Buddhist Terms Your Guru Never Taught You

By Gary L. Ray

I’ve compiled this list of modern Buddhist terms over the last several years through a combination of listening to how American Buddhists talk and coming up with my own terms describing how they behave. I also credit Douglas Coupland for the idea of compiling the list.

ZEN SICKNESS: Also known as Madhyamika Sickness. The belief that everything is empty, nothing matters, and that the world is illusory. This sickness is usually cured by a Zen master with a big stick who asks: "Does emptiness feel pain?"

ZAFU SNAFU: Occurs while travelling or on vacation when you forget to bring your meditation cushion (Author’s most common travelling problem).

HUNGRY GHOSTS: Used by Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to describe individuals who inhabit Dharma centers but are unable to absorb the teachings.

BUDDHIST BAMBIFICATION or BUDDHISM LITE: When Buddhist teachers present the Dharma in bit size, easily digestible pieces, usually so the hungry ghosts can easily consume them and non Buddhists can appreciate the teachings. Lately, many new Buddhist books seem to be bambified, such as those by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama.

JEWBU: A Buddhist of Jewish descent, who usually wishes to form a synthesis or a reconciliation between their new found Buddhist spirituality and the tradition in which they were also raised. See the book: The Jew in the Lotus.

ROUND RABIN: The going back and forth, either mentally or physically, between one’s Buddhist practice and Judaic roots.

BUFI: Similar to a Jewbu. Someone with interests in both Islamic Sufism and Buddhism. Used by London’s Lama Chime Rinpoche. Credit goes to Virginia Oppenheimer for mentioning this on the Internet.

DHARMA BRATS: The children brought to Dharma centers by their practitioner parents. Some of the brats are now second or third generation Western Buddhists. See the excellent article entitled "Dharma Brats" in the November 1995 issue of the Shambhala Sun.




HINAWEENIE: A Mahayana practitioner who refers to Theravadin Buddhists with the pejorative term Hinayana. Hinayana is a technical term used in Mahayana Buddhism to describe someone, usually within the tradition, who has a lesser motivation along the path. Someone who practices only for the benefit of themselves would be considered to have Hinayana motivation.

ETHNOSANGHA OVERSIGHT: The exclusion of ethnic Buddhist groups (nonwhites in this case) when referring to Western Buddhism.

BOOK BUDDHISTS: People who call themselves Buddhists but who have only experienced the Dharma through books.

OM MANI PAT MY HEAD or DALAI LEMMINGS: Used to refer to new Tibetan Buddhists practitioners who "go native," adopting a Tibetan name and running around telling everyone how holy their guru is and reciting Om Mani Padme Hum at the drop of a mala.

THERAFIRMA BUDDHISTS: Intellectual Buddhists, usually psythotherapists, who believe in Buddhism strictly as a psychological process and reject any hints of extraordinary aspects of the tradition. They seem drawn to the Theravada and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

ME-ISM: From Douglas Coupland’s book Generation X: "A search by an individual, in the absence of training in religious tenets, to formulate a personally tailored religion by himself. Most frequently a mishmash of reincarnation, personal dialogue with a nebulously defined god figure, naturalism, and karmic eye-for-eye attitudes."

DHARMA BIT: Used when translating Buddhist texts to describe philosophy that underlies a particular term.

CIRCUMEMBOLISM: Walking meditation performed after meditation to increase circulation and avoid nerve damage to the legs.

TELENIRVANA: A state attained by many of those who answer Dharma center phones with soft, whispy voices that seem to indicate too many house of meditation.


SPIRITUAL MATERIALISM: Coined by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism: "There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism."

GURO-OMETER: The parameters one uses to quickly access the quality of a Buddhist teacher when first encountered, such as how they walk, the way they speak, or my own personal favorite, how late they show up for an event: the later they show up, the more insight they have.

ANTI-BODHISATTVA COMPLEX: Students upset because they don’t feel their teachers are giving them enough of what they need or deserve. It could be an issue of time or a particular teaching.

MASTER BAITING: Used to describe those lone male individuals who go to Dharma centers to challenge a teacher, either to try to get them angry or to test their insight with silly questions or koans. Also occurs in martial arts centers.

TRAVELLING ZENDO: One of the many Zen centers that meet, for financial reasons, in a variety of low-cost or free locations, including pre-schools, the back of coffee houses, book stores, massage parlors, New Age space-for-rent buildings, and converted garages. Some of America’s best Zen teachers teach in travelling zendos. It’s no longer Zen without Zen Masters, it’s now Zen Masters without Zendos.

NOT FULLY BAKED: A term used by Buddhist teachers to describe other Buddhist teachers whom they feel have not reached the spiritual level necessary to teach.

MULTIMEDIA MIGRATION: Leaving one’s tradition for another, more exciting tradition, with more colorful or varied forms of practice and ritual. Examples include leaving the Zen tradition for Tibetan traditions or leaving Soto Zen for Rinzai Zen.

Used to be online at: http://www.worldtrans.org/CyberSangha/raysp962.htm

Revised: 7-20-96 Copyright 1996 CyberSangha: The Buddhist Alternative Journal