Early Buddhist Terminology: India


बौद्ध शब्दावली

As you all know, my last four posts on East Asia have been glossaries covering Buddhist and aesthetic terminology. But many of those words and concepts had their root in India long before, and in many cases the Chinese/Japanese equivalents are transliterations of Sanskrit or Pali. So I thought I would post the following glossary of Indian Buddhist words found in Mandarin and Japanese; many of which are uncommon outside of Buddhists temples and/or monasteries. Hopefully, this small glossary will help students of Asian Studies and whoever else takes an interest in Buddhism and exegesis of sutras (Buddhist scriptures). For example, the English language doesn’t really have a singular word that sums up the meaning of Alamkāra, so it is helpful to know that concepts like alamkāraor words like bindu or ṛta, exist in another language.

बौद्ध शब्दावली

Abhidharma: the higher teachings of the Buddha with commentary, clarification, and exegesis (interpretation of scripture) of such teachings.

Ādi-Buddha: “First Buddha”: also known as Śambhū, this is the Nepalese Supreme God who is infinite, omniscient, self-existent (svayambhū), and wholly remote from worldly affairs, supplication, and worship.

Akiriyavāda: “non-action”: the view that karma has no results.

Alamkāra: mystic unification of the aesthetic and religious, especially in Buddhist statuary, through whose mysterious beauty one experiences the divine “presence” of a deity.

Āraṇyakas: The Vedic texts compiled by forest ascetics, which reflected on the nature of ritual practices and symbols.

Arhat:  “worthy one”: an individual who has become enlightened through the teachings of the Buddha (see: Pratyeka Buddha, Bodhisattva).

Ava-budh: to recognize or understand.

Avacanam-Buddhavacanam “not speaking is the Buddha’s speech.”

Avadan: “allegories”: one of the six general categories of original Buddhist scriptures (see nidana, itivuttaka, udana, sutta, and jataka).

Avatasaka-sūtra: “Flower Garden Sutras”: sermons by various Bodhisattavas about the Buddha, and enlightenment.

Bindu: point/drop; the manifestation of creative energy and a/the source of creativity, structure, and dimension.

Bodhisattva: an arhat who chooses not to finalize his enlightenment until he has helped all other sentient beings achieve theirs, thus becoming a Buddhist saint such as Avalokiteṣvara (compassion) or Manjṣri (wisdom).

Bodhisattvayāna: “The Bodhisattva Vehicle”: an alternate and possibly more accurate title for Mahāyāna Buddhism.

Buddhadhātu: Buddha-nature, transcendent wisdom.

Buddhakṣetra: “Buddha Field”: the Sanskrit term for the Pure Land where the Buddha exercises power, referred to in Japan as jōdo.

Buddhānusmṛti: meditation on the Buddha, an important part of Mahāyāna Buddhism.

Chārutā: an inherent quality of an art, which absorbs the sense into itself; one of two aspects of art considered constituent in Vedic aesthetic theory (see: vāma).

Chamatkāra: charmed/surprised admiration (for a fascinatingly indirect phrase), to be delighted by fascinating indirectness.

Dhammakāya: “Truth Body”: One of the three bodies of the Buddha, in this case his abiding presence in his teachings and source of Ultimate Reality (see: Dainichi Nyoraitrikāya).

Dharma: the proper structure, order, behavior in/of the universe, and the proper maintenance/observance of that order.

Itivuttaka: “thus spake the Buddha” scriptures”: one of the six general categories of original Buddhist scriptures (see avadan, nidana, udana, sutta, and jataka).

Jataka: “stories of the Buddha’s previous lives”: one of the six general categories of original Buddhist scriptures, which close to half of were appropriated from folk stories, poems, and epics, etc (see avadan, nidana, itivuttaka, udana, and sutta).

Laṅkāvatāra -sūtra: Collection of Mahāyāna teachings (esp. Yogācāra), focusing on the mind, consciousness, and emptiness (śūnyatā).

Mahāsaṃgha: a school of Buddhist thought that distinguished between arhats and Buddhas, promoting the idea of a buddha from ‘enlightened human’ arhat (taking the easy way out) to a transcendental being (who worked for the benfit of others). This school may have been the ‘proto-Mahāyāna’ school.

Mahāsanghikas: a group of monks who called for the relaxation of monastic rules for monks including the precept against carrying salt in a horn, and using mats with fringes; one of the two main groups involved in the schism of the Second Buddhost Council, the other being the more orthodox Theravadins.

Mahāyāna: “The Great Vehicle”: one of the three main branches of Buddhism, focusing on Buddhist saints and transcendentalism in general; Zen being the most famous.

Neyārtha: sutras with an indefinite meaning grasped more fully through exegesis.

Nidana: “historical narratives”: one of the six general categories of original Buddhist scriptures (see avadan, itivuttaka, udana, sutta, and jataka).

Nirmāṇakāya: the “Emanation Body” of the Buddha, his physical body (see: trikāya).

Nishkāma karma: actions taken without expectation of reward (see Japan: mushotoku).

Nītārtha: sutras with direct meaning.

nivṛtti: cessation (of thought, desire, etc) as opposed to eradication.

Pāramitās: The “virtuous qualities/perfections” embodied by a Bodhisattva, including generosity, morality, patience, enthusiastic striving, meditation, and wisdom/insight.

Pratimā māna: the science of measuring cult images.

Pratyeka Buddha: a solitary Buddha who does not teach the Dharma to others.

ṛta: term for the underlying structure/rhythm that organizes the energy and existence of all beings in the universe, as well as the regulation of the moral aspects of Being.

Rasa: essence, flavor, juice, delight; the transcendent quality of the highest expression of South Indian music and dance.

Rasam: the Tamil language equivalent of rasa.

Rasika: enlightened connoisseur of the arts who is/has been prepared to appreciate rasa.

Saddhammapunarika-sūtra: the “Lotus” Sutra, which states that there is only one true method, and that the Buddha is ever present to assist those who call upon him.

Śakra devānām Indra: The Buddhist Dharma protecting deity.

Sāmāññaphala-sutta: “Discourse on the Fruit of Asceticism”: an early Buddhist story arguing against the competing doctrines of the time as personified by the views of six “heretics.”

Sambhogakāya: the “Enjoyment Body” of the Buddha, the spiritual form of the Buddha that is present to the Bodhisattvas and others (see: trikāya).

Siddanta: the manner(s) in which the Buddha taught followers based on their state of spiritual understanding; easy, practical advice for the common man caught up in worldly affairs (World Siddanta), preaching relative to differing intellectual capacities (Varying Siddanta), preaching on the imperfections of the listeners in order to free them from their spiritual bondage (Healing Siddanta), and preaching the Ultimate Truth to followers of high intellectual prowess (First-Principle Siddanta).

Śrāvakayāna: “The Pupil’s Vehicle”: a pejorative term used by Mahāyānists to refer to earlier schools of thought as if they were mere laymen.

Subhadra: a monk who upon hearing of the passing of Siddartha proclaimed delight in the fact that the monks were now free to do as they wished without being chastised. It is thought that Subhadra’s remarks instigated the First Buddhist Council.

Sukhāvatī: “Land of Bliss”: the Pure Land of the Infinite Light Buddha Amitābha, located in the West.

Śūnyatā: “emptiness”” the idea that all phenomena arise in cause/effect relationships with other phenomena.

Sutta:“prose discourses of the Buddha”: one of the six general categories of original Buddhist scriptures (see avadan, nidana, itivuttaka, udana, and jataka).

Trikāya: the Mahāyāna doctrine of the “Three Bodies” of the Buddha (see: Nirmāṇakāya,Dhammakāya, Sambhogakāya).

Ucchedavāda: “cutting off”: the doctrine that posits no karma or afterlife, with existence ending in annihilation.

Udana: “special pronouncements”: one of the six general categories of original Buddhist scriptures (see avadan, nidana, itivuttaka, sutta, and jataka).

Udh: “to know”: the past participle of udh being Buddha, “one who learned/came to know”.

Ushnīsha: the cranial protuberance (bump) on a Buddhist statue’s forehead.

Vajracchedika -prajnaparamita sutra:  The “Perfection of Wisdom” Sutra (also known as the Diamond Sutra) which concerns the perfection of wisdom and the nature of śūnyatā.

Vajrasamādhi: “adamantine absorption”: a particular type of meditative concentration that catalyzes the final experience of enlightenment by shattering all remaining forms of attachment like a diamond (adamant) shatters other minerals.

Vakrokti: oblique speech, wherein chamatkāra and chārutā can especially be affected.

Vāma: (Sanskrit) physical beauty; one of two aspects of art considered constituent in Vedic aesthetic theory (see: chārutā).

Vastu: New knowledge or discovery of a subject within or without which creates enjoyment.

Vedas (the): The earliest known Indian religious texts. These include the Rg Veda (hymns to the gods), Sama Veda (songs and instructions based on the Rg), Yajur Veda (rituals and mantras), Atharva Veda (hymns and magic formulas for common life), Brahmanas (ritual rules), and the Upanishads (philosophical reflections on the nature of the self and reality).



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