Below are two glossaries. One is of Pali terms and their English translation and meaning. Following it are English terms that are commonly used to translate Pali terms but may be misleading in a meditation context. These English terms are retranslated.
Pali is the language of the Buddha’s discourses (suttas). Some Pali words don’t translate easily into English. Immediately following are explanations of the Pali terms and sutta names that appear in this book.
A class of naked ascetics. In the suttas they are rarely referred to favorably. An ajivaka named Upaka was the first person the Buddha spoke to after his full awakening. Upaka recognized something special about the Buddha. But when the Buddha tried to teach him, Upaka didn’t get it.
Lifestyle, livelihood. Ajiva is the fifth aspect of the Eightfold Path. (Also see “ariyo atthangiko maggo,” the Noble Eightfold Path.)
The discourse “Mindfulness of Breathing,” Majjhima Nikaya 118. The Buddha gives an exposition of sixteen steps in of mindfulness (sati) of breathing (anapana) and its relationship to the four foundations of mindfulness and the seven awakening factors.
anatta (Sanskrit: anatman)
Selflessness or not taking anything personally.
Impermanent. It is one of the “three characteristics” of all things in the conditional world: nothing lasts; nothing stays as it is forever.
Latent tendency or obsession. These are deep, biases what are wired into our human biology. They are subtle and difficult to see directly. But their effects (asava ) are sometimes all too apparent.
The discourse “One by One As They Occurred,” Majjhima Nikaya 111. The Buddha describes Sariputta’s development in meditation, including a succinct description of the jhanas and how they unfold.
ariyo atthangiko maggo (Sanskrit: aryastangamarga)
The Noble Eightfold Path. This is one of the major teachings of the Buddha, where he laid out the essence of the path to the cessation of suffering and achieving full awakening.
The discourse “The Noble Search,” Majjhima Nikaya 26. In describing the difference between the noble and the ignoble truth, the Buddha gives one of the fuller descriptions of his own path to awakening.
Without body; “a-” means “without” and “rupa” means “body.” The first three jhanas are considered “rupa” because of the prominence of sensory sensations. The fourth and higher are considered arupa because of the attenuation of sensory perceptions.
Defilement, effluence, corruption, intoxicant, taints, fermentation, pollutants, fetters, cankers. These are the effects of underlying tendencies (anusaya ). Word literally means “leakage” or “outflow.” The common translations make them sound like moldy molasses or bug-infected sores. Their effect can indeed be discouraging. But they are usually subtle.
avijja (Sanskrit: avidya)
Unawareness, ignorance, delusion about the nature of the mind. Avijja is commonly translated as “ignorance,” though it has less pejorative connotations than in English. As in English, the root is “ignore” and it indicates a tendency to overlook the true nature of things. Avijja is the beginning of the downstream flow of Dependent Origination. Without it there would be no suffering.
Ignorance. This is on of the seven latent tendencies (anusaya ).
Ignorance; not seeing clearly what is true. This is on of the three defilements (asava ).
Habitual tendency or emotional habitual tendency. It is the tenth movement in the flow of Dependent Origination. It is often translated as “becoming” or “existence.” But these meanings is confusing. In meditation bhava is experienced as the arising of familiar or habitual patterns of thought and emotion.
Becoming; wanting to be something or someone. This is on of the three defilements (asava ).
Lust for existence, wanting to become something. This is on of the seven latent tendencies (anusaya )
A large fig tree in present-day Bodh Gaya, India, under which the Buddha fully awakened. “Bodhi” is usually translated as “enlightenment.”
The four "sublime states" or "divine abodes.” They are metta (kindness or goodwill), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy or appreciative joy), and upekkha (equanimity) .
A fifth-century Indian Theravadan Buddhist scholar and commentator. He is best known for writing the Visuddhimagga or Path of Purification. This summary and analysis constitutes the orthodox understanding of Theravada texts since at least the twelfth century CE. There are significant differences between some of Buddhaghosa’s understandings of meditation and that found in the earlier recordings of the Buddha’s talks. Where differences exist, the earlier texts are a better guide to effective practice. (See “Visuddhimagga.”)
Aversion, ill-will, hatred, bitterness, pushing away. This is one of the five hindrances (nivarana ).
cattari ariya saccani
The Four Noble Truths. These are the core of the Buddha’s teaching. “Noble” refers not to the truths but to the mind that can perceive them. The Four Truths are dukkha (dissatisfaction or suffering), tanha (tightness or craving), nirodha (cessation or the release of tanha), and the Eightfold Path (ariyo atthangiko maggo).
Wholesome desire. Not all desires are all bad. Wanting to be more loving, compassionate, or generous or not wanting to be selfish or stingy are examples of wholesome desires. They can move us in a healthy direction. They can establish a useful intention. However, as the mind becomes more serene and receptive, all tightness must be relaxed and released. Even wholesome desires can block the mind-heart’s natural clarity from emerging.
dhamma (Sanskrit: dharma)
The law, the way things are, the natural order. The term can also mean a phenomenon in and of itself, a mental quality or a teaching. When capitalized, Dhamma refers to the teachings of the Buddha. To take refuge in the dhamma means to take refuge in how things really are. To take refuge in the Dhamma is to rely on the Buddha’s teachings.
Love of or desire for the dhamma, to live in harmony with all that is.
Investigation or investigation of the dhamma. It is one of the seven factors of awakening
dharma (see dhamma)
ditthi (Sanskrit: drsti)
View, perspective, or position. In Buddhism, a view or position is not a simple abstract proposition but a charged interpretation that can shape experience and thought. Right view or harmonious perspective (samma-ditthi) is the first of the Eightfold Path. It refers not so much to holding a correct view as to having a way of seeing which is clear and holds to no position. (Also see “ariyo atthangiko maggo”, the Noble Eightfold Path.)
Views, speculative views. This is on of the seven latent tendencies (anusaya ).
Dissatisfaction, suffering, stress, discontent. Dukkha is the first Noble Truth, indicating that life has dissatisfaction. The Buddha never said that life is suffering, only that nothing in this life can be a reliable base for happiness.
The final “down river” event in the flow of Dependent Origination. “Jara” literally means “old age.” “Marana” literally means “death.” “Jaramarana” refers to the “whole mass of suffering”: “sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair.”
A stage of meditative knowledge gained by direct experience. In the earliest recordings of the Buddha’s talks, jhanas definitely are not absorption states.
Action, movement, or conduct. In the Eightfold Path, “samma kammanta” refers to behaving in ways that are harmonious with life and that encourage awakening. (Also see “ariyo atthangiko maggo,” the Noble Eightfold Path.)
The talk the Buddha gave to the mendicant Kandaraka, Majjhima Nikaya 51. He describes some of the practices used by accomplished meditators and makes the distinction between people who live in ways that harm or disturb themselves or others, and those who live according to the Dhamma.
kamma (Sanskrit: karma)
The effects of our physical, verbal, or mental actions. Everything we do creates the potential for other things to happen. If we are wise, we will act in ways that tend not to create difficulty or unhappiness in the future.
Desire, sensual desire, wanting happiness through sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. This is one of the five hindrances (nivarana ).
Sensuality, sensual preoccupation. This is on of the three defilements (asava ).
Sensual pleasure, pleasurable sights, sensations and thoughts, attraction. This is on of the seven latent tendencies (anusaya ).
Compassion. It is the second of the four brahmavihara or sublime states.
kasina (Sanskrit: krtsna)
One of ten meditation objects. Each of the ten is an element (earth, water, air, fire) or a color. The meditator focuses his attention on the object. The suttas mention kasina meditation; it is likely that these were borrowed from the Brahmin traditions and inserted into the text at a later time.
Body. “Kaya” refers to the material body alone—what is present in a corpse. “Rupa” refers to a living body.
khandha (Sanskrit: skandha)
Aggregate, heaps. The five khandha (body, feeling tone, perception, concepts and storylines, and consciousness or awareness) refer to the various phenomena people often identify as self. In this context they are often called “aggregates affected by clinging.” Bhante Vimalaramsi calls them “aggregates affected by craving and clinging.”
A small hut used for meditation.
Path. “Ariyo atthangiko maggo” is the Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha.
The Middle Length Discourses. The Pali Cannon is a collection of over 10,000 suttas or discourses attributed to the Buddha or his chief disciples. It is divided into three pitakas (“baskets”). The second basket, the Sutta Pitaka, is divided into five nikayas (collections). The Majjhima Nikaya is the second of the five. It contains 152 suttas. They provide a comprehensive body of teaching concerning all aspects of the Buddha's teachings.
Conceit, self-ing, conceiving “I Am.” This is on of the seven latent tendencies (anusaya ).
Loving kindness, goodwill, gentle friendship. Metta is the first of the four sublime states (brahmavihara) the Buddha recommended for cultivation These can be very effective objects of meditation.
That which may pass from one body to the next. Various religious traditions use the term in different ways. Some say the mind-stream contains some of the memories and impressions from one lifetime to the next. It should not be confused with soul or self, because our sense of self is made up of many more transient phenomena.
Joy, especially but not exclusively the joy that arises from seeing someone’s good fortune. Mudita is the third of the four sublime states (brahmavihara) used as a very effective meditation object.
Mind-body. As a phase of Dependent Origination, it refers to a condition before mind or body has arisen as separate phenomena. Mind (nama) and body (rupa ) are said to co-arise.
nibbana (Sanskrit: nirvana)
Extinguished. The word literally means “blow out” as in a candle that is extinguished. In the scientific thinking of the Buddha’s time, when a fire goes out, the heat element in the flame does not go away. It simply ceases to cling to the burning object. It disperses. So to those who heard the Buddha use the term, it meant the complete cessation of craving and clinging. Through meditation training, we can relax so deeply that all perception and consciousness cease for a period of time. Coming out of this state, we can see Dependent Origination so clearly that we no longer identify with psychophysical processes. When this is deep and full enough, we wake up.
Disenchantment. Seeing the truth of how the things actually operate, the enchantment or attachment to the world fades. At first it can be quite disturbing. But as it deepens, it moves toward dispassion.
A mental sign or vision that can arise during meditation, particularly during the fourth jhana and beyond. Often it is seen as a white light or a white disk. Some traditions use it as an object of meditation to go into a state of absorption. However, it is wiser to simply know that it is there and Six-R it like anything else. This allows the mind-heart to go even deeper.
nirvana (see nibbana)
Hindrance. It literally means a covering: it covers something valuable. The Six Rs are the best way to work with hindrances and turn them to our advantage.
Cessation, absence, or extinction. Nirodha is the third of the Four Noble Truths, which points to the cessation of all suffering.
The language used in writing the suttas and many early texts.
Relax, tranquilize as in bring tranquility to.
Calmness, tranquility, serenity. It is the seventh awakening factor and part of the “higher path” in Dependent Origination.
paticcasamuppada (Sanskrit: pratityasamutpada)
Dependent Origination. This is the central teaching of the Buddha about how everything arises because of causes and conditions. Seeing this clearly is central to his path to awakening.
Aversion, resistance, ill-will, irritation, stubbornness, opposition. This is on of the seven latent tendencies (anusaya ).
phassa (Sanskrit: sparsa)
Contact, raw sense impression. It is defined as the coming together of three factors: sensory data (e.g., light), sensory organ (e.g., eye), and consciousness (e.g., eye consciousness). It is the first movement in Dependent Origination that is noticeable by the average person who has no advanced meditation training.
piti (Sanskrit: priti)
Joy. It is sometimes translated as “rapture,” but “piti” need not be overwhelming. It can range from a huge, overwhelming joy to a peaceful, all-pervasive joy. It is one of the signs of the first jhana.
Body, physical phenomenon, sense information. It has different meanings in different contexts. As a sensory object, rupa is the object of the sense of sight. As the first khandha, it is physical phenomena or sensations picked by sensory organs. In “namarupa” it means physical as opposed to mental phenomena (“nama”).
saddha (Sanskrit: sraddha)
Confidence, faith. In some contexts it means faith in the Buddha’s path. It is part of the “higher path” of Dependent Origination. With stream entry, it becomes unshakable.
Collectedness, calm abiding. Often it is translated as concentration or one-pointedness. But it has neither the strain implied by “concentration” nor the blocking out of other phenomena as implied by “one-pointedness.” It is a unified and quiet quality of consciousness. Samadhi is one of the awakening factors as well as part of the Eightfold Path. (Also see “ariyo atthangiko maggo,” the Noble Eightfold Path.)
Harmonious, skillful. In the context of the Eightfold Path, it is often translated as “right.” But the Pali term does not carry the sense of right and wrong or good and bad implied in English. The name of the eight aspects of the Eightfold Path starts with “samma.” (Also see “ariyo atthangiko maggo,” the Noble Eightfold Path.)
The world and the suffering found in it. The word literally means “continuous flow” and refers to the continuous flow from birth to life to death to rebirth.
Origin, source. It is the second Noble Truth that refers to the origin of dissatisfaction (dukkha).
The Connected Discourses. The Pali Cannon is a collection of over 10,000 suttas (discourses) attributed to the Buddha or his chief disciples. It is divided into three pitakas (“baskets”). The second basket, the Sutta Pitaka, is divided into five nikayas (collections). The Samyutta Nikaya is the third of the five. The suttas are grouped into five vaggas (sections), each of which is further divided into samyuttas (chapters) on related topics.
Intention. It has also been translated as “thought” or “aspiration,” but “intention” is closer to the original meaning. It is the second aspect of the Eightfold Path as it grows naturally out of wise or harmonious view of life. (Also see “ariyo atthangiko maggo,” the Noble Eightfold Path.)
That which has been put together or formed; formation; volitional formation. In the passive sense, “sankhara” refers generally to conditioned phenomena or specifically to mental dispositions that have been formed. This is how the term is used as the second movement in Dependent Origination. In this context it is sometimes translated as “potential.” In the active sense, it refers to the faculty of the mind-heart that puts formations together (volitional formation). This is how it is used as the fourth khandha.
sanna (Sanskrit: Samjna)
Perception, label. It is seen as a subtle but active process whereby we compare an experience to our past experiences and figure out what it is (i.e., what to label it).
Sariputta (Sanskrit: Sariputra)
One of the Buddha’s main disciples who was “renowned in wisdom,” meaning he had an exceptionally clear understanding of the Dhamma.
A small town not far from Varanasi. It was here in the Deer Park that the Buddha first taught the Dhamma to five ascetics who had been companions of his before his enlightenment.
sati (Sanskrit: smrti)
Mindfulness, heartfulness, the state of being fully present without habitual reactions. It is a very important quality in Buddhist practice. The Pali language does not make a distinction between mind and heart, so sati includes both these qualities. It is the balancing factor of the seven awakening factors. It is also the seventh aspect of the Eightfold Path. (See “ariyo atthangiko maggo,” the Noble Eightfold Path.)
Happiness. An important factor in the first two jhanas.
sutta (Sanskrit: sutra)
A talk given by the Buddha. The suttas are part of the canonical text. The term literally means “thread.” The implication is that to understand the “whole cloth” of the Dhamma, it’s important to know how the suttas are woven together.
tanha (Sanskrit: trsna)
Craving, tightness, holding. Though “tanha” is most often translated as craving, it can be very subtle. It is a preverbal tightening as we try to avoid something uncomfortable, hang on to something pleasurable, or space out with something neutral. The Buddha identified it as the “weak link” in Dependent Origination—the easiest place to stop the “down stream” of events by relaxing the tightness. Besides being the eighth phase of Dependent Origination, it is subtly present in all phases as well as being the second of the Four Noble Truths.
Sloth, torpor, drowsiness, mental dullness. This is one of the five hindrances (nivarana ).
tilakkhana (Sanskrit: trilaksana)
The three characteristics of all things in the conditioned world: unsatisfying (dukkha), impermanent (anicca), and selfless or impersonal (anatta).
Clinging. It is always experienced as thinking or the beginning of thinking. It is the seventh phase of Dependent Origination. It arises when tanha is not relaxed and released.
Restlessness, remorse, worry, inability to calm
Upaka (see ajivaka)
Equanimity. It is the fourth of the sublime states (brahmavihara) and one of the awakening factors. It is very important, particularly in the higher jhanas.
Communication, speech. In the Eightfold Path, it is usually translated as “speech” but refers to more than spoken words. It includes written, typed, and any other kind of communication. (Also see “ariyo atthangiko maggo,” the Noble Eightfold Path.)
Practice. It is the sixth aspect of the Eightfold Path and is commonly translated as “effort” or “right effort.” But the term should not be confused with pushing or straining. Skillful effort is to remember to relax and release, not to strive. (Also see “ariyo atthangiko maggo,” the Noble Eightfold Path.)
Uncertainty, skeptical doubt, distrust, lack of conviction. This is one of the five hindrances (nivarana ).
Doubt, uncertainty, skeptical doubt. This is on of the seven latent tendencies (anusaya ).
Release, liberation, freedom from the constraints of the conditioned mind.
vinnana (Sanskrit: vinnana)
Awareness, consciousness. It is the third phase of Dependent Origination and the last of the five aggregates (khandhas).
Insight into the true nature of reality. Vipassana is not just perceiving what’s around us but also being aware of the minds response to the perception. The term is often used to refer to the Buddha’s meditation practice based on mindfulness.
Dispassion. It is similar to being unconcerned. However, in viraga, the mind is attentive without being invested in outcomes. It is important for entering the eighth jhana and for the “higher path” of Dependent Origination.
The Path of Purification. A text composed by Buddhaghosa in about 430 CE. It is probably the most influential text in the Theravadan tradition. Buddhaghosa was attempting to find common ground between the various Buddhist schools at that time. He was not as motivated to decide which aspects coincided best with the Buddha’s earliest teachings but gave equal credit to each school’s interpretation. Thus the texts differ from some of the Buddha’s original teaching in important areas. (See “Buddhaghosa.”)
viriya (Sanskrit: Virya)
Energy, enthusiasm. This is one of the seven awakening factors.
A knowledge gained in meditation.
As noted earlier, many of the later texts and commentaries differ in some significant areas from the earliest recordings of the Buddha’s talks. The Abhidhamma and Visuddhimagga in particular have had a strong influence on some scholars. When these scholars translate the earliest suttas, some of the words they use reflect the later texts more than the earlier suttas themselves.
Below are a few English words often used in Pali-to-English translations. Each is followed by one or more English words that better represent the Pali or the original intent of the Buddha. If you find a passage in a sutta confusing, you might try some of these English-to-English translations and see if it makes more sense.
Applied and sustained thought
Thinking and examining thought
Collectedness; calm abiding
Personalizing; taking as self something that is not self; lack of objectivity
Questions which we can never answer. The Buddha tells of four topics that can drive us crazy to try to solve: the powers of an enlightened being, what can meditation ultimately achieve, what karma caused a specific event to occur, and where the universe came from.
Harmonious. (Also see “ariyo atthangiko maggo,” the Noble Eightfold Path.)
Seeing the causal relationships in Dependent Origination. In English, the word “wisdom” has a broad meaning. When the Buddha used the word, he was always referring to seeing the causal relationships. Seeing these is the core of the Dhamma.