Buddhist Terms and Doctrines
by Nyanatiloka MahaThera
Fourth Revised Edition,
edited by Nyanaponika Mahathera
Buddhist Publication Society
P. O. Box 61 54,
Kandy, Sri Lanka
First Edition 1952
Second Revised Edition 1956
Third Revised & Enlarged Edition 1972 (Pub. by Frewin & Co., Ltd., Colombo)
Fourth Revised Edition 1980 (Buddhist Publication Society) Reprinted 1988
©1980 by Buddhist Publication Society
ISBN - 955 - 24 - 0019 - 8
From The Preface To The First Edition
As a first attempt of an authentic dictionary of
Buddhist doctrinal terms, used in the Pāli Canon and its Commentaries, this present
manual will fill a real gap felt by many students of Buddhism. It provides the reader not
with a mere superficial enumeration of important Pāli terms and their English
equivalents, but offers him precise and authentic definitions and explanations of
canonical and post-canonical terms and doctrines, based on Sutta, Abhidhamma and
Commentaries, and illustrated by numerous quotations taken from these sources, so that, if
anyone wishes, he could, by intelligently joining together the different articles, produce
without difficulty a complete exposition of the entire teachings of Buddhism.
As already pointed out by the author in the preface to his
Guide through the Abhidhamma-Pitaka (Colombo 1938), there are found in the Abhidhamma
Canon numerous technical terms not met with in the Sutta Canon; and again other terms are
found only in the Commentaries and not in Sutta and Abhidhamma. The author therefore has
made a first attempt - without, however, laying any claim to absolute reliability or
completeness in this by no means easy undertaking - to indicate in the Appendix all the
terms that in the oldest Sutta texts are either not found at all, or at least not in the
same form or meaning, and to set forth how far these are deviations from the older texts,
or further developments.
In this connection, the author wishes to state that the
often quoted Patisambhidā-Magga, as well as Niddesa, Buddhavamsa and Cariyapitaka, though
included in the Khuddaka Nikāya of the Sutta Pitaka, nevertheless bear throughout the
character of Commentaries, and though apparently older than the Sutta Commentaries handed
down to us in Buddhaghosa's version, must doubtless belong to a later period of origin
than the Abhidhamma Canon.
In rendering the terms into English, I often had to differ
considerably from the interpretation of Western scholars, and to introduce quite new
words. A great number of such earlier translations must be considered partly as totally
incorrect, partly as misleading, or at the very least ambiguous. Incorrect are, for
instance, the English renderings of nāma-rūpa by 'name and form'; javana
(impulsion, i.e. the karmic impulsive moments) by 'apperception', etc.
The expositions concerning the true nature of the 8-fold
Path, the 4 Noble Truths, the paticca-samuppāda and the 5 groups of existence -
doctrines which, with regard to their true nature, have been often misunderstood by
Western authors - are sure to come to many as a revelation.
On the doctrine of anattā, or 'egolessness', i.e.
the impersonality and emptiness of all phenomena of existence, the author repeatedly felt
the necessity of throwing light from every possible point of view, for it is exactly this
doctrine which, together with the doctrine of the conditionality of all phenomena of
existence, constitutes the very essence of the whole Teaching of the Buddha without which
it will be by no means possible to understand it in its true light. Thus the doctrine of
impersonality runs like a red thread right through the whole book.
May this little manual provide an ever-helpful companion
and vade mecum to all earnest students in their study of the original Buddhist
scriptures, and also give to Buddhist authors and lecturers the opportunity of
supplementing and deepening their knowledge of the profound teachings of the Buddha!
Should it, for a better understanding, prove necessary to
give to certain subjects a more detailed treatment, the carrying out of this task may be
reserved for a later edition of this work.
Central Internment Camp
Editor's Preface To The Third Edition
The present revised and enlarged Third Edition was
intended to be issued in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the venerable author's
passing away on 28th May 1957. But due to unavoidable circumstances the publication had to
It was the venerable author's wish to enlarge the first
edition of this work, but when a second edition became necessary, he was prevented from
expanding it by the illness to which he later succumbed. It rested, therefore, with his
pupil, the present editor, to make, within the original scope and character of the work,
such additions and revisions as seemed useful.
Over seventy articles have been expanded and partly
rewritten; others were slightly revised; more source references were included, and
information on literature for further study of the respective subjects was added to some
of the articles. But only very few new words have been added (e.g.
ānupubbi-kathā, etc.). This restriction was observed because the venerable author
himself thought only of 'a more detailed treatment' of existing articles (see Preface to
the 1st ed.) as he obviously wished to preserve the original form and character of the
book. It was also considered that the adding of more words such as those coined in later
commentarial and abhidhammic literature, would be superfluous as in the English language
such terms will generally be found only in a few scholarly books and translations which
themselves give the explanations needed.
This book is chiefly intended for those who study the
Buddhist teachings through the medium of the English language, but wish to familiarize
themselves with some of the original Pāli terms of doctrinal import. They are in the same
position as a student of philosophy or science who has to know the terminology of his
field, which for common parlance is mostly not less 'unfamiliar' than are the words of the
Pāli language found in the Dictionary.
Such acquaintance with the Pāli terms of the original
texts will also be useful to the student for the purpose of identifying the various
renderings of them favored by different translators. It is deplorable that there is a
considerable multiplication of new English coining for the same doctrinal term. This great
variety of renderings has proved to be confusing to those students of Buddhism who are not
familiar with the Pāli language. Even at this late stage when many translations of Pāli
texts are in print, it will be desirable if, for the sake of uniformity, translators forgo
their preference for their own coining, even if they think them better than others. In any
case, doctrinal terms have to be known by definition, just as in the case of philosophical
and technical terms in a Western language.
As a small help in the situation described, a number of
alternative renderings used by other translators have been included in some articles of
this edition. In a very few cases, unacceptable though familiar renderings have been
bracketed. The Venerable Nyanatiloka's own preferences have been placed in inverted
commas. Generally it may be said that his renderings, based on his comprehensive knowledge
of texts and doctrine, are very sound and adequate. Only in a very few cases has the
editor changed the author's preferred rendering e.g. 'canker' for āsava (instead
of 'bias'), 'right view' for sammā-ditthi (instead of 'right understanding'). The
latter change was made for the sake of economizing with the few English equivalents for
the numerous Pāli synonyms for 'knowing', etc.; and also to avoid having to render the
opposite term, micchā-ditthi, by 'wrong understanding'.
This Dictionary appeared also in the author's own German
version (published by Verlag Christiani, Konstanz, Germany) and in a French translation
made by the late Mme Suzanne Karpeles (published by 'Adyar', Paris, 1961).
Only few and minor revisions have been made to the text of
the Fourth Edition which is now issued by the Buddhist Publication Society.
Kandy, Sri Lanka
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