Some terms you’re likely to hear in a meditation group. Many of these terms are in Pali, an early language of India or Sanskrit. Most are words and phrases that have remained through various traditions and are often used today when discussing meditation practice. You can find this resource and many more at the Insight Meditation Society’s website.

Glossary of Buddhist Terms

Abhidhamma/Abhidharma (Pali/Sanskrit)
The third section of the Buddhist canon devoted to human psychology and philosophy

Anapanasati (Pali)
Mindfulness of breathing

Anatta (Pali)
Not self, insubstantiality, one of the three characteristics of existence

Anicca (Pali)
Impermanent, one of the three characteristics of existence. Buddhist teachings emphasize that all conditioned mental and physical phenomena are impermanent – nothing lasts, nothing stays the same.

Arahant (Pali)
Enlightened one; someone whose mind is completely free from the defilements; a person who is no longer bound to cyclic existence

Beginner’s mind
A mind that is open to the experience of the moment, free of conceptual overlays; first made popular by the Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi

Bhikkhu (Pali)
A Buddhist monk

Bhikkhuni (Pali)
A Buddhist nun

Bodhi (Pali/Sanskrit)
Enlightenment, awakening

Bodhicitta (Sanskrit)
Wisdom-heart or the awakened heart/mind; the aspiration for supreme enlightenment so that all sentient beings may be free from suffering

Bodhisatta/Bodhisattva (Pali/Sanskrit)
One who has taken a vow to become a fully enlightened Buddha; someone known for an unbounded readiness and availability to help all sentient beings

Bodhi tree
The tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, India – a fig tree popularly called Pipal (Ficus Religiosa)

Brahma-Vihara (Pali, Sanskrit)
Heavenly or sublime abode, the four mind states said to lead to a rebirth in a heavenly realm: loving-kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), appreciative joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha)

Buddha (Pali, Sanskrit)
Fully awakened one; specifically the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, who lived and taught in India 2,500 years ago; one of the three jewels of refuge

Buddha-Dharma/Dhamma (Sanskrit/Pali)
The teachings of the Buddha

Dana (Pali/Sanskrit)
The practice of giving; generosity. Dana is the first of the ten paramis, or qualities to be perfected in order to become a Buddha

Dhammapada (Pali)
The best known of all the Buddhist scriptures; a collection of 423 verses, spoken by the Buddha, that focuses on the value of ethical conduct and mental training

Dependent origination
The doctrine that all mental and physical phenomena arise and pass away depending on causes and conditions

Dharma/Dhamma (Sanskrit/Pali)
The Buddha’s teachings, truth, the basic building blocks of reality; one of the three jewels of refuge

Dukkha (Pali)
Suffering; of pain, both mental and physical, of change, and endemic to cyclic existence; the first Noble Truth that acknowledges the reality of suffering

The pattern of conditioned habits that we mistake for a sense of self


Feeling tone
Vedana (Pali); the pleasant, unpleasant or neutral tone that arises with every experience; one of the five aggregates

Vicaya (Pali); Interest and inquiry into experience. One of the seven factors of enlightenment

Jhana (Pali)
Mental absorption, a state of strong concentration that temporarily suspends the five hindrances

Piti (Pali); A gladdening of the mind and body. One of the seven factors of enlightenment

Kalyana mitta (Pali)
Spiritual friend. In the Theravada Buddhist meditation tradition, teachers are often referred to as spiritual friends.

Karma/Kamma (Sanskrit/Pali)
Action, deed; the law of cause and effect; intentional action, either wholesome or unwholesome that brings either pleasant or unpleasant results respectively

Kilesa (Pali)
Defilement; unwholesome qualities; a factor of mind that obscures clear seeing; a hindrance to meditation; also know as afflictive emotion

Karuna (Pali)
Compassion; one of the four Brahma-Viharas (sublime abodes)

Mental noting
A technique used in meditation to help direct the mind to the object of meditation

The auspicious power of wholesome action that brings positive karmic results

Metta (Pali)
Loving-kindness, gentle friendship; a practice for generating loving-kindness said to be first taught by the Buddha as an antidote to fear. It helps cultivate our natural capacity for an open and loving heart and is traditionally offered along with other Brahma-vihara meditations that enrich compassion, joy in the happiness of others and equanimity. These practices lead to the development of concentration, fearlessness, happiness and a greater ability to love.

Middle way
A spiritual path that avoids extremes of self-mortification and self-indulgence, as discovered and taught by the Buddha

Sati (Pali). Careful attention to mental and physical processes; a key ingredient of meditation; one of the five spiritual faculties; one of the seven factors of enlightenment; an aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path

Mudita (Pali)
Appreciative or empathetic joy; the cultivation of happiness when seeing someone else’s good fortune or happy circumstances; one of the four Brahma-Viharas (sublime abodes)

Neutral person
In the context of metta (loving kindness) practice, someone for whom you feel no particular liking or disliking

Nirvana/ Nibbana (Sanskrit/Pali)
Extinction of the fires of attachment, hatred, and delusion that cause suffering; liberation from cyclic existence

The ancient language of the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism

Panna (Pali)
Wisdom; one of the five spiritual faculties

Parami (Pali)
The qualities of character to be perfected in order to become a Buddha.

A principle that defines a certain standard of ethical conduct; the foundation of all Buddhist meditation practice; see the five (or eight) precepts

Restlessness and remorse
Uddhacca-kukkucca (Pali). Agitation of the mind; one of the five hindrances to meditation

Saddha (Pali)
Faith, confidence; one of the five spiritual faculties

Samadhi (Pali)
Concentration; a deep state of meditation; one of the five spiritual faculties; one of the seven factors of enlightenment; an aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path

Samatha (Pali)
A term referring to the group of meditation practices that aim at samadhi

Samsara (Pali, Sanskrit)
Wandering on; round of rebirths; the ocean of worldly suffering; the state of being governed by the five hindrances

Sangha (Pali)
The community of practitioners of the Buddhist path, or those beings who have attained direct realization of the nature of reality, one of the three jewels of refuge.

Sankhara (Pali)
Mental or physical formation

Sati (Pali)
Mindfulness; one of the five spiritual faculties; of the seven factors of enlightenment; an aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path

Satipatthana (Pali)
The four foundations of mindfulness: contemplation of body, feeling, mind, and mind-objects; the Buddha’s quintessential teachings on mindfulness

Sense doors
The six perceptual gates through which we experience the world

Sila (Pali)
Moral or ethical conduct, virtue, the foundation of Buddhist practice

Skeptical doubt
Vicikiccha (Pali). The kind of doubt that undermines faith; one of the five hindrances to meditation

Skillful means
Action based on kindness, respect, truthfulness, timeliness, and wisdom

Sloth and torpor
Thina-middha (Pali) Sleepiness; one of the five hindrances to meditation

Sutta/Sutra (Pali/Sanskrit)
Thread, heard; a discourse by the Buddha or one of his disciples

Theravada (Pali)
Path of the Elders; the form of Buddhism found throughout many parts of Southeast Asia. Vipassana meditation is a central part of this tradition.

Three jewels of refuge
The three jewels of refuge are the Buddha, the Dharma (doctrine) and the Sangha. Practitioners take refuge in the fact that the Buddha found a way to freedom, taught the Dharma as the path to that freedom, and founded the Sangha as the supportive community that follows the way.

Passaddhi (Pali); Physical and mental calm; one of the seven factors of enlightenment

Upekkha (Pali)
Equanimity; the ability to maintain a spacious impartiality of mind in the midst of life’s changing conditions; one of the four Brahma-Viharas (sublime abodes); one of the seven factors of enlightenment

Vedana (Pali)
Feeling; the pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feeling tone that arises with all experience; one of the five aggregates

Vinaya (Pali)
Discipline; the rules and regulations governing the conduct of Buddhist monks and nuns

Vipassana (Pali)
To see clearly; insight meditation; the simple and direct practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness. Through careful and sustained observation, we experience for ourselves the ever-changing flow of the mind/body process. This awareness leads us to accept more fully the pleasure and pain, fear and joy, sadness and happiness that life inevitably brings. As insight deepens, we develop greater equanimity and peace in the face of change, and wisdom and compassion increasingly become the guiding principles of our lives.

The Buddha first taught vipassana over 2,500 years ago. The various methods of this practice have been well preserved in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. IMS retreats are all rooted in this ancient and well-mapped path to awakening and draw on the full spectrum of this tradition’s lineages.

Viriya (Pali)
The physical and mental energy needed for diligent mindfulness practice; the strong, courageous heart of energy; one of the five spiritual faculties; one of the seven factors of enlightenment

Wrong view
The tendency of the mind to cling to concepts at the expense of reality; taking what is impermanent to be permanent, what is dissatisfying to be satisfying, what is selfless to be self

Yogi (Pali)
One who is undertaking the spiritual path of awakening; a meditator

The three characteristics – The three characteristics of all conditioned physical and mental phenomena:
1. Impermanent; anicca (Pali)
2. Unsatisfactory, suffering; dukkha (Pali)
3. Non-self; anatta (Pali)

The three feeling tones – Each moment of experience is felt as one of three feeling tones:
1. Pleasant
2. Unpleasant
3. Neutral; neither pleasant nor unpleasant

The three kinds of suffering – The Buddha taught that we can understand different kinds of suffering through these three categories:
1. The suffering of mental and physical pain
2. The suffering of change
3. The suffering of conditionality

The four Brahma-Viharas – These four ‘sublime abodes’ reflect the mind state of enlightenment:
1. Lovingkindness; metta (Pali)
2. Compassion; karuna (Pali)
3. Appreciative joy; mudita (Pali)
4. Equanimity; upekkha (Pali)

The four foundations of mindfulness – The Buddha’s quintessential teachings on mindfulness:
1. Contemplation of body
2. Contemplation of feeling
3. Contemplation of mind
4. Contemplation of mind-objects

The four noble truths – This was the Buddha’s first and fundamental teaching about the nature of our experience and our spiritual potential:
1. The existence of suffering
2. The origin of suffering
3. The cessation of suffering
4. The path to the cessation of suffering – the Noble Eightfold Path

The five aggregates of clinging – The five aspects of personality in which all physical and mental phenomena exist:
1. Materiality; rupa (Pali)
2. Feeling; vedana (Pali)
3. Perception; sanna (Pali)
4. Mental formations; sankhara (Pali)
5. Consciousness; vinnana (Pali)

The five hindrances – These are the classical hindrances to meditation practice:
1. Desire, clinging, craving; kamacchanda (Pali)
2. Aversion, anger, hatred; vyapada (Pali)
3. Sleepiness, sloth, torpor; thina-midha (Pali)
4. Restlessness and remorse; uddhacca-kukkucca (Pali)
5. Skeptical doubt; vicikiccha (Pali)

The five (or eight) precepts – An ethical life is founded on these standards of conduct:
1. To practice compassionate action – to refrain from harming any living, sentient beings.
2. To practice contentment – to refrain from taking what is not freely given. To not steal or ‘borrow’ without the consent of the giver; to accept what is offered and not try to change it or get more.
3. To practice responsibility in all our relationships – including refraining from misusing sexual energy. (While on retreat, yogis take the precept to abstain from sexual activity.)
4. To refrain from harmful speech – not to lie, gossip or use harsh or hurtful language.
5. To care for ourselves – to refrain from clouding the mind and harming the body through the misuse of alcohol, drugs and other intoxicants.

During most IMS retreats offered by monastic teachers, retreatants are asked to abide by the eight precepts. The additional three precepts are:

6. To refrain from eating after noon.
7. To refrain from dancing, singing, music, shows; from the use of garlands, perfumes,
cosmetics and adornments.
8. To refrain from using high and luxurious seats and beds.

The five spiritual faculties – These are inherent faculties of mind and heart that, when fully developed, lead to the end of suffering:
1. Faith; saddha (Pali)
2. Energy; viriya (Pali)
3. Mindfulness; sati (Pali)
4. Concentration; samadhi (Pali)
5. Wisdom; panna (Pali)

The six sense doors – Everything we experience comes through these portals:
1. Eye (Seeing)
2. Ear (Hearing)
3. Nose (Smelling)
4. Tongue (Tasting)
5. Body (Touching)
6. Mind

The six wholesome and unwholesome roots of mind – The mind is always under the influence of one of these states:
1. Generosity; dana (Pali)
2. Lovingkindness; metta (Pali)
3. Wisdom; panna (Pali)

1. Greed; lobha (Pali)
2. Hatred; dosa (Pali)
3. Delusion; moha (Pali)

The seven factors of enlightenment – The mental qualities that provide the conditions conducive to awakening:
1. Mindfulness; sati (Pali)
2. Investigation; vicaya (Pali)
3. Energy; viriya (Pali)
4. Joy; piti (Pali)
5. Tranquility; passaddhi (Pali)
6. Concentration; samadhi (Pali)
7. Equanimity; upekkha (Pali)

The noble eightfold path – This is the path the Buddha taught to those seeking liberation:
1. Right view
2. Right thought
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

The eight worldly vicissitudes – According to the Buddha, we will experience these vicissitudes throughout lives, no matter what our intentions or actions:
1. Gain and loss
2. Praise and blame
3. Pleasure and pain
4. Fame and disrepute

The ten paramis – These are the qualities of character that, when perfected, lead to Buddhahood:
1. Generosity
2. Morality
3. Renunciation
4. Wisdom
5. Energy
6. Patience
7. Truthfulness
8. Resoluteness
9. Lovingkindness
10. Equanimity