A Buddhist Glossary
These are selected definitions courtesy of Dr. Taitetsu Unno's Tannisho Glossary (see our Tannisho Homepage)
Amida Buddha - Literally, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (amitayus, symbolizing compassion) and Immeasurable Light (amitabha, symbolizing wisdom). Amida is not some kind of being but a dynamic salvific activity which leads a person to supreme enlightenment through Light, the radiance of true wisdom (prajña), illuminating the darkest recesses of self and the world to transform negative karma into positive karma by the power of compassion (karuna).
Attesting Passage - Recorded sayings and passages from the writings of Shinran which attest to the truth of a given interpretation.
Birth (ojo) - Abbreviation for "going to be born in the Pure Land" which is understood by Shinran in a twofold sense: 1) instantaneous awakening, here and now, occurs with shinjin or true entrusting; and 2) attaining of buddhahood at the moment of death when one sheds all karmic limitations and becomes one with Immeasurable Life and Light to begin the salvific work in samsara to liberate all beings.
Blind Passion (bonno) - Deep-rooted and ineradicable self-centeredness contained in the unconscious which is one with the body, causing mental, emotional, and physical afflictions, which no amount of self-powered practice can overcome.
Borderland - Synonymous with such phrases as the castle of doubt, palace of womb, and realm of indolence, the person of self-power is born temporarily in the borderland before eventually attaining birth in the Pure Land.
Dharma - A key term in Buddhism which has two connotations: 1) reality as it is, synonymous with suchness, thusness, thingness, and so forth; and 2) the teaching expressing this reality, as in Buddha Dharma.
Dharmakaya-as-compass ion - The body of reality manifested as compassion in order to help suffering beings transform negative karma into positive karma.
Distant Capital - Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, where Shinran spent the last decades of his life. His followers in Kanto, north of present-day Tokyo, travelled by foot to this faraway capital to receive guidance concerning questions regarding his teachings.
Effortless Practice - The nembutsu is effortless practice, since it is free of self-centered calculations. While no special effort, such as renunciation, celibacy, meditative practice, and so forth are required, an immense inner struggle occurs before achieving the life of spontaneity, naturalness and gratitude in the nembutsu.
Five Transgressions - Killing father, mother, monk, injuring the Buddha, and creating schisms in the Sangha (Hinayana Buddhism); vandalizing temples, statues, and scriptures, slandering the teaching, obstructing religious practices, violating the five precepts and committing ten evils (Mahayana Buddhism).
Foolish Being (bonbu) - Descriptive of human beings bound to aimless, samsaric life by radical ignorance and blind passion. Unable to attain deliverance by any religious practice, the foolish being all the more becomes the primary object of the Primal Vow.
Four Blissful Practices - Proper behavior in body, mind, and speech and the vow to lead all beings to freedom.
Four Modes of Birth - Life produced from the womb, from egg, from micro-organism, and from metamorphosis.
Grasped Never to be Abandoned - True compassion which affirms each person in a non- dichotomous relationship, such that there is no one who is forsaken or rejected.
Honen (1133-1212) - A revolutionary figure who founded an independent Pure Land (Jodo) school in 1175 and was the teacher of Shinran, founder of Shin Buddhism.
Hongan (see also Primal Vow; citations courtesy of Rev. Motohiro Kiyota)- This is a key term in Shin Buddhism and has various meanings, including "Original Vow" (Tannisho, Eastern Buddhist, Rev. Shojun Bando, 1980), "Primal Vow" (Jodo Wasan, Hongwanji International Center, 1992) ), and "Original Prayer" (Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, Daisetsu T. Suzuki); it essentially refers to the 18th vow of the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra, which is the bodhisattva Dharmakara's vow to bring all beings to enlightenment.
Inconceivable (fushigi, fukashigi) - That which is beyond conceptual or rational understanding but brought to full awareness in a foolish being by the power of true compassion.
Karmic Evil - The fundamental human condition of fathomless ignorance which restricts our freedom; it is the primary object of the Primal Vow which reaches its depth and effects its transformation from the negative to positive.
Land of Fulfillment, True Fulfillment (hodo) - The Pure Land of Amida Buddha, which was created by fulfilling the 48 vows. Also called the Land of Immeasurable Light, it symbolizes wisdom which illuminates the darkest recesses of human existence.
Lotus Sutra - A major scripture of Mahayana Buddhism containing countless examples of liberative techniques (upaya) used by the Buddha to deliver all beings.
Made to become so by itself (jinen) - A term favored by Shinran having several connotations: 1) transformation by the power of true compassion, 2) natural process of a person inevitably achieving supreme enlightenment, and 3) formless Buddhahood itself.
Mt. Hiei - Major monastic center of the Tendai school which produced the leading reformers of 13th century Japan, including Honen, Shinran, Dogen, Nichiren and others.
Name (myogo) - The self articulation of reality entering the world of human consciousness, as Namu- amida-butsu. Also referred to as the Name in six letters or six syllables.
Nara - Ancient capital of Japan during the Nara Period (710-784 C.E.); the center of the six schools of early Japanese Buddhism.
Nembutsu - The term is used variously in the Buddhist tradition. Originally, it meant contemplation on the Buddha, but in Pure Land Buddhism, it is used as follows: 1) recitation of the Name as the beckoning call from Amida Buddha, 2) self- articulation of reality informing human consciousness, and 3) fundamental cause of supreme enlightenment for a foolish being.
One Thought-moment (ichinen) - The instant when one awakens to the working of the Primal Vow, having been grasped never to be abandoned. That thought-moment is the instant of the self realization of reality when the timeless breaks through time. Since this is concretely realized in the saying of nembutsu, recitative nembutsu is referred to as the one-thought moment of practice.
One Vehicle - A key term in the Lotus Sutra which seeks to unify the diverse Buddhist paths into a single Vehicle. Shinran inherits this usage, but adds a Pure Land modifier and proclaims the Primal Vow of One Vehicle.
Other Power - The working of Amida's Primal Vow beyond the normal categories of subject and object, manifesting compassion which is the dynamic manifestation of sunyata (emptiness).
Path Of Pure Land - The Pure Land tradition, Open to all people regardless of class, gender, religiosity, etc., contrasted to the Path of Sages which is for the privileged few connected with the monastic institutions.
Practicer (gyoja) - The person who practices the Buddhist teaching in the midst of daily responsibilities earning a living, raising a family, meeting social obligations, etc. Everyday life is the dojo, the training arena for wisdom and compassion.
Primal Vow (see also hongan) - The transcendental wish and prayer of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light to bring all beings to supreme enlightenment, including the power to effect its successful realization in the midst of samsaric life.
Saichi (1851-1933) - An unlettered Shin devotee, who made a living making geta or wooden clogs. He left thousands of religious poems of unparalleled insights.
Self-power - The calculative mind of unenlightened beings who mistakenly believe in their ability to achieve supreme enlightenment. Relying on this delusion, the more they strive on the path, the more they sink into samsara.
Self-working - A form of calculative thinking based on self-power designs, hindering the working of the Primal Vow to effect transformation leading to supreme enlightenment.
Shan-tao (613-681) - One of the seven patriarchs of Shin Buddhism whose impact on Honen led to the establishment of an independent Pure Land School in 1175.
Shingon Esoterism - One of the major forms of Japanese Buddhism, centered on Mt. Koya, during the rise of the Pure Land School in the 13th century.
Shinjin (see also "true entrusting"; citations courtesy of Rev. Motohiro Kiyota): Another key Shin Buddhist term with various definitions, including "entrusting of oneself" (Tannisho, Dr. Dennis Hirota 1982), "faith" (Jodo Wasan, Ryukoku Translation Center 1965), "heart of faith" (Tannisho, Eastern Buddhist, Rev. Shojun Bando 1980), "mind of faith" (Koso Wasan, Ryukoku Translation Center 1974), "realization" (Letters of Shinran, <Mattosho>, Hongwanji International Center 1978), "true entrusting" (Tannisho - Dr. Taitetsu Unno, Hawaii Buddhist Center 1984), "mind of Amida Buddha" (Rennyo, Minor Rogers, Asian Humanities Press 1994)
Six Realms of Existence - The realms of hell, hungry ghosts, beasts, fighting demons, human beings, and heavenly beings, describing the different cycles of samsara.
T'an-luan (476-542) - The third patriarch of Shin Buddhism who made a major impact on the thought of Shinran.
Tathagata - Literally, "thus-come" from the world of enlightenment to effect the salvation of all beings. Synonym of the Buddha, used in compound form as Amida Tathagata (Amida Nyorai).
Ten Evils - Killing, stealing, adultery, lying, using harsh words, slandering, idle talk, greed, anger, and wrong views.
The Essentials of Faith Alone (Yuishinsho) - A tract written by Seikaku (1165-1235), a leading disciple of Honen. Shinran wrote a detailed explanation of key passages in his Notes on Essentials of Faith Alone.
Thirty-two Features and Eighty Characteristics - Ancient belief held in India that a superior being, such as a Buddha or World-conqueror, possesses special qualities which distinguished them from ordinary people.
Three Esoteric Practices - The Shingon training in body, mind, and speech that correspond with the cosmic Buddha's body, mind, and speech, attesting to the realization of supreme enlightenment. A secret training method, transmitted from master to disciple, hence, called esoteric.
True Entrusting (see also shinjin) - The core experience of Shin Buddhism in which a relative, finite being is made to entrust the self to Immeasurable Life and Light through the power of true compassion. Since it is not the calculative, self-power mind of sentient beings but the working of Other Power, it is indestructible; hence, it is likened to a diamond.
Wisdom of Non-origination - Wisdom that sees reality as-it-is, devoid of an abiding essence and frequently referred to as sunyata (emptiness). As such, it does not appear or disappear in the conventional sense as seen by a deluded mind. This reality as-it-is is summed up in the phrase, "non-origination."
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