We are inspired by the living example of great teachers, who have both penetrating insight and a loving heart. "With modern neuroscience, we're now beginning to understand the brain processes that support these wonderful qualities of mind," explains Dr. Rick Hanson. With The Enlightened Brain online course, this pioneering neuropsychologist explores how you can activate these same processes inside your own brain to accelerate your own transformation.
Join Sounds True founder and publisher, Tami Simon, on a meditation retreat in 2012. Tami teaches meditation in the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition under the direction of Reggie Ray, in the lineage of the great meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Tami's programs are open to the public and designed for newcomers as well as long-time practitioners. Check back often as Tami's retreat schedule will be updated regularly.
AH. The mantra (see definition of “mantra” below) associated with the throat chakra and the primordial sound from which everything arises. A foundational mantra used in Tibetan Buddhism.
Ananda. Sanskrit referring to a state of total bliss and joy that can be brought about by many means, including that of meditation.
Anapanasati. Pali for mindfulness of breathing, the foundational meditation practice in most schools of Buddhism.
Anatta. Pali for “no-self”; insubstantiality of a fixed, continuous self; one of the three characteristics of existence.
Anicca. Pali for “impermanent.” Referring to the notion that all conditioned mental and physical phenomena are impermanent; they arise, play out, and then fall away. One of the three characteristics of existence in Buddhist teaching.
Arahant. Pali referring to one who is enlightened. Someone whose mind is completely free from defilements or ignorance; a person who is no longer bound to cyclic existence.
Bardo. Tibetan for “in between”; typically referring to the period between physical death and subsequent rebirth as discussed in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Beginner’s mind. A mind that is open to the experience of the moment, free of conceptual overlays. A term made popular by the Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi.
Bodhi. Sanskrit for “enlightenment” or “awakening.”
Bodhi tree. The tree under which the Buddha meditated and attained final enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, India. A fig tree popularly called Pipal (Ficus Religiosa).
Bodhicitta. Sanskrit for “awakened heart/mind.” “Absolute” bodhicitta is the empty and luminous ground of being or the nature of mind; “relative” bodhicitta refers to the altruistic aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
Bodhisattva. One who is awakened at the level of the heart/mind through the realization of emptiness and has dedicated their life to the welfare and eventual enlightenment of all sentient beings.
Bhakti yoga. A path of inner transformation which is primarily centered around devotion, the heart, and surrender to the divine in the form of a deity, a guru, or God. “Bhakti” is a Sankrit term loosely translated as “the heart,” while yoga here refers to a pathway or vehicle.
Brama-viharas (four). Pali for “heavenly abode” or “best home.” The Buddha taught that practicing these four qualities (lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) leads to “the liberation of the heart which is love.” According to the Theravada Buddhist teaching, the four brahma-viharas constitute an ideal state of mind, in which the practitioner feels completely at home, both within and without.
Buddha. Sanskrit for “one who is awake.” Referring to a person who has achieved full enlightenment leading to release from the cycle of existence and has thereby attained complete liberation, ultimate happiness, and fulfillment, wisdom, love, and compassion. Also referring to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni who lived in India in the fifth and sixth centuries BC, who was the founder of Buddhism.
Centering Prayer. A form of meditation in the Christian tradition that prepares the practitioner to receive the gift of Contemplative Prayer in which God’s presence is experienced within.
Chakra. Sanskrit for “wheel”—generally referring to the body’s seven subtle energy centers, which are located along the spine. Focusing upon the chakras forms the basis of a number of yogic and meditative practices.
Ch’an. Chinese for the Sanskrit term for meditation—dhyan. Later, as Buddhism passed from China to Japan, the word became known as zen. Ch’an Buddhism refers to a Mahayana school of Buddhism as practiced in China. A precursor of Zen Buddhism.
The Cloud of Unknowing. An anonymous treatise written in England in the fourteenth century, The Cloud of Unknowing is a concise and practical primer on contemplative prayer. The author’s premise is that, to experience God, one must strive for a “darkness about your mind, or as it were, a cloud of unknowing.” To do this, one must fix one’s heart on God, forgetting all else.
Concentration. Oftentimes, meditation is grouped according to two distinct kinds of practices—concentration and awareness. The concentration side of meditation refers to a process whereby we purposely bring attention to a particular object, e.g., the breath or other bodily sensation, in order to bring our bodies and minds into the present and out of the continuous flow of thought and images. Also referred to as “stabilizing” the mind and working with the mind’s habitual tendency toward distraction.
Contemplation. The traditional word used for “contemplation” in the Western spiritual traditions. Referring to a resting the mind in content-less awareness, allowing whatever arises in the mind to play out on its on; not specifically focusing on any particular object in awareness, but rather upon the ground itself. In contrast to “meditatio,” a concentrative effort which involved continuous, focused, intended thought. In colloquial terms, one might “meditate” upon something, i.e., an image of Christ or thoughts of love.
Contemplative Prayer. The term “contemplative prayer” has come to have two primary meanings: 1) a general term used to refer to an intentional practice whereby one quiets the movement of the mind and comes into communion with God; through the use of a repetitive sound or sacred word as in “Centering Prayer” or by use of another means of concentration, such as the breath, and 2) in contrast to an effort-based meditation practice such as Centering Prayer or Mantra Meditation or concentration on one’s breath, Contemplative Prayer is said to be a gift that one receives directly from the divine. It is a state of being characterized by total openness, union, and oneness with God or the presence. It must be received by the meditator, as an offering of grace, and cannot be produced.
Dharma. Referring to teachings concerning what is true, the way of things; specifically, the teachings of the Buddha.
Dharmakaya. Sanskrit referring to one of the three bodies, or dimensions, of the manifestation of an enlightened being or awakened one—in this case, the unmanifested or formless aspect.
Dhikr. Arabic referring to an Islamic/Sufi meditation practice that focuses on the remembrance of God. As a devotional act, dhikr includes the repetition of the names of God (Allah) and sections of the holy Qur’an.
Dhyana. Sanskrit term referring loosely to “meditation.” It came to be known as “Ch’an” in China and eventually as “Zen” in Japan.
Doha. Sanskrit referring to a spontaneous song of realization. These songs and poems were delivered by awakened beings primarily as teaching tools to help others.
Dukkha. Pali for “suffering” or “anguish” or “unsatisfactory.” Referring to the first of Buddha’s four noble truths. Life as we know it, ignorant of the true nature of mind and reality, is characterized by dukkha.
Dzogchen. Tibetan for “Great Perfection”; referring to the highest cycle of teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism. Dzgochen takes as its foundation that we are already buddhas by nature—infinitely open, luminous, compassionate, wise, and free. This profound realization, according to the Dzogchen teachings, cannot be understood intellectually or studied mentally, but it can be passed from teacher to student through the spoken word. Meditation in the Dzogchen tradition is concerned with the realization of the nature of mind, known as rigpa.
Ego. The pattern of conditioned habits that we mistake for a solid, continuous sense of self. The practice of meditation can expose and dismantle this mistaken view.
Equanimity. The clear understanding that change is the fabric of life. Recognizing that pain and pleasure flow endlessly through human experience, the practitioner relinquishes control over that which is inherently uncontrollable.
The Jesus Prayer. Also called “the prayer of the heart,” the Jesus Prayer is a short, formulaic prayer often uttered repeatedly. It has been widely used, taught, and discussed throughout the history of the Eastern Christian churches. The exact words of the prayer have varied from the simplest possible involving Jesus’ name to the more common extended form: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Karma. Sanskrit for “action” or “reaction”; the universal law of cause and effect.
Karuna. Sanskrit for “compassion.” It is our caring human response to suffering. The compassionate heart is nonjudgmental and free of guilt, for it recognizes its own torment—as well as that of any other being—as deserving of tenderness. In short, the ability to respond fully to our own and others’ pain.
Kensho. Japanese for “seeing one’s nature” or “seeing one’s true self”; referring to an experience of awakening within the study and practice of Zen Buddhism.
Lectio Divina. Formal Christian meditation began with the early Christian monastic practice of reading the Bible slowly. Monks would carefully consider the deeper meaning of each verse as they read it. This slow and thoughtful reading of Scripture, and the ensuing pondering of its meaning, was their meditation. This spiritual practice is called “divine reading” or “sacred reading,” or lectio divina.
Lojong. Tibetan for “mind training”; specifically, referring to fifty-nine slogans used for working with the mind, self, and others. The Tibetan Mahayana practice of tonglen is associated with these trainings and teachings.
Mahamudra. Sanskrit for “great seal”; along with Dzogchen, considered the highest teachings in Tibetan Buddhism. Mahamudra is practiced by the various schools in Tibet, but emphasized by the Kagyu lineage and, in particular, the traditions of the Karmapas.
Mahayana. Sanskrit for “greater vehicle”; referring to one of the three “yanas,” or pathways, of Buddhism. The Mahayana path emphasizes inner development for the benefit of others and involves a system of teachings and practices for developing love and compassion. Zen Buddhism in China and Japan and Indo-Tibetan Buddhism are examples of Mahayana schools.
Maitri. Sanskrit for “friendliness”; usually translated as love and kindness toward both oneself and others.
Mandala. Sanskrit for “circle” or “wheel.” A sacred diagram used as an object of meditation, particularly in Indian and Tibetan systems of spiritual practice.
Mantra. Sanskrit for sacred words or sounds used as an object of meditation. In Hinduism and some schools of Buddhism, they are said to have transformative powers that aid the meditator.
Meditation. The traditional word used for “meditation” in the Western spiritual traditions. Referring to a concentrative effort which involves continuous, focused, intended thought. In colloquial terms, one might “meditate” upon something, i.e., an image of Christ or thoughts of love. In contrast to the term “contemplation,” which referred to resting the mind in content-less awareness, allowing whatever arises in the mind to play out on its own; not specifically focusing on any particular object in awareness, but rather upon the ground itself.
Metta. Pali for “lovingkindness.” More closely translated, metta means both “gentle”—as in a gentle rain that falls indiscriminately on everything—and “friendship.” Thus, metta refers to a steady, unconditional sense of appreciation and respect that touches both yourself and all beings.
Mindfulness. A state or experience characterized by clear and undistracted attention to one’s immediate experience in a given moment. One can be mindful of a sensation in the body, a thought in the mind, a feeling in the heart area, something seen through the physical eyes, a sound in nature, etc. Mindfulness may be seen as the foundation of many, if not all, meditation practices—the ground required for any subsequent meditative practice.
Moksha. Sanskrit for “release”; referring to the liberation of the individual from samsara, the cycle of birth, suffering, and death. One of the many Sanskrit terms pointing to the enlightened or awakened condition, free of identification with the ego.
Nirvana. Sanskrit for total enlightenment, complete liberation from suffering and confusion; ultimate peace, implying the fullest actualization of all the highest qualities innate in us; the complete overcoming of desire, hatred, and delusion; the goal of spiritual practices in all branches of Buddhism.
Paramita. Sanskrit for “gone to the other shore”; referring to steps on the path to enlightenment or liberation such as generosity, patience, and wisdom.
Prajna. Sanskrit for “knowledge”; referring to the ultimate forms of intelligence and wisdom. Discriminating discernment of the nature of reality.
Prana. Sanskrit referring to the breath or essential life force.
Pranayama. Sanskrit referring to the conscious measuring, control, directing, and awareness of the prana, or breath/life force. Pranayama practices control the energy within the body in order to restore and maintain physical and spiritual development.
Qi (or “chi”). Chinese for life energy, vital energy, or breath of life.
Qigong (or “chi kung”). Chinese for the art and science of refining the qi through movement, breathing, and meditation.
Rigpa. Tibetan term referring to the ultimate nature of mind or reality; total awareness; innate wakefulness; pure presence. A term specifically used in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibet.
Rinpoche. Tibetan for “precious one”; an honorific term applied to Tibetan Buddhist teachers.
Rushen. Tibetan term for “subtle discernment”; referring to a specific meditation practice undertaken in the Dzogchen tradition.
Samadhi. A deep state of meditative absorption.
Samsara. Sanskrit term referring to the endless cycle of existence, characterized by impermanence, egolessness, and suffering. Upon enlightenment, one need not return to samsaric existence, but may choose to in order to help others.
Sangha. Sanskrit for community of spiritual seekers; friends and companions on the path. Along with the “dharma” (teachings) and the Buddha (referring to the teacher, inner or outer), these three aspects make up the traditional “three jewels” of Buddhism.
Sem. Tibetan term referring to the conceptual, discursive mind or to the flow of habitual thought. In contradistinction to rigpa, which refers to the nature of mind—the empty, luminous ground from which all form arises and dissolves into.
Shamatha. Sanskrit for “calm-abiding”; referring to the concentrative aspect of meditation practice aimed at calming the mind and bringing it to a single point, in the present. An antidote to the habitual aspect that the mind has for becoming distracted. Shamatha practice makes use of an object of meditation, often the breath, to cut through its usual speed and distraction.
Shambhala. A legendary kingdom, known to many cultures worldwide, where people lived with dignity, fearlessness, and lovingkindness; also, an organization founded in the 1970s by Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, to help sow the seeds of such a society in our world today. As part of this vision, Rinpoche established “Shambhala Training,” a non-Buddhist, non-secular path of meditation and enlightened activity in the world. For more information, please visit shambhala.org.
Shunyata. Sanskrit for “emptiness”—referring to the limitless, unbounded nature of reality. Reality is “empty” of our preconceptions about it. Both the nature of mind and the nature of reality is luminous, open, unobstructed, and spacious.
Skillful Means. Action based on kindness, respect, truthfulness, timeliness, and wisdom. Action which arises out of the wisdom generated in meditative practice.
Soto Zen. One of the two major schools of Zen Buddhism (the other is Rinzai), founded by the legendary Dogen Zenji. Soto Zen emphasizes the formless meditation practice called shikantaza (“just sitting”).
Sutra. Sanskrit for “thread”; referring to the original discourses of the historical Buddha.
Tantra. Sanskrit for “continuum”; to interweave; referring to a non-dual teaching or tradition; the underlying concept for Vajrayana Buddhism and many schools of Hinduism. Tantric meditation practice is characterized by elaborate ritual, use of visualization and mantra, and direct work with a spiritual mentor or guru. The type of Buddhism practiced in Tibet.
Taoism (or “Daoism”). The ancient Chinese philosophy and religion founded by Lao Zi in the fourth century, BC. Tao can loosely be translated as “spiritual mystery” and “the way of nature.” Taoists learn to commune with this mystery and seek harmony with nature through ritual, art, and meditative practices, including qigong. The goal of Taoism is to become an Immortal (xian), a sage who is attuned to the timeless processes of nature.
Theravada. Pali for “teaching of the elders”; an early school of Buddhism originating in India and practiced today in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. It is the Theravada school that is most associated with the well-known practice of vipassana, or insight meditation.
Tonglen. Tibetan for “taking and sending”; a particular type of meditation practice in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition that involves the cultivation of kindness and compassion, both for oneself and others.
Transcendental Meditation (or “TM”). A mantra-based practice introduced to the West by Indian meditation master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. TM has been the subject of hundreds of scientifically verifiable studies on the benefits of a regular meditation practice. For more information, please visit tm.org.
Vipassana. Pali for “clear seeing”; referring to the meditation practice of insight as first taught in the early schools of Buddhism. Too see clearly; insight meditation; the simple and direct practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness. Through careful and sustained observation, we experience for ourselves the ever-changing flow of the mind/body process. This awareness leads us to accept more fully the pleasure and pain, fear and joy, sadness and happiness that life inevitably brings.
The Buddha first taught vipassana more than 2,500 years ago. The various methods of this practice have been well preserved in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism.
Yoga. Loosely translated from the Sanskrit as “union” or “to unite”; referring to a myriad of traditional physical and mental practices originating in India. Major forms of yoga include Hatha Yoga (physical postures), Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhatki Yoga, and Jnana Yoga. Yoga tradition is filled with hundreds of types and kinds of meditation practices.
Yoga Sutras. A foundational text from the second century CE which has greatly influenced yoga philosophy and practice to this day. Compiled by the great yogi Patanjali.
Yogi. Sanskrit for one who is a practitioner of a school of yoga or meditation. One who is undertaking the spiritual path of awakening.
Zabuton. A square cushion used to help the meditator become more comfortable for long periods of sitting meditation.
Zafu. A round cushion used placed on top of the zabuton to further help the meditator become more comfortable for long periods of sitting meditation.
Zen. A school of Mahayana Buddhism which grew out of the Ch’an tradition in China and flourished in Japan and Korea.
Zuowang. Literally, “sitting and forgetting,” a term used in Daoist meditation to refer to formless practice where one is resting in the Dao or the nature of reality and being.