The Shadow of the Dalai Lama – Glossary

© Victor & Victoria Trimondi


Glossary of some Tantric Terms

The Sanskrit terms are written without diacritical marks.

Literal translations appear in quotation marks.


abhisheka – „annointing“ – a form of consecration, often involving sprinkling, that transforms an heir apparent into a royal sovereign, or a novice into a monk or member of a religious order. In Tantra, abhisheka qualifies a person to initiate or consecrate others.

acarya  “teacher, preceptor” – a guru or instructor of sacred or secret teachings.

advaita – “nondualism” – the philosophical position that all is One

ahimsa – “noninjury” – doctrine of noninjury or non-violence

ajna – name of the sixth of the seven charkas of the yogic body. It is at the level of the ajna that the three principle subtle channels come together in a plait between the eyebrows. See also chakra and nadi

Amitabha - Amitabha is the most commonly used name for the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life.  A transhistorical Buddha venerated by all Mahayana schools  and, particularly, Pure Land. Presides over the Western Pure Land (Land of Ultimate Bliss), where anyone can be reborn through utterly sincere recitation of His name, particularly at the time of death.

Anuttarayoga Tantra – “Tantra of Supreme Yoga” – one of the four classes of Buddhist Tantric texts, sects, and teachings

arhat - a Buddhist saint who has attained liberation from the cycle of Birth and Death, generally through living

a monastic life in accordance with the Buddhas' teachings.

arya - any individual ennobled by his/her own continuing effort on the path to enlightenment.

asana – “seated position” – yogic posture in which a practitioner holds himself immobile while practicing breath control and various types of meditation.

asura - titanic demons, enemies of the gods.

Avalokitesvara - The name is a compound of Ishwara, meaning Lord, and avalokita, looked upon or seen, and is usually translated as the Lord Who Observes (the cries of the world); the Buddhist embodiment of compassion as formulated in the Mahayana Dharma.

atman – the individual self or soul

avadhuti – in Tantric Buddhist mapping of the yogic body, the female energy that rises up from the lower abdomen to the heart or cranial vault, where it melts or is merged with the subtle male principle. See also candali.

bardo (Tibetan) – “liminal passage, intermediate state” – the state of consciousness in the course of migration between death and rebirth. A stage varying from seven to forty-nine days,  after which the Karmic body from previous lives will  certainly be reborn.

bija – “seed” – the seminal essence of a sacred utterance or formula, usually monosyllabic, which constitutes the energy of the deity it acoustically embodies. See also mantra.

bhiksu - Religious mendicant;  Buddhist fully ordained monk. Bhiksuni is the equivalent term designating a woman.

bodhi – “enlightenment” – perfect knowledge or wisdom by which a person becomes a Buddha.

bodhicitta – “thought of enlightenment” – the mental state in which an individual takes the decision to become an enlightened being. In Buddhist Tantra the inner energy of fluid that flows through the practitioner’s charkas following the internal union of female Wisdom (prajna) and male Skill in Means (upaya).

bodhisattva – “One who possesses the essence of enlightenment” – a deified saviour figure, a fully enlightened being who remains in the world in order to release other creatures from suffering existence.

buddha – “enlightened being”

candali – “female outcast” – the Tantric consort; also the subtle body, the “red element”, female energy that rises up from the lower abdomen to melt the male “white element” in the cranial vault. See also avadhuti.

Carya Tantra – “Tantra of Observance” – one of the four classes of Buddhist Tantric texts, sects and teachings.

chakra – “circle, wheel” – one of the usually seven energy centres aligned along the spinal column of the yogic body.

chakravala - the nine chakravala or concentric mountain ranges or continents, separated by eight seas, of a universe.

chakravartin – “wheel-turner” – an universal emperor and protector of Buddhism

cintamani - a talismanic pearl, a symbol of bestowing fortune and capable of fulfilling every wish.

citta - mind or heart. the two terms being synonymous in Asian religious philosophy.

dakini – one of a group of powerful female beings, possessed by the power of flight, who mediate between the worlds of the buddhas, the demonic, and the human in Tantric ritual and meditative practice. A woman embodying enlightened wisdom.

chöd yul – “The object that is to be cut off” – system of dramatic shamanic practices that effect the severing or cutting off of demons as a means to annihilating the ego that otherwise keeps one trapped in suffering existence.

damaru – hourglass-shaped two-headed “schaman’s drum” carried and played by Tantric deities and practitioners.

deva – “shining one” – a celestial deity who is nevertheless “un-liberated”.

dharini - extended mantra used in esoteric branch of Buddhism to focus and expand the mind. Its words, or sounds, should not communicate any recognizable meaning.

dharma – the teachings of the Buddha; the law, doctrine, or ethical precepts of Buddhism; an underlying cosmic principle taught by the Buddha; constituent element of reality; a phenomenon. The complex of religious and social obligations that a devout s required to fulfil; right action, duty, morality, virtue

dharmadhatu – the absolute reality experienced in enlightenment

dharmakaya – “body of teaching” – in Mahayana and later forms of Buddhism, the third and most exalted of the three bodies of the Buddha, composed of Buddha’s teachings. Tantric Buddhism knows of a fourth, called the diamond body (see also vajrakaya).

dhatu – the space or sphere of absolute reality itself

dhyana – ritual visualisation, inner vision, yogic meditation; instructions for visualizing a Tantric deity.

dorje – see: vajra

guru – a religious percept or teacher, often the person from whom one receives initiation or consecration.

hatha yoga – body of yogic practice that combines posture, breath control, seals, and locks as a means to bodily immortality and supernatural power.

ida – mapping of the yogic body, the major subtle channel identified with the moon that runs the length of the spinal column, to the left of the medial channel. See also nadi.

inana – “gnosis” – supreme knowledge; the highest form of knowledge, which affords liberation from suffering existence.

kalpa – sacred precept, law, ritual, or ordinance; an eon, a fantastically long period of time.

kama – desire and sexuality used as a means to liberation or transcendence of the human condition

karma - volition, volitional or intentional activity. Karma is always followed by its fruit, Vipaka. Karma and Vipaka are oftentimes referred to as the law of causality, a cardinal concern in the Teaching of the Buddha.

Kriya Tantra –“Action Tantra” – one of the four classes of Buddhist Tantric texts, sects and teachings.

kshatriya - the second of the four Hindu Castes at the time of Shakyamuni, they were the royal caste, the noble landlord, the warriors and the ruling castes.
maharaja - a great or superior king.

kundalini – “She who is coiled”; the female energy that lies coiled at the base of the yogic body. Through combined techniques, the Kundalini is “awakened” and made to rise through the charkas to the cranial vault. See also: shakti.

lama – a Tantric teacher or Guru in Tibetan Buddhism

linga – the male sexual organ. See also yoni.

mahamudra – “great seal” – gnosis realizing the mind’s own emptiness in a non-dual, androgynous fashion. The “inner woman” as part of the yogic body. The ultimate nature of mind; an instantaneous practice for purifying the mind.

mahasiddha – “great perfect being” – “great sorcerer” – a highly perfected and accomplished mystic; one of a legendary class of demigods or superhuman Tantric practitioners who propagated Tantra throughout South Asia and Tibet.

mani - a jewel, gem, precious stone; especially a pearl bead or other globular ornament.

maithuna – “Pairing, coupling” – sexual intercourse as a means of liberation, gnosis and transcendence of the human condition; the fifth and ultimate Tantric “sacrament”; an iconic representation of a pair engaging in sexual intercourse. See also yab-yum.

mandala – “circle” – an idealized circular model of the cosmos, with the source of cosmic or temporal power located at the centre, and deities or beings representing lesser powers or energies radiating outward toward the periphery, the limits of the system. In Tantric practice, Mandalas are often employed as visual meditation support.

mantra – “mental device, instrument oft thought” – an acoustic formula whose sound shape embodies the energy-level of a deity; a spell, incantation or charm employed in Tantric ritual or sorcery. Chants, magical formulae.

maya – “That which is measured out; cosmic illusion”

Meru - the central mountain of every universe.

mudra – “seal” – a symbolic gesture of the body with ritual meanings. In Buddhist Tantra mudra is on of the terms used for a male practitioner’s female consort.

nadi – one of an elaborate network of 72.000 subtle ducts of the yogic body through which breath and energy are channelled.

nirmanakaya – “form body” – the first of the three bodies of the Buddha, the physical form in which the historical Buddha appeared to the world.

nirvana – “extinction” – the soteriological goal of Buddhism; the final cessation of rebirth into suffering existence.

pingala – mapping of the yogic body, the major subtle channel identified with the un that runs the length of the spinal column, to the right of the medial channel. See also nadi.

pitha – “bench, footstool” – a pilgrimage site and power place identified with a goddess and her male consort.

prajna – “wisdom” – insight into the true nature in reality; a Tantric practitioner‘s female consort . The prajna becomes deified as a Buddhist goddess  with a bipolar relationship to the male upaya (“skill”) represented by a god, a buddha or a bodhisattva.

prajna-paramita – “perfection of wisdom” – the female embodiment of wisdom. Prajna-paramita becomes deified as a Buddhist goddess, also considered to be the “mother of all buddhas”.

prana – “breath” – the breath of life; one of the multiple breaths or energies that, flowing through the nadis, vitalizes and is the active element in the transformation of the yogic body.

pratyekabuddha – a Buddha who loves a solitary existence and realizes nirvana for himself alone.

puja –“honouring, veneration”; the body of practices that comprise the worship of a deity. 

rainbow body (Tibet. ja’lus) – supernatural body attained through Tantric techniques by means of which the practitioner is able to disappear into another dimension.

rasa – “juice, flavor’ – an essential fluid of yogic, alchemical or Tantric practice. The semen feminile.

sadhaka – a Tantric practitioner

sadhana – Tantric practice

shakti – “energy” – the energy of a deity personified as his female consort

samadhi – total yogic integration; ecstatic consciousness

samatha – “tranquil abiding, quiescence” – a Buddhist form of meditation.

samaya – “coming together” – conventional rule or practice; sacrament.

sambhogakaya – “body of shared enjoyment” – the second of the Buddha’s three bodies, in which he preaches to the assembled bodhisattvas.

samsara – “flowing together” – the cycle of transmigration; suffering existence, phenomenal reality.

sangha – “assembly” – Buddhist society, comprised of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen

siddha – “perfected being”-  a Tantric practitioner who has realized embodied liberation. The siddhas also form a class of demigods who inhabit the atmospheric regions.

siddhi – “perfection” – one of the many supernatural powers possessed by siddhas as a result of their practice, their sadhana. Included among the siddhis are the power of flight, invisibility, the power of attraction and the power to realize one’s every desire.

shravaka – “auditor” – a person who attains emancipation by listening a buddha.

stupa – a funerary monument in the shape of a dome or pyramid, containing a relic of a Buddha or some other objects of veneration; a meditation support symbolizing the formless body of the Buddha and the essential structure of the cosmos.

shunyata – “emptiness” – the principle that all objects of the senses, mental concepts, and categories are void of self-existence.

susumna – mapping of the yogic body; the major subtle channel identified with fire, which runs down through the centre of the spinal column. See also nadi.

tathatgata  - “one who comes thus” – an epithet of the Buddha or of one the five celestial buddhas

terma – “treasure” – indigenous Tibetan Budhist collections of works, mainly containing instructions for special forms of Tantric practice. They are brought to light by treasure-discoverer specialists, either in the form of hidden manuscripts or of visionary revelations with no physical substrate.

torma – conical flour and butter cones used as ritual offerings to a person’s enlightened beings and protectors.

tulku – “the form body of a Buddha” – the recognized reincarnation of a past Buddha master.

upaya – “skill in means” – array of expedient devices employed by bodhisattvas to enlighten beings trapped in suffering existence. Upaya becomes deified as the male member of a bipolar relationship – with the female prajna (“wisdom”).

vajra – (Tibetan dorje) – “Thunderbolt, diamond, penis” – adamantine symbol of strength, immovability, and transcendent nature of the state aimed at by Tantric practitioners; name of an implement used in Tantric ritual.

vajrakaya – “diamond body”

vajrayoga – “adamantine union” – the fusion of wisdom realizing emptiness and compassion, which spontaneously manifests appearances in order to guide living beings to freedom from samsara.

vidya – “esoteric knowledge, wisdom” – wisdom personified as a goddess. Vidya is one of the terms used for a male practitioner’s female consort.

yab-yum (Tibetan) – “father-mother” – term used to describe deities in sexual union.

yantra – “instrument of restraint; machine” – one of a group of instruments, including diagrams, amulets, and alchemical apparatus, used by a Tantric practitioners to control or subdue his own mind, demonic beings, or elements of the phenomenal world.

yidam – “vow, oath, covenant” – a tutelary deity.

Yoga Tantra – “Tantra of Yoga” – one of the four classes of Buddhist Tantric texts, sects and teachings.

yogin – a male practitioner of yoga.

yogini – one of a class of powerful, fierce and often sexually alluring female demigods and human sorceresses who imitate or are identified with them; a female Tantric practitioner.

yoni – the female sexual organ, womb.


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