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Key Terms

When reading Buddhist teachings, philosophy, and discourses, you may come upon words that seem unfamiliar and foreign. We don’t know the actual language the Buddha spoke in his time, but Buddhism has traditionally been preserved in Pali, an Indian dialect. While Sanskrit was commonly taught to the nobles of the time, Pali was “the commoner’s” tongue and so much of Buddhism has been preserved in the Pali language.

The following are a list of important key terms from the Pali language:

  • anatta. Insubstantiality. Corelessness. Non existence of independent solid self.  One of the three basic characteristics of phenomena, along with anicca and dukkha.
  • anicca. Impermanence, ephemeral, changing. One of the three basic characteristics of phenomena, along with anatta and dukkha.
  • arahant/arahat. Liberated being.  One who has destroyed all impurities of the mind.
  • bhikkhu.  Buddhist monk.  bhikkhuni.  Buddhist nun.
  • buddha. Enlightened person.  One who has discovered the way to liberation, has practiced it and has reached the final goal by  his/her own efforts.
  • dāna. Dana means generosity and is the basic practice of spirituality, as the Buddha taught. Just as the monks give teachings to the local community, the local community generously gives back by feeding them and paying for necessary materials the monks need.
  • deva. Shining one, celestial being.
  • dhamma. Ultimate truth, reality and universal law; phenomena, object of mind, all physical and mental elements; the teaching of an enlightened person. (Sanskrit dharma).
  • dosa. Hatred.
  • dukkha. Suffering, unsatisfactoriness. One of the three basic characteristics of phenomena, along with anatta and anicca.
  • kamma. Action. Cause and effect.  Each action one performs has an effect in one’s future.
  • lobha. Greed.
  • mara. A deity who tempted the Buddha; an opponent of liberation.
  • metta. Loving kindness. Selfless love and good will.  Specific meditations and chants are done to cultivate metta.
  • moho. Delusion.
  • nibbana. Extinciton; freedom from suffering; the ultimate reality, unconditioned existence. (Sanskrit nirvana).
  • sambodhi. Bodhi, enlightenment, realization, awakening.
  • samadhi. Concentration, control of one’s mind.
  • samsara. Cycle of rebirth. Conditioned existence; world of suffering.
  • sangha. Community of those who walk the Buddhist way; technically those who have experienced nibbana
  • sankhara. Mental formations; volitional activity,; mental reaction; mental conditiong. One of the four aggregates or process of the mind along with vinnana, sanna, and vedana. (Sanskrit samskara).
  • sanna. Perception.
  • sugata. Enlightened One, the Buddha.
  • sutta. Discourse of the Buddha or one of his leading disciples (Sanskrit sutra)
  • tathagata.  Literally, “thus-gone.”  An enlightened person, the Buddha.
  • Theravada. Literally, “teaching of the elders.” Recognized as the first and oldest school of the Buddha’s teachings.
  • Ti-ratana: Triple Gem. Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha.
  • vedana. Initial sense contact.
  • vihara. Abode or a location to meditate with a Sangha.
  • vinnana. Consciousness.