Wings to Awakening
Glossary, Indexes, Bibliography
Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff)
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Abhidhamma: (1) In the discourses of the Pali Canon, this term simply means "higher Dhamma," a systematic attempt to define the Buddha's teachings and understand their interrelationships. (2) A later collection of analytical treatises based on lists of categories drawn from the teachings in the discourses, added to the Canon several centuries after the Buddha's life.

Apāya: Realm of destitution. One of the four lower realms of existence, in which beings suffer because of their bad kamma: hell, the realm of hungry shades, the realm of angry demons, and level of common animals. In the Buddhist cosmology, a person reborn in any of these realms may stay there for long or short periods of time, but never for an eternity. After the bad kamma has worked out, the person will return to the higher realms.

Arahant: A "worthy one" or "pure one;" a person whose mind is free of defilement and thus is not destined for further rebirth. A title for the Buddha and the highest level of his noble disciples.

Āsava: Effluent; fermentation. Four qualities — sensuality, views, becoming, and ignorance — that "flow out" of the mind and create the flood of the round of death and rebirth.

Bodhisatta: "A being (striving) for Awakening;" a term used to describe the Buddha before he actually become Buddha, from his first aspiration to Buddhahood until the time of his full Awakening. Sanskrit form: Bodhisattva.

Brahmā: A deva inhabitant of the higher heavenly realms of form or formlessness.

Brahman: A member of the priestly caste, which claimed to be the highest caste in India, based on birth. In a specifically Buddhist usage, "brahman" can also mean an Arahant, conveying the point that excellence is based not on birth or race, but on the qualities attained in the mind.

Deva: Literally, "shining one." An inhabitant of the heavenly realms.

Dhamma: (1) Event; a phenomenon in and of itself; (2) mental quality; (3) doctrine, teaching; (4) nibbāna. Sanskrit form: Dharma.

Hīnayāna: "Inferior Vehicle," a pejorative term, coined by a group who called themselves followers of the Mahāyāna, the "Great Vehicle," to denote the path of practice of those who aimed at Arahantship, rather than full Buddhahood. Hīnayānists refused to recognize the later discourses, composed by the Mahāyānists, that claimed to contain teachings that the Buddha felt were too deep for his first generation of disciples, and which he thus secretly entrusted to underground serpents. The Theravāda school of today is a descendent of the Hīnayāna.

Idappaccayatā: This/that conditionality. This name for the causal principle the Buddha discovered on the night of his Awakening emphasizes the point that, for the purposes of ending suffering and stress, the processes of causality can be understood entirely in terms of conditions in the realm of direct experience, with no need to refer to forces operating outside of that realm.

Jhāna: Mental absorption. A state of strong concentration focused on a single sensation or mental notion.

Kamma: Intentional act. Sanskrit form: karma.

Maṇḍala: Microcosmic diagram, used as a power circle and object of contemplation in the rituals of Tantric Buddhism.

Māra: The personification of evil and temptation.

Nibbāna: Literally, the "unbinding" of the mind from passion, aversion, and delusion, and from the entire round of death and rebirth. As this term also denotes the extinguishing of a fire, it carries connotations of stilling, cooling, and peace. "Total nibbāna" in some contexts denotes the experience of Awakening; in others, the final passing away of an Arahant. Sanskrit form: nirvāṇa.

Pali: The canon of texts preserved by the Theravāda school and, by extension, the language in which those texts are composed.

Pāṭimokkha: The basic code of monastic discipline, composed of 227 rules for monks and 311 for nuns.

Samaṇa: Contemplative. Literally, a person who abandons the conventional obligations of social life in order to find a way of life more "in tune" (sama) with the ways of nature.

Saṃsāra: Transmigration; wandering through death and rebirth.

Saṅgha: On the conventional (sammati) level, this term denotes the communities of Buddhist monks and nuns; on the ideal (ariya) level, it denotes those followers of the Buddha, lay or ordained, who have attained at least stream-entry.

Stūpa: Originally, a tumulus or burial mound enshrining relics of a holy person — such as the Buddha — or objects associated with his life. Over the centuries this has developed into the tall, spired monuments familiar in temples in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma; and into the pagodas of China, Korea, and Japan.

Tādin: "Such," an adjective to describe one who has attained the goal. It indicates that the person's state is indefinable but not subject to change or influences of any sort.

Tathāgata: Literally, "one who has become authentic (tatha-āgata)" an epithet used in ancient India for a person who has attained the highest religious goal. In Buddhism, it usually denotes the Buddha, although occasionally it also denotes any of his Arahant disciples.

Theravāda: The "Teachings of the Elders" — the only one of the early schools of Buddhism to have survived into the present; currently the dominant form of Buddhism in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma.

Vinaya: The monastic discipline, whose rules and traditions comprise six volumes in printed text.


Although I have tried to be as consistent as possible in rendering Pali terms into English, there are a few cases where a single English term will not do justice to all the meanings of a Pali term. The rule of one English equivalent per one Pali word may make for consistency, but any truly bilingual person knows that such a rule can create ludicrous distortions of meaning in translation. Thus, while I have not consciously used one English term to translate two different Pali terms, there are cases where I have found it necessary to render a single Pali term with two or more English terms, depending on context. Citta in some cases is rendered as mind, in others as intent. Similarly, loka is rendered either as cosmos or world, manas as intellect or heart, āyatana as medium, dimension, or sphere, upādāna as clinging or sustenance, and dhamma as phenomenon, quality, or principle.

Also, with some of the Pali terms that are central to the teaching, I have chosen equivalents that do not follow general usage. In the following list I have indicated these equivalents with asterisks; explanations for these choices are provided at the end of the list.

acquisition — upadhi
aggregate — khandha
alertness — sampajañña
appropriate attention — yoniso manasikāra
Awakening — bodhi
awareness — cetas
becoming — bhava
clear knowing — vijjā
clinging — upādāna
compunction — ottappa
contemplative — samaṇa
conviction — saddhā
cosmos — loka
craving — taṇhā
dependent co-arising — paṭicca samuppāda
desire — chanda
dimension — āyatana
directed thought — vitakka
discern — pajānāti
discernment — paññā
discrimination — vimaṃsā
disenchantment — nibbidā
dispassion — virāga
effluent — āsava
evaluation — vicāra
fabricated — saṅkhata
fabrication — saṅkhāra
fetter — saṅyojana
frame of reference* — satipaṭṭhāna
gnosis — añña
good will — mettā
heart — manas
inconstant* — anicca
insight — vipassanā
intellect — manas
intent — citta
intention — cetanā
letting go — vossagga
medium — āyatana
mind — citta
non-fashioning — atammayatā
not-self — anattā
obsession — anusaya
origination — samudaya
perception — saññā
persistence — viriya
pertinent — opanayika
phenomenon — dhamma
prerequisite — upanisā
property — dhātu
quality — dhamma
release — vimutti
relinquishment — paṭinissagga
requisite condition — paccaya
resolve — saṅkappa
self-awakening — sambodhi
sensuality — kāma
shame — hiri
skillful — kusala
sphere — āyatana
stream-entry — sotapatti
stress* — dukkha
Such — tādin
sustenance — upādāna
theme — nimitta
this/that conditionality — idappaccayatā
tranquility — samatha
transcendent — lokuttara
transmigration — saṃsāra
Unbinding* — nibbāna
Unfabricated — asaṅkhata
violence — vihiṃsā
world — loka

Fabrication: Saṅkhāra literally means "putting together," and carries connotations of jerry-rigged artificiality. It is applied to physical and to mental processes, as well as to the products of those processes. Various English words have been suggested as renderings for saṅkhāra — such as "formation," "determination," "force," and "construction" — but "fabrication," in both of its senses, as the process of fabrication and the fabricated things that result, seems the best equivalent for capturing the connotations as well as the denotations of the term.

Frame of reference: The literal rendering of satipaṭṭhāna is "foundation of mindfulness," "establishing of mindfulness," or "application of mindfulness," all of which require a great deal of explanation to make them intelligible in English. However, the actual function of satipaṭṭhāna in practice is precisely that of the English idiom, frame of reference. Although adopting this rendering requires some inconsistency in translating sati — using "reference" here, and "mindfulness" otherwise — this seems a small price to pay for instant intelligibility in an otherwise obscure term.

Inconstant: The usual rendering for anicca is "impermanent." However, the antonym of the term, nicca, carries connotations of constancy and dependability; and as anicca is used to emphasize the point that conditioned phenomena cannot be depended on to provide true happiness, this seem a useful rendering for conveying this point.

Stress: The Pali term dukkha, which is traditionally translated in the commentaries as, "that which is hard to bear," is notorious for having no truly adequate equivalent in English, but stress — in its basic sense as a strain on body or mind — seems as close as English can get. In the Canon, dukkha applies both to physical and to mental phenomena, ranging from the intense stress of acute anguish or pain to the innate burdensomeness of even the subtlest mental or physical fabrications.

Unbinding: Because nibbāna is used to denote not only the Buddhist goal but also the extinguishing of a fire, it is usually rendered as "extinguishing" or, even worse, "extinction." However, a study of ancient Indian views of the workings of fire (see The Mind Like Fire Unbound) will reveal that people of the Buddha's time felt that a fire, in going out, did not go out of existence but was simply freed from its agitation and attachment to its fuel. Thus, when applied to the Buddhist goal, the primary connotation of nibbāna is one of release and liberation. According to the commentaries, the literal meaning of the word nibbāna is "unbinding," and as this is a rare case where the literal and contextual meanings of a term coincide, this seems to be the ideal English equivalent.


Index of Similes  

Note: Numbers refer to the translated passages (§) from the Canon.

Acrobat: 47
Ancient city: 239
Archer: 173
Baby boy: 61
Ball of saliva: 181
Ball of sealing wax: 142
Banyan tree: 128
Bathman: 150
Beauty queen: 40
Borrowed goods: 138
Bowl of water: 133
Bronze bowl: 57
Butcher: 30
Carpenter: 159
Carpenter's adze: 20
Cat: 157
Chain of bones: 138
Chariot: 150
City made of bones: 140
Cook: 35
Cowherd: 1
Dream: 138
Drops of water on heated iron pan: 60; 181
Drops of water on lotus leaf: 181
Earth: 180
Elephant: 33; 157; 163
Field: 220
Fire: 97; 180; 207
Fletcher: 59
Footprint of elephant: 79
Fruits of a tree: 138
Goldsmith: 182
Grass torch: 138
Guest house: 112
Hawk and quail: 37
Heated jar: 225
Hen and eggs: 20
House with windows: 234
Impenetrable darkness: 192
Impurities in gold: 132; 160
Insects falling into flame: 135
Iron ball: 68
Island in middle of river: 91
Ivory carver: 64
Ladle in soup: III/A
Leaves in hand: 188
Leper: 139
Light of moon: 79
Lotuses in pond: 150
Lump of flesh: 138
Man going from village to village: 64
Man holding quail: 161
Man in debt: 134
Man in love with woman: 59
Man in prison: 134
Man stabbed by spears: 193
Man standing on tall building: 64
Man walking quickly: 159
Man with good eyes: 159; 181
Man wrapped in white cloth: 150
Mirror: 6
Moisture: 220
Monkey trap: 38
Mountain cow: 162
Ocean: I/B; 18; 42
Ocean-going ship: 20
Pain in healthy person: 175
Painted picture: 234
Park: 67
Person reflecting: 150
Pile of dust: 44
Pit of glowing embers: 138
Pool of water: 64; 144; 157
Pot: 108
Potter: 64
Potter's vessels: 19
Puddle in cow's footprint: 144
Puppets: 142
Quail in hand: 161
Rabbit: 157
Raft: 113; 114
Rag in road: 144
Rain of gold coins: 141
Rain on mountains: 125; 238
Reflection of one's face: 58, 64
Ridged roof: 75
River: 131
River Ganges: 13; 49; 90
Road through desolate country: 134
Royal frontier fortress: 73; 99
Sack of grain: 30
Salt crystal: 13
Scented woods: 77
Seed: 184; 220
Shadow: 8
Sheaves of reeds: 228
Sick man: 134; 144
Six animals tied together: 39
Slave: 134
Snap of fingers: 181
Sound of drums: 64
Space: 180
Spike of bearded wheat: 109
Spring-fed lake: 150
Stakes for impaling animals: 191
Strong man: 159; 181
Sun ray: 234
Thicket of views: 51
Thoroughbred horse: 177
Tree: 26; 128; 208
Tuft of cotton seed: 68
Turban on fire: 58
Turner: 30
Unbroken colt: 177
Vina: 86
Water: 180
Water jar: 150
Water tank: 150
Wheel of chariot: 8
Wind: 110; 180
Young woman or man: 58; 64; 159

Index of Persons  

Note: Numbers refer to the translated passages (§) from the Canon.

Ajita Kesakambalin: 240
Ananda, Ven.: 36; 48; 64; 67; 68; 115; 152; 166; 174; 176; 181; 214; 220; 231; 237; 240
Anathapindika: 135; 187
Anuruddha, Ven.: 45; 161; 167
Bodhisatta: 1; 161; 239
Brahma: 124; 177
Byagghapajja (TigerPaw): 117
Ciravasin: 209
Dasama: 174
Dhammadinna, Sister: 105; 148; 204; 223
Frying Pan: 47
Gandhabhaka: 209
Gavampati, Ven.: 194
Godha: 116
Indra: 177
Jatila Bhagiya, Sister: 176
Jivaka: 142
Kaccayana, Ven.: 186
Kalamas: 2
Kundaliya: 92
Magandiya: 139
Maha Kassapa, Ven.: 56
Maha Kotthita, Ven.: 201; 228
Maha Moggallana, Ven.: 45; 57; 147
Mahanama: 116
Makkhali Gosala: 240
Mara: 24; 37; 221
Moliyasivaka: 14
Mundika: 61
Nigantha Nataputta: 240
Pañcakanga: 61
Paharada: 18
Pakudha Kaccayana: 240
Pañcakanga: 61
Purana Kassapa: 240
Rahula, Ven.: 6; 180
Sandha, Ven.: 177
Sañjaya Belatthaputta: 240
Sariputta, Ven.: 56; 57; 74; 89; 107; 144; 167; 172; 175; 201; 202; 203; 216; 227; 228
Sona, Ven.: 86
Subhadda, Ven.: 240
Udayin, Ven.: 60; 175; 176
Uggahamana: 61
Unnabha: 67
Uttiya, Ven.: 27; 99
Vassakara: 152
Visakha: 105; 148; 223

Index of Subjects  

Note: Numbers refer to the page numbers from the 1996 printed edition of the book; the numbers in parentheses (§) refer to the translated passages from the Canon.


The following secondary sources were useful in placing the teachings of the Pali canon in their historical context, both social and intellectual:

  • Jayatilleke, K. N. Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1963.
  • Warder, A. K. Indian Buddhism, 2d. ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980.
  • __________. Outline of Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971.
  • __________. "Prologomena to a History of Indian Science" in New Paths in Buddhist Research, edited by A. K. Warder. Durham, N. C.: Acorn Press, 1985.
  • Weiss, Mitchell G. "Caraka Samhita on the Doctrine of Karma" in Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, edited by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
  • Two books by Ernest G. McClain — The Myth of Invariance and The Pythagorean Plato (New York: Nicholas-Hays, 1976 and 1978), dealing with the influence of music theory on the thought of ancient civilations, ranging from Greece to India — inspired me to look for traces of musical theory in the teachings of the Pali canon. The following books were useful in my research into ancient Indian music theory and the role that the word nimitta (theme) played in that theory:
  • Bhattacharya, Arun. A Treatise of Ancient Hindu Music. Columbia, Mo.: South Asian Books, 1978.
  • Warder, A. K. Indian Kavya Literature. Volume One: Literary Criticism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989.
  • __________. Pali Metre. London: Pali Text Society, 1967.