This glossary contains Pali terms that aren’t translated when they first appear in the translations, as well as terms that require further background explanation even when they are. Dhātu in particular is discussed at length because an acquaintance with traditional Thai physics is needed to understand a number of similes given in Ajaan Lee’s writings, even though they don’t explicitly refer to the term.

Some Pali terms carry a weight of associations that can’t be borne by single English equivalents. In some such cases, where the terms form the connecting thread in the discussion (e.g., sammati, ārammaṇa), I have used a single equivalent throughout the translations, and have given a variety of readings here which—if the reader feels inclined—can be read into the translation in place of the equivalents used. In other cases (e.g., nirodha) I have used a number of different equivalents in the text, as called for by the context, all of which have been gathered here so that the reader will see that they are meant to be related.

In choosing English equivalents for the Pali terms used in this book, I have been guided primarily by the meanings Ajaan Lee himself gives to those terms—either directly, through the way he explains and defines them; or indirectly, through the way he uses them. Some of these meanings differ from those generally accepted at present, in which cases it is up to the reader to discover which interpretations are best by experimenting to see which are most useful in practice.

abhiññā: Intuitive powers that come from the practice of concentration: the ability to display psychic powers, clairvoyance, clairaudience, the ability to know the thoughts of others, recollection of past lifetimes, and the knowledge that does away with mental effluents (see āsava).

anattā: Not-self.

anicca(ṁ): Inconstant, unstable, impermanent.

anussati: Recollection as a meditation exercise. Strictly speaking, there are seven themes recommended for recollection: the virtues of the Buddha, of the Dhamma, and of the Saṅgha; moral virtue; generosity; the qualities that lead to rebirth as a heavenly being; and the peace of nibbāna. (This last topic is for those who have already experienced a glimpse of nibbāna, but have not yet attained arahantship.) In addition, the following practices are also sometimes classed as “anussati”: mindfulness of death, mindfulness of breathing, and mindfulness immersed in the body.

apāya-bhūmi: Realm of deprivation; the four lower states of existence: rebirth in hell, as a hungry shade, as an angry demon, or as a common animal. In Buddhism, none of these states are regarded as eternal conditions.

arahant: A person who has abandoned all ten of the fetters that bind the mind to the cycle of rebirth (see saṅyojana), whose heart is free of mental effluents (see āsava), and is thus not destined for future rebirth. As this word bears a resemblance to the Pali word for “distant” (ara), it is sometimes translated as “one far from evil.” An epithet for the Buddha and the highest of his noble disciples.

ārammaṇa: Preoccupation; object or issue of the mind or will; anything the mind takes as a theme or prop for its activity.

āsava: Mental effluent or fermentation—sensuality, becoming, views, and unawareness.

avijjā: Unawareness; ignorance; counterfeit knowledge; not seeing things in terms of the four noble truths.

āyatana: Sense medium. The inner sense media are the sense organs—eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and intellect. The outer sense media are their respective objects.

brahmā: “Great One”—an inhabitant of the heavens of form or formlessness.

buddho (buddha): Awake; enlightened.

dhamma (dharma): Event; phenomenon; the way things are experienced in and of themselves; the basic principles underlying their behavior. Also, principles of behavior that human beings should follow so as to fit in with the right natural order of things; qualities of mind they should develop so as to realize the quality of deathlessness (amata dhamma). By extension, “dhamma” is used to refer also to any doctrine that teaches such things. Thus the Dhamma of the Buddha refers to his teachings, their practice, and to the direct experience of the quality of nibbāna at which they are aimed.

dhātu: Element; property; potential. In the Pali Canon this word occurs primarily in discussions of the causes of activity, in which it forms the ultimate precondition underlying the causal chain leading to the activity in question. The arousal or irritation of the dhātu is what causes the activity to take place. Thus on the psychological level, the properties of sensuality, anger, or delusion in a person’s mind are the basic conditions underlying unskillful action on his or her part. On the level of nature at large, phenomena such as windstorms, fires, floods, and earthquakes are explained as resulting from the arousal of the properties of wind, fire, and water. Such disorders cease when the disturbed property grows calm. Thus, for instance, when the fire property runs out of sustenance to cling to, it grows calm and the individual fire goes out. On the level of the human body, diseases are explained as resulting from the aggravation of any of these properties, all of which permeate the entire body. For example, in Thai medicine, belching, fainting, cramps, convulsions, and paralysis are associated with disorders of the internal wind element.

All of this explanation may make the notion of dhātu seem rather foreign, but when used as an object of meditation, the four physical dhātu are simply a way of viewing the body in impersonal, purely physical terms. They are experienced as the elementary sensations and potentials—warmth, movement, etc.—that permeate and make up the internal sense of the body (see rūpa). Thus the meditation exercise of spreading the breath throughout the body is simply the feeling of linking the sensations of the in-and-out breath with the subtle sense of motion that permeates the body at all times. The six dhātu—the four physical dhātu plus space and consciousness—constitute the elementary properties or potentials that underlie the experience of physical and mental phenomena.

dukkha(ṁ): Stress; suffering; pain; discontent.

jhāna: Meditative absorption in a single object, notion or sensation (see rūpa).

kamma (karma): Intentional acts that result in states of being and birth. The law of kamma is the principle that a person’s own intentional acts influence the good and evil that he or she meets with.

kasiṇa: An object stared at with the purpose of fixing an image of it in one’s consciousness and then manipulating the image to make it fill the totality of one’s awareness.

khandha: Component parts of sensory perception; physical and mental phenomena as they are directly experienced: rūpa (see below); vedanā—feelings of pleasure, pain, or neither pleasure nor pain that result from the mind’s interaction with its objects; saññā—labels, concepts, perceptions; saṅkhāra (see below); and viññāṇa—consciousness, the act of noticing sense data and ideas as they occur.

lokadhamma: Worldly phenomena—gain, loss, status, loss of status, praise, criticism, pleasure, and pain.

māra: Temptation; mortality. The five forms in which temptation appears, deflecting the practitioner from the path, are as: defilement, the vicissitudes of the khandhas, fear of death, habitual urges & tendencies, and as deities.

nibbāna (nirvāṇa): Liberation; the unbinding of the mind from greed, anger, and delusion, from physical sensations and mental acts. As the term is used to refer also to the extinguishing of a fire, it carries connotations of stilling, cooling, and peace. (According to the physics taught at the time of the Buddha, the property of fire exists in a latent state to a greater or lesser degree in all objects. When activated, it seizes and sticks to its fuel. When extinguished, it is “unbound.”)

nimitta: Mental sign or image; theme of concentration. Uggaha nimitta refers to any image that arises in the course of meditation. Paṭibhāga nimitta refers to the mental manipulation of the image.

nirodha: Disbanding; cessation; dispersal; stopping (of stress and its causes).

paññā: Discernment; wisdom.

rūpa: The basic meaning of this word is “appearance” or “form.” It is used, however, in a number of different contexts, taking on different shades of meaning in each. In lists of the objects of the senses, it is given as the object of the sense of sight. As one of the khandhas, it refers to physical phenomena or sensations (visible appearance or form being the defining characteristics of what is physical). This is also the meaning it carries when opposed to nāma, or mental phenomena. The act of focusing on the level of physical and mental phenomena (literally, form and name) means focusing on the primary sensation of such phenomena in and of themselves, before the mind elaborates them further. In the list, “kāma, rūpa, arūpa”—the types of object that the mind can take as its preoccupation and the states of becoming that result—kāma refers to images derived from the external senses, rūpa to the internal sense of the form of the body, and arūpa to strictly mental phenomena. This last sense of rūpa is also what is meant in the term “rūpa jhāna.”

samādhi: Concentration; the act of centering the mind on a single object.

sammati: In Thai, the primary meaning of this word is “supposing,” which is how it is translated here, but it also conveys the meaning of convention (i.e., usages which are commonly designated or agreed upon), make-believe, and conjuring into being with the mind.

saṅkhāra: Fabrication—any force or factor that fabricates things, the process of fabrication, and any fabricated thing that results; anything conditioned, compounded, or fashioned by nature, whether on the physical or the mental level. In some contexts this word is used as a blanket term for all five khandhas. As the fourth khandha, it refers specifically to the fabrication of urges, thoughts, etc., within the mind.

saṅyojana: Fetters that bind the mind to the cycle of rebirth—self-identity views, uncertainty, grasping at habits & practices; sensual passion, irritability; passion for form, passion for formless phenomena, conceit, restlessness, and unawareness.

sati: Mindfulness; the ability to keep something in mind; powers of reference and retention.

satipaṭṭhāna: Frame of reference; establishing of mindfulness—body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities, viewed in and of themselves.

upādāna: Clinging; attachment; sustenance for becoming and birth—clinging to sensuality, to views, to habits & practices, and to theories of the self.

uposatha: Observance day, corresponding to the phases of the moon, on which Buddhist laypeople gather to listen to the Dhamma and observe the eight precepts.

vicāra: Evaluation; investigation. A factor of rūpa jhāna.

vimutti: Release; freedom from the suppositions and fabrications of the mind.

vipassanā: Liberating insight; clear intuitive understanding of how physical and mental phenomena are caused and experienced, seeing them as they are, in and of themselves, arising and passing away: inconstant, stressful, and not-self.

vitakka: Thinking about an object; keeping an object in mind. A factor of rūpa jhāna.

yoni: Mode of generation. In the Pali Canon, four modes of generation are listed: birth from a womb, birth from an egg, birth from moisture, and spontaneous appearance (this last refers to the birth of heavenly beings).

If anything in this translation is inaccurate or misleading, I ask forgiveness of the author and reader for having unwittingly stood in their way. As for whatever may be accurate, I hope the reader will make the best use of it, translating it a few steps further, into the heart, so as to attain the truth at which it points.

The translator