A simple guide to non-English terms

This list defines key non-English terms and proper nouns you’ll encounter during the summit. Included links to LionsRoar.com articles will bring you to engaging and helpful further reading.

You'll find many more key definitions at the Lion's Roar Buddhist Glossary.


Avalokiteshvara (Sanskrit) — The bodhisattva of compassion. Also widely known by names such as Chenrezig in Tibet, Kanzeon/Kannon in Japan, Kuan Yin in Chinese Buddhism, and others. 

Recommended reading: Who Is Avalokiteshvara?


bodhicitta (Sanskrit) — “Enlightenment mind”; the state of mind of the bodhisattva, striving toward enlightenment and infused with the compassionate motivation to help others. 

Recommended reading: A Bodhicitta Practice 


bodhisattva (Sanskrit) — Literally, “enlightenment being.” In Mahayana Buddhism, one who practices with the vow and motivation to put others before oneself, which may include forgoing enlightenment until all others have achieved it. In other Buddhist schools, the term is often used to refer specifically to the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, before his enlightenment. 

Recommended reading: How to Be a Bodhisattva


brahmaviharas (Sanskrit/Pali) — the four “divine abodes” of metta (friendliness or loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (empathic joy), and upekka (equanimity). 

Related reading: The Four Highest Emotions


Chan (Chinese) — Zen.

Recommended reading: You Are Already Enlightened


karma (Sanskrit) — The law and workings of cause and effect. 

Related reading: What Is Karma?


kleshas (Sanskrit) — Often referred to as “defilements.” As Pema Chödrön has put it in Lion’s Roar magazine, klesha “refers to a strong emotion that reliably leads to suffering. It’s sometimes translated as neurosis. In essence, kleshas are dynamic, ineffable energy, yet it’s energy that easily enslaves us and causes us to act and speak in unintelligent ways.” May also be referred to as kilesas (Pali). 

Related reading: Pema Chödrön on Waking Up — and Benefiting Others


karuna (Sanskrit/Pali) — Compassion.

Related reading: Only Genuine Compassion Will Do


Mahayana (Sanskrit) — A later development in Buddhism that typically emphasizes the ideal of the bodhisattva. Pure Land and Zen are both examples of Mahayana schools.


mantra (Sanskrit) — A series of syllables (often, but not always, Sanskrit) meant to be recalled/recited as part of contemplative practice. 

Related reading: Modern Mantras


metta/maitri (Pali/Sanskrit) — Kindness; loving-kindness; friendliness. 

Related reading: How to Do Metta


samsara (Sanskrit) — The ongoing cycle of life—birth and death and rebirth. Due to our ignorance, we go through this cycle with a sense of suffering and dissatisfaction. Buddhist practice is, to put it very simply, about undoing our ignorance and transcending our traditional relationship to samsara.

Related reading: Why Does Buddhism Talk About Suffering So Much? 


sati (Pali) — Mindfulness. 

Related reading: Thich Nhat Hanh on the Practice of Mindfulness


sukha (Sanskrit) — Bliss, joy, ease. 

Related reading: Moving Through the World With Ease


sutra/sutras (Sanskrit) / sutta/suttas (Pali) — Discourses of the Buddha; that is, oral teachings attributed to him.

Related reading: What Is a Sutra?


Theravada (Pali) — The longest-surviving school of Buddhism, with a strong emphasis on preserving the Buddha’s teachings as they are found in the Pali Canon.

Related reading: What Is American Theravada Buddhism in the 21st Century?


upeksha (Sanskrit) — Equanimity.

Related reading: Sit Like a Mountain: An Image of Equanimity


Vajrayana (Sanskrit) — Literally, “diamond vehicle.” A later-developing tradition of Buddhism, most famously associated with Buddhism in Tibet and the Himalayas, that stresses esoteric teachings. Considered a further form of Mahayana, the Himalayan Vajrayana tradition is composed of the Nyingma, Kagyu, Gelug, and Sakya schools.

Recommended reading: Vajryana Explained


Zen (Japanese) — A Mahayana school, originating in China, that emphasizes meditation practice (zazen) and a “direct pointing to the mind” over doctrinal knowledge. Zen is the Japanese term; it is known in China as Chan, Vietnam as Thien, and Korea as Seon.

Related reading: What Is Zen Buddhism and How Do You Practice It?



See many more key definitions at the Lion's Roar Buddhist Glossary.