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Aggregates: The five components of any living being, roughly its body and mind. The form aggregate is its physical aspect or body, the four others its mental aspects:
- the aggregate of feeling –the physical and mental feelings of happiness and suffering that individuals experience continually in dependence on their karmas
- the aggregate of identification distinguishes and names objects
- the aggregate of compositional factors includes mental components –a variety of mental states called mental factors, and components not associated with mind, such as mental imprints or potentialities
- the aggregate of consciousness – the principal component of the mind including the five kinds of sense consciousness and mental consciousness.

Arhat: “one who has overcome the enemy”, i.e. one who by practising one of three vehicles taught by the Buddha (the Hearer Vehicle, the Solitary Realiser Vehicle and the Great Vehicle) has at least completely eliminated the kleshas (disturbing mental factors) and achieved the vehicles’s enlightenment.

Arya: “noble”, i.e. one who has attained a direct realisation of selflessness or emptiness* –the self’s lack of intrinsic existence, and attained at least the third of the five spiritual paths, the path of seeing. Initially by directly realising selflessness one gains freedom from cyclic existence, however one has yet to complete the various phases of one’s vehicle that culminate in its enlightenment, the state of arhat.

Atisha (982-1054): An eminent Indian scholar and sage who played a crucial role in the second dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet. He composed the Lamp for the Path, which was the first lamrim and the source of all subsequent lamrims. His main Tibetan disciple was Dromtönpa, who founded the Kadampa School of Tibetan Buddhism.

Bodhichitta: the spirit of enlightenment i.e. the spontaneous aspiration to Buddhahood to enable one of accomplishing the welfare of all sentient beings. It is the core quality of the Mahayana.

Bodhisattva: a being who has achieved spontaneous bodhichitta, i.e. one in whom the firm resolve to achieve Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings constantly underlies all their thoughts and deeds.

Bodhisattva ethics: three aspects, -the ethic of abstention from wrongdoing, the ethic of practising virtue and the ethic of helping others.

Buddha: Sang gyey in Tibetan. Sang means “awoken” (from the sleep of ignorance etc), and gyey “developed” or “vast” (spiritual qualities). “Buddha” thus signifies a state of perfection in which all faults and obstacles have been rejected and all good qualities like wisdom, love and so forth completely developed for the purpose of helping all sentient beings. Those who have attained this state are called Arya Buddhas, Buddhas for short. The expression “the Buddha” refers to Buddha Shakyamuni.
To become a Buddha, one must follow the path set out in the great vehicle that starts with realizing the spirit of enlightenment*. Then one jointly produces the two accumulations (of merit and wisdom) which, once completed, “generate” Buddhahood with its two aspects: the Dharmakaya and the Rupakaya. The accumulation of wisdom (notably by understanding emptiness) results in the Dharmakaya (the Truth Body): the omniscient mind and its emptiness. The accumulation of merit by cultivating love, compassion, generosity, patience and so on culminates in the Rupakaya (the Form Body), i.e. the physical form. Given that Buddhas show the path to the achievement of freedom from suffering and full spiritual development, they are one of the Three Jewels* which Buddhists venerate and in whom they seek protection (“take refuge”). Buddhas help sentient beings mainly by teaching and guidance, but may do so materially as well. Synonyms and epithets: Bhagavat, Tathagata, Sugata, Conqueror, Victor etc.

Concentration: One-pointed mental focalization on a phenomenon previously analysed, which serves as a basis for wisdom

Cycle existence: see samsara

Deity: a living being who has achieved Buddhahood, i.e. a Buddha.

Dharma: Literally “to hold”. According to the Indian sage Vasubandhu in the Vyakhyayukti, this term has ten meanings: “knowable entity” (phenomenon, existent), path, nirvana, object of perception, merit, life, teachings (of Buddhas), what will occur, certainty and customs. Most commonly Dharma refers to either phenomenon or the Buddhas’ teaching with its two aspects: oral teachings and the spiritual attainments achieved by practising them. The Dharma is one of the Three Jewels* and is in fact the actual refuge since it is what allows one to achieve liberation from cyclic existence*.

Emptiness: the ultimate nature of any phenomenon i.e. its the lack of independent or inherent existence. A table for example has two modes of existence: conventional insofar as it unquestionably exists and fulfils a function, and ultimate –the fact that it does not exist unto itself, independently of its components, of the perception of it or the name given to it.

Enlightenment: each of the three vehicles culminates in its enlightenment. For the Shravaka* and Pratyekabuddha* vehicles, enlightenment is equivalent to liberation from samsara and for the great vehicle, to Buddhahood. In the latter case enlightenment is qualified as “supreme” or “complete”.

Four Noble Truths: the topic of the first sutra taught by Buddha Shakyamuni at Varanasi forty-nine days after his Enlightenment and composed of the three four-lined stanzas. The first announces the Four Truths: “Oh, Bhikshus! This is the noble truth of suffering. / This is the noble truth of the origins [of suffering]. / This is the noble truth of the cessation [of suffering]. / This is the noble truth of the path [which leads to the cessation of suffering].”

Gelugpa: “a follower of the virtuous tradition”. Because of their strict observance of the monastic rule, this name is given to the followers of the school of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419).

Geshe: title given to a doctor of philosophy; a respectful form of address to any monk.

Gods: “deva” i.e. living beings who have not yet achieved liberation from cyclic existence but have the temporary happiness of a high rebirth in either the Desire Realm, the Form Realm or the Formless Realm in cyclic existence (see Three Realms).

Great vehicle or Mahayana: the path or spiritual qualities leading one to Buddhahood so than one may fully accomplish the welfare of all sentient beings.

Karma: the omnipresent mental factor of intention, which moves the mind towards an object of perception. Every thought, be it fleeting or unconscious, thus involves a karma and every karma leaves a trace on the mind, called a karmic imprint or potentiality, which has the capacity to produce a result when the conditions for its maturation are met. “Good” karmas by definition produce pleasant results, “bad” karmas, unpleasant results and neutral karmas, neutral results, i.e. experiences that are neither pleasant nor unpleasant. These are only a few of the multiple aspects of karma, which is undoubtedly one of the most important and complex notions in Buddhism.

Klesha: disturbing mental state. A klesha is a mental factor which, when it arises, upsets one, destroys one’s inner peace and whatever is positive in one at the time. The Indian sage Arya Asanga enumerates twenty-six kleshas, six major or root kleshas –attachment, ignorance, anger, pride, doubt and wrong views, and twenty secondary ones such as jealousy, laziness, self-satisfaction and so on.

Lamrim: “the stages of the path (to complete Enlightenment) i.e. a comprehensive presentation of the Buddha’s essential teachings in the order according to which they are to be practised to attain the objective, Buddhahood.

Lineage of Vast Activity: a lineage of spiritual teachers who played an important role in the transmission of the “method” aspect of the path, i.e. the techniques for achieving spiritual qualities other than wisdom, such as compassion, love and the spirit of enlightenment. Taking its source in Buddha Shakyamuni, it was subsequently passed on by masters such as Maitreya, Asanga, Vasubandhu and so on until today.

Lineage of Profound View: a lineage of spiritual teachers who played an important role in the transmission of the wisdom aspect of the path, the techniques for achieving notably the wisdom understanding selflessness or emptiness. Taking its source in Buddha Shakyamuni, it was subsequently passed on by masters such as Mañjushri, Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti and so forth until today.

Mandala: either the entire universe along with its riches or the residence and entourage of a tantric deity; a symbolic representation of these.

Meditation: accustoming or familiarizing the mind with a chosen mental object. Meditation can be either concentrative or analytical, each of which complements the other to give strength, stability and depth to an understanding or perception.

Meditative serenity: (Skt. Shamata) a state of perfect concentration, characterized by total physical and mental pliancy.

Middle Way: the middle path between the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism*.

Mind: Synonymous with “perception”, it is defined as a nonmaterial phenomenon (“clear”, Tib. gsal) which is able to reflect its objects of perception (“knowing”, Tib. rig pa). It is subject to change from moment to moment in a causal continuity, each moment of perception being the result of its previous moment and producing a subsequent perception, which is why, from the angle of temporality, one also speaks of a person’s “mental continuum”. Buddhism refutes the notion of a person, soul, self or I that would be one, unchanging and autonomous, and exist as it appears to us naturally: independently of any causes and conditions.

Nihilism and eternalism: philosophical views which conceive the ‘I’ or self to be respectively subject to definitive disappearance at death and eternal and unchanging.

Nirvana: “state beyond suffering” i.e. liberation from cyclic existence achieved through the elimination of ignorance and the other disturbing mental factors* which derive from it.

Parinirvana: for those who have achieved nirvana, this term refers to their leaving their body at death.

Path (spiritual path): the good qualities and knowledge based on renunciation of samsara that culminate in Enlightenment.

Pratimokshayana: the vehicle and its spiritual qualities leading to the personal liberation from cyclic existence through the complete elimination of the klesha-obstructions, in opposition to the great vehicle which leads to Buddhahood.

Pratyekabuddha or Solitary Realiser: a practitioner who has entered the second of the two vehicles constituting the pratimokshayana* or vehicle for personal liberation (commonly known as the Hinayana or lesser vehicle), the first vehicle being that of Shravakas* or Hearers.

Reincarnation: Buddhist principle according to which any life is preceded by a former life and followed by a subsequent one. Until achieving liberation from samsara reincarnation is conditioned by one’s karma and kleshas. Subsequently it is a matter of free choice.

Renunciation of samsara: the disgust with and wish to be free of samsara that arises from the awareness that the fundamental nature of samsara and samsaric things is suffering, including what is commonly called happiness because it is fleeting and unsatisfactory.

Rinpoche: “precious”. Honorific title given to a trulku i.e. a person identified as the emanation of a Buddha or as the reincarnation of a great teacher and sage who continues his predecessor’s work in helping sentient beings gain freedom from suffering. A polite term of address used to refer to certain important Tibetan Buddhists.

Samsara: cyclic existence, which is by nature suffering. Samsara is not a geographical location but a mode of existence that is defined by either the five impure and appropriated aggregates* conditioned by karma* and kleshas* that constitute ordinary beings i.e. beings not yet aryas, or the fact of being born and of dying continuously, without freedom, under the influence of one’s karma and kleshas.

Sangha: Buddhist monastic community. In the ultimate sense, any arya* is a Sangha. The Sangha Jewel is constituted of aryas whose role is to serve as models for practitioners. In a conventional sense, the Sangha Jewel exists as soon as four bhikshus (fully ordained monks) have gathered: in terms of the merit generated, presenting an offering to four non-arya bhikshus is equivalent to making an offering to one Sangha who is an arya.

Selflessness: the lack of intrinsic existence of persons and of other phenomena.

Seven-limbed Prayer: a prayer and meditation including seven core practices for purification of wrongdoing and accumulation of virtue: homage, offerings, confession, request for teaching, request to remain and dedication of merit.

Shravaka or Hearer: a practitioner who has entered the first of the two vehicles constituting the pratimokshayana* or vehicle for personal liberation, the second being that of Pratyekabuddhas* or Solitary Realisers.

Six paramitas or perfections: The spiritual qualities of generosity, ethical discipline, patience, enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom found in the mind of a bodhisattva*. Practising them is equivalent to practising the three bodhisattva ethics*.

Special insight: a high level of analytical meditation characterized by total physical and mental pliancy induced by analysis and attained after achieving meditative serenity*.

Spirit of enlightenment: see bodhichitta

Sutra and tantra: Respectively the Buddha’s exoteric and esoteric discourses. Sutras expound general methods of meditation for developing qualities such as renunciation, the spirit of enlightenment and correct insight into emptiness. Tantras explain specific methods of meditation in which the understanding of emptiness, associated with the spirit of enlightenment, appears as a deity*, its residence, its retinue etc.

Stupa: a monument symbolizing a Buddha’s mind, containing the relics of a Buddha, of other great spiritual teachers, scriptures or religious images, often miniaturized to be placed on an altar.

Three Higher Trainings: the higher training in ethics, the higher training in concentration and the higher training in wisdom to be followed to achieve liberation from cyclic existence.

Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, (The Teacher, his Teaching and his Spiritual Community) in which Buddhists place their trust and take refuge to gain freedom from the sufferings of lower rebirths and of samsara as a whole.

Three realms: three more or less subtle levels of cyclic existence, the Desire Realm in which humans live, and the Form and Formless Realms inhabited by gods*.

Three mental poisons: attachment, hatred and ignorance, which are the opposites of the three roots of virtue*. Attachment occurs when, from perceiving a contaminated phenomenon as attractive, one is interested in it or clings to it; its function is to cause suffering. Anger is hostility towards living beings, suffering and its causes; its role is to prevent happiness and cause bad behaviour. Ignorance is the lack of knowledge found at all levels of the three realms of samsara; its function is to cause false certitudes, doubts and the three kinds of negativity: karma, disturbing mental states and samsaric life.

Three roots of virtue: detachment, non-hatred and non-ignorance. Developing them is the core of spiritual practice as they are as the bases of all goodness and the means to end all bad behaviour. Detachment is a lack of attachment to samsara and samsaric things and the remedy to kleshas such as attachment, stinginess, self-satisfaction, excitement and distraction. Non-hatred is an absence of animosity towards sentient beings, suffering or the causes of suffering that opposes anger. Non-ignorance is understanding and discriminating wisdom.

Three Wheels of Dharma: a chronological classification of the Buddha’s discourses.

Three types of practitioners: practitioners of three motivational levels: lesser, intermediate and great. The first aspire to favourable rebirths in samsara, the second to personal liberation from samsara, the third to the complete Enlightenment of a Buddha.

Tripitaka or Three Baskets: threefold collection of the Buddha’s discourses classified by topic. The Vinayapitaka sets forth monastic ethics and rules, the Sutrapitaka techniques for concentration, and the Abhidharmapitaka expounds metaphysics.

Twelve acts of the Buddha (12 outstanding phases of the Buddha’s life):

1. Departure from the pure realm, Tushita
2. Entry into his mother’s womb
3. Birth in Lumbini Park
4. Education in the sixty-four artistic and athletic skills
5. Happy life in the palace surrounded by the queen and her retinue
6. Departure from the palace, renunciation of worldly life, ordination
7. Six years of austerities by the Nairanjara River;
8. Arrival and sojourn under the Bodhi Tree at Bodhgaya;
9. Defeat of Mara’s armies of demons
10. Attainment of Complete Enlightenment
11. Turning the Wheel of the Law (Teaching)
12. Passage into Parinirvana (Death)

Twelve links of dependent origination: The factors that illustrate the law of causality and determine our repeated death and rebirth in cyclic existence. Generally they are cited in the following order:

  1. Initial ignorance
  2. Compositional karma (propelling one into a new rebirth)
  3. Consciousness
  4. Name and form
  5. Six sources ( mental and physical senses)
  6. Contact
  7. Feeling
  8. Craving (a kind of attachment)
  9. Grasping (another kind of attachment)
  10. Existence (matured karma ready to produce its result);
  11. Birth
  12. Ageing and death.

Virtue and virtuous: any activity or mental state that produces a result of happiness.

Yogi: someone devoted to meditation who attains higher states of concentration from it.


- Asanga: Abhidharma samuccaya
- Atisha : La Lumière de la voie vers l’Eveil et autres textes - Editions Guépèle 2008 - Glossary
- Dagpo LAMA Rinpoche: Commentaire de la Guirlande des êtres fortunés - Editions Guépèle 2000
- Dagpo LAMA Rinpoche: Commentaire sur les bases du bouddhisme 2002
- Kyapje Ling Rinpoche: commentaire de l’Ode aux Réalisations de Djé Tsongkhapa – Editions Arkhana Vox - Glossary