Glossary of Pāli Terms


teacher, guide


strong determination. One of the ten pāramī


unwholesome, harmful. Opposite kuśala


bliss, delight


respiration. Anapana-sati: awareness of respiration.


non-self, egoless, without essence, without substance. One of the three basic characteristics. See lakkhana


impermanent, ephemeral, changing. One of the three basic characteristics. See lakkhana


liberated being; one who has destroyed all his mental impurities. See Buddha


noble; saintly person. One who has purified his mind to the point that he has experienced the ultimate reality (nibbāna). There are four levels of ariya, from sotapanna ("stream-enterer"), who will be reborn a maximum of seven times, up to arahat, who will undergo no further rebirth after his present existence.

Ariya aṭṭhaṅgika magga

the Noble Eightfold Path. See magga

Ariya saccā

Noble Truth. See sacca


impure, repellent, not beautiful. Opposite subha, pure, beautiful.


uninstructed; one who has never even heard the truth, who lacks even suta-mayā-paññā, and therefore cannot take any steps toward his liberation. Opposite sutava


ignorance, illusion. The first link in the chain of Conditioned Arising (paticca samuppada). Together with rāga and dosa, one of the three principal mental defilements. These three are the root causes of all other mental impurities and hence of suffering. Synonym of moha


sphere, region, esp. the six spheres of perception (salayatana), i.e., the five physical senses plus the mind, and their corresponding objects, namely:
eye (cakkhu) and visual objects (rūpa) ear (sota) and sound (sadda) nose (ghana) and odour (gandha) tongue (jivha) and taste (rasa) body (kaya) and touch (photthabba) mind (mano) and objects of mind, i.e., thoughts of all kinds (dhamma)
These are also called the six faculties. See indriya


strength, power. The five mental strengths are faith (saddhā), effort (vīriya), awareness (sati), concentration (samādhi), wisdom (paññā). In less developed form, these are called the five faculties. See indriya


dissolution. An important stage in the practice of Vipassana, the experience of the dissolution of the apparent solidity of the body into subtle vibrations which are constantly arising and passing away.


(the process of) becoming. Bhava-cakka: the wheel of continuing existence. See cakka


mental development, meditation. The two divisions of bhāvanā are the development of calm (samatha-bhāvanā), corresponding to concentration of the mind (samādhi), and development of insight (vipassana-bhāvanā), corresponding to wisdom (paññā). Development of samatha will lead to the states of jhana; development of vipassana will lead to liberation. See jhana, paññā, samādhi, vipassana

Bhāvanā-mayā paññā

wisdom developing from personal, direct experience. See paññā

Bhavatu sabba maṅgalaṃ

"may all beings be happy." A traditional phrase by which one expresses one's goodwill towards others. (Literally, "May there be every happiness.").


(Buddhist) monk; meditator. Feminine form Bhikkhunī; nun.




literally, "enlightenment-being". One who is working to become a Buddha. Used to designate Siddhattha Gotama in the time before he achieved full enlightenment. Sanskrit bodhisattva


factor of enlightenment, i.e., quality that helps one to attain enlightenment. the seven such factors are awareness (sati), penetrating investigation of Dhamma (Dhamma-vicayavīriya), bliss (piti), tranquility (passaddhi), concentration (samādhi), and equanimity (upekkhā)


inhabitant of the higher heavens; the term used in Indian religion to designate the highest being in the order of beings, traditionally considered to be an almighty Creator-God, but described by the Buddha as subject, like all beings, to decay and death.


the nature of a brahma, hence sublime or divine state of mind, in which four pure qualities are present: selfless love (mettā), compassion (karuṇā), joy at the good fortune of others (muditā), equanimity toward all that one encounters (uppekkha); the systematic cultivation of these four qualities by a meditation practice.


celibacy; a pure, saintly life


literally, a pure person. Traditionally used to designate a member of the priestly caste in India. Such a person relies on a deity (Brahma) to "save" or liberate him; in this respect he differs from the samana. The Buddha described the true brahmana as one who has purified his mind, i.e., an arahat.


enlightened person; one who has discovered the way to liberation, has practiced it, and has reached the goal by his own efforts. There are two types of Buddha:

  1. pacceka-buddha, "lone" or "silent" Buddha, who is unable to teach the way he has found to others
  2. sammā-sambuddha, "full" or "perfect" Buddha, who is able to teach others


wheel, Bhava-cakka,, wheel of continuing existence (ie, process of suffering), equivalent to samsara. Dhamma-cakka, the wheel of Dhamma (ie, the teaching or process of liberation). Bhava-cakka corresponds to the Chain of Conditioned Arising in its usual order. Dhamma-cakka corresponds to the chain in reverse order, leading not to the multiplication but to the eradication of suffering.


wisdom gained by intellectual analysis. See paññā


mind. Cittānupassanā observation of the mind. See satipaṭṭhāna


charity, generosity, donation. One of the ten parami


phenomenon; object of mind; nature; natural law; law of liberation, i.e., teaching of an enlightened person. Dhammānupassanā, observation of the contents of the mind. See Satipaṭṭhāna (Sanskrit dharma)


element (see maha-bhutani); natural condition, property.


aversion. Together with rāga and moha, one of the three principal mental defilements.


suffering, unsatisfactoriness. One of the three basic characteristics (see lakkhana). The first Noble truth (see sacca).


family name of the historical Buddha (Sanskrit Gautama)


literally, "lesser vehicle". Term used for Theravadin Buddhism by followers of other schools. Pejorative connotation.


faculty. Used in this work to refer to the six spheres of perception (see ayatana) and the five mental strengths (seebala).


birth, existence


state of mental absorption or trance. There are eight such states which may be attained by the practice of samādhi, or samatha-bhāvanā (see bhāvanā). Cultivation of them brings tranquillity and bliss, but does not eradicate the deepest-rooted mental defilements.


smallest indivisible unit of matter, composed of the four elements and their characteristics. See maha-bhutani


literally, "friend to one's welfare", hence one who guides a person towards liberation, i.e., spiritual guide.


action, specifically an action performed by oneself that will have an effect on one's future (Sanskrit karma). See saṅkhārā


body. Kāyānupassanā, observation of body. See satipaṭṭhāna


mass, group, aggregate. A human being is composed of five aggregates: matter (rūpa), consciousness (viññāṇa), perception(saññā), feeling/sensation (vedanā), and reaction (saṅkhārā)


mental defilements, negativity, mental impurity. Anusaya kilesa, latent defilement, impurity lying dormant in the unconscious.


wholesome, beneficial. Opposite akusala


sign, distinguishing mark, characteristic. The three characteristics (ti-lakkhana) are aniccā, dukkha, anattā. The first two are common to all conditioned phenomena. The third is common to all phenomena, conditioned and unconditioned.


craving. Synonym of rāga


the macrocosm, i.e., universe, world, plane of existence. The microcosm, i.e., the mental-physical structure. Loka-dhamma, worldly vicissitudes, the ups and downs of life that all must encounter, that is, gain or loss, victory or defeat, praise or blame, pleasure or pain.



Ariya atthangika magga, the Noble Eightfold Path leading to liberation from suffering. It is divided into three stages or trainings:

sīla, morality, purity of vocal and physical actions:

  • sammā-vācā, right speech
  • sammā-kammanta, right action
  • sammā-ājīvā, right livelihood
samādhi, concentration, control of one's own mind:
  • sammā-vāyama, right effort
  • sammā-sati, right awareness
  • sammā-samādhi, right concentration
paññā, wisdom, insight which totally purifies the mind:
  • sammā-saṅkappa, right thought
  • sammā-diṭṭhi, right view
Magga is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. See sacca


the four elements, of which all matter is composed:

  • pathavī-dhatu--earth element (weight)
  • āpo-dhatu--water element (cohesion)
  • tejo-dhatu--fire element (temperature)
  • vāyo-dhatu--air element (motion)


literally, "great vehicle". The type of Buddhism that developed in India a few centuries after the Buddha and spread north to Tibet, China, Viet Nam, Mongolia, Korea and Japan.


welfare, blessing, happiness


death; negative force, evil one


selfless love and good will. One of the qualities of a pure mind (see Brahma-vihara); one of the parami. Mettā-bhāvanā, the systematic cultivation of mettā by a technique of meditation


ignorance, delusion. Together with rāga and dosa one of the three principal mental defilements. Synonym of avijja


mind. Nama-rūpa, mind and matter, the mental-physical continuum. Nama-rūpa-viccheda, the separation of mind and matter occurring at death or in the experience of nibbāna


extinction; freedom from suffering; the ultimate reality; the unconditioned. (Sanskrit nirvāṇa)


cessation, eradication. Often used as a synonym of nibbāna. Nirodha-sacca, the truth of the cessation of suffering, third of the Four Noble Truths. See sacca


obstacle, hinderance. The five hindrances to mental development are craving (kāmacchanda), aversion (vyāpāda), mental or physical sluggishness (thina-middha), agitation (uddhacca-kukkucca), and doubt (vicikicchā).


gross, coarse. Opposite sukhuma


line; text; the texts recording the teaching of the Buddha; hence language of these texts. Historical, linguistic, and archaeological evidence indicates that this was a language actually spoken in northern India at or near the time of the Buddha. At a later date the texts were translated into Sanskrit, which was exclusively a literary language.


wisdom. The third of the three trainings by which the Noble Eightfold Path is practised (see magga). There are three kinds of wisdom: received wisdom (sutta-mayā paññā), intellectual wisdom (cintā-mayā paññā), and experiential wisdom (bhāvanā-mayā paññā). Of these, only the last can totally purify the mind; it is cultivated by the practice of vipassana-bhāvanā. Wisdom is one of the five mental strengths (see bala), the seven factors of enlightenment (see bojjhanga), and the parami.


perfection, virtue; wholesome mental quality that helps to dissolve egoism and thus leads one to liberation. The ten parami are: charity (dāna), morality (sīla), renunciation (nekkhamma), wisdom (paññā), effort (vīriya), tolerance (khantī), truthfulness (sacca), strong determination (adhiṭṭhāna), selfless love (mettā), and equanimity (upekkhā).

Paticca samuppada

the chain of Conditioned Arising; causal genesis. The process, beginning in ignorance, by which one keeps making the life after life of suffering for oneself.


honour, worship, religious ritual or ceremony. The Buddha instructed that the only proper puja to honour him is the actual practice of his teaching, from the first step to the final goal.


virtue; meritorious action, by performing which one attains happiness now and in the future. For a lay person, punna consists in giving charity (dāna), living a moral life (sīla), and practicing meditation (bhāvanā).


craving. together with dosa and moha one of the three principal mental defilements. Synonym of lobha


jewel, gem. Ti-ratana: the Triple Gem of Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.


  1. matter
  2. visual object
See ayatana, khandha


truth. The Four Noble truths, ariya-sacca are:

  • the truth of suffering (dukkha-sacca)
  • the truth of the origin of suffering (samudaya-sacca)
  • the truth of the cessation of suffering (nirodha-sacca)
  • the truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering (magga-sacca)


well done; well said. An expression of agreement or approval.


concentration, control of one's own mind. The second of the three trainings by which the Noble Eightfold Path is practiced (see magga). When cultivated as an end in itself, it leads to the attainment of the states of mental absorption (jhana), but not to total liberation of the mind. The three types of samādhi are:

  • khanika samādhi, momentary concentration, concentration sustained from moment to moment
  • upacara samādhi, "neighbourhood" concentration of a level approaching a state of absorption
  • appana samādhi, attainment concentration, a state of mental absorption (jhana)


recluse, wanderer, mendicant. One who has left the life of a householder. While a brahamana relies on a deity to "save" or liberate him, a samana seeks liberation by his own efforts. Hence the term can be applied to a Buddha and to his followers who have adopted the monastic life, but it also includes recluses who are not followers of the Buddha. Samana Gotama ("Gotama the recluse") was the common form of address used for the Buddha by those who were not his followers.


calm, tranquility. Samatha-bhāvanā, the development of calm; synonymous with samādhi. See bhāvanā


understanding of the totality of the mind-matter phenomenon, i.e., insight into its impermanent nature at the level of sensation


cycle of rebirth; conditioned world; world of suffering


arising, origin. Samudaya-dhamma, the phenomenon of arising. Samudaya-sacca, the truth of the origin of suffering, second of the four Noble Truths.


(mental) formation: volitional activity; mental reaction; mental conditioning. One of the five aggregates (khandha), as well as the second link in the Chain of Conditioned Arising (paticca samuppada). Saṅkhārā is the kamma, the action that gives future results and that thus is actually responsible for shaping one's future life. (Sanskrit samskara)


literally, equanimity towards saṅkhārā. A stage in the practice of Vipassana, subsequent to the experience of bhanga, in which old impurities lying dormant in the unconscious rise to the surface level of the mind and manifest as physical sensations. By maintaining equanimity (upekkhā) towards these sensations, the meditator creates no new saṅkhārā and allows the old ones to pass away. Thus, the process leads gradually to the eradication of all saṅkhārā


from samyutta-nana, conditioned knowledge, perception, recognition. One of the five aggregates (khandha). It is ordinarily conditioned by one's past saṅkhārā, and therefore conveys a coloured image of reality. In the practice of Vipassana, saññā is changed into paññā, the understanding of reality as it is. It becomes aniccā-saññā, dukkha-saññā, anattā-saññā, asubha-saññā--that is, the perception of impermanence, suffering, egolessness, and of the illusory nature of physical beauty.


shelter, refuge, protection. Ti-sarana:Triple Refuge, i.e., refuge in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.


awareness. A constituent of the Noble Eightfold Path (see magga), as well as one of the file mental strengths (see bala) and the seven factors of enlightenment (see bojjhanga). Anapana-sati, awareness of respiration


the establishing of awareness. There are four interconnected aspects of satipaṭṭhāna:

  • observation of body (kāyānupassanā)
  • observation of sensations arising within the body (vedanānupassanā)
  • observation of mind (cittānupassanā)
  • observation of the contents of the mind (dhammānupassanā)

All four are included in the observation of sensations, since sensations are directly related to body as well as to mind. The Maha-Satipaṭṭhāna Suttanta (Digha Nikaya, 22) is the main primary source in which the theoretical basis for the practice of vipassana-bhāvanā is explained.


aware. Sato sampajano; aware with understanding of the impermanent nature of the mental-physical structure in its totality, by means of observation of sensations.


literally, "one who has accomplished his task". The personal name of the historical Buddha. Sanskrit Siddhartha


morality; abstaining from physical and vocal actions that cause harm to oneself and others. The first of the three trainings by which the Noble Eightfold Path is practised (see magga). For a lay person, sīla is practiced in daily life by following the Five precepts.


one who has reached the first state of saintliness, and has experienced nibbāna. See ariya


pleasure happiness. Opposite dukkha


subtle, fine. Opposite olarika

Sutta-Mayā paññā

literally, wisdom gained from listening to others. Received wisdom. See paññā


instructed; one who has heard the truth, who has sutta-mayā paññā. Opposite assutava


discourse of the Buddha or one of his leading disciples. Sanskrit sutra


literally, "thirst". Includes both craving and its reverse image of aversion. The Buddha identified tanha as the cause of suffering (samudaya-sacca) in his first sermon, the "Discourse Setting in Motion the Wheel of Dhamma" (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta). In the Chain of Conditioned Arising (paticca samuppada) he explained that tanha originates as a reaction to bodily sensations.


literally, "thus gone" or "thus come". One who by walking on the path of reality has reached ultimate reality, i.e., an enlightened person. The term by which the Buddha commonly referred to himself.


literally, "teaching of the elders". The teachings of the Buddha, in the form in which they have been preserved in the countries of south Asia, such as, Burma (now known as Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Generally recognized as the oldest form of the teachings.


see lakkhana


literally, "three baskets". The three collections of the teachings of the Buddha, namely:

  • Vinaya-pitaka, the collection of monastic discipline
  • Sutta-pitaka, the collection of discourses
  • Abhidhamma-pitaka, the collection of the higher teaching, i.e., systematic philosophical exegesis of the Dhamma.

Sanskrit Tripitaka


see ratana


arising. Udayabbaya, arising and passing away, i.e., impermanence (also udaya-vyaya). Experiential understanding of this reality is achieved by observation of the constantly changing sensations within oneself.


attachment, clinging


equanimity; the state of mind free from craving, aversion, ignorance. One of the four pure states of mind (see Brahma-vihara), the seven factors of enlightenment (see bojjhanga), and the ten parami


appearance, arising. Uppada-vaya, arising and passing away. Uppada-vaya-dhammino, having the nature of arising and passing away.


passing away, decay. Vaya-dhamma, the phenomenon of passing away.


feeling/sensation. One of the five aggregates (khandha). Described by the Buddha as having both mental and physical aspects; therefore vedanā offers a means to examine the totality of the mental-physical phenomenon. In the Chain of Conditioned Arising (paticca samuppada), the Buddha explained that tanha, the cause of suffering, arising as a reaction to vedanā. By learning to observe vedanā objectively one can avoid any new reactions, and can experience directly within oneself the reality of impermanence (aniccā). This experience is essential for the development of detachment, leading to liberation of the mind.


observation of sensations within the body. See satipaṭṭhāna


consciousness, cognition. One of the five aggregates khandha


introspection, insight which purifies the mind; specifically insight into the impermanent, suffering and egoless nature of the mental-physical structure. Vipassana-bhāvanā, the systematic development of insight through the meditation technique of observing the reality of oneself by observing sensations within the body.


detachment; discriminatory intelligence


literally, "as it is". The existing reality. Yatha-bhuta-nana-dassana, knowledge-realization of truth as it is.