Introducing Samye Institute's Vajrayana Membership

Glossary

This glossary of Tibetan and Sanskrit Dharma terms has been compiled by our translators at Lhasey Lotsawa and our Samye Instructors. We will continually update the glossary to include terms used frequently in our courses, translated sadhanas, and general discussion. Please use the search function to locate words or phrases you encounter. We hope that this tool will enrich your study and practice of Buddhadharma. As an additional resource, we strongly encourage you to explore the vast compendium compiled by Erik Pema Kunsang at the RYI Wiki site.

A
Abhidharma
(Tib. chos mngon pa, chö ngönpa). One of the Three Collections of Scriptures. It contains the Buddha’s metaphysical teachings, often in the form of systemic classifications of outer and inner phenomena.
Acharya
(Skt.; Tib. loppon; slob dpon). A learned spiritual teacher.
Ajatashatru
(r. c. 492–460 BCE). A king of Magadha empire in Northern India.
Akashagarbha

(Skt. Aksagarbha). One of the eight great bodhisattvas. A Mahayana bodhisattva whose wisdom is as boundless as space.
All-ground
(Tib. kun gzhi, Skt. alaya). Literally, the ‘foundation of all things’. The basis of mind and both pure and impure phenomena.  This word has different meanings in different contexts and should be understood accordingly.  Sometimes it is synonymous with Buddha nature or dharmakaya, the recognition of which is the basis for all pure phenomena; other times, as in the case of the ‘ignorant all-ground,’ it refers to a neutral state of dualistic mind that has not been embraced by innate wakefulness and thus is the basis for samsaric experience.
Amṛta
(Tib. bdud rtsi, dütsi). A kind of ‘nectar’ or ‘ambrosia,’ meaning an elixir which conquors death or confers other powers.
Ananda
(Tib. kun dga’ bo). One of the ten close disciples of the Buddha; the Buddha’s personal attendant, who recited the sutras at the First Council and served as the second patriarch in the oral transmission of the Dharma.
Angulimala
In Theravada sutras, Angulimala is a ruthless killer who is redeemed by his encounter with the Buddha and subsequent conversion to Buddhism.
Anuyoga
(Tib. rJe su rnal ’byor, jesu naljor). This is the middle of the three sections of Inner Tantra. Generally, Anuyoga focuses on completion stage practices that utiltize the channels, wind-energies and essences.
Arhat
(Tib. dgra bcom pa). One who attains realization by eliminating the veil of emotional obscurations.
Atisha
Eleventh century Indian Pandita from Vikramasila who spent the last twelve years of his life in Tibet; also known as Dipamkarasrijnana.
Atiyoga
(Tib. shin tu rnal ’byor, shintu naljor). This is the highest of the three sections of Inner Tantra, and thus the pinnacle of all the Nine Vehicles, or Yānas, in the Nyingma classification of the full scope of Buddhist teachings. It is synonymous with Dzogchen.
Auspicious substances and signs
(Tib. tashi dzé tak, bkra shis rdzas rtags). The sixteen auspicious substances and signs are composed of the eight auspicious substances (the mirror, curd, panicum dactylo grass, wood-apple fruit, a right-coiling conch shell, elephant bile, vermilion powder and white mustard seeds) and the eight auspicious signs (the excellent umbrella, the pair of gold fish, the treasure vase, the lotus, the white conch shell coiling to the right, the knot of eternity, the victory banner, and the wheel of doctrine).
B
Bardo
(Tib. bar do, Skt. antarabhava). ‘Intermediate state’. Usually refers to the period between death and the next rebirth.
Bhumi
(Tib. sa). The bodhisattva levels; the ten stages a bodhisattva proceeds through on the quest for complete and perfect enlightenment.  These ten stages correspond to the last three of the five paths of Mahayana.
Bindu
(Tib. thig le, tiklé). Literally ‘sphere’ or ‘essence-drop,’ this refers to the essences that are one of the three main components of the subtle body. The other two are the subtle channels and the wind-energies. These are made use of in Anuyoga.
Bodhicitta
(Tib. byang sems, byang chub kyi sems). ‘Awakened state of mind,’ ‘enlightened attitude’. The aspiration to attain enlightenment for the sake of all beings.
Bodhisattva
(Tib. byang chub sems dpa’). Someone who has developed bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings. A practitioner of the Mahayana path; especially a noble bodhisattva who has attained the first level.
Brahmin
(Tib. bram ze, dramsé). A person of the priestly caste; one of the four castes or hereditary classes of Hinduism.
Buddha
(Tib. sangs rgyas). The Enlightened or Awakened One who has completely abandoned all obscurations and perfected every good quality. A perfected bodhisattva, after attaining true and complete enlightenment is known as a Buddha. The Buddha generally referred to is Shakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha of this era, who lived in India around the 6th century B. C. There have been innumerable Buddhas in past aeons who manifested the way to enlightenment. In the current Good Aeon, there will be one thousand Buddhas of which Buddha Shakyamuni is the fourth.
Buddhadharma
(Tib. sangs rgyas kyi bstan pa, bstan pa, chos). Buddhism, the teachings of the Buddha.
C
Chandrakirti
Leading Prasangika-Madhyamika master.
Chö
(Tib. gcod). This is the ‘cutting’ practice that traces its roots back to Machig Labdrön and Padampa Sangyé. It involves the use of ritual instruments and visualizations of cutting and offering one‘s body to awakened as well as mundane beings, employing fear to ‘cut’ the root of grasping, as well as cultivating the perfection of generosity.
Completion stage
(Tib. rdzogs rim, dzokgrim). This refers either to the dissolution of one’s visualization, i.e. it follows the generation phase within a sādhana practice, or to practices involving the channels, wind-energies and essences.
D
Dependent origination
(Tib. rten cing ‘brel bar ‘byung ba). The natural law that all phenomena arise ‘dependent upon’ their own causes ‘in connection with’ their individual conditions. The fact that no phenomena appear without a cause and none are made by an uncaused creator. Everything arises exclusively due to and dependent upon the coincidence of causes and conditions without which they cannot possibly appear.
Development stage
(Tib. bskyed rim, Skt. utpattikrama). One of the two aspects of Vajrayana practice. The mental creation of pure images in order to purify habitual tendencies. The essence of the development stage is ‘pure perception’ or ‘sacred outlook’ which means to perceive sights, sounds and thoughts as deity, mantra and wisdom.
Dharma
(Tib. chos, chö). The second object of the Three Jewels. There are two kinds of dharma: the dharma of scripture and the dharma of realization.
Dharma protector
(Tib. chos skyong, chökyong). Also called by their Sanskrit name dharmapāla, these are deities whose role is to protect the Buddhist teachings and its practitioners. Often they are spirits or demons who were subjugated and bound to oath by great masters, such as Guru Rinpoché and Milarepa, while others are emanations of buddhas or bodhisattvas.
Dharmakaya
(Tib. chos sku). The first of the three kayas, which is devoid of constructs, like space. The ‘body’ of enlightened qualities. Should be understood individually according to ground, path and fruition.
Dharmakāya
(Tib. chos sku, chöku). This ‘Absolute’ or ‘Truth Body’ is the one of three (sometimes exlained as two, while in Vajrayāna it can be four or more) ‘bodies’ or ‘kāyas’ attained upon awakening, the other two being the sambhogakāya and the nirmanakāya. The dharmakāya refers to the empty, ultimate aspect of buddhahood.
Dharmata
(Tib. chos nyid). The innate nature of phenomena and mind.
Disturbing emotions
(Tib. nyon mongs pa). The five poisons of desire, anger, delusion, pride, and envy which tire, disturb, and torment one’s mind. The perpetuation of these disturbing emotions is one of the main causes of samsaric existence.
Drikung
(Tib. ’bri gung). A lineage within the Kagyü school, founded in the twelfth century by Drikung Kyopba Jikten Sumgön (1143-1217), himself one of the eight main disciples of Phagmodrupa Dorjé Gyalpo (1110-1170).
Drubchen
(Tib. sgrub chen). ‘Great Accomplishment’ is a form of intensive group practice that lasts at least nine days, said to be equivalent to spending many years in solitary retreat.
Drukpa
(Tib. ’drug pa). A subschool found within the Kagyü tradition, it is the prominent lineage followed in Bhutan. The founder is said to be either Lingjé Repa Pema Dorjé (1128-1188) or his main disciple Tsangpa Gyaré Yeshé (1161-1211).
Dzogchen
(Tib. rdzogs pa chen po, Skt. mahasandhi). Also known as Great Perfection and Ati Yoga. The highest teachings of the Nyingma School of the Early Translations.
Ḍamaru
(Tib. da ma ru). A small hand-drum used by Vajrayāna practitioners.
Ḍāka
(Tib. dpa’ bo, pawo). Literally ‘hero,’ this is the male equivalent of a ḍākinī.
Ḍākinī
(Tib. mkha’ ’gro ma, khandroma). This is the female embodiment of awakened energy.
E
Eight collections of consciousnesses
(Tib. rnam shes tshogs brgyad). The all-ground consciousness, the defiled mental consciousness, the mental cognition, and the cognitions of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body.
Eight worldly concerns
(Tib. ‘jig rten chos brgyad). Hope for gain, pleasure, praise and fame, and fear of loss, pain, blame and bad reputation.
Eightfold noble path
(Tib. ‘phags lam gyi yan lag brgyad). Literally, the eight aspects of the paths of noble beings: right view, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, concentration. These are perfected on the path of cultivation.
Eternalism
(Tib. rtag lta)The belief that there is a permanent and causeless creator of everything; in particular, that one’s identity or consciousness has a concrete essence which is independent, everlasting and singular.
F
Five consorts
(Tib. yum nga, yum lnga). These are the five female buddhas of the five families, also known as the five mothers. They are: 1. Dhātvīśhvarī (Ying Chukma, dByings phyug ma) also known as Vajra Dhātvīśhvarī or White Tārā, the consort of Vairochana, who represents the purity of the element space; 2. Buddhalochana (Sangyé chenma, Sangs rgyas spyan ma) the consort of Akṣhobhya, who represents the purity of the element earth; 3. Mamakī (Mamaki, Ma ma ki) the consort of Ratnasambhava, who represents the purity of the element water; 4. Pāṇdaravasinī (Gökarmo, Gos dkar mo) the consort of Amitābha, who represents the purity of the element fire; 5. Samayatārā (Damtsik Drolma, Dam tshik sgrol ma) also known as Green Tārā, the consort of Amoghasiddhi, who represents the purity of the element wind.
Five mentsünma sisters
(Tib. sman btsun ma mched lnga). The mentsünma sisters are protector deities that were particularly enlisted by Padmasambhava to protect the Tukdrub Barché Künsel Treasure cycle.
Five paths
(Tib. lam lnga). The five paths or stages on the way to enlightenment: the path of accumulation, joining, seeing, cultivation, and consummation or no more learning.
Formless Realms
(Tib. gzugs med kyi khams). The abodes of unenlightened beings who have practiced formless meditative states, dwelling on the notions: Infinite Space, Infinite Consciousness, Nothing Whatsoever, and Neither Presence Nor Absence (of conception). These beings remain in these four subtle types of conceptual meditation for many aeons after which they again return to lower states within samsara.
Fruition
(Tib. ‘bras bu). The result, usually the end of a spiritual path. One of the three levels of enlightenment of a shravaka, pratyekabuddha or bodhisattva. In Mahayana the state of complete and perfect Buddhahood; in Vajrayana the unified state of a vajra-holder. See also ‘view, meditation, action and fruition’.
G
Garuda
(Tib. khyung, khyung). A mythical bird-like creature who is the enemy of the nāgas. In the Vajrayāna, the garuda can represent various aspects of the path, our primordial nature, for example, as well as serve as a protector.
Gate-keeping Pandita
(Tib. sgo bsrung ba’i pan di ta). At the major monastic institutions in ancient India, it was the custom to nominate competent scholars to the position of defending the view of Buddhism through debate, one at each of the gates in the four directions of the monastery.
Great Madhyamaka
(Tib. dBu ma chen po, uma chenpo). Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292-1361), founder of the Jonangpa school, called his philosophical synthesis the Great Madhyamaka. He regarded buddha nature to be empty of all qualities other than its own inherent existence, a position also referred to as Zhentong (Tib. gzhan stong), or ‘other-emptiness’.
Guardian spirits
(Tib. drala, dgra bla). Also called enemy spirits, these deities are believed to protect one from enemies and to help increase property.
Gurlhas
(Tib. mgur lha). Gurlhas, literally hunting gods, are a set of thirteen deities who are ancestral spirits of the Tibetan kings. They were conquered by Padmasambhava and vowed to protect the Dharma and its followers in Tibet.
Guru Rinpoche
(Tib. gu ru rin po che). ‘Precious Master’. The lotus born tantric master who established Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet in the 9th century at the invitation of King Trisong Deutsen.
H
Hinayana
(Tib. theg pa dman pa). The vehicles focused on the contemplation of the four noble truths and the twelve links of dependent origination for the sake of individual liberation.
J
Jungpos
(Tib. ‘byung po). Jungpos are spirits that can possess one’s being and are sometimes demonic, causing all one’s behaviors to become negative. They also prevent rainfall.
K
Kagyü
(Tib. bKa’ brgyud). The ‘Oral’ or ‘Instruction Lineage’ is one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, namely the Gelug, Kagyü, Sakya and Nyingma. It traces its origins to Marpa the Translator and his foremost disciple Jetsün Milarepa.
Kama
(Tib. bka’ ma). The body of Buddha‘s teachings passed down in an unbroken line of oral transmission. In the Nyingma tradition, these teachings are in contrast with terma, the hidden treasure teachings rediscovered by later generations.
Karma Kagyü
(Tib. karma bka’ brgyud) A branch of the Kagyü school founded by Düsum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa, in the twelfth century.
Kathang Chronicles
(Tib. bKa’ thang). Kathang, or ‘Chronicles’ in English, is a Tibetan literary genre that usually, although not exclusively, refers to the biographies of Padmasambhava concealed as terma or hidden Treasures and revealed by a tertön at a particular time.
Khenpo
(Tib. mkhan po). A title for one who has completed the major course of studies of about ten years’ duration of the traditional branches of Buddhist philosophy, logic, Vinaya and so forth. Can also refer to the abbot of a monastery or the preceptor from whom one receives ordination.
Kyelha
(Tib. skyes lha). Kyelhas, literally birth deities, are divinities associated with each being at the time of their birth.
Kāya
(Tib. sku, ku). Literally ‘body,’ it refers to the awakened ‘bodies’ attained upon awakening. For more information see: trikāya.
L
Lama
(Tib. bla ma). The Tibetan rendering of the Sanskrit guru, or anyone who is ‘heavy’ with good qualities. In the Buddhist tradition, it is the spiritual master, or teacher.
Land protectors
(Tib. zhing kyong, zhing skyong). These are another type of protector deities associated with specific sites.
Learning, reflection and meditation
(Tib. thos bsam sgom gsum). ‘Learning’ means receiving oral teachings and studying scriptures in order to clear away ignorance and wrong views. ‘Reflection’ is to eradicate uncertainty and misunderstanding through carefully thinking over the subject. ‘Meditation’ means to gain direct insight through applying the teachings in one’s personal experience.
Local deities
(Tib. zhidak, gzhi dag). The local deities are comprised of a wide array of divinities associated with the land, water, and so on. A great many of them are mountain spirits.
Lords of years, months, days, time, par, and me
These are deities causing harmful influences related to time and the elements. The king-year spirits cause harm, annoyance, evil thoughts and misdeeds. The minister month spirits cause evil influences, as do the day demons. The time spirits have cursing influence. The par and me spirits cause a disturbance of the elements.
M
Mahamudra
(Tib. phyag chen, phyag rgya chen po). The ‘Great Seal’ is the meditation system associated with the Kagyü lineage which passed from the Tantric practioners of India down to Marpa Lotsawa in Tibet, in two main lineages, one from Naropa and one from Maitripa. The ultimate source, though, is said to be Buddha Vajradhāra. It can also refer to the ‘great seal’ of emptiness, the highest level of realization.
Mahayana
(Tib. theg pa chen po). The vehicle of Bodhisattvas striving for perfect enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.
Mahayoga
(Tib. rnal ‘byor chen po). The first of the ‘Three Inner Tantras’.
Mala
(Tib. ’phreng ba, trengwa). A garland or rosary of beads used to count the recitation of mantra.
Mantra
(Tib. sngags). 1) A synonym for Vajrayana. 2) A particular combination of sounds symbolizing and communicating the nature of a deity and which lead to purification and realization, for example ‘Om Mani Padme Hung’. There are chiefly three types of mantra: guhya mantra, vidya mantra and dharani mantra.
Mantrayana
(Tib. sngags kyi theg pa). Synonym for Secret Mantra or Vajrayana.
Mantrin 
See: māntrika.
Mara
(Tib. bdud). Demon or demonic influence that creates obstacles for practice and enlightenment. Mythologically said be a powerful god who dwells in the highest abode in the Realm of Desire; the master of illusion who attempted to prevent the Buddha from attaining enlightenment at Bodhgaya. For the Dharma practitioner, Mara symbolizes one’s own ego-clinging and preoccupation with the eight worldly concerns. Generally, there are four maras or obstructions to practice of the Dharma: those of defilements, death and the aggregates, and the godly mara of seduction. Sometimes the four maras are mentioned by name; Lord of Death, Godly Son, Klesha and Skandha.
Master
(Tib. bla ma). In the Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo, Padmasambhava says: “The vajra master, the root of the path, is someone who has the pure conduct of samaya and vows. He is fully adorned with learning, has discerned it through reflection, and through meditation he possesses the qualities and signs of experience and realization. With his compassionate action he accepts disciples. ” In short, someone with the correct view and genuine compassion.
Maṇḍala
(Tib. dkyil ’khor, kyilkor). Generally it has the sense of the whole universe, with the Tibetan rendering it as ‘center and periphery‘. It can be a kind of graphic represenation of the universe in its sacred aspect, with a central deity surrounded by its retinue. It can also be a type of offering of the entire universe, with Mount Meru at is center, symbolized by a plates stacked with precious substances.
Meditation
(Tib. sgom pa). In the context of learning, contemplating and meditating, it means the act of assimilating the teachings into one’s personal experience, then growing accustomed to them through actual practice.
Mendrub
(Tib. sman sgrub). A ritual practice whereby amṛta, sacred spiritual medicine, is produced. Also another name for the medicine itself.
Milarepa
(Tib. mi la ras pa). (1040-1123). One of the most famous yogis and poets in Tibetan religious history.
Mind Only School
(Tib. sems tsam pa, Skt. chittamatra). A Mahayana school of Buddhist philosophy propagated by the great master Asanga and his followers. Founded on the Lankavatara Sutra and other scriptures, its main premise is that all phenomena are only mind, i. e. mental perceptions that appear within the all-ground consciousness due to habitual tendencies. Positively, this view relinquishes the fixation on a solid reality. Negatively, there is still clinging to a truly existing ‘mind’ within which everything takes place.
Mudra
(Tib. phyag rgya). Can mean either ‘hand gesture,’ spiritual consort, or the ‘bodily form’ of a deity.
Māntrika
(Tib. sngags pa, ngakpa). A practitioner of Secret Mantra Vajrayāna and holder of the tantric vows, sometimes marked by the wearing of white and red robes.
N
Nalanda
The great monastic center for Buddhist studies in ancient India. Situated in the present Indian state of Bihar, a few hours drive from Bodhgaya.
Nihilism
(Tib. chad lta). Literally, ‘the view of discontinuance’. The extreme view of nothingness: no rebirth or karmic effects, and the non-existence of a mind after death.
Nirmanakaya
(Tib. sprul sku). ‘Emanation body,’ ‘form of magical apparition’. The third of the three kayas. The aspect of enlightenment that can be perceived by ordinary beings.
Nonconceptual
(Tib. rnam par mi rtog pa). Of or pertaining to the absence of conceptual thinking or discursive thought.
Nonvirtues
(Tib. mi dge ba). Usually referring to the ten non-virtuous actions: The physical misdeeds of killing, taking what is not given, and engaging in sexual misconduct; the verbal misdeeds of lying, uttering divisive talk, harsh words, and gossiping; and the mental misdeeds of harbouring covetousness, ill-will, and wrong views.
Nyingma
(Tib. rnying ma). The ‘Ancient’ School, one of the four main Buddhist traditions found in Tibet, which traces its lineage back to the time of the first translation of Buddhist texts. The Nyingma school is also strongly associated with Guru Rinpoché, and his termas are central to their practice.
Nāgas
(Tib. lu, klu). Nāgas are snake-like beings who generally dwell in water bodies. They are associated with skin diseases and other health disorders.
O
Obstructors
(Tib. gek, bgegs). Obstructors create obstacles to all religious ceremonies and practice.
P
Pandita
(Tib. mkhas pa). A learned master, scholar or professor in Buddhist philosophy.
Paramita
(Tib. pha rol tu phyin pa). Literally, ‘paramita’ means ‘reaching the other shore’. Particularly, it means transcending concepts of subject, object and action. The Paramita vehicle (phar phyin gyi theg pa) is the Mahayana system of the gradual path through the five paths and ten bhumis according to the Prajnaparamita scriptures. See also ‘six paramitas’.
Phowa
(Tib. ’pho ba). A tantric practice which involves ejecting one‘s consciousness to a pure land, often Amitābha’s realm, at the moment of death.
Phurba
(Tib. phur ba). A ritual dagger with a triangular blade, usually associated with the practice of the yidam deity Vajrakīlaya.
Physical representatives
(Tib. sku tshab, ku tsap). A particular type of statue of Padmasambhava: “A number of tertöns revealed a rare type of image considered to be a kutsab or ‘physical representative’ (sku tshab) of Padmasambhava and credited with the power to ‘liberate through seeing’ (mthong grol). The use of the term ‘representative’ here implies that this type of image serves as a stand-in for Padmasambhava himself, as opposed to more common terms for images, such as ‘likeness’ (sku ’dra) or ‘physical support’ (sku rten).’’ Holly Gayley. “Ontology of the Past and its Materialization in Tibetan Treasures,” in The Invention of Sacred Tradition (213-240) ed. James R. Lewis and Olav Hammer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 229.
Pointing-out instruction
(Tib. ngo sprod). The direct introduction to the nature of mind. A root guru is the master who gives the ‘pointing-out instruction’ so that the disciple recognizes the nature of mind.
Prajnaparamita
(Tib. shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa). ‘Transcendent knowledge’. The Mahayana teachings on insight into emptiness, transcending the fixation of subject, object and action. Associated with the Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.
Pratyekabuddha
(Tib. rang rgyal, rang sangs rgyas). ‘Solitarily Enlightened One’. A Hinayana Arhant who attains Nirvana chiefly through contemplation on the twelve links of dependent origination in reverse order, without needing teachings in that lifetime. He lacks the complete realization of a Buddha and so cannot benefit limitless sentient beings as a Buddha does.
Prāṇa
(Tib. rlung, lung). The ‘wind energies’ that travel through the channels (Tib. rtsa, tsa) of the subtle body.
Puja
(Tib. mchod pa, chö pa). Literally ‘offering,’ this refers to any ritual ceremony where offerings are made to various deities.
Pure perception
(Tib. dag snang). The Vajrayana principle of regarding the environment as a Buddhafield, self and others as deities, sounds as mantras, and thoughts as the display of wisdom.
R
Resultant vehicles
(Tib. ‘bras bu’i theg pa). The Vajrayana system of taking fruition as the path by regarding Buddhahood as inherently present and the path as the act of uncovering the basic state. Same as Vajrayana.
Roots of virtue
(Tib. dge ba’i rtsa ba). A good deed, a moment of renunciation, compassion, or faith. Virtuous deeds created in the present or in former lives.
Rākṣa
(Tib. srin po, sinpo). A type of flesh-eating and blood-drinking demon.
Rūpakāya
(Tib. gzugs sku, zugku). According to some presentations of buddhahood, one attains both the dharmakāya and the rūpakāya, or ‘Form Body,’ upon awakening. The rūpakāya consists of both the nirmāṇakāya and the saṃbhogakāya.
S
Samaya
(Tib. dam tshig, damtsik). This is the sacred pledge or commitment taken as part of Vajrayāna practice.
Sambhogakāya
(Tib. longs spyod rdzogs pa’i sku, longchö dzogpé ku or longku). The ‘Enjoyment Body’ is defined as the rūpakāya of a buddha which appears only to bodhisattvas and is adorned with the major signs and minor marks.
Samādhi
(Tib. ting nge ’dzin, tingédzin). Meditative absorption or concentration.
Saṅgha
(Tib. dge ’dun, gendün). The third object of the Three Jewels. This refers to those who are realizing the path taught by the Buddha, specifically the community of monks and nuns.
Seven royal possessions
(Tib. gyalsi rinchen dün, rgyal srid rin chen bdun). These are the seven possessions of a universal monarch, which appeared in the land when the Buddha was born. They are the precious golden wheel, the precious wish-fulfilling jewel, the precious queen, the precious minister, the precious elephant, the precious horse, and the precious general.
Siddha
(Tib. grub thob, druptob). An accomplished tantric practitioner; one who has gained siddhis.
Siddhi
(Tib. dngos grub, ngödrub). ‘Accomplishments’ gained through spiritual practice.
Six classes
(Tib. rik druk, rigs drug). The six classes of beings are the gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry spirits and hell beings.
Stūpa
(Tib. mchod rten, chörten). A kind of monument (usually incorporating a square base, dome and pinnacle) made to house the relics of the Buddha and subsequent great masters. Building, circumambulating and making offerings to stūpas are said to be powerful methods of gathering merit.
Sugata
(Tib. bde bar gshegs pa, dewar shekpa). An epithet of the Buddha which literally means ‘one gone to bliss‘.
Sādhana
(Tib. sgrub thabs, drubtap). Literally ‘means of accomplishment,’ this is a tantric liturgy, or procedure for practice, that typically includes both development and completion stages.
Sūtra
(Tib. mdo, do). A discourse of Buddha Śākyamuni. They are of three types: those spoken directly by the Buddha, those spoken through the blessings of the Buddha, and those spoken at the command of the Buddha. They also comprise one of the three collections of the Tripiṭaka.
T
Taklung Kagyü
(Tib. stag lung bka’ rgyud). One of the eight younger lineages of the Kagyü school, founded in the twelfth century by Taklung Thangpa Tashi Pal, one of the foremost disciples of Phagmodrupa.
Tantra
(Tib. rgyud). The Vajrayana teachings given by the Buddha in his sambhogakaya form. The real sense of tantra is ‘continuity,’ the innate Buddha nature, which is known as the ‘tantra of the expressed meaning’. The general sense of tantra is the extraordinary tantric scriptures also known as the ‘tantra of the expressing words’. Can also refer to all the resultant teachings of Vajrayana as a whole.
Tathagata
(Tib. de bzhin gshegs pa). ‘Thus-gone’.  Same as a fully enlightened Buddha.
Ten non-virtues
(Tib. mi dge ba bcu). The physical misdeeds are killing, taking what is not given, and engaging in sexual misconduct. The verbal misdeeds are lying, uttering divisive talk, harsh words, and gossiping. The mental misdeeds are harbouring covetousness, ill-will, and wrong views.
Ten virtues
(Tib. dge ba bcu). Generally, to refrain from the ten non-virtues. In particular, to engage in their opposites; for example, to save life, be generous, etc.
Terma
(Tib. gter ma, terma). ‘Treasures,’ in the form of text, ritual items or images, hidden by Guru Rinpoché and Yeshé Tsogyal and later discovered by those with previous karmic connections with Guru Rinpoché. Those who discover them, whether from the physical elements or from their own mindstreams, are known as tertöns, ‘Treasure revealers.’
Tertön
(Tib. gter ston). A revealer of terma.
Thangka
(Tib. thang ka). A Tibetan scroll painting that usually employs traditionally prescribed methods and arrangements. They often depict such subjects as buddhas, refuge fields, maṇḍalas and lineage masters.
Three Excellences
(Tib. dam pa gsum). The excellent beginning of bodhicitta, the excellent main part without conceptualization and the excellent conclusion of dedication.
Three Jewels
(Tib. dkon mchog gsum). The Precious Buddha, the Precious Dharma and the Precious Sangha. In The Light of Wisdom (Shambhala Publ.), Jamgon Kongtrul explains: “The Buddha is the nature of the four kayas and five wisdoms endowed with the twofold purity and the perfection of the twofold welfare. The Dharma is what is expressed, the unconditioned truth of total purification comprised of cessation and path, and that which expresses, the two aspects of statement and realization appearing as the names, words and letters of the teachings. The Sangha consists of the actual Sangha, the sons of the victorious ones abiding on the noble bhumis who are endowed with the qualities of wisdom and liberation, and the resembling Sangha who are on the paths of accumulation and joining as well as the noble shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas.
Three Roots
(Tib. tsa sum, rtsa gsum). These are the inner objects of refuge in the vajrayāna: the guru (the tantric teacher); the yidam (the personal deity) and the ḍākinī (female awakened being).
Three planes
(Tib. si sum, srid gsum). The three planes are the netherworlds (the realm of hell beings, hungry ghosts and nāgas), the terrestrial plane (of humans and animals), and celestial plane of gods.
Three realms
(Tib. kham sum, khams gsum). The three realms are the desire realm (the realm in which we live), the form realm (the realm of some deities and of the first four meditative concentration stages), and the formless realm (the realm of the last four meditative concentration stages).
Three trainings
(Tib. bslab pa gsum). The trainings of discipline, meditation and wisdom or supreme discriminating awareness. In Sanskrit they are shila, samadhi and prajna.
Thögal
(Tib. thod rgal). ‘Direct crossing’ refers to the stage of Dzogchen practice following trekchö, wherein one employs various visions and postures to enhance realization.
Torma
(Tib. gtor ma). An implement used in tantric ceremonies as an offering to the deities. They are usually made from barley flour and water and are fashioned into a wide variety shapes and colors, depending on the tradition and purpose.
Treasure lords
(Tib. terdak, gter bdag). These deities guard the Treasure teachings or material treasures.
Trekchö
(Tib. khregs chod). ‘Thorough cut’ or ‘cutting through’ is a practice from the Dzogchen tradition that leads to directly experiencing the mind’s pure nature.
Trikāya
(Tib. sku gsum, kusum). The three ‘bodies’ of awakening: the dharmakāya, sambhogakāya and nirmāṇakāya.
Tripiṭaka
(Tib. sde gnod gsum, denö sum). The Three Collections of Scripture comprising the common teachings of Buddha Śākyamuni: the Sūtras, the Abhidharma and the Vinaya.
Tulku
(Tib. sphrul sku). Tibetan for nirmāṇakāya, and a title refering to the reincaration of a realized master. In Tibetan Buddhism, the tulku of a great master is often sought after the previous incarnation’s passing in order to further the incarnation lineage.
Two accumulations
(Tib. tshogs gnyis). The accumulation of merit with concepts and the accumulation of wisdom beyond concepts.
Two obscurations
 (Tib. sgrib gnyis). The obscuration of disturbing emotions and the cognitive obscuration.
Two truths
(Tib. bden pa gnyis). Relative truth and ultimate truth. Relative truth describes the seeming, superficial and apparent mode of all things. Ultimate truth describes the real, true and unmistaken mode. These two aspects of reality are defined by the Four Philosophical Schools as well as the tantras of Vajrayana in different ways, each progressively deeper and closer to describing things as they are.
V
Vajra Varahi
(Tib. rdo rje phag mo). A sambhogakaya manifestation of the female Buddha Samantabhadri. She is also one of the chief yidam deities of the Sarma Schools, as well as a wisdom dakini.
Vajrapani
(Tib. phyag na rdo rje). ‘Vajra Bearer’. One of the eight great bodhisattvas and the chief compiler of the Vajrayana teachings. Also known as ‘Lord of Secrets’.
Vajrayana
(Tib. rdo rje theg pa). The ‘vajra vehicle’. The practices of taking the result as the path. Same as resultant vehicles.
Vehicle
(Tib. theg pa). The practice of a set of teachings, which ‘carries’ one to the level of fruition. In Buddhism there are mainly three vehicles: Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
Vidyādhara
(Tib. rig ’dzin, rigdzin). ‘Knowledge’ or ‘awareness holder,’ one who has attainment due to practicing the Vajrayāna.
View, meditation, conduct and fruition
(Tib. lta ba sgom pa spyod pa ‘bras bu). The philosophical orientation, the act of growing accustomed to that – usually in sitting practice, the implementation of that insight during the activities of daily life, and the final outcome resulting from such training. Each of the nine vehicles has its particular definition of view, meditation, conduct and fruition.
Vinaya
(Tib. ’dul ba, dülwa). Out of the Three Collections of Scripture, this is the set of teachings that focuses on the rules and disciplines set forth by the Buddha for his monastic disciples.
W
Wealth gods
(Tib. norlha, nor lha). These deities control riches and are propitiated for the sake of acquiring wealth.
Wheel of the Dharma
(Tib. chos kyi ‘khor lo). To turn the wheel of Dharma is poetic for giving teachings. In specific, the cycle of teachings given by the Buddha; three such cycles, known as the Three Turnings of the Wheel of the Dharma, were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha during his lifetime.
World formation deities
(Tib. sipa chakpé lha, srid pa chags pa’i lha). These are a type of ancestral Tibetan deities, often associated with the land.
Y
Yakṣhas
(Tib. nöjin, gnod sbyin). Literally ‘harm-bringers,’ these are a type of malevolent spirit widely found in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist literatures. Officially a class of god living on the lowest level of the desire realm; sometimes associated to worldly wealth gods.
Yogi
(Tib. rnal ’byor pa, naljorpa). This refers to one who practices ‘yoga,’ which Tibetans gloss as ‘connecting with the real’ (Tib. rnal ’byor, naljor), meaning anyone who practices methods for approaching the ultimate truth.