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Philosophy Vocab



Belief that there is no fixed self/no soul; one of the Three Marks of Existence.


Impermanence. Belief that nothing is permanent; one of the Three Marks of Existence.


A perfected person. In Theravada Buddhism this is a term for a person who has become enlightened.


A life free from worldly pleasures, and involves giving up of material possessions. An ascetic life often has the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals.


In Mahayana Buddhism this is a being destined for enlightenment, who postpones their final escape from samsara in order to help living beings.


  • Historically the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama)
  • An awakened or enlightened person.


Reaching enlightenment.


In Mahayana Buddhism this refers to the fundamental nature of all beings, which means that all beings can become enlightened/reach Buddhahood.

Buddha rupa:

An image or statue of the historical Buddha or a being believed to have attained Buddhahood.


Singing or rhythmic repetition of a word, prayer or sound.

Compassion (Karuna):

Sympathy and concern for the suffering of others; a key part of Buddhist ethics.


Focusing one’s attention; an important part of meditation and mindfulness of breathing.


The fifth of the Five Aggregates; the state of being aware of something/your surroundings before or without perception.

Craving (tahna):

The ongoing state of desire which causes suffering; grasping at things we enjoy/want.

Dependent arising (Paticcasamupada):

The belief that everything exists because other things do; everything is interconnected and everyone affects everyone else.

Dhamma (Dharma):

The teachings of the Buddha; these are the ultimate truth. Can also refer to following the Buddhist path (following the dharma).


A source of wisdom and authority; part of the Pali Canon that includes some of the most famous teachings of the Buddha, including the Eightfold Path.


Suffering. Belief that all life includes suffering and unsatisfactoriness; one of the Three Marks of Existence.

The Eightfold Path (magga):

The fourth Noble Truth. Known as ‘The Middle Way,’ it includes the way to wisdom; mental training and the way of morality. Eight stages to be practised simultaneously.


One of the Mahayanan six perfections; making a courageous effort to attain enlightenment.


A state of wisdom that enables total clarity and understanding of the truths of existence; achieving Enlightenment (Buddhahood) allows a being to be freed from the cycle of rebirth.

Ethics (Sila):

Moral principles that inform behaviour and attitudes; part of the Eightfold Path.

The Five Aggregates (skandhas):

The belief that human beings are composed of five factors – form, sensation, perception, mental formation, consciousness.

The five moral precepts:

An important part of Buddhist ethics; part of the Eightfold Path (right action). These include: not taking life, not taking things which aren’t freely given, not misusing the sense, not speaking falsehoods, not clouding the mind with intoxicants.


The first of the Five Aggregates; matter, physical experiences through the sense organs.

The Four Noble Truths:

An important part of the Buddha’s teachings found in the Pali Canon, explaining the truth about existence. These include: suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, the path to the end of suffering.

The Four Sights:

Teaching from the Jataka Tales about Siddhartha Gautama’s experience of illness, old age, death and a holy man. These sights led him to give up his life of luxury, to follow an ascetic lifestyle, in search of the truth about suffering.


One of the Mahayanan six perfections; the sincere and selfless desire to benefit others with no expectation of reward.


Tibetan monasteries associated with learning and studying the dharma.


One of the Three Poisons; the attachment to material things, and the ongoing selfish desire for more.


One of the Three Poisons; a feeling of intense dislike, anger, wishing others harm.


One of the Three Poisons; the inability to see things as they really are. It is like a veil that prevents us seeing/understanding the truth of dukkha, anicca and anatta.


Substances that cloud the mind, eg alcohol, drugs. The five moral precepts teach against using these.

Kamma (Karma):

Literally ‘action.’ The belief in cause and effect, intentions and actions will affect the future.

Loving kindness (metta):

A pure love which is selfless and not possessive; a key part of Buddhist ethics

Mantra recitation:

A short sequence of words or syllables chanted repetitively as a form of meditation.


Literally “Greater Vehicle”; this school of Buddhism focuses on achieving enlightenment for the sake of all beings (Bodhisattva). It is the main school of Buddhism in China, Tibet and Japan.


Strings of beads used as a prayer aid.

Mental formations:

The fourth of the Five Aggregates; mental activities which lead a person to actions and produce kamma (karma).


A spiritual experience that opens a person up to the highest state of consciousness; one of the Mahayanan six perfections, and part of the Eightfold Path (Samadhi).

Mindfulness of breathing:

A form of meditation found in Theravada, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. It focuses on the practice of breathing.

Monasteries (viharas):

Buildings that house monks and nuns. They may also have shrines, Buddha rupas, and spaces for study, as well as accommodation.


Principles or beliefs about what is right and wrong. One of the Mahayanan six perfections; includes following the Five Moral Precepts


Literally ‘blowing’ out. The belief that individuals can achieve a state of perfect peace where they experience liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

Parinirvana Day:

A festival in Mahayana Buddhism that celebrates the death of the Buddha and his attainment of final nibbana. It is most often celebrated on 15th February.


Being able to tolerate delay or problems without becoming agitated or anxious. One of the Mahayanan six perfections.


The third of the Five Aggregates. The ability to distinguish between different objects that we experience through our senses; it also enables memory.

Puja/devotional ritual:

The name given to ceremonies that involve meditation, prayer and offerings.

Pure Land:

This is the dominant form of Buddhism in Japan and focuses on chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha.


This refers to the belief that when a being dies they are reborn. This process depends on kamma, and will continue until nibbana is attained.


Temporarily leaving one’s everyday life and going to special places to aid spiritual development.


Concentration and tranquility. A method of meditation; a state of calmness.


The second of the Five Aggregates; the feelings that arise from our sense organs making contact with objects.


A room or part of a room which contains a Buddha rupa, candles, an incense burner and sometimes other offerings.

The six perfections:

Ethical principles in Mahayana Buddhism to lead a being to enlightenment.


Literally ‘emptiness’. Mahayana belief about the absence of an intrinsic nature or self-identity.


A structure/building for religious or spiritual activities, such as meditation. Will usually contain a shrine(s).


The school of Buddhism mainly found in Sri Lanka and Thailand; it is an older tradition than Mahayana.

The Threefold Way:

The three divisions of the Eightfold Path: ethics, meditation and wisdom.

The Three Marks of Existence:

The belief that all life involves/is marked by these three features; sometimes known as the Three Universal Truths. The three are: dukkha, anicca, anatta.

The Three Poisons:

Causes of dukkha that affect all beings: ignorance, greed and hate.


A state of peace and calm.

Vipassana (insight):

A method of meditation focused on insight into the true nature of things.


Forming a mental image. A method of meditation in Mahayana Buddhism, imagining an image of a Buddha or Bodhisattva and focusing on their qualities.


A Buddhist festival celebrating the Buddha’s birth. For some Buddhists it also celebrates his enlightenment and death.

Wisdom (panna):

Insight into the true nature of reality. One of the Mahayanan six perfections, which includes the realisation of sunyata.


The main form of meditation in Zen Buddhism, practiced cross-legged with the aim of gaining vipassana (insight).


A Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism. It focuses on the value of meditation and intuition rather than ritual worship and study of the scriptures.



Going or being taken up; the event forty days after the resurrection when Jesus returned to glory in heaven.


Making amends or payment for a wrong. The belief that reconciliation between God and humanity that was brought about by the death of Jesus as a sacrifice.


The sacrament through which people become members of the Church. It involves the use of water as a symbol of the washing away of sin.

Believers’ baptism:

Initiation into the Church, by immersion in water, of people old enough to understand the ceremony/rite and who have made the decision to live a Christian life.


Source of wisdom and authority; a holy book containing both the Old and New Testaments.


The tradition within the Christian Church which is led by the Pope; also called the Roman Catholic Church.

Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD):

A Christian charity that provides emergency and long-term aid to the developing world.


Literally means ‘Anointed One’ in Greek; the Hebrew equivalent is Messiah. The leader promised by God to the Jews; Christians believe Jesus to be the Christ.

Christian Aid:

A Christian charity that provides emergency and long-term aid to the developing world.


The festival/celebration to remember the birth of Jesus.


  • The People of God/Body of Christ, among whom Christ is beloved to be present and active.
  • Members of a particular Christian denomination/tradition, eg Roman Catholic, Methodist.
  • A building in which Christians worship.


Bringing the world into existence; the belief that the world is God’s loving creation.


The death of Jesus; a form of the death penalty used by the Romans.


Festival/celebration of the resurrection of Jesus; the Easter season ends with Pentecost (50 days after Easter Sunday) which remembers the coming of the Holy Spirit to earth following the ascension.

Eucharist/Holy Communion:

Literally ‘thanksgiving’; a sacrament in which the death and resurrection of Jesus are celebrated, using bread and wine.


Preaching the gospel (the good news about God) to convert people to the Christian faith.


The opposite of good; a cause of suffering and against the will of God.

The Father:

The first Person of the Trinity, the belief in God as creator and sustainer of the universe.

Food banks:

Places in local communities where people in need can go to collect food; often run/supported by local churches and religious charities.


The unconditional and generous love that God shows to people who do not deserve it.


Belief that after death Christians can enter a state of being with God for eternity.


Belief in a place of eternal suffering, or a state after death of being in separation from God.

Holy Spirit:

The third Person of the Trinity; believed to be present with believers since Pentecost and active on earth.


Literally ‘in flesh’, or ‘enfleshed;’ belief that God took on human form in the person of Jesus.

Infant baptism:

Sacrament of initiation of babies and young children into the Church.

Informal prayer:

Spontaneous prayers spoken from the heart which are personal and unique to the person/people at the time.


Place of pilgrimage founded by St Columba in the fourth century.


Believed by Christians to be the Son of God, he was a first century Jewish teacher living and travelling in Palestine/Israel.


The belief that God will decides whether each person should receive eternal life or eternal punishment based on their earthly life.


Fair or equal treatment, a state of justice. Belief about the nature of God as treating all people justly.

Liturgical worship:

A church service which follows a set structure or ritual.


Rules or commands which must be followed; the law of God is revealed in the Bible.


Place of pilgrimage where the Virgin Mary appeared to St Bernadette in a series of visions and it is claimed that miraculous healings have taken place.

Lord’s Prayer:

The prayer taught to the disciples by Jesus; also known as the ‘Our Father’ and widely said by Christians in both church services and privately.


Literally ‘sent out’; the duty of Christians to spread the gospel (the good news about Jesus).

Non-liturgical worship/informal worship:

A service which does not follow a set text or ritual; sometimes spontaneous or charismatic.


The belief that God is ‘all powerful’.

The Oneness of God:

The belief that God is one singular divine being (who can be manifest in the Three Persons of the Trinity).

Original sin:

Belief human nature is flawed, and that we all have the tendency to sin; traditional belief held by some Christians that this came from Adam & Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit as recorded in Genesis 3.


A denomination/tradition of the Church popular in some parts of Eastern Europe. There are two main Orthodox Churches – Greek and Russian.


Facing hostility and ill-treatment; some Christians face punishment and death for practising their faith.


A religious journey to a holy site/sacred place, it is an act of worship and devotion.


Communicating with God through words of praise, thanksgiving or confession, or requests for his help or guidance; listening to and speaking to God.

Private worship:

A believer giving God praise and worship on their own.


Christian denominations in which authority is generally based on the Bible, rather than Church tradition/teaching. (eg Anglican, Methodist, Baptist).


Making up and rebuilding relationships between two groups/sides after disagreement.


Being raised from the dead; the event three days after the crucifixion when it is believed that God raised Jesus from the dead.

The form that many Christians believe the afterlife will take, referring to either physical or spiritual bodies.


The outward and visible sign of an invisible and spiritual grace. (eg Baptism and the Eucharist are recognised as sacraments by most Christians).


Being saved; belief that through God’s grace, Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about salvation for humanity. Saving of the soul and being able to enter eternal life in heaven.

Set prayers:

These are prayers written throughout the centuries which many Christians worldwide use (eg The Lord’s Prayer).


Behaviour which is against God’s laws and wishes/against Christian principles of morality.

The Son:

The second Person of the Trinity; Jesus believed to be God incarnate.

Son of God:

A title used for Jesus; the second Person of the Trinity. Shows the special relationship between Jesus and God.

Street pastors:

A Christian organisation involving people working, mainly at night, on city streets giving care to those who need it.


An effect of evil; undergoing pain and hardship.


A Christian charity that provides emergency and long-term aid to the developing world.


The belief that God as One includes God also being manifest in three Persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


In the Bible, John 1 describes God creating the world through his eternal Word. This links the eternal Word to Jesus in the statement: ‘”The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).


Showing adoration and reverence; offering praise to God.

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