Amitabha: Sanskrit; Amida (Japanese); one of the major buddhas of Mayahana school; he created a Pure Land free from suffering in which one can attain rebirth by calling out his name.
Arhat: Sanskrit; literally, "worthy one"; one who has attained the highest level in the Theravada school; the fruition of arhatship is nirvana.
Avalokitesvara: Sanskrit; Kannon (Japanese), Chen Resig (Tibetan), Kwan Um (Korean); Kuan-yin (Chinese); the bodhisattva of compassion.
Bodhidharma: (ca. 470-543) Considered the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism; according to legend, he was the "Barbarian from the West" who brought Zen from India to China; "Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?" is a famous koan in Zen Buddhism.
Bodhisattva: Sanskrit; Bosatsu (Japanese), Bosal (Korean); one who postpones his or her own enlightenment in order to help liberate other sentient beings from cyclic existence; compassion, or karuna, is the central characteristic of the bodhisattva; important bodhisattvas include Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, and Jizo.
Buddha: Sanskrit; literally, "awakened one"; a person who has been released from the world of cyclic existence (samsara) and attained liberation from desire, craving, and attachment in nirvana; according to Theravadins, Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, is considered to be the first Buddha of this age who was preceded by many others and will be followed by Maitreya; Mahayanists believe that there are countless Buddhas for every age.
Dharma: Sanskrit; dhamma (Pali); the central notion of Buddhism; it is the cosmic law underlying all existence and therefore the teaching of the Buddha; it is considered one of the three "jewels" of Buddhism; it is often used as a general term for Buddhism.
Dogen: (1200-1253) Credited with bringing the Soto school of Zen Buddhism to Japan; he stressed shikan taza, or just sitting, as the means to enlightenment.
Dzogchen: Tibetan; literally, "great perfection"; the supreme teachings of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism; its adherents believe these teachings are the highest and therefore that no other means are necessary; also known as ati-yoga.
Gelugpa: One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism; His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is considered the spiritual head of this school.
Enlightenment: The word used to translate the Sanskrit term bodhi ("awakened"); generally used by Mahayanists instead of the Theravada term nirvana; it connotes an awakening to the true nature of reality rather than the extinguishing of desire implied by the term nirvana.
Jodo-shin-shu: Literally, "True School of Pure Land." A school founded by Shinran in thirteenth-century Japan. It rejected monastic Buddhism and taught a path to enlightenment for all lay followers. The awakening to the boundless compassion of Amida Buddha nullifies all our egoistic impulses (with deep karmic roots) in our ethical and religious strivings. They are transformed by the working of compassion into the contents of what it means to be truly human.
Jodo-shu: Literally, "School of Pure Land." Established as an independent school by Honen in 1175 C.E., it opened the gates of enlightenment to all who had been excluded from the monastic paths, including women of all classes, hunters, butchers, fisherman, peasants, merchants. The practice is to call on the Name of Amida as a response to the deeper call of enlightenment in the process of which the deeply-rooted ego-self loses its binding powers.
Kagyupa: One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism; the teaching was brought to Tibet in the 11th century by Marpa; the school places strong emphasis on the transmission of knowledge from master to student.
Karma: Sanskrit; literally, "action"; universal law of cause and effect which governs rebirth and the world of samsara.
Koan: A seemingly paradoxical riddle or statement that is used as a training device in Zen practice to force the mind to abandon logic and dualistic thought.
Mahayana: Sanskrit; literally, "the Great Vehicle"; one of the three major schools of Buddhism which developed in India during the first century C.E.; it is called the "Great Vehicle" because of its all-inclusive approach to liberation as embodied in the bodhisattva ideal and the desire to liberate all beings; the Mahayana school is also known for placing less emphasis on monasticism than the Theravada school and for introducing the notion of sunyata.
Maitreya: the Buddha expected to come in the future as the fifth and last of the earthly Buddhas; he is believed to reside in the Tushita heaven until then (about 30,000 years from now); the cult of Maitreya is widespread in Tibetan Buddhism.
Nirvana: Sanskrit; literally, "extinction, blowing out"; the goal of spiritual practice in Buddhism; liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering.
Nichiren: (1222-1282) A charismastic Japanese monk who believed in the bodhissatva teaching of the Lotus Sutra and advocated its complete embodiment in each practitioner. The repetitive vocal utterance of "Namu myoho renge kyo," the title containing the essence of the Lotus Sutra, is both the means to and the manifestation of bodhisattva practice.
Nyingmapa: One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism; the Dzogchen teahings are considered to be the supreme embodiment of this school.
Pure Land: A realm purified of blind passions which produce sufferings, in contrast to our world of pain, driven by greed, hatred and ignorance. It has twofold signifigance: first, as the ultimate goal on the path of enlightenment, and second, as an awakening to be realized here and now in in midst of the cyclic life of delusion.
Rinzai: Japanese; Lin-chi (Chinese); one of the two major schools of Zen Buddhism; it was founded by the Chinese master Lin-chi I-hsuan (Japanese; Rinzai Gigen) and brought to Japan by Eisai Zenji at the end of the twelfth century; it stresses koan Zen as the means to attain enlightenment.
Sakyapa: One of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism; it is named after the Sakya Monastery in southern Tibet and had great political influence in Tibet during the 13th and 14th centuries .
Samsara: Sanskrit; the cyclic existence of birth, death and rebirth from which nirvana provides liberation.
Sangha: Sanskrit; a term for the Buddhist monastic community which has recently come to include the entire community of Buddhist practitioners; it is considered one of the three jewels of Buddhism (along with the Buddha and the Dharma).
Shakyamuni: (ca. 563-422 BCE) The historical Buddha; Theravadins believe that he was the first to attain enlightenment in this age. See The Life of the Buddha for an account of his life.
Shinran: (1173-1263): Founder of Jodo-shin-shu, he clarified the illumination of boundless compassion which awakens each person to radical finitude, the focus of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. This is summed up in the calling of "amida-butsu" or Amida Buddha, never to be abandoned.
Soto: Japanese; Ts'ao-tung (Chinese); one of the two major schools of Zen Buddhism; it was brought to Japan by Dogen in the thirteenth century; it emphasizes zazen, or sitting meditation, as the central practice in order to attain enlightenment.
Sunyata: Sanskrit; sunnata (Pali); literally, "emptiness"; a central Buddhist idea which states that all phenomena are "empty," i.e. dependent and conditioned on other phenomena and therefore without essence; Theravadins applied this idea to the individual to assert the non-existence of a soul; Mahayanists later expanded on this idea and declared that all existence is empty; emptiness became the focus of the Madhyamika school of the Mahayana Buddhism; the notion of emptiness has often led to Buddhism being wrongfully confused with a nihilistic outlook.
Sutra: Sanskrit; a discourse attributed to the Buddha; sutras comprise the second part of the Buddhist canon, or Tripitaka; they traditionally begin with the phrase "Thus have I heard. . . " and are believed to have been written down by the Buddha's disciple Ananda one hundred years after his death.
Theravada: Pali; literally, "the School of the Elders"; one of the three major schools of Buddhism which is widely practiced in the countries of Southeast Asia; its teachings focus on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path; also pejoratively referred to as the Hinayana, or "Lesser Vehicle," school due to its emphasis on personal rather than collective liberation.
Tripitaka: Sanskrit; literally, "the three baskets"; this term is commonly used for the Buddhist canon, which consists of three parts: the Vinaya, or monastic code; the Sutras; and the Abhidharma, or Buddhist philosophical treatises.
Vajrayana: Sanskrit; literally, "the Diamond Vehicle"; one of the three major schools of Buddhism; this form of Buddhism developed out of the Mahayana teachings in northwest India around 500 CE and spread to Tibet, China and Japan; it involves esoteric visualizations, rituals, and mantras which can only be learned by study with a master; also known as Tantric Buddhism due to the use of tantras, or sacred texts.
Vipassana: Pali; insight, clear seeing; intuitive cognition of the three marks of existence (trilakshana), namely, the impermanence (anitya), suffering (duhkha), and no-self (anatman) of all physical and mental phenomena. In Mahayana Buddhism, vipassana is seen as analytical examination of the nature of things that leads to insight into the true nature of the world—emptiness (shunyata). Such insight prevents the arising of new passions. Vipassana is one of the two factors essential for the attainment of enlightenment (bodhi); the other is shamatha (calming the mind).
Zen: Japanese; Ch'an (Chinese); a branch of Mahayana Buddhism which developed in China during the sixth and seventh centuries after Bodhidharma arrived; it later divided into the Soto and Rinzai schools; Zen stresses the importance of the enlightenment experience and the futility of rational thought, intellectual study and religious ritual in attaining this; a central element of Zen is zazen, a meditative practice which seeks to free the mind of all thought and conceptualization.