As of the publication of The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, there are virtually no other English-language dictionaries of Buddhist terms in print in which so many entries are given in their English translation. It is thus the editors’ hope that this volume may contribute substantially to the information available to English-speaking students of Buddhism.
This dictionary is a completely revised and dramatically expanded version of A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts (1983) published by the Nichiren Shōshū International Center (NSIC). The present new dictionary is a byproduct of nearly three decades of translation work aimed at making the writings of Nichiren, the thirteenth-century Japanese founder of a Buddhist tradition that has gained worldwide popularity, accessible to readers of English.
The translation of Nichiren’s writings has been carried on by the Soka Gakkai to promote worldwide understanding of Nichiren’s teachings and of Buddhism in general. Nichiren wrote prolifically, offering detailed explanations of Buddhist philosophy based on the Lotus Sutra, as well as direct encouragement to practitioners. His writings range from short letters to major treatises. Nichiren was thoroughly familiar with the extensive body of Buddhist literature available in Japan in the thirteenth century. To illustrate his points and support his arguments, he referred in his writings to concepts found not only in the Lotus Sutra, but in the Buddhist tradition as a whole.
We hope this volume will shed light on the many references to Buddhist terms, concepts, traditions, scriptures, and commentaries, and historical events, persons, and places that appear in Nichiren’s writings. It should also be noted that the dictionary is not limited to ideas and concepts directly related to Nichiren or the Lotus Sutra. The editors have tried to include as many entries as possible that would be of interest to students of Buddhism in general.
Of course, a single dictionary cannot cover the entire history and philosophical development of Buddhism, which spread from India, the country of its origin, southward to Sri Lanka and to Southeast Asia, and northeast to Central Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan, and today is regarded as a major world religion. Any treatment of Buddhism is bound to take on a certain perspective. Buddhist scholarship in the West has tended to focus on the teachings and traditions of the Pali canon, that is, the scriptures of the Theravāda, or Southern, Buddhist tradition. Zen, a tradition that attaches great importance to meditation, often symbolizes Buddhism as a whole to those in the West, and many have studied Buddhism from its unique perspective.
Nichiren and his contemporaries in Japan had access to the body of teachings that arose as Buddhism spread from India northeast, particularly to China, and later Korea and Japan. Much of the reference material drawn upon in the compilation of this dictionary is in the Japanese language, though Chinese, English, and Sanskrit sources were also consulted. The Buddhist history and works of Southeast Asian countries, which each possess a rich and long Buddhist tradition, are not covered in any detail here. Nor are those of Korea or Tibet, though an entry on Tibetan Buddhism is included. Language references in this dictionary accordingly are limited to Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, and Japanese.
The dictionary contains more than 2,700 entries, including cross references. Most entries appear as the English translation of a term or concept. The titles of most Buddhist scriptures appear in English, too, while biographical and geographical names are in their original languages, except when the original-language name is unknown or when persons assumed different names in the countries where they went to live.
Non-English words are romanized for the reader’s convenience. The Chinese-character rendering provided for almost every entry appears in brackets following the entry. Sanskrit and Pali words are romanized as they are pronounced; diacritical marks are omitted in the text, but are shown in the appendixes. The names of Buddhas and bodhisattvas are in most cases given in English, with their original names in parentheses, to convey the meaning those names represent.
English translations of the same Buddhist term often differ. For example, the Sanskrit pancha-skandha is variously rendered as the five components (of life), five aggregates, or five skandhas. The Japanese word bompu is translated as ordinary persons, common mortals, or worldlings. Though all possible translations are not listed as entries, you will find many of them referenced under related entries. For those who read Japanese, a cross-referenced list of Japanese terms and names refers to their equivalents in English and/or their original language.
This dictionary should be especially useful for the readers of Nichiren’s works as they appear in the volume The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, published in 1999 by the Soka Gakkai. The dictionary lists as entries Buddhist terms as they appear in that work. As mentioned above, the dictionary also includes terms and subjects not found in Nichiren’s writings, but that students of Buddhism in general may find interesting and instructive.
We recommend that you read “Guide to the Dictionary” to make the most of this reference work as you travel through the world of Buddhism.
The English Buddhist Dictionary Committee