Cultures and Religions of the Himalayan Region
for "Who is Buddha?"
Hindu, Buddhist, and Tibetan terms:
108: Magical, mystical number in the Vedas. 108 beads on mala (rosaries).
Adhibudha: Darmakaya; ultimate source of Buddha power in Mahayana Buddhist cosmology.
Advana: Adventure story involving the Buddha.
Ambrosia: "The immortal." The nectar which conquers the demon
of death. Symbol
Amitabha: Guan Yin's spiritual father often scene in her headdress; one of the 5 Buddha's of the 5 directions. In 2nd level of Mahayana Buddhism's cosmology. "Immeasurable light." Western Buddha.
Ananda: Roly poly cousin of the Buddha that became his attendant who manages his affairs. Preserved all the Buddha's sayings because of his great memory.
Anatman: No soul; foundational teaching of Buddhism in contrast to Hindu belief in eternal soul (atman). Yet in every Buddhist country there is a word for soul.
Aradana: A category of the Buddha's stories - Adventure stories.
Arhat: Monk; Theravada ideal;
Aryans: Indo-European invaders who brought the caste system, Sanskrit, etc with them as they conquered the India subcontinent.
Ashoka: Great Buddhist king, 300 BCE. Spread Buddhism after renouncing violence. Constantine of Buddhism. Established large Ashoka pillars in his kingdom with 4-faced lions at the top.
Ashram: An Indian monastic community
Asura: Demigods or demons; supernatural power, but dominated by anger
Atisha: Indian monk; spent last 10 years of life in Tibet; founder of Kampa school.
Avalokitesvara: Bodhisattva of compassion; Protecting male deity of Tibet; wife/consort is Tara; becomes the female Guang Ying in China. Lit, "glancing eye."
Bali: An offering or sacrifice.
Bardo: Intermediate state between births;49 days.
Bhakti: Devotion and Worship - One of the four paths to enlightenment in Hinduism.
Bodh Gaya: Place where the Buddha was enlightened.
Bodhicitta: Lit., "mind of enlightenment;" Wish for all to become enlightened; path of love and compassion.
Bodhsattva: Buddha in the making; chose not to be enlightened in order to save others;
Bon (pronounced "Bun") religion: Pre-Buddhist indigenous religion of Tibetan people.
Brahma: Hindu god who spoke the world into existence. In Buddhism seen not an eternal deity, but the ruler of the gods of this world.
Brahmins: Priests, the top class, of the ancient Indian social system.
Buddha Nature: Potential for Buddhahood in every person.
Buddhist: One who finds refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha
Caityas: A stupa shrine in Nepal that doesn't without a relic
Chakra: Wheel of energy in the body; 4 or 5 of them. Lotus wheels of energy.
Chorten: Tibetan name for "stupa"
Circumambulation: Act of veneration consisting in walking clockwise (right shoulder in) with awareness around a sacred object such as a temple, stupa, holy mountain, house, or even a person, such as a spiritual master.
Crown proturbance: Prominence on the head of the Buddha, one of the 32 major marks.
Dana: Donation; associated with generosity; widely practiced Buddhist ideal
Darshan: "Seeing" the divine in Indian art and devotion. Sitting humbly in the presence of the image that you revere.
Deer Park: After enlightenment, the Buddha finds his 5 companions and preaches the first sermon, "Turning the Wheel of the Dharma."
Dharma: Many meanings: Teaching of the Buddha; the path. In Hinduism it means to do one's duty.
Dharmakaya: "Body of truth." Ultimate source of Buddha power in the universe. Similar to Brahman, the Ground of Being, in Hinduism. Priests mediate and channel this energy to the laity. Also known as Adhibuddha. 2nd level of the 5 Buddhas is pure love and wisdom. 3rd level is the human level of Shakyamuni. We have all 3 levels within each one of us.
Dipankara: Last Buddha before Shakyamuni; famous story where Depankara is crossing a muddy path and Shakyamuni in a previous incarnation lies down on the path for Depankara to cross.
Dravidian: Original people on Indian subcontinent; worshipped female deities; darker skinned people.
Dualistic: The concept of self and other, good and evil, us and them, visible and invisible. Manjushri's double-edged sword abolishes duality and establishes non-duality, or oneness of all reality.
Dunguan Caves: Famous Buddhist cave paintings in western China. 1030 CE.
Durgapuja: Cult of Durga festival day performed in Nepal by Newaris.
Dyana: Word for meditative absorption; becomes Chan and Zen in Ch/Jap. Emphasis on instantaneous, not gradual enlightenment.
Eight-fold path: Buddha's spiritual disciplines to assist one advance on the path towards enlightenment.
Five paths: Five successive stages on the path of enlightenment: paths of accumulating, joining, seeing (darshan), meditation, and the path beyond learning.
Four conditions and four noble deeds: Householder duties - WEalth being gotten by lawful means; good report gotten by me along with my kinsmen and teachers; long life and attain a great age; when the body breaks up, on the other side of death may I attain happy birth, the heaven world! (for more see Todd Lewis' Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal, p. 174ff.
Four noble truths: Life is suffering; the cause of suffering is desire; the end of desire will end suffering; the path to liberation is the 8-fold path.
Four passing sights: Buddha leaves palace and sees old age, sickness, death, and an ascetic.
Gandhara: Place in eastern Pakistan and Afghanistan where Greek-influenced Buddhist art began.
Ganesha: Elephant god, remover of obstacles. Guards Nepali Buddhist temples
Garudas: Large magical and mythical birds who protect beings from malevolent spirits; enemy of the nagas.
Gorkhali: Language of the people from a small town just outside Katmandu which - when the Shah family conquered in 18th century - became the Nepali language. The upper class was Indic peoples, but Tibeto-Burman hill people of the lower classes became warriors. Known as the fiercest fighters of the British empire. Now serve as security guards in Hong Kong after 1997.
Gupta rule (320-646 AD): High point of Buddhist art
Hell: One of the 6 realms in which one experiences intense suffering caused by the effects of past actions.
Himalaya: "Abode of snow"
Hinayana: Derogatory term of "small vehicle" given to them by Mahayana, the "large vehicle," even though at the time Mahayana was a small sect.
Indra: King of the god realm of the 33.
Jambudvipa: Southern continent, one of the 4 main "continents" in ancient Indian cosmology, the one in which we live.
Jataka: Tales of the former reincarnations of the Buddha before he was enlightened.
Jokhang monastery: Tibet's central shrine; all the demonstrations in modern Tibet against the Chinese have started here.
Kalachakra Mandala: Wheel of Time; ritual done for peace. Story itself that is read during this ritual focuses on the ultimate battle between Buddhists and Muslims, which Buddhists win naturally. Ironic because today this story and text used for peace.
Kali: Fierce Hindu mother goddess (can be called Durga)
Kaliyuga: Evil age, the age of Kali
Kalpa: A period of time;
Karuna: Sanskrit for "compassion action"
Kshatriya: Class of warriors and kings in Indian social system classification
Karma: Cause and effect mechanism; reap what you sow; effect of your actions; every action returns to you.
Kumari: "Young girls" who are treated as living bodhisattvas. They can give and receive pure offerings. Unique to Nepal.
Kuan Yin: Chinese patron deity; protector of China. Bodhisattva who reached the 9th stage (out of 10) to become enlightened, but chose to return to rescue other souls. Symbol of unconditional compassion; Savioress.
Kundilini: Spiritual energy of the spine, symbolized by coiled serpents that moves towards the top of the head (1000-petal lotus).
Lama: Spiritual teacher;
Laughing Buddha (also see Maitreya, the Future Buddha): A Wandering Chinese sage named Hotei in the 10th century who carried a sack full of candies.
Lingam: Symbol for creative masculine principle or power (often with Yoni); associated with Shiva.
Lohan: Chinese arhat
Lumbini: Shakyamuni's birth place
Mahakala: Most common protector deity in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism version of Shiva.
Mahayana: "The great vehicle;" the wider path allowing for all beings to participate in the path towards enlightenment. The minority in its homeland of India becomes the dominant force outside of the "Holy Land." Global movement around 0 BC/AD. Came onto the scene during same century as Christianity. All beings have Buddha nature, potential for enlightenment.
Maitreya: Buddha of the Future; now a Bodhisattva waiting in Tushita heaven to be reborn for a final time before enlightenment.
Mandala: Cosmic map of the universe; literally means, "circle;" a vision of the Buddha path that one needs to follow. Can be seen as a curriculum or syllabus for enlightenment. Can also mean "community."
Mani: Prayer. Mantra of Avalokiteshvara, "om mani padme hum," the Jewel and the Lotus. These prayers manifest themselves in Tibet as mani walls and mani prayer wheels, which Tibetans use frequently.
Manjushri: 10th level (top level) Bodhisattva. Represents wisdom: often has sword for cutting off ignorance and book representing teaching of wisdom.
Mantra: Syllables which protect the mind of the practitioner from ordinary perceptions and invoke the wisdom deities.
Manu: Ancestor of mankind, had aflood, bound his ship to a mountain in souther Kashmir. Lawgiver.
Mara: Demon or malevolent energies.
Mathura: Indigenous Indian Buddhist artistic impressions; a school of Buddhist art. Began in the 1st century.
Maya: Hindu concept of illusion; also the name of the Buddha's mother.
Merit: Good karma, the energy generated by positive actions of body, speech and mind. Helps to counteract negative thoughts in the mind.
Middle Way: Taught by Nagarjuna; samsara = nirvana; between eternalism (eternal realities, such as a soul, is all that exists) and nihilism (materialism).
Milarepa: Most loved and most famous Tibetan poet of the 11th century whose poems became widely sung.
Moksha: Hindu concept meaning Liberation from samsara.
Mount Meru: Cosmic mountain; wider at top than at the bottom around which
Mudra: Hand gestures in India iconography;
Nagas: Enemy of Garudas; ½ humans, ½ humans that often appear as humans except when sleeping and having sexual intercourse. Become dragons in Chinese mythology. When join monastery, one of 12 questions is if you are a serpent (Indic tradition) or a dragon (Chinese tradition). Own the earth, so when there is a drought, you offer prayers to Nagas.
Nagarjuna: Indian master of 1st-2nd century who reformed Buddhism with Middle Way philosophy. Reduced all knowing to nothing in order to emphasize the importance of meditation to find enlightenment. "Religion is the last defense against religious experience."
Namaste: Nepali greeting
Nanda: Buddha's cousin who becomes one of his first followers.
Naropa: Indian pundita (scholar) and siddha who is credited with starting the Kargyu and Sakyu Tibetan schools;
Newars: Preservation of Indic Buddhism in this Nepali minority group; now a mix of Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantric practices and traditions. Tibeto-Burman language, in contrast to Nepali language (Gorkali) which is Indo-European.
Nyingmapa: Ancient Tradition; one of 4 Tibetan Buddhist schools;
Nirvana: State beyond suffering; ideal state in Buddhism.
Non-action: Acting without one's ego; no boundaries between actor, action, and object acted upon.
OM: The sound of the universe being created; common word used as a mantra for meditation.
Orientalism: Tendency to see those we study as other; often idealize them, look down on them, or expropriate their culture for our purposes. Edward Said (pronounced, SaEED) of Columbia wrote book on this. Kim by Kipling is Orientalism in action. We paint our fantasies on this area.
Padmasambhava: The founder of Tibetan Buddhism and the root Guru of the
Nyingma tradition, manifesting peaceful and wrathful aspects. Remembered as the one who triumphed over the Bon Tradition. To whom all the deceased go when they die in Tibetan thought. called 2nd Buddha after Shakyamuni. Padma means "lotus."
Pali: Later derived language from Sankrit;
Pamapuja: Worship at the feet of someone or a deity.
Paramitas: Spiritual values
Parinirvana: Buddha's death
Polyandry: One wife who has more than one husband
Polygamy: One husband who has more than one wife
Potala monastery: Famous Tibetan monastery in Lhasa. Serves as museum, not an active temple today unlike the Jokhang.
Prajna: Wisdom, the goal of Buddhism. Manjushri's sword of wisdom. Insight.
Prajnaparmita: Text; "highest wisdom of perfection."
Prasad: Gifts to the divine. If food, can often can be received back and eaten after gaining its "meritorious" quality.
Pretas: Hungry spirits - born restless and malevolent spirits.
Prostration: Gesture of reverence, in which the forehead, the 2 hands and the two knees touch the ground.
Puja: Doing ritual practices or devotional activities
Puranas: Texts dealing with the "old things"
Pure Land: This form of Buddhism flourished in Japan begin in the 12th century. One reaches the pure land or western land of Amitabha Buddha primarily through faith in the Buddha's powers of transformation.
Purusha: Primordial cosmic sacrificial man in the Hindu tradition; this story explains the origins of the caste system.
Rahula: "The impediment;" Shakyamuni's son; becomes an enlightened being;
Raksasis: Evil female temptresses in a famous advana story.
Rinpoche: Master teacher; higher than a lama or guru; great lamas receive this title.
Rishis: Sages and seers in Hindu tradition
Sadhana: Sanskrit term for a spiritual practice or spiritual quest.
Sadhu/Sannyasin: Hindu holy man that lived outside of settlements in the countryside.
Samya Festival: Greatest Nepali Buddhist (Newari) Festival where 80 Dipankara statues are marched through Katmandu once every 12 years.
Sakyamuni: Buddha of our time, who lived around 5th century BC.
Samadhi: Trance/meditation state.
Samsara: Life in this world. Wheel of existence in contrast to Wheel of Dharma which leads to enlightenment.
Samye: 1st monastery in Tibet in SE Lhasa. One of the 4 schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Sanskrit: Holy language of the Aryans; basis for most Buddhist concepts. Brahma brought the world into being through speaking Sanskrit.
Sangha: Buddhist community composed of monks, nuns, lay men and women.
Sastras: Commentaries on the sutras.
Sati: Act in which wives who join their husbands on the funeral pyre when the husband dies. Popularized in the story of the woman who marries a less than virtuous man who dies and becomes a buffalo.
Sentient Beings: All living beings; definitions vary from grass to beings with blood.
Shakti: Consort of gods
Saligrams: Circular pieces of stone from the Himalayas that represent Vishnu's (or the Buddha's) conch.
Shambala: Hidden valley where a divine Buddhist saint-king will arise to lead the restoration of Buddhism.
Shangri-la: Mythical Himalayan kingdom; a Western idealization of mythical Asia.
Shudras: Lowest caste; menial tasks.
Six realms of existence: anger (hell), miserliness (hungry spirits), bewilderment/ignorance (animals), desire (humans), jealousy (demigods or spirits or titans), pride (gods). First three are undesirable births; last 3 are desirable births in the Wheel of Existence.
Skanda: God of war; Ganesha's brother.
Soma: Intoxicant used for rituals; grown in Kashmir Valley.
Stupa: A sacred pillar that contains a relic of the Buddha or a word from the Buddha; "Chorten" in Tibetan. Symbolic representation of the Buddha's mind.
Sutras: Sayings of the Buddha. Often composed of smaller stupas or other symbolic objects.
Swastika: Means eternity in Hindu/Buddhist thought
Svayambhu Stupa: Famous shrine in Nepal; symbol of Nepal. Syambu is the marker of the origin of Nepal. Holy ground for Buddhists.
Tathagata: One who has reached their Buddha nature.
Tantric: Path of Tibetan Buddhism which seeks enlightenment in one lifetime through the use of rituals and practices which incorporate sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, etc. Emphasis on secret knowledge of rituals.
Tara: Wife of Avalokitesvara; the female Bodhisattva of compassion; born from a tear of Avalokitesvara. Born from Avalokitesvara's tear.
Third eye: Chakra (wheel) of energy between the eyebrows. Someone with "prajna," wisdom.
Thirty-Three: A god realm in the World of Desire, the abode of Indra and his 32 ministers.
Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, pictured often as 3 large gemstones often engulfed in the flame of wisdom, which burns away ignorance.
Three worlds: Above earth (gods), on earth (humans) and below the earth (nagas)
Tika: Mark on forehead that represents accessing the power of the chakra energy or 3rd eye.
Trikaya: Lit, "3 bodies." The three-tiered cosmology of Mahayana Buddhism:
Ultimate Buddha; 5 Buddhas; human Buddha.
Tripitaka: 3 collections of the Buddha's teachings, Vinaya, Sutra and
Triratna: What one takes refuge in - The Buddha, Sangha, and Dharma.
Trisong Detsen: 2nd of the 3 great Tibetan kings who brought great masters from India and established Buddhism firmly in Tibet.
Torma: Colorful and beautifully shaped ritual cakes made of roasted barley flour, sugar, and butter that are made as offerings to various deities.
Tushita: Heaven where (among others) Maitreya Buddha waits to be born. 4th level realm of the gods of the World of Desire. Site of final rebirth of Shakyamuni.
Upaya: Skillful means (in teaching, in doing rituals)
Vaishyas: Merchant and artisan class; twice-born caste. Buddhism supported merchants in multitudes of ways, which explains its spread across the trade routes of Asia. Giving "dana" is the best investment for both merit and future earnings. Honest trade is rewarded. Wealth is the reward for a virtuous life.
Vajra: Diamond or thunderbolt; symbol of unchanging and destructive wisdom; ritual instrument symbolizing compassion, skillful means, awareness. Associated with the bell. In India, it was a weapon of the king. In iconography it represents the power of compassion. Zeus, Indra, and Tibetan gods all have thunderbolts (Aryan idea).
Vajra posture: Lotus position of meditation
Vairochana: Priests in Newar tradition; focus on rituals, not scholar-philosophers. The "performing arts" of 36 life cycle moments.
Vajradhara: All Enlightened Beings, the source of all Buddhist power in the universe. Equal to Dharmakaya. Original Tantric person; dark blue; top left position.
Vajrapani: Demonic head at the top of Guan Ying's head; goal is to ward off evil; tough love;
Vajrasana: "Diamond Throne," Buddha's seat under the Bodhi tree;
Vajrasattva: Holds thunderbolt in right hand and bell in the left.
Vajrayana: Tantric path of Buddhism;
Vratas: Sanskrit for devotion to deities in Hinduism and Buddhism. Usually fas, sing, make sacrifices to express devotion to a particular deity.
Varna: "Color;" four caste distinctions or varnas.
Vinaya: Canon Law; books of instructions; 250 rules of discipline for male monks (350 for women)
Vipassana: Name of meditation method from early Buddhist tradition. This
method has been revived around the world with the teaching of an Indian
meditation master, Mr. Goenka.
Wish fulfilling tree: Visualize this tree and all it contains as a part of Tantric meditation.
XuanZang: Chinese pilgrim to India. His journals are the best of ancient Indian religion that we have.
Yab-Yum: Tantric symbol of the union of Wisdom and Compassionate
Yama: Lord of death and impermanence who holds the wheel of existence in his mouth.
Yogi: Someone who practices yoga, a spiritual practitioner
Yoni: Symbolic feminine principle or power (often with lingam).
An official glossary can be accessed here:
This site was created by Marty Schmidt at the NEH Summer Institute "Cultures and Religions of the Himalayan Region," held at the College of the Holy Cross, Summer 2004