of becoming. A state of mind characterized by one-pointed attention; a nondualistic state of awareness in which no separation is experienced between subject and object. [The Path.]

A state of mind characterized by onepointedness of attention; a nondualistic state of awareness. [Hazy Moon.]

Dhyana (Sanskrit)

Similar in meaning to samadhi. In early Buddhism, the term referred to various stages of concentrated awareness. Its Chinese and Japanese equivalents (Chan and Zen) have broader implications. [Hazy Moon.]

Kensho (Japanese) z

Literally, seeing into one’s nature. An experience of enlightenment, also known as satori. [Hazy Moon.]

Satori (Japanese) z

The experience of great enlightenment. [The Path.]


Two different Tibetan terms are translated into the English word liberation. Tarpa refers primarily to the state of freedom from suffering attained in the Shravaka and Pratyekabuddha yanas, as opposed to the full awakening attained through the Mahayana. Drolwa has a vaster connotation, and often refers to the spontaneously available, innate liberation that one connects with through the practices of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, such as in the term “self-liberation”. [Wild Awakening.]

(f) Practices, tools

Upaya (Sanskrit)

Skillful means or methods used by a bodhisattva to guide beings to liberation; skill in expounding the teachings, especially in accordance with the needs of the student. [The Path.]

Vipashyana (Sanskrit)

Insight, clear seeing. A form of mediation that emphasizes the analytical examination of the nature of things, leading to insight into emptiness as their true nature. [The Path.]

Mahamudra v

“Great seal”.

Mental nondoing. *

Shikantaza (Japanese)

Literally, just sitting. Zazen; the practice of zazen without supportive devices such as breath counting or koan study. According to Dogen Zenji, shikantaza is the purest form of zazen; he described it as resting in a state of alert, nondiscursive awareness. [The Path.]

(g) Other

Dharma (Sanskrit)

Central notion of Buddhism, used in various meanings: (1) the cosmic law, Truth, reality; (2) the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, Buddhist doctrine; (3) the general state of existence, the manifestation of reality; a thing, phenomenon. [The Path.]


Peaceful dwelling. A practice period, usually three months in length, devoted to mediation, study and communal work. [Hazy Moon.]

Sutra (Sanskrit)

Literally, a thread on which jewels are strung. A Buddhist scripture. Sutras are the purported dialogues and sermons of Shakyamuni Buddha and of certain other Buddhist teachers. [The Path.]

Literally, thread. Buddhist scripture; a dialogue or sermon attributed to the Buddha. [Hazy Moon.]

Gatha (Sanskrit)

A short chant used in Buddhist ceremonies. [The Path.]

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