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Illustrated Glossary of Pāli Terms

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Much joy with good deeds.
Anumodanā puñña kusala!


The source of this edition is originated from the pdf-file “Illustrated Glossary of Pāli Terms”, edition 2019-09 (2.), by Ven. Varado Maha Thera, personally generously given as Sanghika-Dana. For more details see here.


Following edits have been made deriving from the original file.

  • Edits have been made in reagard of converting the text from the pdf-file into a text-file and correcting of usual converting errors (a 1:1 check of the identity has not been made since no errors on sample proves have been found yet).
  • The formating has been changed in regard of outlook and syntax of files here on
  • Each word has been turned into a header and the structur of the ATI-Dictionary addopted.
  • In cases where original headers matched more then one word, they had been splitted into single words and refered back to the main article.
  • To keep the content good accessable the book has been splitted into single files, one for each character. A possible extending may also be easier.

Note that the current version is a draft and a lot of tasks are still open to do and free to take part on it, like:

  • Completing the formating
  • Change Abbrevention into readable Text
  • Adding of cross-links to other Pali-words
  • Adding links to the Sutta source texts and translations
  • Prove-readings


Illustrated Glossary of Pāli Terms

Illustrated Glossary of Pāli Terms, by Ven. Varado Mahathera, (based on the Edition Sept. 2019/2)

Index IGPT
a | ā | i | ī | u | ū | e | o | k | kh | g | gh | | c | ch | j | jh | ñ | | ṭh | | ḍh | | t | th | d | dh | n | p | ph | b | bh | m | y | r | l | v | s | h |

By Varado Bhikkhu


Glossary: methodology

This Glossary was originally conceived of as a way of supporting my own translations. Preparing it first of all involved gathering all instances of words in question together with their contexts. It would then usually become clear that words carried different meanings in different contexts. This was in accordance with the findings in Pāli dictionaries, which rarely consist of an explanation by a single word. The excerpts I found could then be divided into groups accordingly. Finding the correct English term for Pāli words when they are grouped on the same page turned out to be altogether easier than working with single passages or sentences and experimenting with terms in one’s head. By following this method, and sorting and resorting groups of quotes over days, months, or even years, continuously applying the find-and-replace tool, shifting backwards and forwards nearly two million words, it eventually confirmed or denied choices of my original renderings, and led to increasing confidence in my findings. Such a system of translation is only possible with computer leverage. With computers, Pāli studies have entered a new era.

Occam’s Razor

One of my guiding principles has been, having divided quotations into groups, to minimise the number of these groups and word renderings. This is in accordance with the ‘principle of parsimony’ (Occam's Razor), the principle that ‘entities should not be multiplied needlessly; the simplest of two competing theories is to be preferred’ (WordWeb).

Targeting the problematic and curious

One could follow this method to the end, researching each and every word in the scriptures, but my interest was primarily in the 300 words presented here, targeting the problems and curiosities of Buddhism. Some terms, like viññāṇa or saṅkhārā are genuinely important. Some are long-standing puzzles, like ādiccabandhu and aṇḍabhūto and tathāgata―the ‘gnawn bones of exegisis,’ says Mrs. Rhys Davids. I was unwilling to test the limits of the reader’s patience, therefore over 100 words I researched, I have not presented. These other words are useful for hardcore translators, but of no substantial interest to anyone else.

My research inevitably drew me into fields of controversy, for example in treating the word āsava as an uncountable noun, as indeed the suttas treat it. For example, the scriptures ask:

• And what is āsavo?

katamo panāvuso āsavo

The answer is:

• There are these three āsavas:

Tayo’me āvuso āsavā. (MN i 55)

This automatically bars countable nouns like ‘canker’ or ‘taint.’ But ‘pollution,’ for example, is uncountable, and so is ‘perceptual obscuration,’ our preferred term, which we discuss sv Āsava.

Coded Pāli

One of my repeated discoveries has been that many Pāli terms are effectively in code. For instance nirodho is commonly translated as ‘cessation.’ But cessaton of what? Vimutti is translated as ‘liberation.’ But liberation from what? The important terms that are coded in this way are:

1) vimutti: liberation from āsava

2) nirodha: ending of saṅkhārā

3) virāga: non-attachment to saṅkhārā

‘The scriptures’: working definition

The database of this Glossary is just twenty-seven of the volumes of the Pāli Canon. I call these twenty-seven volumes ‘the scriptures.’

The decision to concentrate on these volumes is not without support. Abeynayake says: ‘The Khuddaka Nikāya can be easily divided into two strata, one being early, the other being late. The Suttanipāta, Itivuttaka, Dhammapada, Theragāthā, Therīgāthā, Udana and Jataka [verses] belong to the early strata. The [other] texts… can be categorised in the later stratum’ A textual and historical analysis of the Khuddaka Nikāya (Colombo, 1984).

Bodhi partly agrees, too. He says the style and contents of the early Khuddaka texts ‘suggest they are of great antiquity.’ The other texts, including the Paṭisambhidāmagga and the two Niddesas, ‘represent the standpoint of the Theravāda School and thus must have been composed during the period of Sectarian Buddhism when the early schools had taken their separate paths of doctrinal development (In the Buddha’s Words, Wisdom 2005, p.146-7).

Pāli database

The Pāli database for this Illustrated Glossary is the digital edition of the Sri Lanka Buddha Jayanti Tripiṭaka ( Because proofreading for this edition is incomplete I have also referred to the Vipassana Research Institute’s Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana Tipiṭaka 4.0, and to the Pāli Text Society editions.

Steep learning curve

I have been unsparing in my review of the chosen words, the translations of many of which have stood unchallenged for over a century. For readers content with these venerable terms, my work cannot possibly be aimed to please them. The problem is not just in my reviewing occasional English terms for Pāli words, as all translators do, but in the relentless combination of such changes. This will be a challenge not only for the reader. The instinct to reject the unfamiliar stands against an easy acceptance of this Glossary and of my studies. Nonetheless, those who persist in studying the material here, will, I hope, find the treasures I have found myself.

Bhikkhu Varado
Sri Lanka, Vassa 2017


Translators and editors

* Ānandajoti Bhikkhu: www.

  • Bodhi Bhikkhu: Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom, 1995); Connected Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom, 2000); Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom, 2012).
  • Geiger W., A Pāli Grammar (Pāli Text Society 1994)
  • Hare E.M: Gradual Sayings (Pāli Text Society, 1932-4).
  • Horner I.B.: Books of Discipline (Pāli Text Society, 1938-1952); Middle Length Sayings (Pāli Text Society, 1954-1959).
  • Ireland, J.D: The Udāna and the Itivuttaka (Buddhist Publication Society, 1997).
  • Norman K.R: Group of Discourses (Pāli Text Society, 2006) and Elders’ Verses I and II (Pāli Text Society, 1971, 1989).
  • Rhys Davids T.W.: Dialogues of the Buddha (Pāli Text Society, 1899).
  • Rhys Davids T.W. & W. Stede: Pāli-English Dictionary (Pāli Text Society, 1905).
  • Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu: Access to Insight website (www.
  • Walshe M.O’C: Long Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom, 1987)
  • Warder A.K., Introduction to Pāli (Pāli Text Society 2001)
  • Woodward F.L: Gradual Sayings (Pāli Text Society, 1932-6).


  • Access to Insight for www.
  • Sri Lanka Tripiṭaka Project and the Journal of Buddhist Ethics for the free public-domain digital edition of the Sri Lanka Buddha Jayanti Tripiṭaka.
  • Vipassana Research Institute: Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana CD-ROM (www. and Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana Tipiṭaka 4.0).


Pāli references

Pāli references are to the volume and page number of the Pāli Text Society editions. These references are also to be found in the digital edition of the Sri Lanka Buddha Jayanti Tripiṭaka (BJT), and also in the Vipassana Research Institute Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana version (VRI). But in this Glossary, references to the Dhammapada, Suttanipāta, Theragāthā and Therīgāthā are marked as either verse numbers or page numbers. For example, ‘Snp 1’ or ‘Snp 1.’

The following abbreviations are used:

  • D: Dīgha Nikāya
  • M: Majjhima Nikāya
  • S: Saṁyutta Nikāya
  • A: Aṅguttara Nikāya
  • Dh: Dhammapada
  • Ud: Udāna
  • It: Itivuttaka
  • Sn: Suttanipāta
  • Th: Theragāthā
  • Thi: Therīgāthā
  • Vin: Vinaya Piṭaka


The following abbreviations are used:

  • BD: Books of Discipline, translation of Vinaya Piṭaka by I.B. Horner.
  • BS: the Buddha’s Sayings, translation of Itivuttaka by J.D. Ireland.
  • CDB: Connected Discourses of the Buddha, translation of the Saṁyutta Nikāya by B. Bodhi.
  • DB: Dialogues of the Buddha, translation of Dīgha Nikāya by T.W. Rhys Davids
  • EVI and EVII: Elders’ Verses I and II, translation of Theragāthā and Therīgāthā by K.R. Norman
  • GD, Group of Discourses, translation of Suttanipāta by K.R. Norman
  • GS, Gradual Sayings, translation of Aṅguttara Nikāya by E.M. Hare and F.L. Woodward.
  • IUB: Inspired Utterances of the Buddha, translation of Udāna by J.D. Ireland
  • LDB: Long Discourses of the Buddha: translation of Dīgha Nikāya by M.O’C. Walshe
  • MLDB: Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, translation of Majjhima Nikāya by B. Bodhi.
  • MLS: Middle Length Sayings, I.B. Horner’s translation of the Majjhima Nikāya.
  • NDB: Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya by B. Bodhi.
  • UAI: The Udana and the Ittivuttaka, translation by J.D. Ireland.

Dictionaries and Grammar Books

The following abbreviations are used:

  • BDPPN: Buddhist Dictionary of Pāli Proper Names by Malalasekara (Pāli Text Society, 1937-8).
  • DOP: A Dictionary of Pāli by M. Cone (Pāli Text Society, 2001).
  • PED: Pāli-English Dictionary by T.W. Rhys Davids & W. Stede (Pāli Text Society).
  • PGPL: A Practical Grammar of the Pāli Language by Duroiselle, C. (Buddha Dharma Education Association, 1997).
  • SED: Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier-Williams M., 1960 (University Press, Oxford).

Grammar Resources

  • Duroiselle, C.: A Practical Grammar of the Pāli Language, Buddha Dharma Education Association, 1997.
  • Warder, A.K.: Introduction to Pāli (Pāli Text Society, 2001).
  • Geiger, W., A Pāli Grammar, Pāli Text Society, 1994.
  • Ñāṇatusita Bhikkhu: Grammar Sheets, Kandy, 2005.

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