This glossary contains an alphabetical list of Buddhist terms that you may find on this website. Many of the terms now include phoneticized Sanskrit (Skt) as well as two forms of Tibetan—the phonetic version (Tib), which is a guide to pronunciation, and transliteration using the Wylie method (Wyl). Search for the term you want by entering it in the search box or browse through the listing by clicking on the letters below. Please see our Content Disclaimer regarding English terms in LYWA publications that may be outdated and should be considered in context.


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

five powers

The five forces to be practiced both in this life and at the time of death. They are the power of motivation, the power of acquaintance, the power of the white seed (developing positive qualities) the power of destruction (of self-cherishing) and the power of prayer.

five sciences

Within Tibetan Buddhist education, they are: grammar, logic, medicine, arts and crafts, and religious philosophy.

five signs of nearing death of the gods

The five sufferings experienced by desire realm gods at the time of death: their bodies become unattractive, their thrones are no longer comfortable, their flower garlands wilt, their clothes stain and their bodies smell.

five transcendental wisdoms

panchajnana (Skt); yeshe nga (Tib); ye shes lnga (Wyl)

The wisdoms possessed by a buddha, they are: the mirror-like wisdom (Skt: adarsha-jnana; Tib: me long ta bü ye she; Wyl: me long lta bu'i ye shes), the wisdom of equality (Skt: samata-jnana; Tib: nyam nyi ye she; Wyl: mnyam nyid ye shes), the all-accomplishing wisdom (Skt: krty-anusthana-jnana; Tib: ja drup ye she; Wyl: bya grub ye shes), the wisdom of analysis (Skt: pratyaveksana-jnana; Tib: sor tog ye she; Wyl: sor rtogs ye shes), the dharmadhatu wisdom (Skt: tathata-jnana; Tib: chö kyi ying kyi ye she; Wyl: chos kyi dbyings ye shes).

five wrong livelihoods

log tso nga (Tib); log ‘tsho lnga (Wyl)

Wrong livelihood for monastics means procuring requisites through flattery, hinting, bribery, coercion and hypocrisy. Wrong livelihood for lay people is trading in weapons, human beings, meat, intoxicants or poison

five-fold path of Mahamudra

An entire practice leading to buddhahood based on the Mahamudra practice of the Kagyü tradition. They are: meditation on bodhicitta, deity yoga, guru yoga, Mahamudra practice and dedication of merit.

form realm

rupadhatu (Skt); zug kham (Tib); gzug khams (Wyl)

The second of samsara’s three realms, with seventeen classes of gods. 

formless realm

arupyadhatu (Skt); zug me kham (Tib); gzugs med khams (Wyl)

The highest of samsara’s three realms, with four classes of gods involved in formless meditations. The four levels are limitless sky, limitless consciousness, nothingness and the tip of samsara.

four activities

Four kinds of activities a buddha performs, replicated in a tantric practice; they are pacifying, increasing (or developing), controlling and subjugating.

four aspects of karma

The four ways karma will ripen, either in this life or a future life. They are: the ripening result, the possessed result, experiencing the result similar to the cause and creating the result similar to the cause.

four black dharmas

nagpö chö zhi (Tib); nag po'i chos bzhi (Wyl)

Four actions that impede your spiritual progress. They are: 1) deceiving your guru or a holy being; 2) feeling misplaced regret; 3) criticizing or abusing a holy person; and 4) cheating others. See also four white dharmas.

four Buddhist philosophical schools

drubtha zhi (Tib); grub mtha' bzhi (Wyl)

The tenets propounded by the great Indian Buddhist masters and categorized by Tibetan Buddhist scholars into four main philosophical systems, each with a progressively subtle explanation of selflessness. The two Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) schools are Vaibhashika (Great Exposition) and Sautrantika (Sutra), and the two Mahayana (Great Vehicle) schools are Cittamatra (Mind Only) and Madhyamaka (Middle Way).

four continents

According to Buddhist cosmology the four world systems clustered around Mount Meru, one for each cardinal point. Ours is the southern continent, Jambudvipa (Rose-apple Land; Tib: dzam bu ling), the others being Godaniya (Cattle Gift Land; Tib: ba lang chö) in the west; Kuru (Unpleasant Sound; Tib: dra mi nyän) in the north and Videha (Tall Body Land; Tib: lü phag po) in the east. These continents appear in the mandala offering and are part of the symbolic representation of the entire universe.

four dignities

Mythical animals that represent various aspects of the bodhisattva attitude: dragon for power, tiger for confidence, snow lion for fearlessness and garuda for wisdom.

four empties

tong pa zhi (Tib); stong pa bzhi (Wyl)

In Highest Yoga Tantra, they are the increasingly subtle minds experienced as the clear light is approached. They are empty, very empty, great empty and all empty. The term refers not to emptiness (shunyata) but to a lack of the previous grosser minds. They correspond to the white, red, dark and clear light appearances of the death dissolutions.

four factors (of a completed karmic act)

The four elements that make an action of body or speech complete so that the full result is experienced. They are the intention (Tib: sam pa; Wyl: bsam pa), object (Tib: shi; Wyl: gzhi), action (Tib: jor wa; Wyl: sbyor ba) and completion (Tib: tar tug; Wyl: mthar thug). Each of these four brings its own result and—if it is negative—can be purified by one of the four opponent powers. Actions that lack all four parts are weaker in strength and bring weaker results.

four great arhats

Shariputra, known for his understanding of the Abhidharma; Maudgalyayana, known for his psychic powers; Mahakashyapa, the great ascetic; and Ananda, the personal attendant of the Buddha who recalled every word he spoke.

four great eons

The four periods of a world system; they are the great eons of evolving, existing, decaying and being empty.

four guardian kings

The protectors in the form of kings of the four cardinal directions always found at the entrance of monasteries and temples in China and Tibet; they are: Dhritarashtra of the east, Virudhaka of the south, Virupaksha of the west and Vaishravana of the north.

four harmonious brothers

Four animals, an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit, and a bird, that lived in the forest and spread harmony to the other animals, creating peace and prosperity in the whole kingdom.

four immeasurables

caturapramana (Skt); tsä mä zhi (Tib); tshad med bzhi (Wyl)

Also known as the four immeasurable thoughts or the four sublime attitudes (Skt: brahmavihara), these are four states of mind or aspirations: loving kindness (Skt: maitri; Tib: jam pa; Wyl: byams pa), compassion (Skt: karuna; Tib: nying je; Wyl: snying rje), sympathetic joy (Skt: mudita; Tib: ga ba; Wyl: dga' ba) and equanimity (Skt: upeksha; Tib: tang nyom; Wyl: btang snyoms). They are usually expressed in the prayer: may all sentient beings have happiness and its causes, be free from suffering and its causes, be inseparable from sorrowless bliss, and abide in equanimity—or longer variations of the same.

four kindnesses of the mother

In the seven points of cause and effect technique for developing bodhicitta, the second, remembering the kindness of the mother, can include how the mother has been kind in four ways: 1) the kindness of giving her body; 2) the kindness of protecting our life from danger; 3) the kindness of bearing hardship; and 4) the kindness of leading us in the ways of the world. The lineage of this came to Lama Zopa Rinpoche from Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen Rinpoche.

four Mahayana Dharma wheels

The four external conditions conducive to spiritual development. They are: 1) relying on holy beings; 2) abiding in a harmonious environment; 3) having supportive family and friends; and 4) collecting merit and making prayers. See also the eight ripening qualities.

four maras

du zhi (Tib); bdud bzhi (Wyl)

The four external and internal hindrances or obstacles to our spiritual progress. They are: 1) the mara of the (contaminated) aggregates (Skt: skhandha-mara); 2) the mara of delusions (Skt: klesha-mara); 3) the mara of the Lord of Death (Skt: mrityu-mara); and 4) the mara of the deva's son (Skt: devaputra-mara), the demon of desire and temptation. See also Mara.

four neighbouring hells

nye khor we nyälwa zhi (Tib); nye 'khor ba'i dmyal ba bzhi (Wyl)

Four hells surrounding the major hot hells, they are: the fiery trench (Skt: Kukulam; Tib: mema mur; Wyl: me ma mur), the putrid swamp (Skt: Kunapam; Tib: ronyag; Wyl: ro myags), the plain of swords (Skt: Kshuradharammargah; Tib: pa dri tam pä tang; Wyl: spa gri gtams pa'i tang), the uncrossable torrent (Skt: Vaitarani; Tib: chu wo rap me; Wyl: chu bo rap med).

four noble disciplines

Avoiding responding to: 1) anger with anger; 2) physical harm with physical harm; 3) criticism with criticism; and 4) verbal argument with verbal argument. These are said to distinguish real practitioners and are part of the secondary bodhisattva vows.

four noble truths

denpa zhi (Tib); bden pa bzhi (Wyl)

The subject of the Buddha's first turning of the wheel of Dharma. The truths of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the cessation of suffering as seen by an arya.