December 16, 2013

A Handy Guide to 24 Common Meditation Terms.

Meditation is painful in the beginning but it bestows immortal bliss and supreme joy in the end.”

~ Swami Sivananda

Meditation is a huge topic with thousands of different lineages, teachings and techniques. It can be a daunting subject to study, but the good news is that today, the powerful tools of meditation are more accessible than ever.

Here’s a short guide to a couple dozen common terms related to meditation. May it be of benefit.

1) Ashram: the home of a spiritual community of swamis and yogis where the focus is on spiritual living and meditation

2) Buddha: a buddha is an enlightened one; “the Buddha” refers to Siddhartha Gautama, a spiritual teacher who lived, became enlightened and taught in India a long time ago

3) Chakra: energy center; the basic system has seven chakras (root, sacrum, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown), each of which is associated with a color, element, syllable, significance, etc.

4) Dharma: truth; the teachings of the Buddha; the path of truth

5) Enlightenment: the attainment of full awakening; becoming a buddha; see also nirvana

6) Kundalini: the coiled energy at the base of the spine awakened through certain meditation practices; most often referred to in the tantra yoga tradition

7) Lama: title for a highly esteemed Tibetan teacher of the Dharma; similar to the Sanskrit term, guru; historically used for venerated spiritual masters (example: the Dalai Lama)

8) Maitri: loving kindness; also known as metta

9) Mala: A strand of 108 beads used in certain meditation techniques; similar to a Catholic rosary, only for Buddhists

10) Mantra: a repeated sound, syllable, word or phrase used in chanting and meditation (example: Om mani padme hum)

11) Metta: loving kindness; also known as maitri

12) Mindfulness: the practice of paying attention to the present moment; mindfulness is a way of bringing meditation into all daily activities

13) Mudra: a hand position used in meditation

14) Nirvana: the state of ultimate enlightenment; though it is beyond explanation or words, it is best described as peace and stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished

15) Rinpoche: “precious one,” an honorable name bestowed upon high-ranking and respected Tibetan Buddhist teachers

16) Sangha: a community of Buddhist spiritual practitioners

17) Shamatha: the Buddhist meditation practice of “calm abiding”; usually introduced in the form of mindful breathing

18) Sutra: a classic text; the two most common in Buddhism are the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra

19) Tonglen: “taking and sending”; a technique of Tibetan Buddhist compassion meditation in which the practitioner breathes in the suffering of another and breathes out the positive antidote to that suffering

20) Transcendental Meditation (TM): a specific form of mantra meditation popularized in the 1960s by Beatles’ guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

21) Zafu: a circular pillow used for seated meditation

22) Zazen: the meditation technique practiced in Zen; “just sitting”; letting go of all judgmental thinking and allowing words, ideas, images and thoughts to pass by without getting involved in them

23) Zen: a school of Mahayana Buddhism that emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment and the personal expression of direct insight through zazen meditation and interaction with an accomplished teacher.

24) Zendo: the meditation practice hall of Zen monks, nuns and other practitioners


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Image: elephant journal Archive

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Ana Feb 5, 2014 5:49pm

more examples: mantras come from Hinduism; Swami Sivananda was Hindu; Om comes from Hinduism; Chakras originate from Hinduism; mudras, dharma..all Hindu! But you do not mention that. You reference Christianity you reference, incorrectly, Buddhism, but no mention of Hinduism for anything that is rightfully rooted in that.. to me you sound bias against Hinduism yet you practice it..how can you be truthful to your practice when you are not truthful as to where it comes from??

Ana Feb 5, 2014 5:44pm

Great article. I am saddened to see that you made references to Buddhism but many of these terms originated from Hinduism – hindu philosophy and hindi vedic practice. For example Mala- this is originally not Buddhist but Hindu. If you read this comment, then I want to ask you why so many of you are apprehensive and almost scared to make correct references to hinduism and instead label it as Buddhist origin.? What is the fear around that? And furthermore do you feel any remorse or guilt for being dishonest and misleading in this way? Not only is it misleading but you do not honour and respect the roots of your own meditation practice when you deny it's roots and origin. Why do you do that?

Loretta Jan 23, 2014 11:24pm


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Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a heart-centered writer, teacher and creator of Yoga Freedom.

She has been a columnist on Elephant Journal since 2010 and has self-published inspiring books. She incorporates dharma, hatha, yin, mindfulness, chakras, chanting and pranayama into her teachings and practice. A former advertising copywriter and elementary school teacher, she is now a freelance writer and translator. Michelle learned yoga from a book at age 12 and started teaching at 22. She met the Buddha in California at 23 and has been a student of the dharma ever since. Michelle is now approaching her forties with grace and gratitude.

Join Michelle for a writing and yoga retreat this summer at magical Lake Atitlan in the western highlands of Guatemala!