A Western Buddhist's Travels

Sightseeing & detours on the path of enlightenment

An evolving dictionary

Buddhism A-Z



I am going to look at Buddhism, from A-Z. In some cases it will be something I am attempting to learn myself. In others it will be a review of a basic concept. This will not be a complete dictionary, as I will probably only cover a few topics or people per letter. As I like to say my journey is a walk in the forest, while maybe it will be more like one of those dance lessons. You know the ones that show you where to put your feet, A, B, C, D….. Also this list may be updated in the future to include more terms.

Amitabha: is a Celestial Buddha who rules over the western lands. He is found in Mahayana tradition and is predominately associated with the Pure Land School. He is considered a Bodhisattva of Compassion who wants all beings reborn in the Pure Land. The way to gain entry to this land is by an Individual with a pure heart chanting “Homage to Amitabha Buddha. Think of this Pure Land as a University where all your teachers are Buddha’s’, and Bodhisattvas’. Some call this the easy path, as it relies on a power greater then oneself to advance towards enlightenment. However under this school one must still take the Triple Gem, and follow the Precepts they have undertaken, and work to stay on the Noble Eightfold Path. Amitabha is also known as “The Buddha of Infinite Light”

Angkor Wat: is located in Angkor, Cambodia. It was originally built as a Hindu temple, but after the rulers of the Khmer adopted Buddhism, it was converted. It was built with sandstone blocks from 25km away that were transported to the site by raft. For about 200 years Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer empire. The building of Angkor Wat rivaled the building of the pyramids in Egypt. Since 1992 it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is considered a sister site to Borobudur in Indonesia. About 500,000 tourists visit the site every year.

Arahant: from Pali, and meaning worthy one or liberated one. Is someone who followed the Buddha’s teachings and became enlightened. In the Theravada this is considered a worthy goal for someone.

Avlokitesvara: is a Bodhisattva who represents the compassion of all the Buddhas. Was one of Amitabha’s main disciples. Is also called “The Lord who Looks Down”, with wisdom and compassion on humanity. Lord is used although the Sanskrit could also mean Master, or Ruler. May be depicted holding a Blue Lotus, or with eighteen arms, or even one thousand arms and eyes. In China became known as Guan Shih Lin a female Bodhisattva. In Tibet is considered to be reborn in the Dalai Lama.

Bamiyan: A valley in central Afghanistan about 230km north of Kabul. It was the site of 2 statues of standing Buddhas. They were built in 507AD. These statues and the surrounding valley are a UNESCO World Heritage site. In March 2001 these were ordered destroyed by the Taliban government, after Mullah Mohammed Omar, who declared them to be idols. International opposition strongly condemned this act. Bamiyan was on the Silk Road to China, and in the 7th century there was a sizeable Buddhist community in the valley. Most Afghans were appalled by the destruction of these statues. Several countries, including India and Japan offered to pay all the costs associated with moving them out of Afghanistan. Since the fall of the Taliban, there has been an international effort to rebuild these statues. Since the destruction of the statues 50 caves have been found. 12 of these caves have paintings that have been dated between the 5th and 9th centuries. These are now considered to be the oldest oil paintings, predating those in Europe by as much as 6 centuries.  There is a legend of a 300 metre statue in the same area, and on September 8, 2008 a 19metre high reclining Buddha was unearthed.

Bhaisajyaguru Buddha: Known as the Buddha of Medicine, and depicted holding a jar of medicine in the right hand, while making a gesture of healing with the left hand. He is associated with the color blue, and lapis lazuli which represent purity. As well as curing disease is considered to help the poor and the homeless with clothes and food.

Bodhi: from Pali meaning enlightenment, or awakened to the truth. Completing the Noble Eightfold Path na d proving the Four Noble Truths are considered the minimum needed to achieve this. Some schools have added more requirements.

Bodhi Tree: is considered the Sacred Fig tree that Siddharta Gautama sat under while he achieved enlightenment. This tree is founf at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India. There are two other trees that have significance which are both believed to have been originated from the one in Boh Gaya. they are located in Sravasti, India and Anuadhapura, Sri Lanka.The one in Anuradhpura was planted from a cutting in 288BC, making it the oldest verified angiosperm or flowering plant. After the original tree was destroyed in the 7th century, a cutting from the one at Anuadhapura was used to rturn it to Mahabodhi Temple in Bodha Goya, India.

Bodhisattva: from Sanskrit and is translated as Enlightened Being. A Bodhisattva Is considered as having achieved all the requirements for liberation, however has not completed it. This is because the Bodhisattva is not only concerned with their Salvation, but has vowed to help all other beings achieve it as well.

Borobudur: is a 9th century Mahayana Buddhist monument located in Magelang, Indonesia. There are over 2600 bias relief panels, and 504 Buddha statues. It is a shrine to The Lord Buddha, as well as a destination for pilgrimages. The pilgrimage journey starts at the base and ascends through five terraces to the top. These th represent Kamadhatu (world of desires), Rupadhatu (world of forms), and Arapadhatu (world of formlessness). Also the Buddha’s of the North, South, East, and West are represented. As a pilgrim makes his way from the ground to the top, it is considered representative of the journey from rebirth to Nirvana. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is considered a sister site to Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. It is Indonesia’s most visited tourist attraction.


Cakra: a Sanskrit term meaning wheel or circle. Cakra is commonly spelled Chakra in English, as it is more phonetically correct. It was used in early Buddhist teachings to illustrate the Noble eightfold Path. Tantric Buddhism uses it to refer to the psychic or energy centres within a person’s body.


Dalai Lama: A name conferred on Snam Gyatsho by Altan Khan, a Mongol ruler of Kokonor. Dalai meaning Great Ocean, lama meaning teacher. Is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, and consider to be the incarnation of Bodhisattva Avolikitesvara. This is associated with the notion of tulku, the ability of a revered teacher who voluntarily assumes human form to continue his mission to save all sentient beings.


Dana: a term meaning giving, generosity or charity. Both Theravada and Mahayana consider this an important virtue to be cultivated. Within the Theravada, a layperson obtains merit by supporting the Sangha, and if the receiving monk is extremely virtuous then there is greater merit ascribed to the gift. This reminds the monks and nuns to be diligent in their practices. In the Mahayana it is considered part of compassion and metta. It is also a trait that a Bodhisattva must cultivate.


Dhammapada: a cherished and much read text from the Pali canon, consisting of 26 sections and 423 verses. The title means “Verses of the Teachings”.


Dharma: from Sanskrit meaning to support or hold up. It means pure truth, universal truth, law, holy wisdom, and teachings. It is a truth that can protect, support, and sustain a person on their journey through this life.


Diamond Sutra: is a short form of the full name, which translates as, Diamond Cutter Perfection of Insight Sutra. It is called this because all the false teaching have been cut away, leaving only what is valuable, similar to the way a diamond cutter will take the raw diamond and cut it to achieve maximum brilliance. These 32 chapters focus on the topic of emptiness.


EcoBuddhism: is a form of engaged Buddhism that has developed in response to Global Warming. It supports the reduction in global CO2 to the historical norm of 350ppm, which would require about a 10% reduction from current levels. They have a Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change, with the first signatory being The Dalai Lama.


Engaged Buddhism: is a term that developed, to describe, a more socially engaged form of Buddhism  It is considered to have started in 1963 in Vietnam with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen monk. He was looking within the Buddhist teaching to find solutions for everyday problems within his war torn country. It is characterised by the use of social-economic actions to alleviate the suffering in the world. These external actions are done in balance with inward spirituality. It draws on the ideal of the Bodhisattva who while working towards enlightenment, also works to alleviate the suffering of beings in the world. It is about using the teachings of The Buddha to solve problems in the world today, such as hunger, poverty, and intolerance.


Guru: is a Sanskrit term that means teacher. It is more commonly used within Hinduism, and not prevalent in Buddhism.


Heart Sutra:  from the Sanskrit, also referred to as the Prajna-paramita, or the Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom Sutra. The Heart Sutra is often referred to as the most popular Mahayana text. It has two forms, a long and a short form. At the end is a mantra used for chanting. Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. The English translation would be: gone, gone, gone beyond, gone far beyond, enlightenment, amen.


Kalpa: a Sanskrit term to measure a very long period of time. A kalpa is considered to be the time from the beginning of this world till it’s destruction. In Buddhism the beginning of the world is not known, as there is no Deity that created it. When this universe ends, there will be a period of dissolution before the cycle repeats.


Karma: the energy produced through a volitional action, combined of thought, speech and action. There are three types of karma, good, neutral and bad. Most often you will hear it as like a field where you plant a seed, over time it develops and you get the final product. When bad things happen to good people, it is said to be a result of bad karma that needs to be used up. This karma was created in the past. By constantly working towards enlightenment, eventually you will only be sowing good karma, so when you have ceased doing wrong actions, eventually you will have used up all your bad karma.


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