The New Year observed throughout East Asia is not a particularly Buddhist celebration, but for Buddhists at least a part of the day is usually spent visiting a nearby temple, as is the case in the Tet celebrations in Vietnamese communities. For Chinese, this is the time for the Lion Dance and for visiting the temple to honor the ancestors, offer prayers, and engage in fortune-telling to seek some clues about prospects for the upcoming year. In the Tibetan tradition, Losar comes in either February or March. Special Losar cookies and other deep-fried pastries are molded into extravagant shapes... Read more about Losar

Sakya school

Sakya is one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug. The Sakya tradition was founded by Konchog Gyalpo (1034-1102), who established a monastery in the Sakya region of south-west Tibet in 1073. The principal doctrine of this school is that of “the Path and its Fruit,” which seeks to unify the different teachings of the sutras and the tantras, through a teaching of the inseparability of samsara and nirvana.

Three Treasures

(also: three treasures; three gems) The Three Treasures are the central symbols of the Buddhist tradition in which one “takes refuge” in becoming a Buddhist: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Buddha refers to Siddhartha Gautama and other enlightened ones who have awakened to the true nature of reality. Dharma means the teachings of the Buddha. Sangha designates the community of Buddhist monks and practitioners.


Bhikkhus or Buddhist monks shave their heads and don a special robe to symbolize their renunciation of mundane pursuits. There are normally two levels of monkhood. the samanera, or novice monk, a role which may be assumed either temporarily, or as the first step toward becoming a bhikkhu, a fully ordained monk. In order to assure that the monastic community remains conducive to spiritual cultivation, Bhikkhus must comply with rigorous rules of restraint, typically approximately 250 in number.


Dharmadhatu is the name of a group of Tibetan Buddhist meditation centers in North America affiliated with the Vajradhatu association founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1973. The term “Dharmadhatu” refers to the underlying spiritual reality, the infinite ground or nature of all things.

Kornfield, Jack

Jack Kornfield is one of America’s first vipassana meditation teachers. After a stint in Southeast Asia, Jack Kornfield stayed on in Thailand to study with the Buddhist forest monk Achaan Chaa. In 1976, Kornfield teamed up with Joseph Goldstein to serve as one of the lead instructors for the newly founded Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts. By 1985, Kornfield had moved to the west coast, joining others to start the Spirit Rock Center in California.


A thangka is a Tibetan scroll painting depicting images of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, or other divine beings, sometimes within the sacred circle of a mandala. Usually framed by colorful silk brocades, this visual icon will be hung on temple or monastery walls.


Avalokiteshvara is the bodhisattva who looks down with compassion upon the suffering of all beings. In East Asia, this bodhisattva came to be popular in female form as Guanyin (China), Kannon (Japan) or Kwan Um (Korea), holding a willow branch and vase symbolic of her miraculous healing power. In Tibet, Avalokiteshvara is known as Chenrezig; each Dalai Lama is regarded as the reincarnation of Chenrezig.


The term dao (or tao) literally the “path,” or “way,” has been employed in Chinese religious and philosophical traditions, including Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. In general usage, the Tao refers to the proper way to act so as to fulfill one’s true role in the world. In Daoism, dao points to the ineffable creative process which gives birth to heaven, earth, and the myriad creatures. The Dao is invisible, inaudible, and subtle, though it is not separate from the sights, sounds and objects of this world. It is that which leads from... Read more about Dao


Karmapa is the title conferred upon the head monk of the Karma Kagyu sect of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism. The term karmapa, “man of action,” is derived from the Sanskrit karma (action) and Tibetan pa (man). Each successive Karmapa is understood to be a new incarnation of Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion. The 16th Karmapa, His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, established a North American center in Woodstock, New York in 1978.


Padmasambhava is a Buddhist monk and sage considered the father of Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet who reportedly journeyed from India to the “Land of Snow” during the 9th century. He initially came to subdue the local deities which had been obstructing the building of Samye, the region’s first major monastery. Once he converted the local deities to Buddhism, Padmasambhava is said to have traveled throughout Tibet to teach Vajrayana doctrines. Many Tibetans consider him to still be alive and accessible to those of high spiritual attainment.


A sutra is a text containing religious teachings. In the Buddhist tradition, sutras constitute one of the three canonical categories of teachings: vinaya (code of discipline), abhidharma (metaphysics), and sutra (discourses). This last category covers those texts that are said to record the sermons given by the Buddha and events that occurred in his presence. Such texts are usually introduced by the phrase “Thus have I heard.”

Zen master

(also: Ch'an master; roshi; sensei) Because the Chan (Zen) tradition eschews traditional Buddhist textual, institutional, and ethical guides for the attainment of Buddhahood, the master has a critically important role in directing his or her students along the right path. The Japanese Zen tradition distinguishes between the sensei, or teacher, and roshi, or venerable teacher, the latter requiring years of additional experience for its attainment.


Amitabha Buddha, called Emituofo in China and Amida in Japan, is the Buddha of “Infinite Light.” This Buddha is the main focus of devotion in the Pure Land school of Chinese Buddhism, and the Pure Land (Shin) and True Pure Land (Jodo Shinshu) schools of Buddhism in Japan. This Buddha presides over Sukhavati, the Western Pure Land where anyone can be reborn by reciting his name with complete sincerity and concentration.


Chua is the Vietnamese term for temple. The Buddhist temples of Southeast Asia are distinctive in that the monastery and temple complex form a single institution.