I think I know some of these, but the rest are a translation muddle. The west seems to not attempt to translate nirvana, sangha, dharma, mantra, mudra, buddha, bodhisattva (and probably a few more) and that for me is actually helpful. I expect that some of these correspond to multiple Pali/Sanskrit words.

Enlightenment. In English, it is an anachronistic reference to the European age of Enlightenment.

Meditation. This word predates the west's contact with Buddhism. I have no idea what non-Buddhist baggage it brings along.

Loving-kindness. This sounds like Christianity projected on Buddhism.

Soul. Seems like this is atman, but everyone seems determined to call it something like "self," which is for a man-in-the-street just a reflexive pronoun. (Does the self exist? Well, as much as any other pronoun, like "he" or "they")

Reincarnation/rebirth. Synonyms in man-in-the-street's English, but I've seen people argue passionately how Buddhism believes one but not the other, sort of like believing in leasing but not renting (which are synonyms).

Repentance. I know for sure this is a big deal in Chinese Buddhism.

Pure/Purity. Means scrubbed clean of earthly dirt. I know this is a metaphor, but somehow, after 2000 years it falls as flat as if I tried to use a computer metaphor to explain to a 500BC farmer how the brain and cellular DNA works.

Heaven/Pure Land. Sukhāvatī comes to mind, but I'm not sure if this is a specific pure land, or the jargon for pure lands in general. Again, 'pure' makes it sound either homogenous or really well scrubbed, like a hospital. I'd rather just use whatever jargon word the originators used.

Deity. This in man-in-the-street English mean a god, or God, just like the one's the Christian's pray to. In Vajrayana, people seem to argue that yidams are something else.

2 Answers 2

  • Enlightenment - bodhi (awakening), vimokṣa, vimukti (liberation).
  • Meditation - bhāvanā (cultivation), samādhi (concentration), śamatha (calmness), samāpatti, dhyāna.
  • Loving-kindness - maitrī.
  • Soul - as permanent entity which doesn't exists is ātman. Soul as psyche or mind is citta, manas, or as life force is jīvita-indriya.
  • Reincarnation - is uncommon in Buddhist discourse.
  • Rebirth - pratisaṃdhi. Where birth is jāti or bhāva.
  • Pure - śubha.
  • Heaven - deva-loka.
  • Repentance - 懺 (ch'an) which is kṣamā.
  • Pure land - buddha-kṣetra.
  • Deity - devatā.
  • I think śubha means beautiful; suddha (śuddha in Skt) is pure. Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 14:11
  • @yuttadhammo 'Beautiful' is one of the meanings, but also "good (in moral sense) , righteous , virtuous , honest; pure (as an action)".
    – catpnosis
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 14:25
  • Sure, but it's not the best literal translation for pure, that's all. Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 14:39
  • @yuttadhammo I thought MatthewMartin meant not just some abstract purity, but purity of action and personality, where śubha is good fit.
    – catpnosis
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 16:26
  • What is your source for thinking that? It means literally "beautiful"; that it can be in some cases glossed as meaning "pure" doesn't make it a good fit. See sanskritdictionary.com/?q=%C5%9Bubha or dictionary.buddhistdoor.com/en/word/237402/subha or vedabase.net/s/subha - nowhere is it defined as "pure". Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 19:03

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There are many synonyms to the words given in the table. Only mentioning some of the popular words.


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