AMITABHA SUTRA (A mi tuo jing): The principal scripture on which the Pure Land practice is based. Reciting Buddha Amitabha's name is one, if not the most accessible and simplest, form of Buddhist practice. Through Amitabha Buddha's vow, any person who sincerely invokes his name and expresses the wish to be born in the Pure Land will be reborn there.

ANUTTARA-SAMYAK-SAMBODHI (a nou duo luo san miao sanpu ti): Unexcelled perfect enlightenment of the Buddha.

ARHAT (a luo han): “Worthy one.” In Buddhist tradition, the arhat is thought of as having completed the course of Buddhist practice and attained liberation, or nirvana. As such, the arhat is no longer subject to rebirth and death. Arhat is also one of the epithets of the Buddha.

ASAMKYA (a seng qi): Innumerable and infinite.

ASURA (a xiu luo): One type of being in the sixth realm of existence. Asuras are beings who have the merit to travel to the heavenly realms but are inflicted with a mind of jealousy. They are always jealous of heavenly devas or gods and fight with them.

AVALOKITESVARA (Guan shi yin): Perhaps the most important bodhisattva in the East Asian Buddhist tradition; he is the embodi­ment of compassion who hears and responds to the cries of all living beings. Avalokitesvara can be both male and female, but in China the bodhisattva is usually depicted in the female form.


AVIDYA (wu ming): Lit. “unillumined.” Avidya means fundamental ignorance or darkness. It is usually considered a fundamental or primal condition of sentient beings, which mistakes illusion as reality. Fundamental ignorance brings about desire and thereby is the essential cause binding sentient beings in cyclic existence, where they experi­ence all kinds of suffering. It veils the understanding of the true na­ture of existence and is the cause of the construct of illusions. The analogy of fundamental ignorance used throughout The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment is the flower in the sky.

BHAGAVAN (Shi zun): Lit. “World Honored One.” One of the ten titles of the Buddha.

BHiKSHU, BHIKSHUNI (bi qiu, bi qiu ni): Fully ordained Buddhist monk and nun, respectively.

BHUMI (di): The bhumis (ground, regions, or stages) are the last ten stages of a bodhisattva's career on his or her way to full Buddha­hood. See Bodhisattva Positions.

BODHI (pu ti): Bodhi can refer to: 1) the principal wisdom that severs all vexations and defilements and realizes nirvana 2) the phenomenal wisdom that realizes the truth of every conditioned phenomenon that can realize omniscience.

BODHI MIND (pu ti xin): The mind of wisdom. A central idea in Mahayana Buddhism, its meaning varies in different contexts: 1) the altruistic mind of a person who aspires to attain Buddhahood for the sake of helping sentient beings, 2) the genuine actualization of en­lighteriment, awakening to the true nature of reality and the loftiness of Buddhahood, and 3) selfless action. This last meaning is extremely important, yet often overlooked. In regards to the first definition, arousing the bodhi mind is the first step in establishing oneself on the Bodhisattva Path.

BODHISATTVA (pu sa): “Enlightened being.” The role model in the Mahayana tradition. The bodhisattva is a being who vows to remain in the world of samsara, postponing his or her own full liberation until all other living beings are delivered.

BODHISATTVA POSITIONS (pu sa wei): Anyone who can give rise to the altruistic mind of enlightenment, although still an ordinary person, becomes a bodhisattva and enters into the family of the Buddhas. In the Chinese Buddhist tradition, specifically the Hua Yen tradition, bodhisattva realizations and attainments are divided into 52 posi­tions: Ten Faiths (shi xin), Ten Abodes (shi zhu), Ten Practices (shi xing), Ten Transferences (shi huei xiang), Ten Grounds (shi di), Ultimate Wisdom (deng jue), and Wondrous Wisdom (miao jue). Practitioners at the level of Ten Faiths are still considered ordinary people (fan fu wei), although there is a division between ordinary people of the “inner circle” (nei fan) and “outer circle” (wai fan). Practitioners of the next thirty positions are considered to have reached sagehood (xian wei). Practitioners at the Ten Grounds and above have reached sainthood (sheng wei).
Another division of bodhisattva positions is the Path of Seeing (darsanamarga, jien dao wei), the Path of Practice (bhavanamarga, xiu dao wei), and the Path of Attainment (labhamarga, jiu jing wei). According to the Chinese doctrinal system, when a person perceives self nature or nature of emptiness (kung xin), the person is said to have entered the Path of Seeing and has entered the domain of the ordinary people of the “inner circle” within the Ten Faiths position. Path of Practice begins at the level of the Ten Abodes and ends at the Ten Transferences. The Path of Attainment begins at the first position of the Ten Grounds. A bodhisattva progresses on this path toward complete, perfect Buddhahood through abandoning gross levels of self grasping for subtler and subtler levels of selfgrasping. At the same time, a bodhisattva cultivates merit and benefits living beings until all obstructions to full wisdom of emptiness are realized and omniscience is attained.

BUDDHA (fo): “The awakened one.” The historical Buddha is the religious teacher Gautama Sakyamuni, who founded the religion generally known in the West as “Buddhism.”


BUDDHA NATURE (fo xing): The nature or potential for Buddhahood; synonym for the nature of emptiness. It is also equivalent to Tathagatagarbha.

CAUSAL GROUND (yin di): Another term for Buddha nature. It is called ground because it can give rise to all merit and virtue; it is the poten­tial for Complete Enlightenment. Causal ground can also refer to the initial generating of the bodhi mind.

CH'AN: Better known in Japanese as “Zen.” Ch'an is one of the main schools of Chinese Buddhism to develop during the Tang dynasty (618 907). The designation derives from the Sanskrit word dhyana, transliterated as chan na in Chinese. Ch'an can mean meditation but it can also mean the heart of Buddhism enlightenment.


DHARANI (tuo luo ni, zhong chi): Dharani derives from the root word “dhara,” which means maintaining, holding, control or preserving. The literal Chinese translation of this word is “universal control” or “complete control.” It refers to complete “maintenance” of wisdom and “control” over evil passions and influences. The words “com­plete” and “universal” also bear the meaning of inclusiveness, because it is the essence of all approaches to the Dharma. Therefore, practicing dharani means practicing all approaches to the Dharma. In this sutra, dharani refers to Complete Enlightenment or Buddha-nature.

DHARMA (fa): Dharma has two basic meanings. Dharma with an upper case “D” means the Buddhist “law” or “teaching.” Dharma with a lower case “d” simply refers to a thing or object, and physical or mental phenomenon.

DHARMAKAYA (fa shen): Dharma Body. One of the three bodies of the Buddha the ultimate body of reality beyond all forms, attributes, and limits. In the Chinese Buddhist tradition the expression, “to see the Dharmakaya” means to realize the nature of emptiness. It is sometimes used as a synonym for Buddha nature. See entries for Nirmanakaya and Sambhogakaya.

DHARMA ENDING AGE (mo fa shi dai): A period of time when the teaching of the Buddha is weak, and although there may be practitioners, no one is able to gain realization.

DHARMADHATU (fa jie): Dharma realm, the infinite realms or worlds of reality; it can also be regarded as the ground or nature of all things the Mind from which all proceeds.

DHYANA (chan na): A term designating certain states of meditative absorption cultivated by Buddhist practitioners as a technique for attaining enlightenment. However, in this sutra dhyana is referring to a practice after enlightenment, in which one solely cultivates the nondual quiescent and still nature of mind. See the chapter on Bodhisattva at Ease in Majestic Virtue for further inquiry.

EIGHT CONSCIOUSNESSES (ba shi): A central idea in the Indian Yogacara (Yu qie xing pai) or the Consciousness only school (vijnaptimatrata, wei shi zong) of Chinese Buddhism, which divides consciousness into eight modes of operation. Together, these eight modes of operation are divided into three catagories: 1) vijnana (shi), referring to the first five sense consciousnesses (or the “knowing” that arises from contacts between sense faculties and corresponding sense objects) and the sixth sense consciousness, the faculty of mental discrimination (manovijnana; yi shi), 2) manas (yi), referring to the seventh ego consciousness (mo na shi), and 3) citta (xin), referring to the eighth consciousness, alayavijnana. The first six consciousnesses are named after the sense faculties that serve as their support: 1) eye consciousness, 2) ear consciousness, 3) nose consciousness, 4) tongue consciousness, 5) body consciousness, and 6) mind consciousness. The sixth consciousness, our ordinary mind, is characterized by discrimination and has all dharmas as its object. It utilizes the previous five consciousnesses in order to identify, interpret, and define the world. The seventh consciousness is the source of the delusion of a separate self, belief in a self, self conceit, and self love; it takes the eighth consciousness as its support and its object of attachment. It can be said to be the center of these eight consciousnesses. The eighth consciousness (alayavijnana, a lai ye shi) operates as the underlying continuum of the workings of mind and functions as an underlying projective consciousness on which delusion is ultimately based. It is a kind of a “repository” or “storehouse” that contains all experiences as karmically charged seeds, which, under the proper causes and conditions, ripen as actions of body, speech, and mind, which in turn create new seeds. Therefore, the eighth consciousness is unceasingly conditioned by the previous seven consciousnesses. When one is thoroughly enlightened, these consciousnesses become the function of wisdom.

EIGHTEEN EXCLUSIVE ATTRIBUTES OF THE BUDDHA (shi ba bu gong fa): Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, the physical body of the Buddha is always dignified and composed; a Buddha can never make mistakes in speech or speak inappropriately; a Buddha's mind is always tranquil and luminous; a Buddha's true form is formless; a Buddha's mind is always in samadhi, like still water; a Buddha's mind is clear of all thoughts, like a mirror reflecting images without clinging. The Buddha has an inexhaustible desire to deliver sentient beings, unsurpassable diligence, inextinguishable mindfulness, inextinguishable Wisdom of Equality, unending observing Wisdom of Liberation, unending Mirrorlike Wisdom derived from full liberation, all actions of body, speech, and thought in accordance with wisdom, and the ability to perceive the past, present, and future in accordance with wisdom.

EIGHTEEN REALMS (shi ba jie): These realms refer to the domain of the six sense faculties, sense objects, and sense consciousnesses.

FEARLESS EYE OF THE PATH (wu wei dao yen): Perspicacity. Ability to discern true from false, wholesome from unwholesome, as a result of having realized enlightenment.

FOUR KINDs OF FEARLESSNESS (si wu wei): The Buddha's ability to bestow fearlessness in the heart/mind of sentient beings: correct wisdom of all Dharmas; exhaustion of all outflows of wisdom, merit, and virtue, as well as extinction of all habitual tendencies; ability to expound remedies to all obstructions and hindrances on the Path; ability to fully explain causes of suffering.

FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS (si shen di): The four basic principles of Buddhism preached by Buddha in his first sermon: 1) that in the ultimate analysis, life is suffering, 2) that the cause of suffering is desire, 3) that there is a state of peace called nirvana, beyond all suffering and poisons of the mind, and 4) that the way that leads to nirvana includes the practice of morality, concentration, and wisdom.

FOUR UNHINDERED WISDOMS (si wu ai zhi): Four eloquent skills in expounding the Dharma by Buddhas and great bodhisattvas: 1) without hindrance in Dharma, the ability to understand the texts and systems of the Dharma, 2) without hindrance in meaning, the ability to understand all subtle meanings of the Dharma, 3) without hindrance in eloquent speech, the ability to eloquently speak in any dialect; and 4) without hindrance in debate, the ability to fully present the Dharma eloquently and appropriately to sentient beings.

HEART SUTRA (Xin Jing): One of the most important sutras of Mahayana Buddhism. It is especially significant in Chinese Ch'an and Japanese Zen schools.

HINAYANA: A designation for the path of individual liberation within Buddhism. A hinayanist would be anyone in any tradition who practices for self enlightenment or liberation, regardless of whether he or she practices the Northern or Southern traditions of Buddhism.

HUA T'OU: Lit. the source of words (before they are uttered), a method used in the Ch'an school to arouse the “doubt sensation” (yi qing). The practitioner meditates on such baffling questions as: “What is Nothingness?” “Where am I?” or “Who is reciting the Buddha's name?” One does not rely on experience, logic, or reasoning. Often, these hrases are taken from kung ans; at other times they are spontaniously generated by the practitioner. The term “hua t'ou” is often used interchangeably with the Japanese usage of “koan.”

HUA YEN (Avatamsaka): Lit. “Flower Adornment,” one of the most important and influential scholastic schools of Chinese Buddhism to develop during the Tang dynasty (618 907). The fundamental teaching of this school is the equality of all things and the unobstructed interpenetration of, and interrelation between, absolute reality with all phenomena.

HUA YEN JING (Avatamsaka Sutra): A massive Mahayana Buddhist sutra translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in the fifth century, seventh century, and late eighth century. The sutra became quite popular among Chinese Buddhists, who believed that this sutra was a revelation from the Buddha's enlightenment while still absorbed in the ocean seal samadhi (hai yin san mei) under the bodhi tree. In China, this sutra eventually became the basis of the Hua yen school. The Ch'an school has always held it in especially high regard.

KALPA (jie): An old Indian way of calculating an unimaginably long period of time an eon. These are of various lengths. The basic kalpa is 13,965 years long. One thousand such kalpas constitute a small kalpa (hinakalpa; xiao jie). Twenty small kalpas make a medium kalpa (antarakalpa; zhong jie), and four medium kalpas make a great kalpa (mahakalpa; da jie). The creation, continuation, destruction, and emptiness four phases of a world cycle are four kalpas.

KARMA (ye): Lit. “action.” Basically, the law of cause and effect to which all sentient beings indeed all things are subject. Karma is broadly construed in Buddhism to include physical, verbal, and mental actions. It is also the cumulative causal situation affecting one's destiny as a result of past acts, thoughts, and emotions.

KUNG AN: Lit. a “public case,” as in a law case. A Ch'an method of meditation in which the practitioner energetically and singlemindedly pursues the answer to an enigmatic question either posed by the master or that arises spontaneously. The question can be answered only by abandoning logic and reasoning, through directly generating and breaking through the “doubt sensation” under natural causes and conditions. Famous kung an encounters were recorded and used by masters to test their disciples' understanding, or they served as a catalyst for enlightenment. The term “kung an” is often used interchangeably with “hua t'ou.”

MAHAYANA (da cheng): Lit. “great vehicle,” a branch of Buddhism, whose followers vow to attain Supreme Enlightenment for the sake of delivering all other sentient beings from suffering.

MANI JEWEL (mo ni zhu): Symbolic of the precious inherent Buddha-nature (fo xing) in all sentient beings.

NIRMANAKAYA (hua shen): See Transformation Body.

NIRVANA (nie pan): Total extinction of desire and suffering, the state of liberation through full enlightenment.

NO SELF (anatman; wu wo): The Buddha's central teaching that there is no isolated, self existing entity that can be grasped as the self; it is merely a conceptual construct from the illusory mind.

PARAMITAS (bo luo mi): “Perfections” or ways for transcendence to liberation. The six paramitas are the main practices of Mahayana bodhisattvas: giving (dana; bu shi), morality (sila; chi jie), patience (ksanti; ren ru), diligence (vira; jing jin), meditation (dhyana; chan ding), and wisdom (prajna; bo re). The ten paramitas, practiced by great bodhisattvas above the Ten Grounds, consist of four more additions to the six paramitas: expedient means (upayakausalya; fang bian), vows (pranidhana; yuan), power (bala; Ii), and all knowing wisdom (jnana; zhi).

PLATFORM SUTRA (Tan Jing): A scripture attributed to the seventh century Ch'an master, Huineng (638 713), who was the Sixth Patriarch in the Ch'an school and perhaps the most famous of Chinese patriarchs. He was the founder of the southern school of Ch'an, which emphasized sudden enlightenment.

PRATYEKABUDDHA (bi zhi fo): A self enlightened being (du jue), one who has attained liberation from all suffering by contemplating dependent origination (yuan jue).

RETRIBUTION BODY (bao shen): “Sambhogakaya.” One of the three bodies of the Buddha: body of beatitude the form of the Buddha that enjoys the fulfilment of vows in the Pure Lands.

SAMADHI (ding): Like dhyana, samadhi also refers to states of meditative absorption, but it is a broader and more generic term than dhyana. Although numerous specific samadhis are mentioned in Buddhist scriptures, the term “samadhi” itself is flexible and not as specific as dhyana. In Mahayana sutras, the term samadhi is inseparable from wisdom.

SAMATHA (she mo ta): A term designating the practice of calming or stilling the mind. However, in this sutra samatha refers to a practice after enlightenment, in which a practitioner emphasizes the cultivation of the still, mirrorlike nature of mind. See the chapter on Bodhisattva at Ease in Majestic Virtue for further inquiry.

SAMAPATTI (san mo bo ti): A term referring to the four formless states of meditative absorption. However, in this sutra samapatti refers to a practice after enlightenment, in which a practitioner relies on illusory means of delivering sentient beings to eliminate illusions. See the chapter on Bodhisattva at Ease in Majestic Virtue for further inquiry.

SAMBHOGAKAYA: See Retribution Body.

SAMSARA (lun hui): The relentless cycle of birth and death and suffering in which ordinary, unenlightened sentient beings are deeply entangled. There are three realms within samsara: the desire realm (yu jie), the form realm (se jie), and the formless realm (wu se jie).

SAMSKRTA (yo wei): With many nuances, samskrta can mean activity, production, contrived effort, conditioned things, or any process that results from karma. In this sutra, “practicing with samskrta” can mean practicing with attachments.

SASTRA (lun): One of the “three baskets” of the Tripitaka. Sastra is a book of treatise, discourse, discussion, or commentary clarifying, or sometimes systematizing, Buddhist philosophical ideas from the sutras.

SRAVAKAS (shen wen): Associated with the Hinayana tradition. Literally, “sound hearer,” one who has attained arhatship or at least the first of the four levels of sainthood from having heard the Buddha's teaching.

SRIMALA SUTRA (Sheng man): A Mahayana scripture, it is outstanding for its commentary on the Tathagatagarbha theory and for the teaching that all sentient beings have the potential for Buddhahood.

SURANGAMA SUTRA (Leng yen Jing): This Mahayana sutra is extremely important in shaping the uniqueness of Chinese Buddhism. It de­scribes twenty five different perfect penetration samadhis to reach thorough enlightenment, the positive and negative experiences a practitioner may encounter, and fifty different outer path practices that one can stray into.

SUTRAs (jing): Generally, scriptures. Specifically, the recorded “open” teachings of the Buddha that can be practiced by anyone. The distinctive mark of a Buddhist sutra is the opening line, “Thus have I heard.” This indicates that what follows are the direct teachings of Buddha, as remembered and recorded by his disciples.

TATHAGATA (Ru lai): One of the ten epithets of a Buddha, which can mean “thus come” or “thus gone.” The Chinese translation of Tathagata means “thus come.”

TATHAGATAGARBHA (ru lai zang): Womb, or store of the Tathagata the potential for Buddhahood in each sentient being. Another name for Buddha nature.

TEN DIRECTIONS (shi fang): An expression for all directions: the four cardinal directions, the four intermediate directions, and the directions above and below.

TEN TITLES OF THE BUDDHA: Thus come, Worthy of Offering, Right and Universal Knowledge, Perfect Clarity and Conduct, Understanding the World, Unsurpassable Worthy One, Instructor of People, Teacher of Heavenly and Human Beings, Buddha, the World Honored One.

TEN POWERs (shi li): The complete knowledge of a Buddha: what is right or wrong in every situation; what is the karma of every being in the past, present, and future; all stages of dhyana and samadhi; the powers and dispositions of all beings; the desire and moral direction of every being; the actual condition of every individual in all the different vehicles of practice; the direction and consequence of all teachings; all causes of morality and the good and evil in their realities, i.e., to know all previous fives of sentient beings and their causes for rebirth; to know the future lives of all beings and their entrance to nirvana; and the destruction of all illusions of every kind.

THIRTY SEVEN AIDS TO ENLIGHTENMENT (san shi qi dao pin): The thirty-seven aids to enlightenment are: four foundations of mindfulness (si nian chu), four proper fines of exertion (si zheng qin), four advance steps to power of ubiquity (si ru yi zu), five positive capacities (wu gen), five forces intensifying the five positive capacities (wu li), seven aspects toward enlightenment (qi jue zhi), and the eight fold noble path (ba zheng dao).

TRANSFORMATION BODY: (hua shen) Nirmanakaya. One of the three bodies of the Buddha, the form that a Buddha manifests to facilitate the deliverence of sentient beings.

TWENTY-FIVE EXISTENCES (er shi wu you): This is a classification of the samsaric realm of existence: the four continents, the four evil destinies, the six heavenly realms of desire, the four dhyana stages, the four stages of formlessnesss, the realm beyond conceptualization, and the realm of anagamin (a na han, those arhats who are reborn into the heavens in the realm of form or formless heavens where they will attain nirvana).

TWELVE ENTRANCES (shi er ru): The six sense faculties and the six sense objects, or “dust.”

TWO VEHICLES (er cheng): Paths or approaches to Dharma practice. The two vehicles refer to the vehicles of sravaka and pratyekabuddha.

VAJRA (jin gang): A term that means as indestructible as a diamond and powerful as a thunderbolt.

VEXATION (klesa, fan nao): The innate mechanism to possess and to act, tainted by an attachment to self, which in turn continues the cycle of samsara. Vexations include all kinds of mental states such as joy and resentment, sadness and happiness, as well as greed, hatred, delusion, arrogance, and doubt.

WISDOM EYE (hui yan): That which perceives the true empty nature of all phenomena.

Complete Enlightenment (Shambhala - Boston & London 1999)