non-duality. The most important school of Vedanta
philosophy which postulates One Absolute Reality,
divine bliss, joy; an integral part of many
“nectar of immortality”; represented
in certain ceremonies by a sugar solution.
a devotional ceremony characterized particularly by
the use of lighted candles or lamps.
term used in yoga for bodily postures assumed in meditation;
the practice of asanas is the primary activity of
hatha yoga. A mat used for meditation.
a place of retreat and meditation; also, the term
which refers to each of the four stages which make
up the ideal pattern of Hindu life: brahmacharya (celibacy
and study), grhastha (householding, which generally
includes marriage, work, and community involvement),
vanaprastha (retirement, or withdrawal from the world),
and sannyas (renunciation of worldly things and dedication
to spiritual life).
the immortal Self, the soul.
the three sounds composing the mantra Om. The primal
sound from which the entire cosmos comes into being.
The name of God.
a human incarnation of the Divine; i.e. a person who
is fully Divine, a Saviour, Sat Guru.
Sadhu, an affectionate word for “father”,
a title of respect.
the intermediate state between death and rebirth,
according to Tibetan Buddhism; it is described at
length in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which deals
with how the soul should conduct itself in the bardo.
Gita, Bhagavat Git,
“Song of the Lord”; an important
Hindu religious epic in the Mahabharata. In it Sri
Krishna teaches his disciple, Arjuna, the art of right
God; sometimes used for a God-realised person.
devotional hymn; religious chant.
selfless, spiritual devotion; worship of God
through personal love; Bhakti is one of the three
most widely recognized paths of salvation, the others
being Karma (ritual and good actions) and Jnana (spiritual
knowledge). The Bhakti movement developed in medieval
India and is closely associated with Vaishnava Vedanta;
one who chooses this path is called a bhakta.
spiritual discipline which emphasizes devotional worship
as a path to union with God; the “devotional”
one of the three devotional aspects of Brahman; this
aspect is associated with creation.
a practitioner of celibacy; often refers to one who
lives as a spiritual student or seeker.
Hindu term for the supreme reality; though Brahman
is one and undifferentiated, there are three devotional
aspects: Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.
the priestly caste of Hindus (sometimes spelled Brahman).
an Awakened or Enlightened one; usually refers to
Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, also
known as Shakyamuni.
a system of thought based on the insights of the Gautama
Buddha (sixth century B.C.); Buddhism is essentially
nontheistic, and was originally based on a relatively
simple and straightforward set of principles, articulated
by the Buddha as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold
Path; about 500 years after the Buddha’s death,
the original Buddhism – which emphasized the
use of right action and contemplation in order to
achieve Nirvana or surcease from being – became
distinguished as Hinayana (represented today in the
tradition of Theravada Buddhism), and a “new”
Buddhism – the Mahayana – was introduced,
emphasizing as its goal the individual attainment
of Buddhahood, and adding a new religious dimension
of ritual and prayer; there are many types of Buddhism
today, some closer to the “old” and some
to the “new” model.
a system of division within Hindu society; caste is
based on heredity and occupation, and traditionally
there was virtually no mobility or interchange among
literally, “wheel”; yogic term for a psychic
center of the body; the yogic model of the “subtle
body” includes seven such nodes of energy, each
coordinating with certain physiologic organs and with
certain aspects of spiritual development.
a student or disciple of a guru.
generally, a higher being.
literally, “view”; a transmission of spiritual
experience, frequently silent; a collateral usage
– particularly in the Northern tradition –
refers to the event of a guru giving an “audience”
to his followers, i.e., allowing himself to be viewed
term used in both Hinduism and Buddhism (may be given
as dhamma in Buddhist references) to mean duty, righteousness,
the law, or the correct way, i.e., the principle of
cosmic, social, and individual order.
a rest house for pilgrims, usually built near a temple;
frequently used as a term for a guest house or hostel.
a long cloth of white cotton, worn loosely tied about
the legs and waist.
a spiritual disciple which emphasizes meditation as
the means of achieving union with God; the “meditational”
red ochre earth-colour traditionally used by
sannyasis to colour their clothes.
a “brother” or “sister” linked
by initiation from the same Guru.
the script of the Punjabi language, used in early
religious writings of the Sikhs.
spiritual master or teacher.
a mantra given by the guru for meditation.
yoga: a spiritual discipline
that focuses on the relationship of mind and body;
the “physical” yoga, the yoga of effort.
a comprehensive worldview, which functions as both
a religious philosophy and a way of living followed
by the majority of India’s inhabitants; Hinduism
takes many forms, varying significantly (both in theory
and practice) from region to region, and among various
guru-centered groups. But common to most forms of
Hinduism is the goal of liberation from the cycle
of reincarnation; there are a great many religious
texts associated with Hinduism, the most widely influential
ones being the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad
"japa” meaning repetition, as of
a mantra, and “mala” meaning a sort of
added to a name as a sign of respect, trust and sympathy.
a spiritual disciple leading to union with God through
transcendent knowledge; the “mental” yoga.
a term used in both Hinduism and Buddhism (may
be given as kamma in Buddhist references) meaning
“action,” referring to the law of cause
and effect; often used to describe the relationship
between causes in a previous life and effects experienced
in a present life.
a spiritual discipline that focuses on selfless
activity and/or performance of ritual as the path
to union with God; the “active” yoga.
a group devotional event expressed in ecstatic singing
of God’s name. One person leads, others repeat
an incarnation of Vishnu representing the embodiment
of love; Krishna is a prominent figure in several
Indian religious epics, and his love for Radha is
a central theme in Indian erotic mysticism.
a term used in esoteric yoga
for an energy (also called the “serpent
power” or “serpent fire”) which
lies dormant at the base of the spine until it is
awakened through yogic practices and ascends through
the body by moving along the path of the chakras.
Tibetan term for a spiritual leader.
God’s divine play in the world to attract the
devotee to Himself; activity that is of use to others.
the “great” mantra.
“lord”; a term of respect which may be
used by or with regard to holy men.
the death of a self-realised person; the ultimate
experience of Reality.
“great soul”; a person who has conquered
the ego and achieved union with the Divine.
a rosary, a flower garland.
a term used in both Buddhism and Hinduism to refer
to a word, phrase, or syllable which has sacred significance;
many repeat a mantra in meditation.
a word used in both Buddhism and Hinduism to denote
the illusory nature of physical reality; delusion,
appearance, or more specifically, the appearance of
the One as a multiplicity of phenomena.
"liberation” from transmigration;
the release from the cycle of reincarnation into the
physical world. The highest aim in Indian philosophy.
a term especially used in Buddhism to denote perfect
mental equilibrium, inner freedom.
the most sacred of all sounds, which contains all
sounds and represents the Divine.
mani padme hum:
“Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus”; a powerful
and widely used mantra.
joining the palms of the hands at the heart in greeting.
food offered to a deity or saint; once it has been
offered, it has been blessed and may be consumed by
ceremonial worship of a deity with lights, incense,
flowers and fruit.
pandit: a learned Brahmin
who can recite from the Vedas and knows Sanskrit grammar.
an advanced form of mental yoga.
doctrine of the “transmigration of souls”
from one bodily life to another.
Tibetan Buddhist teacher and guide.
sage or wise man; seer.
spiritual discipline; a person following a spiritual
discipline is called a sadhaka.
holy man, a wandering ascetic, a saintly person.
the blissful state of experiencing pure consciousness;
this is the supreme goal of yoga. A shrine containing
the ashes or body of a saint.
the cycle of rebirth.
vows of renunciation.
one who has undertaken sannyas, and entered the fourth
stage of life (see “Ashram”), and whose
sole aim is moksha.
ancient language in which many Hindu and Buddhist
religious texts are written.
“holy”; this term is used in two ways:
(1) to describe a religious tradition of Northern
India which is devotional, and concentrates on inner
experience rather than on exterior forms, and (2)
as a title applied to teachers in this tradition;
it is also a popular synonym for sadhu.
a term used in the Sant tradition to refer to the
inner voice of God, as mystically apprehended and
experienced by the devout; the term is used by different
groups and in different contexts, sometimes referring
to a personal teacher who is a human vehicle for the
a gathering for the purpose of sharing testimony of
spiritual experience or teachings given by a Guru.
having the quality of “goodness”;
“goodness” (sattva) is one of the three
modalities of the experienced universe, the others
being rajas (passion) and tamas (darkness); the three
qualities constantly interact to produce the complexity
of the world.
generally, “service”; either of a practical
nature (in work maintaining the premises and affairs
of a religious place, movement, or personage) or of
a broader humanitarian nature. An important factor
in spiritual life.
the feminine consort of Shiva; also used as a common
noun to denote “energy” or “force”;
when used generically (“a shakti”.) the
word refers to the feminine component of a spiritual
dyad; Shakti is most often worshiped as Kali, and
Kali, in turn, has many forms which represent different
aspects of the goddess and have different names, e.g.,
one of the three devotional aspects of Brahman, associated
with time and fertility; the masculine component of
the dyad Shiva-Shakti.
special powers (such as levitation) achieved through
the practice of mystical yoga.
the term may be used in two ways: (1) a practitioner
of Sikhism, and (2) one who comes from a Sikh family
and maintains the Sikh culture, but has ceased to
practice the religion; there is a prescribed form
of appearance for Sikh males (they typically do not
cut their beards or hair and frequently wear the turban)
which gives special coherence to their group.
a religious movement separate from Hinduism (although
it retains elements of Hinduism); Sikhism is part
of the Sant tradition of Northern India; it was established
by the fifteenth century Guru Nanak and perpetuated
by his successors, the last of whom died in the eighteenth
century. Sikhism includes aspects of both Hinduism
and Islam, and its tenets include the belief in one
God who does not take human form, but exists as the
principle of truth; the sacred text of Sikhism is
the Granth Sahib.
a title of respect, meaning generally “revered
a mystical form of Islam.
in Buddhism, scriptural works; in Hinduism,
aphorisms concerning religious belief or practice
presented in verse form.
a spiritual leader; a more specific usage refers to
a Hindu initiate of a religious order who has taken
monastic vows. One who is master of himself.
a group formed in 1875 to promote the study of psychic
phenomena and comparative religion; it was centered
on the visions and writings of its founder Mme. Blavatsky
and her follower C.W. Leadbeater, which brought together
esoteric doctrines from many sources; though its influence
declined by the 1930s, the T.S. aroused interest in
Eastern spiritual traditions in the West, and is still
a well-known organization, headquartered in India.
Buddhism – primarily in its Vajrayana
form – was taken into Tibet from India, beginning
in the seventh century C.E.; by the thirteenth century,
Buddhism had almost disappeared from India, and Tibet
had begun to develop its own distinctive form of the
religion, much of which is set forth in texts known
as the Tantras; Tibetan Buddhism has a very rich and
complex system of symbolism and ritual practice, which
includes not only extremely esoteric matters, but
much ceremonial pageantry as well; before the virtual
destruction of Tibetan religion by the Chinese after
1958, Tibetan Buddhism (sometimes called “Lamaism”)
had achieved an extensively developed network of monasteries,
which served as the centers of Tibetan cultural life.
term used in Tibetan Buddhism to refer to a reincarnated
literally, “relating to Vishnu”; frequently
refers to a particular interpretation of Vedanta which
stresses the importance of devotional worship and
the role of divine grace.
the third “way” (or “vehicle”)
of Buddhism – a continuation of the Mahayana
tradition; Vajrayana (which is also known as Tantric
Buddhism) places great emphasis on the use of mantras
and other techniques to enhance psychic experience,
as well as on the mastery of occult powers; the practice
of this way requires initiation, instruction and “empowerment”
by a guru.
revealed knowledge; a collection of sacred texts (the
Hymns, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads) which
are accepted in Hinduism as divine revelations; the
earliest portions of the Vedas are generally thought
to have been composed around 1500 B.C.
literally the end of the Vedas the most influential
tradition of Hindu theology, derived primarily from
the Upanishads, and elaborating in various ways the
doctrine of Brahman.
a form of insight meditation taught by the Buddha.
one of the three devotional aspects of Brahman, associated
with existence and duration; usually worshiped through
his avatars, Krishna and Rama.
a pilgrimage, journey.
a system of spiritual discipline (associated
with both Hinduism and Buddhism) intended to lead
toward union with the divine; there are four main
paths of yoga (see bhakti yoga, hatha yoga, karma
yoga, dhyana yoga), as well as many particular yogic
systems developed by specific sects or individual
gurus; when the term “yoga” is used nonspecifically,
it often refers to some form of dhyana yoga.
yogin (Fem. yogini):
one who practices yoga.