Tibetan Buddhism often uses different language than other schools of Buddhist thought. Here are some definitions so you can easily understand the teachings.

Glossary of Tibetan Buddhist Terms

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Names of Buddhas, Concepts, Teachers, and Terms

Amitabha: Buddha Amitabha is one of the Buddhas of the five Buddha families embodying the Dharmakaya (enlightenment principle) in varying displays. Buddha Amitabha is red in color and represents mirror-like wisdom. (See also ‘Akshobya’, ‘Amoghasiddhi’, ‘Enlightenment’, ‘Five Dhyani Buddhas’, ‘Ratnasambhava’ and ‘Vairocana’ in this Glossary.)

Akshobya: Akshobya, the ‘immovable one’, represents consciousness as an aspect of reality. He resides in the east, and is one of the Buddhas in the five Buddha families embodying the Dharmakaya (enlightenment principle) in varying displays.

Amoghasiddhi: Buddha Amoghasiddhi is one of the five Buddha families embodying the Dharmakaya (enlightenment principle) in varying displays.  He is green in color and represents the wisdom of the perfection of practice. (See also ‘Amitabha’, ‘Enlightenment’, ‘Five Dhyani Buddhas’, ‘Ratnasambhava’ and ‘Vairocana’ in this Glossary.)

Aspirational Compassion/Bodhicitta: The wish to attain the greatest good for the sake of all beings by engaging in the necessary steps to achieve Buddhahood.

Awake/Awakened: A term used interchangeably for enlightenment. (See also ‘Buddha’ and ‘Enlightened’ in this Glossary.)

Bodhicitta: The mind of enlightenment that encompasses wisdom and compassion.

Bodhisattva: One who embodies Bodhicitta. A Bodhisattva vows to rescue all beings from their suffering and guide them to enlightenment.

Buddha: The historical founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni. Also, one who is completely awake to his or her true nature and the true nature of all reality.

Buddhadharma: The Buddhist teachings and practices.

Buddhahood: One who is a Buddha is also referred to as one who has attained ‘Buddhahood.’

Buddhist: One who, from the depths of their heart, has taken refuge in the Three Precious Jewels of Buddhism—the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. (See also ‘Refuge’ in this Glossary.)

Compassion: Activity motivated by concern for others. (See also Practical Compassion/Bodhicitta and Aspirational Compassion/Bodhicitta in this Glossary.)

Conceptualization: Perception, thoughts and reason are all concepts in our mind to identify objects perceived physically or mentally as separate from oneself. (See also ‘Self-nature’ and ‘Phenomena’ in this Glossary.)

Cyclic Existence: The cycle of death and rebirth in the six realms in which one is endlessly propelled according to causes and results. (See also ‘Karma’ in this Glossary.) The six realms are God, Demi-god, Human, Animal, Hungry Ghost and Hell realms.

Dakini: The wisdom aspect in female form. A Dakini can appear in human form including as a consort, as a meditational deity and as a protector of the Dharma.

Deity: Aspects of the Buddha: the great richness of enlightened mind expressing itself in countless forms of energy and light, including meditational deities manifesting in a variety of forms displaying enlightened qualities.

Dharma: The pure path taught by the Buddha that leads one out of suffering into the awakened state of enlightenment. Dharma is the underlying meaning of the Buddha’s teachings; the truth upon which all Buddhist practices, scriptures, and philosophy are founded.

Dharmakaya: The primordial limitless form of the Buddha.

Dharmadhatu: The ‘realm of phenomena’; the suchness of the resting mind in which emptiness and dependent origination are inseparable.

Dzogchen: The pith teachings of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism otherwise known as the “Great Perfection.” The Dzogchen teachings have been passed down in an unbroken line from teacher to student from the Primordial Buddha Samantabhadra to the present day, retaining all their freshness, immediacy and power. Dzogchen is one of the highest teachings of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

Emptiness: The complete absence of true existence in all phenomena.

Enlightenment: Enlightenment is the cessation of suffering, reached when the qualities of compassion and wisdom are perfected, and all non-virtue has been extinguished from one’s mind.

Five Dhyani Buddhas: The five wisdom Buddha families embodying the Dharmakaya (enlightenment principle) in varying displays. They are Buddha Vairocana, Amoghasiddhi, Amitabha, Ratnasambhava and Akshobya (See also ‘Amitabha’, ‘Amoghasiddhi’, Enlightenment’ ‘Dharmakaya’, and ‘Ratnasambhava‘ and ‘Vairocana’ in this Glossary.)

Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo: A remarkable female master of the 17th century who lived close to the first Palyul Monastery where she attracted many students, particularly nuns. She was the sister of Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab (the first throneholder of the Palyul lineage). Like her brother, she received direct teachings from Tertön Migyur Dorje. (See also ‘Tertön Migyur Dorjé’ and ‘Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab’ in this Glossary.)

Guru: One’s spiritual teacher.

Guru Yoga: The disciplined practice of mixing one’s mind with the mind of the teacher.

His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche: One of Tibet’s most outstanding meditation masters, poets and scholars (1904-1987) who was recognized as an incarnation of Tertön Dudjom Lingpa. His Holiness wrote the complete history of the Nyingma lineage, and was the first appointed head of the Nyingma lineage in the 20th century. He was instrumental in establishing the Nyingma School of Vajrayana Buddhism in the West.

His Holiness Karma Kuchen (Karma Tashi – Karma Gyurmed – Karma Tegchog Nyingpo): (1970- ): The extraordinary twelfth, and current, throne holder of the Palyul lineage in the Nyingma School of Vajrayana Buddhism. His Holiness is the fifth incarnation of Karma Kuchen Rinpoche.

His Holiness Kusum Lingpa: A renowned master, Nyingma lineage holder and Tertön, also known as Orgyen Kusum Lingpa and Padma Tumdrak Duddul Dorje Rolpatsal (1934-2009). He gave teachings and empowerments at KPC in 1994. At this time he recognized Jetsunma as an emanation of White Tara, and of Princess Lhacham Mandarava, the Indian consort of Padmasambhava.

His Holiness Ngawang Tenzin: The Dorje Lopon (Master of Ritual) of Bhutan in 2004, who visited KPC in that same year to offer teachings and empowerments. His Holiness composed a long-life prayer for Jetsunma at that time and confirmed her as an incarnation of Princess Lhacham Mandarava.

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche (Third Drubwang): The sublime eleventh throne holder of the Palyul lineage in the Nyingma School of Vajrayana Buddhism and the third incarnation of Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche. His Holiness recognized Jetsunma as a reincarnation of Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo, and guided Jetsunma in the establishment of Kunzang Palyul Chöling. (See ‘Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo’ in this Glossary.)

Ignorance: One of the main causes of suffering along with hatred and greed; a lack of awareness of cause and effect relationships.

Incarnation: The form one takes lifetime after lifetime in any one of the six realms. (See also ‘Cyclic Existence’ in this Glossary.)

Jetsunma: An honorific associated with Tara the female Buddha. Considered to be the highest spiritual title for a female teacher in the Tibetan tradition.

Kali Yuga: An extended and cyclical age of world degeneration in Buddhist Cosmology that includes the current time period.

Karma: Universal law of cause and effect governing the activity of unenlightened beings, whereby all experience is the result or fruit of some previous action or cause. Through the force of intention we perform actions with our body, speech, and mind, and all of these actions produce effects. The effect of virtuous actions is happiness and the effect of negative actions is suffering.

Kunzang Palyul Chöling: The name of the Buddhist Temple in the Nyingma-Palyul lineage of Vajrayana Buddhism established by Jetsunma Ahkön Norbu Lhamo under the guidance of His Holiness Penor Norbu Rinpoche in the USA. The name Kunzang Palyul Chöling is often shortened to the acronym, ‘KPC’. The full name of KPC is Kunzang Ödsal Palyul Changchub Chöling.

Kyabje: An honorific title reserved for respected and accomplished masters in the Vajrayana tradition. Kyabje translates as Lord of Refuge and is sometimes rendered in English as His Holiness.

Lama: Also means one’s spiritual teacher, often used interchangeably with Guru.

Lion Throne: The seat of Buddha Shakyamuni, used to refer to the lineage throne of the Buddhist Master. For example, His Holiness Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, ascending to the Palyul lineage throne as the 12th throne holder.

Lotus Lord: Padmasambhava (otherwise known as Guru Rinpoche) who, through his extraordinary qualities and realization, ensured the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th Century. In the Nyingma School of Vajrayana Buddhism he is considered to be the condensed essence of all the Buddhas.

Lotus Posture: The ideal cross-legged seated posture for meditation in which the feet are placed on the opposing thighs. In Sanskrit this posture is called Padmasana.

Lotus Throne: The Lotus throne is the seat of the Buddha. It can also refer the heart center, considered to be the seat of the mind in Vajrayana Buddhism.

Mahayana: One of the three vehicles or streams of Buddhism—the other two being Theravada and Vajrayana respectively. The cultivation of Bodhicitta is central to the practice of Mahayana Buddhism.

Mala: A Buddhist rosary, commonly made up of 108 beads. A mala is a support for counting, for instance in mantra recitation and prostrations.

Mandala: A physical or visual display of enlightened activity.

Meditation: Encompasses various forms of mind practice to increase spiritual awareness. There are two principal forms of meditation practice: the development of concentration and the development of insight.

Meditational deities: Enlightened representation in male, female, peaceful and wrathful form which are the source of spiritual accomplishment.

Mindstream: The apparent continuum of ordinary consciousness created by karmic imprints which carry over from lifetime to lifetime.

Nirmanakaya: The display of enlightenment, commonly in human form.

Obscurations: Factors, e.g., hatred, greed, ignorance, that conceal one’s Buddha nature preventing the attainment of Enlightenment.

Om Mani Pedme Hung: The mantra of the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig) in Sambhogakaya form. (See also ‘Sambhogakaya’ in this Glossary.)

Om Tare Tuttare Ture So Ha: The mantra of Tara, the Sambhogakaya Buddha, in female form. (See also ‘Sambhogakaya’ in this Glossary.)

Padmasambhava: See ‘Lotus Lord’ in this Glossary.

Palyul: One of six Nyingma lineages in Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet. The Palyul lineage was established in 1665 by the King of Dege, Lhachen Jampa Phuntsog, and Trichen Sangye Tanpa in Eastern Tibet.

Phenomena: The objects of direct experience as perceived by ‘self’.

Practical Compassion/Bodhicitta: Practices necessary for achieving the goal of Enlightenment, e.g., love, compassion, generosity.

Practice: Any activity that moves one closer to the goal of Enlightenment. This can include meditation, contemplation, mantra recitation, and prayer.

Pratyekabuddha: Someone who attains a level of realization without the help of a spiritual master.

Primordial: The fundamental, natural state; the ground of being.

Ratnasambhava: Buddha Ratnasambhava is one of the Buddhas of the five Buddha families that embodies the Dharmakaya (enlightenment principle) in varying displays. Buddha Ratnasambhava is gold or yellow in color, and represents the wisdom of equanimity. (See also ‘Amitabha’, ‘Amoghasiddhi’, ‘Enlightenment’, ‘Five Dhyani Buddhas’, ‘Ratnasambhava’ and ‘Vairocana’ in this Glossary.)

Refuge: In the Buddhist context, the objects that protect us from suffering, e.g., the Buddha, the Buddha’s teachings and the community of practitioners.

Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab: The first throne holder and Abbot of Palyul monastery in Tibet, also referred to as Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab. Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab was one of the main disciples of Tertön Migyur Dorjé, and the first dharma keeper of the Nam Chö cycle of teachings. (See also ‘Tertön Migyur Dorjé’ in this Glossary.)

Root Guru: The teacher who first exposes one to their true nature.

Samadhi: A state of meditative absorption.

Sambhogakaya: The clear light or bliss form of the Buddha.

Samsara: The endless round of death and rebirth, characterized by impermanence, cause and effect, suffering, and ignorance of true reality.

Sangha: The community of Buddhist monks and nuns; may also refer to lay practitioners.

Self-nature: Ego structure.

Sentient Being: A sentient being is any living being who experiences feelings through their senses, and also refers to a being who has not yet reached enlightenment.

Ship to Liberation: The Ship to Liberation is the Buddhist path.

Suchness: The fundamental, natural state. (See also ‘Primordial’ in this Glossary.)

Sugata: A Buddha

Tara: A Sambhogakaya form of the Buddha in female form. (See also ‘Sambhogakaya’ in this Glossary.)

Tathagatas: A Sanskrit and Pali word referring to the Buddha (in this case Buddhas plural) that translates in English as “one who has thus gone”.

Tertön Migyur Dorje: Tertön Migyur Dorje (1645-1667) revealed the Nam Chö (Sky Space Treasure) cycle of termas. The Nam Chö cycle is a core cycle of teachings in the Palyul lineage.

Three Precious Jewels: The Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist teachings) and the Sangha (the community of practitioners). (See also ‘Sangha’ in this Glossary.)

Three thousand myriads of universes: Referring indicatively to the countless number of universes in Vajrayana cosmology.

Vairocana: The primordial wisdom Buddha in Dharmakaya form of the five Buddha families. Vairocana is white in color, denoting the blending of all colors and therefore the sum of all the qualities of all the Dhyani Buddhas. (See also ‘Amitabha’,‘Amoghasiddhi’,‘Enlightenment’,‘Five Dhyani Buddhas’ and ‘Ratnasambhava’ in this Glossary.)

Vajrasattva: A Sambhogakaya form of the Buddha associated with purification. (See also ‘Sambhogakaya’ in this Glossary.)

Vajrayana: One of the three vehicles of Buddhism that also contains the other vehicles—Theravada and Mahayana within it. Vajrayana, otherwise known as the “Diamond Vehicle,” is practiced mostly by Buddhists following the Tibetan, Mongolian and Himalayan forms of Buddhism.

Venerable Gyaltrul Rinpoche: Venerable Gyaltrul Rinpoche (1925-), in his previous incarnation, was Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab, the first throne holder and Abbot of the Palyul lineage, and brother of Jetsunma’s previous incarnation (Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo). Venerable Gyaltrul Rinpoche moved to the USA in 1972 following a request by HH the Dalai Lama and HH Dudjom Rinpoche. Venerable Gyaltrul Rinpoche has significantly helped KPC and Jetsunma, particularly during its establishment phase.(See ‘Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab’ in this Glossary.)

Venerable Khenpo Palden Sherab: Nyingma master (1938-2010) who, along with his brother, Venerable Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal, were among the first wave of Nyingma teachers in the USA, arriving in 1980. Venerable Khenpo Palden Sherab, through the request of HH Dudjom Rinpoche, was also instrumental in recovering thousands of texts and commentaries. Khenpo Palden Sherab and his brother were also among the earliest teachers at KPC, first visiting in 1986 to give teachings.

Venerable Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal: (1950 -) See above. Khenpo, with his brother, established Padmasambhava Buddhist Centers, and has extensively published on the Dharma for English language speakers, including poetry on the life of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche).

View: The understanding that from the perspective of enlightened perception, there is no self and other, no subject and object. All phenomenal reality is inseparable and nondual.