Glossary of Buddhist Terms

Bodhicitta. The aspiration to attain complete buddhahood in order to benefit sentient beings.

Buddha. This term refers to the historical figure of Sakyamuni Buddha or any fully enlightened being, and is one of the three refuges.

Buddha nature (tathāgatagarbha in Sanskrit). The potential to attain complete awakening that exists in the mind of every sentient being.

Chenrezi (Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit). The bodhisattva of compassion. Chenrezi is also a Varjayana practice that utilizes visualization, recitation of mantra, and other techniques to cultivate direct recognition of the innate purity of the mind and the qualities that manifest from this primordial purity.

Dharma. The second of the three refuges, dharma refers to the body of Buddhist teachings.

Dharmakaya. Mind’s empty essence, beyond all speech, thought, or expression. Also, the realization of that essence.

Kagyu. One of the four major lineages in Tibetan Buddhism that traces its history back through the famous forefathers of Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa. The Kagyu lineage, to which KCC is connected, is currently led by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.

Karma. The consequences of every act of body, speech, and mind.

Lama. The Tibetan word for “teacher.” In the Kagyu lineage, it is bestowed on graduates of the traditional three-year retreat.

Lineage. Spiritual lineages trace oral instructions of the authentic teachings of enlightened masters that have been preserved, practiced, and taught across the generations.

Mahamudra. A tradition of profound meditation methods based on direct realization of mind’s true nature.

Rinpoche (“precious one”). A title of honor usually reserved for accomplished teachers.

Samsara. The state of suffering experienced by sentient beings due to their confusion.

Sangha. This term has several meanings. Generally, it refers to the community of practitioners, as in the Buddhist sangha. It may also refer to a specific group, as in KCC’s sangha. Most importantly, it is the third of the three refuges; in this sense it refers to the exalted sangha of highly realized practitioners and saints.

Shamatha. A basic sitting meditation that develops stable attention and provides the basis for investigating more subtle aspects of awareness. The practice is the essential underpinning of all other meditation practices.

Vajrayana. A corpus of practices, which often involve visualization and mantra recitation, in which the result of awakening is taken as the path.

Vipashyana. Meditation that develops insight into the nature of reality.

Yidam. An enlightened meditational being [trying to avoid “deity’] who serves as the embodiment of enlightened qualities of mind during vajrayana meditation.