a short glossary






There are often several variant definitions of these terms to be found by using the Search option on the top right hand of the Homepage.

Abhava: Non-existence. The opposite of bhava in a Vedantic category.
Non-existence has two main divisions:

(1) The absence of one entity in another, (samsarga-abhava) which is of three kinds:
a) Prior non-existence (prag-abhava),
b) Annihilative non-existence (pradhvamsa-abhava),
c) Absolute non-existence (atyanta-abhava)

(2) One object not being another (anyonya-abhava) or reciprocal non-existence.

Adhyasa: Superimposition; false attribution; illusion. Adhyasa is of two forms:
Svarupa-adhyasa and Samsarga-adhyasa.
consists in superimposing an illusory (mithya) object on something real.

Example: Seeing a snake on a real rope, or of superimposing ignorance (avidya); the empirical world upon Brahman, which is an example of a foundational error.

Samsarga adhyasa is the superimposition of an attribute on an object. This relation is false (mithya).
Example: A transparent crystal placed on a red silk appears to be red.

Advaita: Non-duality.

Agama: A synonym of any ancient scripture, particularly the Vedas.
There are non-Vedic agamas also, like Saivagama, Vaisnavagama, Jainagama etc.

Ananda: Value dynamics, which is sometimes equated with the Christian concept of bliss. In an absolute sense, the same as the Kantian concept of summum bonum.

Annam: Food, that which is consumed, especially to appease hunger.

Apara: Relativistic, conditional.

Ardha-Narisvara: The androgynous concept of Shiva, as both male and female.

Arivu: A Malayalam word meaning 'knowledge'. Narayana Guru uses it as a synonym for Self, Consciousness and sometimes on par with Subsistence (Cit).

Bhava: Existence.

Bhedabheda: The doctrine of difference as well as non-difference, propounded by Bhartru Prapancha.

Brahma Vidya: The Science of the Absolute. Another name for Vedanta.

Cit: Consciousness. The second attribute of Brahman as in 'Sat-Cit- Ananda'. That which substantiates truth as well as value-dynamics.

Dakshinamurthi: An aspect of Shiva as the supreme teacher, who imparts his wisdom in silence, showing on the sign of wisdom-gesture with his right hand.

Dvaita: Duality. The philosophy of maintaining dualism.

Ganesa: The Lord of both the shining ones and of the manes, the departed souls. Symbolically, he is figured as an elephant-headed god, riding on a mouse.

Gunas: The triple modalities of nature, originally conceived by Kapila in the Samkhya-pravachana-sutras. They are: sattva, rajas and tamas.

Guru: Derived from the root 'Gu' - meaning darkness and the root 'Ru' - meaning destroyer. A wisdom teacher.

Isvara: The principle of control which is maintaining the integral law that sustains each entity as a specific mode in the totality of the being.

Karma: Action. All actions are included under this term, more especially ritualistic actions.

Krishna: Chief of the Yadava tribes and an incarnation of Vishnu. The Guru of the Bhagavad Gita.

Ksetra-ksetrajna: the Field and knower of the Field. The Field or ground can be psychological or spiritual as well as actual. These terms correspond to the actual and perceptual aspects of reality. The entire Chapter XIII of the Bhagavad Gita is devoted to this discussion, and the distinction between these two aspects of field and knower, in itself constitutes one of the central problems of philosophy.

Kural: The Tamil work by Tiruvalluvar, who belongs to the first century AD. Ethics, philosophy and mysticism blend in a wholesome perennial form of wisdom in this work, which may be said to be a continuation of the wisdom of prehistoric India, more or less independent of the Vedic tradition. Thiruvalluvar was not a Brahmin but a non-caste Indian, who in spite of this circumstance still holds a high place among the authoritative sages of India.

Lingam: Literally, anything that constitutes a sign or symbol. The male sex-organ as a symbol is referred to as lingam; The Shivalingam, which is the phallic symbol of Shiva, is a spherical stone, which is an object of worship in India from prehistoric times. It is dressed up, anointed or washed with ablutive waters by way of respect or adoration in memory of the antique god Shiva.

Mahavakyas: Literally, the great sentences. Applied to the conclusive formulae of Vedantic wisdom, such as tat tvam asi (that art thou), aham brahma asmi (I am Brahman), prajnanam brahma (consciousness is Brahman) ayam atma brahma (this Self is Brahman), Aum Tat Sat (Aum that is what is real); sarva-khalvidam brahma (everything here is Brahman indeed).

Mahesa: Another name of Shiva. Literally, “The Great God”.

Mantra: A stanza of the Vedic hymns. Literally, “those words which save the person who contemplates on them”. The ritualistic part of the Vedas is also known as the Mantra.

Maya: Connotes a factor of epistemological and methodological importance in Sankara's Vedanta especially, and in Upanishadic lore generally. Whatever is postulated as the cause of the unreal, spoken of in the most generic of categorical terms in philosophy, as against theology, is to be laid at the door of maya. It is the basis of duality or synergic antinomies. The nearest Western equivalent is the Negativität of Hegel's system.

Mimamsa: A critical enquiry. Two Indian Schools of philosophy are called Mimamsas. See Samkhya.

Muni: A silent recluse.

Narayana: One who sleeps on the primordial waters. (nara, water: ayana, to lie in repose). Creation, before Brahma gave it the four directions, symbolized by his four heads, has the indefinite nature of all-pervading water ("God moved upon the face of the waters" as Genesis, 1, 2, puts it) on which the numinous principle of life or creation was supposed to recline. This image of creation formed the background of the later Vishnu tradition which itself suffered many changes through history and become the Vasudeva cult of the Bhagavata. In the original Narayana scheme, Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma met without distinction as the Adi Narayana, the first divinity of creation or the primordial Man or Nara, when called Nara-Narayana.

Nirvana: Extinction of all desires in a kind of pure void of Absolute consciousness.

Nivrttimarga: The path of withdrawal. This is related to neti, neti or the via negativa. It means, sinking into one's own true nature by withdrawing the mind from outward-going attachments, the final culmination of this process being Nirvana.

Padartha: A philosophical category. Literally, the meaning of a word.

Para: Beyond; pertaining to the ultimate or Supreme; as opposed to the immanent here-and-now aspect of reality, which is apara. It could mean the transcendent. Para-Brahman: The higher Brahman. Sankara conceives of two aspects of Brahman. The lower Brahman (Apara Brahman) is the ultimate Reality as having form world for its attributes. The higher Brahman is attributeless, and hence is inconceivable.

Param: The Supreme, the Transcendental. An epithet of Brahman.

Parvati: The consort or sakti aspect of Shiva. She is the daughter of the Himalayas and is also a huntress, and known under various aspects in mythology and iconography.

Pasu-pati: Both these terms and pasam are basic concepts in the ancient Shiva religion. Pasu is creation in the sense of beasts or animals of all kinds, while pati is the master or creator. Pasam is the bondage in which all life is trapped. Pasu-Pati is Shiva visualised as surrounded by animals, thus bringing together dialectical counterparts belonging to a situation which is typical of the spiritual attitude cultivated by the Shaivites. (Literally, the Lord of Beasts)

Prajna: Consciousness.

Prakriti: Nature. Literally, that which is always in an active state. This activeness is inherent in the Ultimate Reality or Brahman. Brahman in its active state is called prakriti.

Purusa: Literally 'person'. The word is used both in the universal and particular senses. In the universal sense, it is the cosmic person who has the entire cosmos for his body. In this sense He is often called virata purusa.

Rasa: The essence, juice. Aesthetic enjoyment.

Rsi (Rishi): A seer. A wise sage of ancient India who lives generally in the seclusion of the forests. These Rsis wrote all the hymns of the Vedas as well as the Upanishads. They were not necessarily monks and many of them had their wives living with them.

Sakti: See Parvati.

Samhita: Literally, those that are enjoined inseparably. Name of the initial part of the Vedas, dealing mainly with rituals. Also called mantra.

Samkhya: One of the six systems of Indian Philosophy. The other five are Nyaya, Vaisesika, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara-Mimamsa. The last one is also known as Vedanta.

Samsara: Worldly life that passes through a succession of states causing suffering. Often considered as an ocean. Transmigration of souls is also considered part of it.

Sad-adhara: Six bases, six physiological centres between the tail end of the spinal column and the forehead. Six such centres or zones are imagined by certain Yoga schools for the sake of meditation.
They are Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Visuddhi and Ajna.

Sad-Darsana: The six systems of Indian Philosophy, namely: Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa.

: That which exists always. The subsisting reality in all the transient forms of the visible world, even as gold is the subsisting reality in all ornaments. Brahman as this subsisting reality is designated as Sat. (see Ananda and Cit also).

Siddhi: Attainment. Certain supra-mundane attainments gained through certain yogic practices. Eight such attainments are referred to by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.

: The ancient hero-god from the times of prehistory, associated with radical virility and renunciation. He is an unconventional god like Dionysos, wearing skins and dancing in ecstasy, drunk with cosmic consciousness. He is the most ancient and the most important figure of the Indian Pantheon, and occupies his seat in Banaras in the plains and Kailasa in the Himalayas.

Smrti: Learning or scriptural lore remembered by a student when he applies pure wisdom-teachings to his practical life. Obligatory conduct and works of religious duty belong to this category. Also known as Dharma Sastra. What is taught in Smrtis is subject to alterations according to time and clime.

Sphota: The name of the Indian theory of semantics. Literally, "bursting out". A meaning bursts out in the mind just on hearing the utterance of a word.

Sruti: That which is heard. The words heard from a Guru. The recorded writings of a Guru as concerning pure wisdom teaching. All the Upanishads are considered srutis. What taught in the srutis is of eternal value.

Sudras: The lowest of the four castes. The other being Brahmana, Ksatriya and Vaisya.

Syad-vada: Name of the philosophy of Jainism. Literally the doctrine of "maybe, maybe not".

Tapas: Austere Self-discipline. Literally, 'heating up'.

Triputi: The aspects involved in the event of knowing something, namely: the knower, the known and the act of knowing. Literally the three-petalled one.

Tulsi: A kind of basil plant of the labiate family and considered holy. It is planted in front of orthodox Indian houses.

Upanishad: When the chapter of Karma or ritualistic action has been transcended by a religious student or Brahmacarin, he is ready to receive the posterior philosophical teachings which constitute the Vedanta (i.e., "the end of the Vedas"): The Vedanta is non-theological, concerned with the Absolute or the Brahman. The word is said to be derived from upa, beside and nisad, sitting near, so that it is a teaching received by a disciple when he is allowed to sit and listen to philosophical teaching near or by the side of the Guru.

Uttara Mimamsa: See sad darsana.

Vaishnavites: Those who consider Vishnu as the Supreme or the Absolute.

Varna-asrama: A term loosely applied to refer to the caste system and the four stages of life in the society. 'Varna' literally means colour. Originally it signified the four psychological types of human beings.
Asrama refers to the four stages of human life, viz. as a student, householder, forest-dweller and then renunciate (brahmacarin, grhastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa). These two contents are often mixed up and the orthodox Hindu way of life is often referred to as varna-asrama-dharma.

Visista Advaita: The qualified non-dualism of Ramanuja. It considers the world and the numerous souls as qualifying the Absolute or Brahman forming Its or His body.

Vyasa: The son of Parasara born of a fisher-maid. Otherwise known as Veda Vyasa. He was also the author of the Brahma Sutras. Also known as Badarayana. He is the most important of the personalities in Indian spirituality.

Yoga: Harmonization. In all organic structuring of organisms, two opposite principles are employed, such as the psychic and somatic, the chemical and electrical, the sensory and the motor, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. In the functional aspects also we see such complementarities which can also prove to be contradictories if the law of harmonization is not properly maintained. Numbers of functions in the body are autonomous, regulated by the opposites of control and release. The principle of harmonization is very much like a principle of ambivalence going from plus to minus and arriving at a neutral point of homeostasis. The overall science dealing with this is Yoga - always with a middle ground. There are many levels of finding such homeostasis, such as between the spiritual and the social, in which the middle ground is morality; crime and punishment in which the middle ground is therapeutic correction. A similar ambivalence is between the psychological and physiological, in which the middle ground is awareness of harmony and a sense of ease.
There are different systems of Yoga in India. Some contemporary systems are: Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, based on the Samkhyan epistemology called Samkhya Pravachana Sutras; two other moderate systems which are the sapta-bhumika-Yoga of the Yoga-Vasishta, and the Yoga of karma Yoga and karma sannyasa-Yoga. Two complementary systems founded by Yogendra and Matsyendra are today called Hatha Yoga.