Glossary for Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism

Compiled by Geoffrey Samuel

[This glossary was intended as an introductory reference for 2nd year undergraduate students taking a course on Tibetan Buddhism in the Department of Religious Studies at Lancaster University in 1996.]


Capitalization means that there is an entry elsewhere in the glossary, though I have not always capitalized very common terms like Buddha, Mahayana, Shakyamuni or Vajrayana.

Graham Coleman’s A Handbook of Tibetan Culture (Rider 1993) includes a detailed glossary of Tibetan Buddhist terminology (pp.277-420) which may be useful for those wanting something slightly more advanced.


List of Terms

ABHIDHARMA (Skt., = Pali Abhidhamma). Philosophical school characteristic of the Early Schools of Buddhism (q.v.), in which reality is analysed in terms of fluctuating point-moments (dharma) of form, sensation, perception, motivation and consciousness. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is still studied, but is regarded as being superseded by the CITTAMATRA and MADHYAMAKA schools (qq.v.)

AMITABHA (Skt., "Infinite Light"= Tib. Öpamé) Buddha described in Mahayana sutras and held to dwell in a celestial paradise in the West. See BUDDHA.

ARHAT (Skt.) An arhat is someone who has attained NIRVANA (q.v.)

AVALOKITESHVARA (Skt. = Tib. Chenrezi). Mahayana and Vajrayana deity expressing the compassion (Skt. karuna) of the Buddha.

BEYÜL (Tib.) "Hidden valley" in which people can take refuge at times of political disturbance and where Buddhism can be practised safely.

BODHICITTA (Skt., = Tib. changch’ub sem). Central motivational state believed by the Mahayana to be essential for the attainment of Buddhahood, and defined as the desire to attain Buddhahood from compassion for the sufferings of other beings, and in order to acquire the ability to liberate them from their sufferings.

BODHISATTVA (Skt., = Tib. changch’ub sempa). For the Early Schools and the Theravadins, the term bodhisattva refers primarily to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni in his previous lives. For the Mahayana schools, it has a wider meaning, and refers to (1) anyone who has irreversibly entered on the path to Buddhahood through arousing within himself or herself the central Mahayana motivation of BODHICITTA (q.v.); (2) certain highly-attained beings such as Avalokiteshvara or Manjushri who can be contacted in ritual for aid and who are, in effect, deities or sambhogakaya forms of the Buddha (see TRIKAYA DOCTRINE).

BON (Tib). Term used in various senses for aspects of pre- and non-Buddhist religion in Tibet. The main senses are (1) early Tibetan folk religion, before the times of the kings or emperors; (2) court religion of the kings or emperors in the 7th to 9th centuries; the term bon seems to have referred to some of the priests of this cult; (3) "Reformed" Bon, essentially a variant Buddhist order, see BONPO below; (4) derogatory term for black magic, anti-Buddhist practices, folk religion.

BON(-PO) (= Bon, sense 3). A Tibetan religious tradition claiming to originate in the teachings of Tönpa Shenrab, who the Bonpo hold achieved Enlightenment many centuries before the time of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. Essentially a variant Buddhist order which developed from the 10th century onwards. Emphasises Tantric practice similar to the Old Tantra tradition (see TANTRA) but with different YIDAM (deities). Like the Nyingmapa, includes Dzogch’en teachings and TERMA revelations. The Bonpo were subjected to some persecution by the GELUKPA in particular.

BUDDHA (Skt. = Tib. sangyé). Awakened one; person who has achieved enlightenment (Skt. bodhi, Tib. changch’ub). For the Mahayana, the concept of Buddhahood is extended from the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, he is seen as an emanation of a Buddha-nature (dharmakaya) underlying all phenomena. See TRIKAYA DOCTRINE. Within the Mahayana, there are numerous Buddha-forms, such as Amitabha, Akshobhya and Vairocana, and some of them can be encountered within meditation.

BUDDHA, HISTORICAL = SHAKYAMUNI, teacher who was the historical origin of Buddhism, c.6th cent. BCE.

CAKRA (Skt., = Tib. k’orlo; the literal meaning is "wheel") One of a series of focal points of the system of circulation of PRANA through the SUBTLE BODY.

CAKRAVARTIN (Skt., = Pali cakkavatti) Indian ideal of the world-ruling king.

CHAM (Tib.) Ritual dance (usually monastic).

CHÖD (Tib.). Tibetan meditational practice, said to have been introduced by the 12th-century woman teacher Machik Labdrön. It involves visualizing one’s body being cut up, transformed and offered to deities and other beings (not necessarily demonic), and is a key practice for many Tibetan lay tantric practitioners. It is a sung practice, accompanied by a hand-drum and bell.

CITTAMATRA (Skt. = "Mind Only"; Tib. semtsampa). School (more accurately, group of schools) of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy stressing the fundamental role of consciousness (citta) in creating our experience of reality. Also known as YOGACARA.

DAKINI (Skt. = Tib. khandroma) Female initiatory deity in Vajrayana Buddhism; some human women are regarded as incarnate dakinis.

DALAI LAMA (Tib.) Series of Gelukpa reincarnate lamas which began in the 15th century. The 5th Dalai Lama became ruler of much of Tibet, with his capital at Lhasa. The present Dalai Lama, the 14th, went into exile in 1959 and is the de facto Tibetan national leader. The Dalai Lamas are held to be emanations (TULKU, q.v.) of AVALOKITESHVARA.

DHARMA (Skt.; = Tib. chö). (1) Buddhist teachings; (2) underlying order of the universe; (3) category in ABHIDHARMA philosophy, q.v.. Note that dharma in non-Buddhist Indian texts has other meanings again (such as caste obligation).

DHARMAPALA (Skt.) See GUARDIANS.

DHARMARAJA (Skt.) = Tib. chögyel. King claiming to rule in accord with the Dharma.

DZOGCH’EN (Tib.) Non-tantric tradition common to the Nyingmapa and the Bonpo and regarded as a final and higher teaching to be undertaken as the culmination of Tantric practice. Dzogch’en is said to have been revealed sometime after the life of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni by an Indian teacher known (in Tibetan) as Garab Dorje, and to have been transmitted to Tibet by PADMASAMBHAVA and other teachers. It was important for the RIMÉ movement (q.v.), who regarded Dzogch’en as equivalent to Mahamudra.

EARLY SCHOOLS: The teachings of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni traditionally formed the basis for eighteen early schools (in reality there were more) differentiated in terms of locality, ritual practice, Vinaya (rules for monastic discipline) and particularly their philosophical understanding of Buddhism. They developed from around 3rd century BCE onwards. The THERAVADIN tradition derives from one of these, although in its present form it is a much later development. Other early schools (esp. Sarvastivada, Dharmaguptaka, Mahasanghika) were important in the development of other schools of Buddhism.

EASTERN BUDDHISM Neutral term for the Buddhism of the East Asian countries (China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore), used by Peter Harvey.

ENLIGHTENMENT. Conventional English-language term for the state attained by a BUDDHA.

FOUR MAIN ORDERS. Refers to NYINGMAPA, KAGYÜPA, SAKYAPA and GELUKPA religious traditions. Occasionally the BÖNPO are added to make five.

GALATIC POLITY. Model for the traditional states of Southeast Asia devised by the anthropologist Stanley Tambiah.

GELUK(-PA) (Tib.). Tibetan Buddhist tradition founded by the disciples of the 15th century lama Tsongk’apa. Emphasises solid scholastic preparation before Tantric practice and claims to be a more authentic version of Indian Buddhism than other schools. In the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, the Gelukpa became politically dominant in much of Tibet.

GOMPA (Tib.) Spiritual community; often but not necessarily a community of celibate monks or nuns living close together (usually in individual houses, sometimes in communal buildings).

GUARDIANS (Skt. dharmapala, Tib. chökyong) Protective deities associated with religious traditions and communities.

GURU-YOGA (Skt.; Tib. = lamé neljor) Ritual practice within Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism in which the guru or lama is visualized and worshipped in the form of Vajradhara, Padmasambhava or some other Tantric deity.

HINAYANA "Lesser vehicle" Somewhat derogatory term for early schools of Buddhism and their followers, applied by the followers of the MAHAYANA q.v.

KADAMPA. Tibetan Buddhist tradition founded by the Indian teacher Atisha, who came to Tibet in 1042, and his disciples. Emphasised monastic discipline and the cultivation of BODHICITTA (q.v.). It has now disappeared, but many of its teachings were taken up by other schools, particularly the GELUKPA, who sometimes referred to themsleves as "New Kadampa". In recent years, the term "New Kadampa" has been adopted by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, director of the Tibetan Buddhist centre at Ulveston (Manjushriu Institute), as a label for his organization.

KAGYÜ(-PA) (Tib.) Group of Tibetan Buddhist traditions founded by the disciples of the 11th century saint, poet and lama Milarepa. Emphasises practice of tantric yoga according to the New Tantras.

KANJUR (Tib.) collection of sutras and tantra texts translated into Tibetan. Along with the TENJUR, collected treatises and commentaries by Indian teachers, it forms the main canonical collection of Tibetan Buddhist texts. There are however numerous later texts by Tibetan teachers and it is generally these that are studied by Tibetan Buddhists.

KARMAPA. (1) Monastic tradition, one of the Kagyüpa group of traditions; (2) its senior reincarnate lama, also known as the Gyalwa Karmapa. This is usually regarded as the oldest reincarnate-lama lineage, and is claimed to go back to the 12th century lama Düsum Ky’enpa. The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa died in 1981; the identity of his rebirth is currently in dispute.

KINGS (sometimes called EMPERORS) (Tib. tsenpo) Rulers of an expansionary Tibetan empire from 7th to 9th centuries CE.

LA (Tib.) "Soul" or "spirit" which can be lost, so causing illness.

LAMA (Tib.) corresponds to Sanskrit guru but has a wider range of meanings in Tibetan. Can mean (1) personal religious teacher, especially of Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism); (2) head or leading figure within a spiritual community (gompa); (3) a properly qualified performer of Tantric ritual. Note that the roles of lama and MONK are different. Most monks are not lamas, and lamas are not necessarily monks.

LHA (Tib.) General term for deities; includes Tantric deities as well as local gods.

LHASA Central Tibetan town, capital of the early kings of Tibet (7th to 9th centuries CE) and of the Dalai Lamas (17th to 20th centuries CE).

LOCAL GODS Gods (male and female) of the mountains, lakes, rivers and other geographical features, important in Tibetan folk religion.

LU (Tib. = Skt. naga). Water-dwelling serpent-like spirits, often female.

LÜ (Tib.) Ransom offering to local deity or spirit.

LUNGTA (Tib.) "Prayer- flags" strung up around buildings and sacred places to bring good fortune.

MADHYAMAKA (Skt; also MADHYAMIKA. Tib. umapa). Buddhist philosophical school, traditionally developed by the ?2nd century Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, and emphasizing the identity of SAMSARA and NIRVANA, and the empty or void (shunya) nature of our ordinary dualistic perceptions of reality.

MAHAMUDRA (Skt. = Tib. Ch’agch’en), the central goal of Vajrayana Buddhism in the New Tantra tradition.

MAHAYANA "Great Vehicle". Tendency or approach that developed within Buddhists from the 1st cent BCE onwards. Associated with the revelation of many new texts (see MAHAYANA SUTRAS) held to have been taught by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni in his lifetime but to have been hidden because the time was not yet ready for their being taught publicly. Key Mahayana emphases are on the partial and selfish nature of the ARHAT‘s enlightenment as compared with that of a fully-enlightened BUDDHA, and the need to arouse the motivation of BODHICITTA in order to attain full enlightenment. It was also associated with new philosophical perspectives (see CITTAMATRA, MADHYAMAKA) and deities (see BODHISATTVA, BUDDHA, TRIKAYA DOCTRINE).

MAHAYANA SUTRAS see MAHAYANA. Well-known Mahayana sutras include the Prajnaparamita Sutras (among them the Astasahasrika or 8000 Verse Prajnaparamita Sutra, the "Heart Sutra" and the Vajracchedika or Diamond Sutra), the Saddharmapundarika or Lotus Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra (a large collection of texts which includes the Gandavyuha Sutra), the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra, etc.

MANJUSHRI (Skt. = Tib. Jambeyang) Mahayana and Vajrayana deity of transcendent insight (prajna), patron of scholarship.

MANTRA (Skt.; = Tib. ngak). Ritual formula used in Vajrayana practice (see SADHANA) to evoke a particular deity.

MERIT. The idea of transfer of the merit from one’s religious practice to another person or for the good of other beings is generally regarded as non-canonical in Theravada Buddhism although it is quite common in practice. In Mahayana Buddhism the dedication of merit for the good of other beings is an essential part of all ritual practice.

MILAREPA . See KAGYÜPA.

MONK. The Tibetans have novices and fully-ordained monks (Skt. bhikshu) as in other Buddhist traditions. The status of monk is respected, but it is not as central to the religious tradition in some ways as in the Theravadin countries, because of the greater importance of lay practice and particularly the role of the LAMA. Note that most monks are not lamas, and lamas are not necessarily monks.

NADI (Skt., = Tib. tsa) Vein or channel through which PRANA circulates about the SUBTLE BODY.

NAGARJUNA. See MADHYAMAKA.

NIRVANA (Skt.). State of release from the endless circling (SAMSARA) of rebirth in the world.

NORTHERN BUDDHISM Neutral term for the Buddhism of Tibet and Mongolia, used by Peter Harvey.

NUN. As in Theravadin countries, Tibetan women practitioners (generically called ani) could not traditionally attain the full ordination of bhikshuni, since the ordination lineage was held to have died out. There were numerous communities of ani, but there were fewer of them than male monastics and their status was lower.

NYINGMA(-PA) (Tib.). Tibetan Buddhist tradition claiming to originate in the teachings of PADMASAMBHAVA and his associates in the 8th century. Emphasises Tantric practice according to the Old Tantra tradition (see TANTRA) and also includes Dzogch’en teachings. The terma revelations are found mostly among the Nyingmapa and BONPO. The Nyingmapa tradition is less centrally organized than other traditions, although there are six principal teaching monasteries in Central and East Tibet, and specific traditions linked to each of these.

OM MANI PADME HUM. Mantra of Avalokiteshvara (q.v.).

ORACLE PRIESTS. Term sometimes used for monastic spirit-mediums such as that of Pehar (q.v.0

PADMASAMBHAVA (Tib. Pema Jungne, Guru Rinpoche). Semi-historical Indian tantric teacher who is regarded as being principally responsible for the introduction of the Old Tantra tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet in the late 8th century. For the NYINGMAPA tradition he is also important as a Tantric deity, particularly in GURU-YOGA (q.v.).

PALI CANON Body of Buddhist texts written in the Pali language and regarded as canonical by the Theravada. For the Tibetan equivalent, see Kanjur.

PANCHEN LAMAS. A series of GELUKPA reincarnate lamas which goes back to a teacher of the 5th DALAI LAMA. Within the Gelukpa tradition, second in importance only to the Dalai Lamas. After the 14th Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959, the Chinese government attempted to use the Panchen Lama to legitimise Chinese rule. He died in 1989. A reincarnation was recognized in 1995 by the Dalai Lama and the officials of the Panchen Lama’s monastery, but has not been accpted by the Chinese government , who have recognized an alternative candidate.

PEHAR or PEKAR. Important GUARDIAN who manifests through a spirit medium to advise the Dalai Lama and his government.

PERFECTIONS (Skt. paramita) Six (usually) qualities whose bringing to perfection defines the path of the BODHISATTVA. They are generosity, ethical discipline, patience, perseverence, meditative concentration and discriminative awareness (prajña).

PRAJÑA (Skt.) Wisdom or discriminative awareness.

PRANA (Skt., = Tib. lung) "Breath"; substance which circulates around the SUBTLE BODY. A similar concept to the Chinese qi.

REFUGE. As in Theravada Buddhism, the Taking of Refuge in the THREE JEWELS (q.v.) is an important element of Buddhist ritual, and usually forms the first stage of a SADHANA or other ritual sequence. For Tibetans, the Refuge is often taken in front of an elaborate visualization of Tantric deities, centred on the guru in the form of Vajradhara, Padmasambhava or some other YIDAM. The refuge may include a refuge in the Lama preceding that in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Refuge may also be taken in Guru (= LAMA), Deva (=YIDAM) and DAKINI or in some other form.

REINCARNATE LAMAS. (Tib. tulku; yangsi) Lama who is recognized, usually in childhood, as the rebirth of a previous lama, and who takes over the previous lama’s position and property by virtue of this recognition. Disputes over recognition of reincarnate lamas are common (see PANCHEN LAMA, KARMAPA), and sometimes multiple rebirths are recognized for a single lama.

RIMÉ (Tib.) Tibetan religious movement which developed in Eastern Tibet from the 1860s onwards among all the non-GELUKPA traditions, including the BONPO (see FOUR MAIN ORDERS). Different Rimé teachers had differing views, but all tended to emphasise the need to maintain a plurality of paths and methods, and saw the various methods as united through their common goal. DZOGCH’EN (q.v.) and the TERMA (q.v.) traditions were important for the Rimé lamas, and many of the leading figures were themselves TERTÖN (q.v.). Some were also involved in the revival of the SHENTONGPA teachings, though not all were Shentongpa.

RINPOCHE (Tib. = "Precious"). Honorific applied to reincarnate lamas and other highly respected persons.

SAKYA(-PA) (Tib.) Tibetan Buddhist tradition founded in the 12th century at the monastery of Sakya in Central Tibet. Stressed scholarship and Tantric practice, mainly of the New Tantras (especially Hevajra).

SAMSARA. The existence of ordinary beings, characterized by constant rebirth in one or another of the six planes of rebirth (gods, asuras, human beings, animals, pretas, beings in hell).

SANG (Tib.) Offering ritual to local gods.

SANGHA (Skt.; = Tib. gedün). For the Theravadins, this term refers specifically to the monastic community. For Mahayana Buddhists, it is extended to include lay practitioners.

SADHANA (Skt.; = Tib. drubt’ab). Meditational practice, normally involving visualization, recitation of verses and mantras, physical gestures, and real or visualized offerings to a particular YIDAM, in order to attain ENLIGHTENMENT or other supernatural power (see SIDDHI).

SHAKYAMUNI "Sage of the Shakyas" (also known by his personal name Gautama or his family name Siddhartha). The historical Buddha, who lived in the 6th century BCE in North India.

SHAMAN(IC). The term "shaman" is used variously. In my definition, shamanic practices involve the regulation and transformation of human life and human society through the use (or purported use) of alternate states of cosciousness by means of which specialist practitioners are held to communicate with a mode of reality alternative to, and more fundamental than, the world of everyday experience.

SHENTONG(-PA) Interpretation of the Madhyamaka texts which emphasized that shunyata was not merely a negative concept, but should be understood as a positive non-dual awareness which could be directly perceived by yogic practitioners. Closely linked with the yogic tradition and tantric practice. The main Shentongpa tradition, the Jonangpa, was suppressed for some centuries by the Gelukpa regime in Central Tibet, who hgeld the opposite (rangtongpa) view, but it was revived by the Rimé teachers in the 19th century.

SHERPA. Tibetan Buddhist community in Northern Nepal.

SHUNYA (skt) Void, empty; SHUNYATA (Skt) Voidness, emptiness. Central concept of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, taught especially in the Prajnaparamita Sutras. See MADHYAMAKA.

SIDDHA (Skt.; = Tib. drubt’ob). Person who has acquired SIDDHI; especially applied to the Tantric practitioners of India from the 8th to 12th centuries.

SIDDHI (Skt.; = Tib. ngödrub). Supernatural power. The Tibetans speak of the "ordinary siddhi" meaning magical powers of various kinds, and the "extraordinary siddhi", which is Buddhahood.

SOUTHERN BUDDHISM Neutral term for the Buddhism of the Theravada countries, used by Peter Harvey.

SPIRIT MEDIUMS Persons through whom local gods or spirits communicate.

SUBTLE BODY. System of channels and focal points within the human organism around which PRANA circulates.

SUTRA (Skt. = Tib. do) Text claiming to present teachings given by the historical Buddha in his own words.

TANTRA (Tib gyüd) (1) a ritual tradition of the Vajrayana, transmitted from guru to disciple; (2) a text associated with one or another of these traditions. There are also Hindu and Jain tantras. Important Buddhist Tantras, mostly named after their principal deity, include Guhyasamaja, Cakrasamvara, Hevajra, Yamantaka and Kalacakra. The Tibetans differentiate between OLD TANTRAS (Tib. nyingma’i gyüd) held to have been transmitted to Tibet at the time of Padmasambhava and mostly not existing in Sanskrit, and NEW TANTRAS (Tib. sarmai gyüd) which were transmitted in the 11th and 12th centuries and in many cases also exist in Sanskrit versions.

TANTRIC BUDDHISM see VAJRAYANA

TARA (Skt.; = Tib. Drölma). Important Mahayana and Vajrayana female deity, associated with the compassionate activity of the Buddha in order to rescue beings from suffering.

TERMA (Tib.) Text or other object held to have been hidden, usually at the time of Padmasambhava, and later discovered by a TERTÖN or "finder of terma". Tertön are believed to be rebirths of one of Padmasambhava’s disciples. Terma may be physical objects but they may also be "hidden" in the mind of the tertön during the life of Padmasambhava (these are called gongter or "mind terma").

THERAVADA Modern school of Buddhism, found mainly in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, parts of Vietnam), claiming to represent a pure form of the original teachings of the historical Buddha SHAKYAMUNI and to go back to one of the EARLY SCHOOLS of Buddhism (q.v.).

THREE JEWELS. = BUDDHA, DHARMA and SANGHA.

TIBET. The term Tibet is somewhat contested for political reasons. While it is frequently applied (especially by pro-Chinese sources) to the "Tibet Autonomous Region" of the Chinese People’s Republic, which corresponds roughly to the region of the Gelukpa state at Lhasa in 1950, this includes less than half of the Tibetan population within the Chinese People’s Republic. Several other Chinese provinces (Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu) include substantial Tibetan populations. Other culturally Tibetan regions include Ladakh, Zanskar, Lahul, Spiti, Kinnaur and Sikkim in India, much of Northern Nepal, and the independent kingdom of Bhutan.

TRIKAYA DOCTRINE. Doctrine of the three "bodies" (better, levels of manifestation) of the Buddha, developed within Mahayana Buddhism. The three kaya are (1) Dharmakaya (Skt., = Tib. chöku), the ultimate nature of Buddhahood as inherent in all phenomena and beings, symbolized by the Buddha-forms Vajradhara in the New Tantra and Samantabhadra in the Old Tantra; (2) Sambhogakaya (Skt., = Tib. longchöku), the level of visionary manifestation of Buddhahood, as with the yidam or Tantric deities such as Avalokiteshvara, Amitabha or Tara; (3) Nirmanakaya (Skt., = Tib. tulku), the physical form or emanation of Buddhahood, such as the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. See also TULKU.

TRIPITAKA (Skt.). General term for canonical connections of Buddhist texts. See PALI CANON; KANJUR.

TRIRATNA (Skt.; = Tib. könch’ök sum) See THREE JEWELS.

TSONGK’APA. See GELUKPA.

TULKU (Tib., corresponding to Skt. nirmanakaya). Literally, physical form or emanation of the Buddha. Also used to refer to REINCARNATE LAMAS (q.v.).

UPAYA (Skt.) Means, methods, techniques; in full upaya-kaushalya, "skillful means," referring to the Buddha’s ability to teach appropriately for any student.

VAJRA (Tib. dorje) "thunderbolt", ritual implement used by Tantric practitioners, usually in conjunction with the bell (drilbu), symbolizing means and wisdom respectively.

VAJRAYANA "vehicle of the Vajra"; Tantric Buddhism. Tradition of Buddhism which became widespread in later Indian period (5th to 12th centuries CE) and was transmitted to Nepal, Southeast and East Asia, Tibet and Mongolia. It flourished most in Tibet and Mongolia although it exists to greater or lesser degrees elsewhere including Japan, Nepal and Bali. It has largely disappeared from China and from the Theravadin countries. Related to Tantric traditions in Hinduism. Vajrayana consists of a body of methods for the attainment of the central goal of Buddhism (Enlightenment or bodhi). These methods involve the visionary transformation of one’s ordinary self and one’s environment into the pure realms of the Tantric deities (yidam). They are thought, if practised properly, to enable the attainment of Buddhahood within a single lifetime (as contrasted with the methods of the Hinayana and Mahayana, which take many thousands of lifetimes). They are also believed to give access to the magical powers which are the basis of the lama’s role in relation to the lay population.

VINAYA (Skt.). See VOWS.

VOWS. The vows of Theravadin Buddhist practitioners, whether lay or monastic, are taken according to the rules of the VINAYA or disciplinary code. These vows (known as Pratimoksha vows in Skt.) are taken by Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, but Tibetans also take two further sets of vows. These are Bodhicitta vows, which centre around the arousing and keeping of BODHICITTA (q.v.), and Tantric vows, which are associated with VAJRAYANA practice.

YESHE TS’OGYEL. 8th century Tibetan woman and Tantric consort of PADMASAMBHAVA. According to tradition, she played a key role in the writing down of the TERMA, and is herself sometimes invoked as a YIDAM.

YIDAM. Tantric deity. See SADHANA; TRIKAYA DOCTRINE; VAJRAYANA

YOGA (Skt.; Tib. = neljor). General term for techniques of meditation and spiritual practice in Indian religions. In Tibet, it usually refers to Tantric practice.

YOGI (Skt.; Tib = neljorpa). Practitioner of yoga (also female, yogini, neljorma). In Tibet, generally refers to lay Tantric practitioners, though monks and nuns also perform Tantric yoga.

YOGACARA. See CITTAMATRA.


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