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Home > Glossary > Glossary English Terms

English Glossary of Buddhist Terms

This glossary is only a partial list of technical terms found on the pages of the website. From time to time, as work progresses on the glossary project, new terms will be added to the list. Sanskrit equivalents for Tibetan terms have been provided only for select terms and all diacritical marks for transliterated Sanskrit have been omitted, for ease of display on all browsers.

Choose one of the letters below to see the glossary entries that start with this letter:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z everything

EnglishDefinitionTibetan / Sanskrit

A Mahayana school of Indian Buddhism that does not assert the true existence of anything. One of the four Indian Buddhist tenet systems studied by all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

J. Hopkins' translation: "center; middle; middle way{N}; MAdhyamika [Proponent of the Middle Way]; Middle Way School."

Tib: dbu-ma
Skt: madhyamaka

A follower of the Madhyamaka school of Indian Buddhism.

J. Hopkins' translation: "Middle Way School, Mādhyamika."

Tib: dbu-ma-pa

Literally, "the great seal," a Mahayana meditation practice that focuses on the nature of the mind.

J. Hopkins' translation: "great seal."

Tib: phyag-rgya chen-po
Skt: mahamudra
mahamudra, essence

See: essence mahamudra

mahamudra, mantra

See: mantra mahamudra

mahamudra, pathway

See: pathway mahamudra

mahamudra, sutra

See: sutra mahamudra


Literally, a "Vast Vehicle of Mind" - levels or states of mind that, with a vast motivation of bodhichitta, employ vast methods for reach the vast goal of enlightenment. Some translators render the term as "Greater Vehicle."

J. Hopkins' translation: "Great Vehicle/Mahāyāna."

Tib: theg-chen
Skt: mahayana
Mahayana master

A spiritual mentor in whose presence disciples take bodhisattva vows. In a broader sense, a spiritual mentor whose teachings on compassion and bodhichitta lead disciples to develop aspiring and engaged bodhichittas, and then to take bodhisattva vows.


Within the Nyingma classification scheme of nine vehicles of mind, the class of tantra leading to dzogchen practice but with the main emphasis and detail on generation stage practice.

Tib: ma-ha yo-ga
making arise

The mental activity of appearance-making, which causes a cognitive appearance (mental hologram) to occur as an object of cognition in a moment of a mental continuum. Also translated as: "giving rise to."


In general, a round symbol used to represent a meaning. Most often used to represent a world system.

Tib: dkyil- 'khor
Skt: mandala
mandala, body

See: body mandala

mandala, cloth

See: cloth mandala

mandala, inner

See: inner mandala

mandala, outer

See: outer mandala

mandala, powdered sand

See: powdered sand mandala

mandala, speech

See: speech mandala

mandala, supported

See: supported mandala

mandala, supporting

See: supporting mandala

mandala, three-dimensional

See: three-dimensional mandala

manifest cognition

A cognition in which the consciousness gives rise to a mental hologram of a cognitive object and, in which, the cognitive object appears, through that hologram, both to the person and to the consciousness of the manifest cognition. Both the person and the manifest consciousness cognitively take it _ both cognize or "know" it. See also: subliminal cognition.

Tib: shes-pa mngon-gyur-ba
man-made result

A result that arises as the direct result of the effort of a limited being, but which does not ripen from karma.

J. Hopkins' translation: "personally made effect."

Tib: skyes-bu byed-pa'i 'bras-bu
Skt: purushakaraphalam
man-made result that develops

See: man-made result that is produced

man-made result that is an attainment

The reaching of a goal as the result of someone's effort, but which does not ripen from that person's karma.

Tib: thob-pa'i skyes-bu byed-pa'i 'bras-bu
man-made result that is produced

Something material, such as a vase, a bruise, or a profit, that arises from someone's effort or actions, but which does not ripen from that person's karma.

Tib: bskyed-pa'i skyes-bu byed-pa'i 'bras-bu

Sets of syllables and, often, additional Sanskrit words and phrases, all of which represent enlightening speech and which, when repeated, protect the mind from destructive states. While repeating the mantras of a Buddha-figure, one imagines having the abilities to communicate perfectly to everyone the complete means for eliminating suffering and reaching enlightenment. Mantras shape the breath, and consequently the subtle energy-winds, enabling one to bring the winds under control for use in meditation practice.

J. Hopkins' translation: "spell; mantra; general word for tantra."

Tib: sngags
Skt: mantra

A tantric ritual for giving disciples confidence in the accuracy of a mantra, in which the vowels and consonants of the Sanskrit alphabet are written with colored powder in a grid on the surface of a metal mirror and the tantric master reads out, one by one, the grid location of the consonant and vowel for each syllable of the main mantra. After each specification of the consonant and vowel of a syllable, an assistant takes some colored powder from the mirror and uses it to write the syllable on the surface of another metal mirror.

Tib: sngags-btus
mantra mahamudra

Meditations on the nature of the mind with regard to the subtlest mind, clear light.

Tib: sngags-kyi phyag-chen
Master Debate Partner

The title held by a highly educated attendant of an incarnate lama (tulku) that attends all the lessons that the lama receives and afterwards debates with the lama to ensure that he or she has understood the lesson correctly. In the case of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, there are seven master debate partners, one from each of the colleges of Drepung, Sera, and Ganden Monasteries. Sometimes also translated as "Assistant Tutor."

Tib: mtshan-zhabs
material cause

See: obtaining cause

me, solid

See: solid "me"

meaning, explicit suggestive

See: explicit suggestive meaning

meaning, implicit suggested

See: implicit suggested meaning

meaning/object category

The conceptual category into which fit all items to which an audio category refers. These items are also what the audio category signifies (means).

J. Hopkins' translation: "generic image, meaning-generality, mental image."

Tib: don-spyi
meaning category

The conceptual category into which fit all significances (meanings) of an audio category.

J. Hopkins' translation: "generic image, meaning-generality, mental image."

Tib: don-spyi
meaning universal

See: meaning category

means, appropriate

See: appropriate means


The repeated practice of generating and focusing on a beneficial state of mind in order to build it up as a habit.

J. Hopkins' translation: "1. meditate; meditation; cultivate; cultivation; 2. analytical meditation."

Tib: sgom
Skt: bhavana
meditation, discerning

See: discerning meditation

meditation, stabilizing

See: stabilizing meditation

meditation trainer

A teacher who instructs one in the mechanics of meditation, such as the correct posture.

meditative equipoise

See: total absorption

melodic verses

One of the twelve scriptural categories. (1) Verses that Buddha uttered during the course of and at the conclusion of his sutras. (2) According to some explanations, scriptures of interpretable meaning.

Tib: dbyangs-kyis bsnyad-pa
Skt: geya

See: quintessence teachings division

mental abiding

The aspect of a cognition that describes the degree to which attention remains on the focal object. Also translated as "mental placement," it is established by the subsidiary awareness (mental factor) of mental fixation.

J. Hopkins' translation: "factor of stability."

Tib: gnas-cha
mental aspect

A nonstatic mental hologram, asserted by all Indian Buddhist tenet systems other than Vaibhashika, that is a likeness of an object of cognition, and which both conceptual and nonconceptual mental activity produces in order to cognize the object; the "mental shape" of the appearing object of a cognition. (1) According to Gelug, except in the case of Chittamatra and Yogachara Svatantrika, they are fully transparent so that through them, one directly cognizes external objects. (2) According to non-Gelug, they are opaque and thus allow only indirect cognition of external objects.

J. Hopkins' translation: "aspect, subjective aspect, representation."

Tib: rnam-pa
Skt: akara
mental body

The type of body that arhats in pure lands have. See: forms of physical phenomena having the functional nature of mind.

Tib: yid-lus
mental consciousness

A primary consciousness that can take any existent phenomenon as its object and which relies on merely the previous moment of cognition as its dominating condition and not on any physical sensors.

Tib: yid-kyi rnam-shes
Skt: manovijnana
mental constancy

See: mental stability

mental construct

See: mental fabrication

mental continuum

The stream of continuity of mental activity (mind, awareness) of an individual being, which has no beginning, which continues even into Buddhahood, and, according to Mahayana, has no end. According to the Hinayana tenets, it comes to an end when an arhat or Buddha dies at the end of the lifetime in which the person attains liberation or enlightenment. Also called a "mind-stream."

Tib: sems-rgyud
Skt: santana
mental derivative

(A) In Gelug, except in the case of Chittamatra and Yogachara Svatantrika: (1) In sensory nonconceptual cognition, a fully transparent appearing object, which is a mental aspect, similar to a mental hologram of an external objective entity, through which that external entity is directly cognized also as an appearing object of the cognition. (2) In conceptual cognition, a static conceptual category that is mentally constructed from all individual objective entities that fit into it and thus is a semitransparent, static, metaphysical entity. It is the appearing object through which a fully transparent mental representation of a specific objective entity is cognized. (B) In non-Gelug, except in the case of Chittamatra: (1) In sensory nonconceptual cognition, the opaque, directly cognized appearing object, which is a mental aspect similar to a mental hologram of an external objective entity that the cognition indirectly cognizes as its focal object, but not as an additional appearing object. (2) In conceptual cognition, a conceptually isolated item, an opaque metaphysical entity that stands for the mentally synthesized commonsense object and category in the cognition and which is the appearing object of the cognition.

Tib: gzugs-bsnyan
Skt: pratibimba
mental dullness

A mental factor (subsidiary awareness) faulting the appearance-making of mindfulness's mental hold on an object of focus. Some translators render the term as "sinking."

J. Hopkins' translation: "laxity."

Tib: bying-ba
mental exclusions

See: mental exclusions of something else

mental exclusions of something else

Static implicative negation phenomena, including audio categories, meaning/object categories, and conceptually isolated items.

J. Hopkins' translation: "mental exclusion; other-eliminator that is a mind."

Tib: blo'i gzhan-sel
mental fabrication

An appearance of truly established existence that mental activity in a conceptual cognition produces and projects due to the habits of grasping for truly established existence.

J. Hopkins' translation: "proliferation."

Tib: spros-pa
Skt: prapanca
mental factor

See: subsidiary awareness

mental faculties, nameable, with or without gross form

See: nameable mental faculties with or without gross form

mental fixation

The mental factor (subsidiary awareness) of maintaining mental placement on any object of cognition taken by any type of cognition, including sensory cognition. Also called "mentally fixating" and "concentration," it accompanies all cognitions and varies in intensity from very weak to very strong. When perfected, it becomes "absorbed concentration."

J. Hopkins' translation: "stabilization, meditative stabilization."

Tib: ting-nge-'dzin
Skt: samadhi
mental flightiness

See: flightiness of mind

mental glue

See: mental hold

mental hold

The aspect of a cognition that describes the level of strength of maintenance of attention on the focal object, without letting go of it. Also translated as "mental glue," it is established by the subsidiary awareness (mental factor) of mindfulness and has two aspects: mental abiding and appearance-making.

Tib: 'dzin-cha
mental impulse

See: karma

mental label

See: label

mental labeling

To impute (project, superimpose), with conceptual cognition, an audio category (such as the word or name "table") or a meaning/object category (such as a "table" as an individual object) onto a basis (such as four legs and a flat board on top of them). Also translated as "imputation."

Tib: ming 'dogs-pa
mentally constructed synthesis

See: mental synthesis

mentally fixating

See: mental fixation

mental placement

See: mental abiding

mental quiescence

See: stilled and settled state of mind

mental reflection

See: mental derivative

mental representation

Something that appears in a conceptual cognition. (1) In Gelug, a static, fully transparent conceptually isolated item through which the cognition cognizes the external object that the hologram resembles; equivalent to a mental aspect. (2) In non-Gelug, a static, partially transparent mentally synthesized commonsense object and category through which the cognition cognizes a conceptually isolated item (a mental aspect) that stands for a commonsense object.

J. Hopkins' translation: "appearance."

Tib: snang-ba
mental semblance

See: mental aspect

mental stability

Single-pointed placement of the mind on any constructive focal object, without any mental wandering -- a stable state of mind that is not only free of flightiness and dullness, but is also not distracted by any disturbing emotion of the plane of sensory desires. In Mahayana, when conjoined with bodhichitta, a far-reaching attitude. Some translators render the term as "concentration."

J. Hopkins' translation: "concentration."

Tib: bsam-gtan
Skt: dhyana
mental synthesis

The imputation of a conceptual category in which the bases for imputation are the individual sensibilia of a commonsense object, the parts of any of the sensibilia of a commonsense object, the moments in the continuum of a commonsense object, or items sharing a common defining characteristic. Synonymous with "conceptual category" and "category."

J. Hopkins' translation: "generality; general; all; universal."

Tib: spyi
mental synthesis, collection

See: collection mental synthesis

mental synthesis, kind

See: kind mental synthesis

mental synthesis, object

See: object mental synthesis

mental urge

The subsidiary awareness (mental factor) that causes the mental activity to face an object or to go in its direction. In general, it moves a mental continuum to cognitively take an object. It is equivalent to mental karma and, according to Sautrantika, Chittamatra, Svatantrika-Madhyamaka, and the non-Gelug Prasangika-Madhyamaka schools, it is equivalent to physical and verbal karmas as well.

J. Hopkins' translation: "attention/intention/intentionality/will."

Tib: sems-pa
Skt: cetana
mental wandering

A subsidiary awareness (mental factor) that causes the mind to lose concentration and to go on and on, uncontrollably from one object to another, due to any reason.

J. Hopkins' translation: "distraction."

Tib: rnam-g.yeng
mentor, spiritual

See: spiritual mentor


Only this, without anything more.

J. Hopkins' translation: "only."

Tib: tsam
mere equanimity

An equal attitude toward everyone that is devoid of attachment to loved ones, repulsion from enemies, and indifference toward strangers, developed in common in both Hinayana and Mahayana.

Tib: btang-snyoms tsam
merely aspiring bodhichitta

See: merely aspiring state of aspiring bodhichitta

merely aspiring state of aspiring bodhichitta

The initial state of aspiring bodhichitta, with which one focuses on one's own future enlightenment and merely has the intention to attain it and to benefit all beings by means of it. Also called: the mere state of aspiring bodhichitta.

Tib: smon-sems smon-pa-tsam
mere taking of safe direction

Synonymous with "causal taking of safe direction."

Tib: skyab-'gro tsam-pa-ba

See: positive karmic force

metaphysical entities

In the Sautrantika and Chittamatra tenet systems, those phenomena, the existence of which is established by their being merely imputed by conceptual cognition and which are superficial (relative, conventional) true phenomena. According to Sautrantika, they include all static phenomena; according to Chittamatra, they include all static phenomena other than voidnesses, true stoppings, and nirvanas. (1) In the Gelug system, they are the appearing objects of only conceptual cognitions, although they are not the actual cognitive appearances in those cognitions. They may be validly cognized not only by valid conceptual cognition, but also implicitly by valid nonconceptual cognition. (2) In the non-Gelug systems, they can only be validly cognized by valid conceptual cognition. Also translated as "generally characterized phenomena."

J. Hopkins' translation: "generally characterized phenomenon."

Tib: spyi-mtshan
Skt: samanyalakshana
metered verses

Two-to-six-lined verses composed by Buddha. One of the twelve scriptural categories.

J. Hopkins' translation: "verses; stanza."

Tib: tshigs-su bcad-pa
Skt: gatha
method of actualization

See: sadhana


The cognitive activity of merely giving rise to an appearance or mental hologram of something knowable and cognitively engaging with it.

Tib: sems
Skt: chitta
mind, exceptionally perceptive state of

See: exceptionally perceptive state of mind

mind, noncontriving

See: noncontriving mind

mind, primordial

See: primordial mind

mind, serenely stilled and settled

See: stilled and settled state of mind

mind, stilled and settled state of

See: stilled and settled state of mind

mind, subtle

See: subtle mind

mind, subtlest

See: clear light awareness

mind division

The division of treasure texts, deriving from the Indian texts translated into Tibetan by Vairochana, that emphasizes pure awareness as the basis for all. Often referred to by the transliterated Tibetan "semdey."

Tib: sems-sde

(1) The subsidiary awareness (mental factor), similar to a mental glue, that keeps a mental hold on a cognitive object, so that it is not lost. (2) The recollection of something, with which the mind keeps a mental hold on a mental hologram that resembles and represents something previously cognized. The term is often rendered as "memory" or "remembering," but has nothing to do with the recording or storage of mental information.

Tib: dran-pa
Skt: smrti

In the Kagyu and Nyingma systems, the deepest nature of the mind.

J. Hopkins' translation: "intrinsic mind."

Tib: sems-nyid

See: mental continuum


See: attitude-training

miraculous emanations

(1) In mahamudra and dzogchen texts, a descriptive synonym for the mental aspects (mental appearances, mental holograms) that are produced by the clarity aspect of the mind and which are directly cognized by conceptual or nonconceptual cognition. (2) A synonym for extraphysical emanations.

Tib: rnam-'phrul
Skt: vikurvana
miraculous powers

See: extraphysical emanations

mirror-like deep awareness

One of the five types of deep awareness that all beings have as an aspect of Buddha-nature. The deep awareness that takes in all the information about an object of cognition. Also called: deep awareness that is like a mirror.

J. Hopkins' translation: "mirror-like wisdom."

Tib: me-long lta-bu'i ye-shes
miserable phenomena

One of the four aspects of true sufferings. The five aggregate factors from the point of view of their being under the control of the true origins (true causes) of suffering and thus are subject to one or more of the three types of suffering without any break.

J. Hopkins' translation: "miserable{N}; suffering."

Tib: sdug-bsngal-ba
Skt: du:kha (duhkha)
mixed with confusion

See: tainted

model clear light mind

A subtle level of consciousness that has a blissful conceptual cognition of voidness, which is attained when the subtle energy-winds are partly dissolved in the central energy-channel. Also translated as "approximating clear light mind."

J. Hopkins' translation: "metaphoric clear light."

Tib: dpe'i 'od-gsal
Modest Vehicle

See: Hinayana

Modest Vehicle of Mind

See: Hinayana


(on walls or ceilings)


The smallest unit of time.

J. Hopkins' translation: "moment; instant; period."

Tib: skad-cig
Skt: kshana

An undifferentiated, partless whole, either the size of an atom or the size of the universe, asserted by non-Buddhist schools of Indian philosophy as descriptive of the atman, the "soul" of a person.

J. Hopkins' translation: "one; same; oneness; unitary; single; singular phenomenon."

Tib: gcig
monastic community

See: Sangha

monastic sangha

See: Sangha

moral self-dignity

As defined by Asanga, the sense to refrain from negative behavior because of caring how one's actions reflect on oneself.

J. Hopkins' translation: "shame."

Tib: ngo-tsha shes-pa
Skt: hri
moral self-dignity, no

See: no moral self-dignity

moral self-dignity, no sense of

See: no moral self-dignity


The recognition of all beings as having at some time been one's mother. The first of the seven-part cause and effect quintessence teaching for developing bodhichitta.

J. Hopkins' translation: "cognize as mother."

Tib: mar-shes
motivating aim

Synonymous with intention. See: intention.

J. Hopkins' translation: "motivation; ask; beg; collect; gather; raise; cause to rise; inspire; excite; arouse; urge on."

Tib: kun-slong
motivating aim, causal

See: causal motivating aim

motivating aim, contemporaneous

See: contemporaneous motivating aim

motivating mental framework

A state of mind that accompanies a karmic urge or impulse and which is a cluster of three mental factors (subsidiary awarenesses): distinguishing an object on which to focus the action, the motivating aim of what one intends to do with or to that object, and a motivating emotion or attitude.

J. Hopkins' translation: "thinking."

Tib: bsam-pa

When used in Western languages, a state of mind that entails two mental factors (subsidiary awarenesses): a motivating aim and a motivating emotion. A motivating aim is the mental factor of an intention – the intention to reach a certain goal for a certain purpose. A motivating emotion is the mental factor of the positive or negative emotion, such as love and compassion, or jealousy and greed, which accompanies the intention and moves one to attain that goal.


Related to the mental continuum of a non-arya -- someone who has not yet attained nonconceptual cognition of the four noble truths. Also translated as "perishably based" and "worldly."

J. Hopkins' translation: "worldly; mundane."

Tib: 'jig-rten-pa
musician, heavenly

See: those who sustain themselves on fragrances

mutually exclusive

Two sets are mutually exclusive if they do not share any common locus -- neither contains a member that also belongs to the other. Also translated as "contradictory."

J. Hopkins' translation: "mutually exclusive, contradictory."

Tib: 'gal-ba

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z everything