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Amitabha – Buddha of Sukhavati (a Pure Land).

Amitayus – Buddha of Infinite Light and Life.

Arhat – Literally ‘Foe-Destroyer’ in Sanskrit and it denotes a highly attained spiritual practitioner.

Atisha – prominent Indian Buddhist saint of the 11th Century who was instrumental in spreading Buddhism in Tibet.

Avalokiteshvara – Buddha of Compassion. Also known as Chenrezig (Tibetan) and Kuan Yin (Chinese).


Bhikkshu – an ordained man; monk.

Bodhicitta – It means a ‘mind of enlightenment’ and generally refers to the determination to attain Enlightenment to liberate all living beings from the painful chains of delusion.

Bodhisattva – A being who has achieved Bodhicitta but has not yet attained full Enlightenment and it also refers to an enlightened Being who keeps returning into our world to show us the path to happiness.

Brahma – Hindu god of creation.

Buddha – the awakened one. The term “Buddha” refers to all Beings that have attained full Enlightenment.

Buddhadharma – the teachings of the Buddha.

Butterlamp – Traditionally, candles in Tibet were made of yak butter. As butter was quite hard to obtain, offering butterlamps on the altar was considered a very precious offering. Nowadays, we may offer candles but the traditional containers which hold the candles are still referred to as butterlamps.


Chakra 1 – is a Sanskrit word meaning wheel. Chakras are said to be dynamic circular or ‘wheels’ of energy at certain points on the physical body.
Chakra 2 – protective talismans or amulets.

Chenrezig – See Avalokiteshvara.

Dakini – literally, this means “sky goers” or “sky walkers” in Tibetan. Dakinis refer to enlightened celestial Beings and highly spiritual women.


Delusions – wrong views adhering to beliefs which contradict reality or the true nature of existence.

Devas – Sanskrit for god, deity or celestial being. Devas are still in samsara.

Dharma – right conduct: seeing, thinking, feeling, speaking and acting in ways conducive to lasting happiness, as propagated in the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni.

Dharmakaya – Ultimate reality.

Dharmadatu – sphere of ultimate reality.


Empowerment – see Initiation.

Enlightenment – a state of mind purified of all delusions, with the positive qualities of wisdom, compassion and skilful means fully activated.

The Eight Worldly Concerns – The desire to encounter pleasure, material gain, praise and fine reputation; and the desire to avoid pain, material loss, blame and bad reputation.



Gaden Monastery – founded by Lama Tsongkhapa in the 15th century, this monastery has relocated from Tibet to South India in 1959 and is still one of the most illustrious Buddhist monasteries in the world.

Gelug – the school of Buddhism in Tibet which arose from Tsongkhapa’s teachings. There are three other main schools of Buddhism in Tibet: Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyu.

Guhyasamaja – a higher tantric deity like Yamantaka. His name means ‘secret assembly’.

Guru – spiritual teacher, mentor and friend. The one who can free our enlightened potential, who can destroy our destructive self-concepts and uncover our naturally clear and compassionate true mode of being.


Hinayana – is a Sanskrit word which literally means ‘lesser’ vehicle. It is one of the three vehicles, paths or scopes of Buddhism, the others being Mahayana and Vajrayana. It is a conservative school of Buddhism which focuses solely on the Pali scriptures and the non-theistic ideal of self purification to Enlightenment.


Indra – the King of the gods or Lord of the Devas; also the Hindu god of war.



Kagyupa – followers of the Kagyu school of Buddhism, which stems from the teachings of Marpa Chokyi Lodoe (1012-1099). Renowned lineage holders include Milarepa and Gampopa.

Kalarupa – an emanation of Manjushri. Kalarupa’s practice helps us to destroy ignorance and develop wisdom to overcome our anger and suffering. He is also known as the special Protector of Yamantaka practitioners.

Karma – literally, “action” in Sanskrit. Karma refers to the universal law of cause and effect. This suggests that all positive, negative and neutral actions of our body, speech and mind will have a corresponding reaction.

Kechara – the Buddha field of Vajrayogini, after which H.E. Tsem Rinpoche’s centre is named.


Lama – in Buddhism, this refers to our spiritual teacher or guide (see also Guru).


Mahakala – literally “The Great Black One”. A wrathful Buddhist Protector deity. There are over 70 different forms of Mahakalas; one of the best known ones has six arms and is a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara. There is also a four-armed and four-faced form that is a manifestation of Manjushri.

Mahayana – literally “The Great Vehicle”. It is one of the two main divisions of Buddhism, the other being Hinayana. Mahayana practitioners’ motivation for following the Dharma path is principally their intense wish for all sentient beings to be liberated from the sufferings of cyclic existence and to attain Buddhahood.

Mahapandita – a great Pandit (see Pandit).

Maitreya – is the next Buddha to come. The scriptures say that he will only appear when Buddhism as taught by Buddha Shakyamuni has become completely non-existent in the world, which is around 5,000 years after Shakyamuni’s passing into clear light.  In the meantime, Maitreya resides in Tushita or Gaden heaven teaching the Dharma to all those who ascend to his Pure Land.

Mala – A Mala is a string of prayer beads, similar to a rosary. It usually consists of 108 beads, made from various materials and assists in the counting of mantra recitations (See Mantras).

Mandala 1: a symbolic representation of a Buddha’s abode or of the universe. To make a mandala offering to the Buddhas is to offer up all that is precious within the universe, and all of one’s attachments and aversions, thereby letting go of them. This offering is a very powerful way of accumulating merit.
Mandala 2: the ‘circle of power’ of a Buddha/deity, the energy field of a particular Buddha that always surrounds him/her and can be felt in pure practice.

Manjushri – Buddha of Wisdom.

Mantras – prayers that are the spiritual energy of the Buddhas in the form of sound. Reciting mantras evokes the energy of the Buddhas.

Merit – the result of a positive action done without personal motive. The beneficial energy gained in this way will not be exhausted but propels us further on our spiritual path.

Migtsema – Lama Tsongkhapa’s mantra which invokes the three Bodhisattvas he embodies: Avalokiteshvara (Buddha of Compassion), Manjushri (Buddha of Wisdom) and Vajrapani (Buddha of Spiritual Power). (See also Lama Tsongkhapa).

Milarepa – one of the most well known Buddhist saints of the Kagyu lineage who achieved Buddhahood in one lifetime after much purification under his Guru, Marpa Lotsawa.

Mudra – hand gestures used in ritual practice, corresponding to the flow of subtle energies activated in spiritual practice.


Nagas – Dragon or snake-like deities.

Namgyalma – also known as Ushnisha Vijaya, is one of the three Long-Life Deities, the other two being Amitayus and White Tara. She is white in colour and has 3 faces, white, yellow and blue. Her faces have peaceful, semi-wrathful and wrathful demeanours. She has eight arms, each holding different implements and sits in the meditative position on a lotus. She bestows longevity on beings for the purposes of attaining Enlightenment and benefiting others.


Oral transmission – permission and empowerment for recitation practice which is passed from Guru to disciple.


Palden Lhamo – one of the main Protectors of Tibetan Buddhism and the main Protector of Tibet. She is the personal Protector of the Panchen Lamas and is especially venerated by the Gelugpa practitioners.

Pandita learned scholar and teacher of Buddhism, who is especially skilled and knowledgeable in the fields of logic and philosophy.

Practice – practising the Dharma functions on two levels: 1.The outward practice of making offerings, prayers, prostrations etc. to the Buddhas as a way of connecting to the enlightened mind. 2. The inner practice of transforming negative, harmful qualities (anger, jealousy, greed etc.) into positive, enlightened qualities (patience, kindness, generosity etc.).

Prajnaparamita Sutra – a text presented by Nagarjuna, a second century Indian Buddhist philosopher who founded the Madhyamaka School of Buddhist philosophy. This seminal text contains the profound teachings on ‘Shunyata’ or ‘Emptiness’ as it was taught by Buddha Shakyamuni. The text was hidden away in the mysterious Naga realm only to be rediscovered by Nagarjuna.

Prostrations – a purification practice which can involve half or full-length prostrations, depending on which Buddhist tradition we follow. Prostrations purify harmful actions of the body and encourages the practice of humility.

Puja – ritual set of prayers and offerings, which clear obstacles and invite blessings.

Pure Land – the celestial abode, or heaven, of a particular Buddha. The realms are actually physical manifestations of the Buddhas. Beings reborn in pure lands receive Dharma teachings directly from the Buddhas until they become enlightened.



Rinpoche – meaning “greatly precious one” in Tibetan. Respectful and loving way to address a highly attained spiritual teacher.


Sadhana – a collection of prayers and mantras which are recited on a regular, daily basis and which help transform our lives by cutting away negative states of mind and developing enlightened qualities.

Sakya – is known as the ‘red hat’ sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was developed by Drogmi, who studied under Naropa amongst other great masters. Renowned holders of the lineage are Buton Rinchen Drub and Gorampa Sonam Senge.

Samaya – “vow”, sacred bond or relationship. The commitment of the disciple to the path and the relationship between the Guru and student created through the act of taking refuge, teachings or initiations.

Samsara – the six realms of conditioned cyclic existence consisting of the three lower realms: hell, spirits and animals, and the three higher realms: humans, demi-gods and gods. Each realm has its more or less intense degree of suffering; the human realm is considered most suitable for spiritual practice. Mahayana Buddhists strive to achieve the ultimate goal of Enlightenment in order to liberate all sentient beings from samsaric existence.

Shakyamuni Buddha (560 – 478 B.C.) – “the Awakened One”. The Buddha manifested the possibility of achieving full Enlightenment in the human realm. Born as Siddharta Gautama 2,600 years ago, He taught the methods to achieve the same state of Enlightenment which he himself had achieved. During his lifetime, many members of his Sangha achieved Enlightenment.

Shunyata, conventional and ultimate – emptiness, the realisation of the absence of inherent existence.

Six Perfections – also known as the six paramitas. These are the qualities we should aspire to: 1. Generosity 2. Ethical discipline 3. Patience 4. Enthusiastic effort 5. Concentration 6. Wisdom.

Stupa – symbol of a Buddha’s mind. Literally, it is a structure which contains sacred relics. It can be a building or a small representation which is placed on the right side of our altar. Seeing a stupa, whose form represents the five elements in their purified aspect, blesses our mind.

Sutras – scriptures of the Buddhist cannon, many of which are direct teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni.


Tantra – the practice of taking the result onto the path where we identify with and work directly with the energies of an enlightened Being, instead of our limited concepts of ourselves. Tantra is practised by the most advanced, sincere and committed practitioners.

Thangka – Traditional Tibetan Buddhist paintings, usually of a Buddhist deity or master, used generally for veneration on altars, and specifically as a visualisation aid in meditation and Yidam practice.

The Three Jewels – The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Tirtika – proponent of nihilistic and other extreme philosophical schools of thought in India that were opposed to Buddhism.

Torma – ritual “cake” offered to our Yidam.

Tulku – literally, “Emanation Body” in Tibetan. The title refers to highly attained Beings who have the power to emanate and reincarnate at will, and who have full control of their death and rebirth.


Vajra – ritual implement used in tantric practices. It is also a Sanskrit word which means “diamond-like”.

Vajrayana – the “Great Vehicle”, referring to the highest, and often secret, set of practices and teachings in Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism is also referred to as Tantric Buddhism. (See also Tantra).

Vinaya – the monastic, disciplinary rules for monastics.


White Tara – is often praised as the mother of all Buddhas. She heals and blesses and averts grave dangers by the power of pacification. Throughout India, Tibet, China and Japan, White Tara is famous for granting long life and averting life-threatening situations.



Yamaraja – the King of Death.

Yamantaka – Buddha Manjushri in fierce tantric form. ‘Yama’ means the God of Death and ‘antaka’ means ‘terminator’. He has thirty-four arms, sixteen legs and nine heads, the principal head being that of a buffalo. His practice can cut off the roots of the strongest greed, anger and hatred.

Yidam – a meditational deity (such as Tsongkhapa, Manjushri or Saraswati) whom practitioners concentrate their prayers and practice on.


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