Glossary of Terms

We've included common terms you may find on this site and in other writings about Tibetan Buddhism, as well as pronunciations in English.

Ahimsa (ah-HEEM-sah)


Amitabha (ah-mee-TAH-bah)

a buddha who created a Pure Land, or realm free from suffering, in which one can attain rebirth by calling out his name

Avalokitesvara (AH-vell-o-kah-TESH-vah-rah)

the boddhisattva of compassion

Bodhisattva (bo-dee-SAHT-vah)

one who postpones his or her own enlightment in order to help liberate others from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, or a buddha who returns to work for sentient beings

Buddha (BOO-dah)

an enlightened being or "awakened one." The historical Buddha is Prince Siddharta Gautama, founder of Buddhism, who lived in India during the fifth century BCE

Chakpu (CHAHK-poo)

a long metal funnel used to apply sand to the mandala design


the wish to free others from their suffering

Dalai Lama (DAH-lie LAH-mah)

a title meaning "Ocean of Wisdom." The Dalai Lama is the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. Tenzin Gyatso is the fourteenth Dalai Lama


an embodiment of perfection

Dharma (DAR-mah)

the teachings of the Buddha


a state of serenity and knowledge, achieved through meditation, that enables one to be of most benefit to others

Kalachakra (kah-lah-CHAHK-rah)

the "wheel of time." It is also the deity associated with the Kalachakra mandala

Karma (KAR-mah)

the law of cause and effect, through which one's present and future lives are influenced by one's thoughts and actions

Lama (LAH-mah)

a master teacher

Mandala (MAHN-dah-lah)

a circle, often enclosing a square, that is a mystical representation of a spiritual universe


a practice of deep concentration of the mind

Namgyal Monastery (NAHM-gyell)

the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama, located in Dharamsala. India, since 1959


the belief that, after death, a person is reborn again and again until he or she achieves enlightenment

Samsara (sahm-SAR-ah)

the cyclic existence of birth, death, and rebirth

Shinga (SHING-gah)

a wooden scraper used in making the mandala

Vajra (VAH-zhrah)

a hand-held implement that represents the indestructible mind

Many thanks to Susan Dodge Peters, Director of Education, Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester (NY) for allowing us to use this vocabulary list from the educational packet, Sacred Sand Painting of Tibet: Creating a Circle of Peace (1997). Table of ContentsHome