Concordance of Key Buddhist Terms
Work in Progress
This is a work in progress, begun November 24, 2018. It will remain live during the early phases of construction, and will likely never be completed because there will always be updates, changes, and additions. Terms will be published before the survey of the term is completed. These will be marked as “incomplete”. Entries that are no longer being examined are not marked as “incomplete”. But they are subject to change and emendation.
Glossary, Dictionary, Lexicon, or Concordance?
I hemmed and hawed about what to call this. “Glossary” seems too unitary; “dictionary” seems to imply original work of some sort; “lexicon” seems most correct in the manner of a “lexicon of Homeric Greek,” but isn’t popularly used; and “concordance” generally applies to a single author rather than to an entire philosophical school. And there might be a better term than I’ve thought of.
I chose “concordance” because it seems to most readily communicate the aim of sorting usage. The decision was arbitrary. Possibly I should have performed a Tibetan MO divination or consulted the Yi Jing. I’m sure many will disagree with my choice. But I request your indulgence. What this is called is far less important than what it attempts to do. But what to call this highlights the difficulty encountered by translators of Tibetan Buddhism to English: there are rarely simple equivalents for technical terms because English has no history of seeking to describe the experiences that are being communicated in the texts.
If you see errors or have constructive suggestions, please contact me.
About the Concordance
The main entry for all terms will be the Wylie transliteration. The main entry will include the Sanskrit and phonetic Tibetan, when available, as well as all translations known to me. Additionally, there will be an entry for the Sanskrit term, the phonetic Tibetan of the term, and for each of the English translations. All of these sub-entries will refer back to the main entry, though some of them will have separate glosses of their own.
Approach and Procedure
The original intention was to simply create a word list for my own use, comparing translations from various Lotsawas and scholars. Then I thought, “it would be nice to have it online,” which led to, “why not let others use it, too.” And so, this work in progress. This page will change over time as terms and sources are added or removed and as the approach is refined or modified. But it will always relate to the current state of the thing as posted on this website.
As much as I am able, I’ll remain agnostic regarding what is the “best” translation/definition. But I’m sure my opinions will leak through, so think through everything you read. I confess in advance a general preference for the approach used by Lama Tony Duff. But translation is as much a matter of imagination and communication as it is scholarship and experience, so I endeavor not to guide according to my own preferences.
The focus is on Dzogchen/Mahasandhi/Atiyoga terminology. There is much overlap with Mahamudra and, of course, with all of Mahayana. Where a cognate word exists in the Pali canon, a Pali gloss is also given. The intention is to give the most complete view of each term as possible.
Buddhism operates with many concepts that aren’t represented in any European language. All sources used provide a glossary that includes the Tibetan, Sanskrit, and/or Pali term. All sources used also provide a glossary of terms. At this time, source whose terms are only defined within the body of texts will not be used here. Also, aside from Pali, texts that are exclusively within the realm of Sutra are also not included here. Sources are limited to books that I own and to freely available online resources. These constraints exclude many texts, but the source list is rather long anyway. If you wish to add sources to this glossary, please contact me. I would be grateful for help.