Glossary of Important Terms In World Religions
H - P
A - G | Q - Z
Hadj (Hajj): the Arabic term for the formal pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca; in Islam, one of the Five Pillars of Faith.
Haniwa: cylindrical doll-like figures (approx. one meter in height) that were erected around imperial burial mounds during the Kofun Period (ca. 250-710 CE). They appear to have served as sentinels that stood "on guard" over the tomb structure.
Henotheism: belief in or worship of a god (e.g., a tribal god), without asserting that it is the one and only god. See also monism, monotheism, pantheism, polytheism.
Heresy: any practice or teaching that is formally condemned for falling outside the established framework of the conventions, beliefs and doctrines of a given religious tradition. See also Orthodoxy.
Hijrah: "migration," referring to the year 622 CE, when Muhammad journeyed from Mecca to Yithrab (Medina) where his following developed. The Muslim calandar is dated from this year.
Hinayana: literally, "small raft" or "small vehicle," in reference to the sect of Buddhism that places emphasis upon the responsibility of the individual disciple, or Arahant, to attain his/her own enlightenment. the focus therefore tends to be more on the virtues of the monastic community than the laity. While much more in accordance with the original intent of the Buddha's teachings on the virtues and disciplines of the monastic life, Hinayana is a disparaging term applied to its followers by the more widespread and "popular" Mahayana tradition. Hinayana Buddhism (or more properly, Theravada Buddhism) is found primarily in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. See also Bodhisattva and Theravada.
Hindu: the predominant religious tradition of the Indian subcontinent. Originally, the word "Hindu" or "Shindu" was an Aryan reference to the indigenous people of the subcontinent, i.e., those whom the Aryans had conquered ca. 1500 BCE. More specifically, it referred to those who lived "in and beyond the Indus River valley." It has also been defined as simply a Persian word for "Indian."
Historicized Fiction: a form of literary documentation in which fictional events are given a historical context within the collective memory of a culture and/or tradition. Consider, for example, the Book of Genesis account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The literary-critical perspective of biblical scholarship would say that, while this story dwells within the cultural/religious psyche as an "event" from some specific time and place in proto-history, it is more likely a literary metaphor to express the awesome dimensions of humankind's loss of relationship with God. The point is that the veracity of "The Garden" is neither here nor there; but the veracity of human alienation-- from the Holy and from one another-- is as real as it gets. In short, the backdrop of historicized fiction is a philosophical, theological or aetiological conception. See Fictionalized History and Mythology.
Idolatry: in philosophical terms, the absolutizing of the relative. Theologically, the equating of a temporal object with an eternal divinity.
Immanuel: from the Hebrew, "God with us." found only in Isaiah 7.14 (as far as the Hebrew scriptures are concerned), it is the name of a newborn child who represents God's presence with and protection of Judah, meaning that God will take care of those who trust in him. In the New Testament, the gospel of Matthew places significance on Immanuel as an image of messianic prophecy pointing to Jesus of Nazareth.
Incarnation: literally, "enfleshed." The taking on of a human shape or nature by a divinity. See also Avatar.
Indra: in the Vedic tradition/period of Hinduism, the "god of the storm." Many hymns to Indra are found in the Rig Veda.
Ishtadeva: in devotional Hinduism, one's personal deity or "god of choice;" with the understanding that one is worshipping the "whole," one's immediate channel or means of doing so may be, for example, as a devotee or Krishna, Kali, etc.
Islam: from the Arabic triliteral root SLM, "submission" or "surrender," as well as "peace;" thus, the religion called "Islam" is grounded in the concept of peace in and through one's submission to the authority and will of Allah (God).
Israel: from the Hebrew, "the one who wrestles with God;" a very contextual term, Israel can refer to the chosen "people," the promised "land," the political "nation," or any combination of these.
Izanagi/Izanami: as narrated in the Japanese Kojiki, the first kami who, through their union with one another, created the islands of Japan, as well as all of the other kami that pervade the natural world. Izanagi is the male and Izanami is the female. See also Amaterasu, kami.
J ("Yahwist"): according to the Documentary Hypothesis, "J" is independently-created material incorporated into the Torah that makes extensive use of the Hebrew name Yahweh, referring to the God of Israel. It dates from the 9th-8th centuries BCE, sometime after the division of Israel into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms but prior to the Assyrian conquest in 722 BCE. "J" was likely compiled by an author in the Southern Kingdom. The letter "J" is used to refer to this source because, in the German language of Biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen (see Documentary Hypothesis), the letter "J" is pronounced as an English "Y".
Jain, Jainism: from the word Jina, meaning "conqueror;" an ancient Indian religious tradition which holds that human beings are called to liberate themselves from their imprisonment in the material world through strict ascetic practices.
Jataka: found in both the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions, stories and tales of previous lives of the historical Buddha. Successive Jataka tales present an ongoing "pattern" of progressive enlightenment that is intended to foreshadow the birth of Siddhartha Gotama.
Jen: see Ren.
Jihad: literally, "striving" or "struggle," although it is often used in the theo-political context of a "holy war." It must be either defensive or to right a wrongdoing. Its truer meaning is subjective and psychological, not objective and political; thus it is said that the "lesser jihad" is the external war with an agressor, while the "greater jihad" is the internal war with oneself, i.e., to be a better Muslim.
Jina: literally, "conqueror;" in the Jain tradition, the 24 spiritual beings who are revered for having achieved liberation from the material world through radical asceticism. All Jains are to emulate their example.
Jiva: in the Jain tradition, all living, sentient beings, whose liberation is prevented by their attachment to ajiva, or the non-living material world.
Jnana: the Hindu concept of "self-knowledge" or "knowledge of the eternal within the self." As a yoga, it is one of the Four Paths to God.
Kaaba: the large cubic stone structure which stands in the center of the Great Mosque at Mecca. See lecture synopsis on Islam for more detailed explanation and description of the Kaaba.
Kabbalah/Kabbala: literally "tradition;" a form of Jewish mysticism developed in the 12th century CE. It encompasses such things as Hebrew numerology, astrology, and an understanding of God's Shekkinah, or "divine presence," as a power that pervades the universe.
Kali: the Hindu goddess of destruction; she is the consort, or Shahkti, of Shiva.
Kama: in Hinduism, sensual enjoyment and desire, including aesthetic pleasure. One of "The Four Aims of Man." See also Purusartha.
Kami: in the Shinto tradition of Japan, the spirits, forces or energies that pervade the natural world, particularly that of the Japanese islands. See also Amaterasu, Animism, Shinto, Izanagi/Izanami. Shinto.
Kami-dana: in the domestic (home) practice of Shinto, a "spirit shelf;" a home altar on which offerings of prayer, food, drink, etc. for ancestors and local kami are placed.
Kami-no-michi: literally, "the way of the gods;" a Japanese equivalent of the Chinese language-based word Shinto.
Karma, Karma Yoga: literally, "action;" in Hinduism, the moral law of cause and effect, in that one's actions in this life, no matter how trivial or momentous, will have a positive or negative effect upon the disposition of one's next life. One should therefore be ever conscious of the nature and intent of one's actions. As a yoga, it is one of the Four Paths to God.
Ketuvim: Hebrew for "writings;" along with the Torah (law or instruction) and the Nevi'im (prophets), these three collections comprise the Hebrew scriptures. See also Tanakh.
Koan (in Chinese, kung-an): in the Rinzai sect of Zazen Buddhism (the Lin-chi sect of Chan Buddhism in China), the term for the posing of baffling riddles or exercises that cannot be solved in a discursive or rational manner. They are intended to force the student into a corner, as it were, so that he/she will be open to the immediacy of enlightenment, or satori, as a subjective experience of one's own Buddha nature.
Kofun: an early historical period of Japanese culture (ca. 250-710CE); the word kofun refers to immense imperial burial mounds that date back to this period. The largest is almost 111,000 square meters in size. See also Haniwa.
Kojiki: "Chronicles of Ancient Events;" compiled in 712 CE, a primary source text for ancient Japanese mythology. Embraced and revered by the Shinto tradition, the Kojiki established the traditional link between the divine origins of Japan and the Imperial Household.
Kokutai: a Japanese term that refers to "national values" or national consciousness;" during the Meiji Restoration Period (1868-1912), the government utilized key words or phrases that embodied kokutai in order to instill a sense of national identity that was subsequently tied to Shrine Shinto.
Kosher: Hebrew for "fit" or "proper." In Judaic culture, kosher refers to the proper methods of food preparation and the dietary laws governing its consumption. Kosher or non-kosher can refer to the very nature of certain foods, as well as the various combinations thereof. For example, pork is not kosher and shellfish is not kosher. Beef is kosher as long as the animal is slaughtered properly, and cow's milk is kosher. But the mixing of meat and dairy products is never kosher. "Keeping kosher" is important, not only because it would seem to address some apparent health issues, but because certain foods are associated with certain cultures (the goyim, or "the foreign nations"). Also, the mixing of certain foods is not unlike a metaphor for cultural, ethnic and religious assimilation. For the orthodox Jew, the experience of assimilation is like that of exile; it is nothing short of a loss of identity.
Koran: see Qur'an.
Kshatriya: in traditional Hindu/Indian culture, the third of the four primary caste levels, traditionally consisting of warriors, administrators, and the like. At the time of its inception through the Aryan invasions, this was the highest of the four caste levels.
Kung-an: see Koan.
Lakshmi: the Hindu goddess of prosperity; she is the consort, or Shahkti, of Vishnu.
Lao Tze: (b. ca. 604 BCE) the traditionally accepted "founder" of Daoism and the author of the Dao De Jing (The Way and Its Power). Most likely not a historical figure as such, but a composite of Chinese and Taoist tradition.
Law of Manu: see Manu.
Li: "ritual propriety;" in Confucianism, it refers to the proper enactment of ritual as the primary means to social development and cultivation. In turn, one's social comportment becomes in itself a form of ritual enactment, as the unrelenting attention to the ritualized roles that locate us within the myriad contexts of relationship with one another. In later Neo-Confucianism, Li refers to a kind of cosmic ordering principle that all human beings and social structures are ideally to reflect.
Lila: in Hinduism, the "sport" or "play" of the gods as it takes place within the natural energies and circular rhythms of the universe.
Liminality: to be "in between" two distinct realms, as in the threshold of a doorway. Liminality refers to the ambiguous nature of symbolic objects and ritual activity, in that the sacred reality of the object or act is to be found not in the thing itself but in one's dynamic relationship to it. The term is often used in reference to the transitional state within a rite of passage, i.e., the condition (or non-condition) in which the initiate is in the process of leaving one state of being and entering into another. While in liminal transition, the initiate is "in between," and is therefore a kind of non-person until he/she emerges anew on the other side.
Linear Time: the consciousness of time as a chronological "line" that is moving toward an end or fulfillment, within which one carries an awareness of past, present and future as modes of perception (e.g., memory, history, experience, hope, anticipation, etc.).
Lotus Sutra: the most popular and widely-taught text of Mahayana Buddhist teachings. Some devotional sects, such as medieval Japan's Nichiren Buddhism, taught that one needed only to chant the name of the Lotus sutra itself in order to achieve enlightenment.
Magga: literally, "path," in reference to The Eightfold Path, the fourth of The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha.
Mahavira: literally, "great hero" (599-527 [or 467] BCE); the 24th Jina, and the founder of the Jain tradition; Mahavira's ascetic life and teachings form the basis of the ancient Indian tradition of Jainism.
Mahayana:Sanskrit for, "large raft" or "large vehicle," the form of Buddhism practiced by the majority of Buddhists. With less emphasis placed on the disciplines of the monastic life, its popularity is predominantly among the laity, for whom the Buddha is seen as a compassionate savior figure who will assist followers along the way to Nirvana, and to whom petitionary prayer can be offered. The Mahayana tradition also emphasizes the achieving of "emptiness," i.e., the utter extinguishing of the ego, as well as the perception that no sensory person or object, not even the Buddha himself or the teachings, have an independent "self." The only true reality is the "void." Centers of Mahayana Buddhism include China, Japan, Korea and Tibet, as well as Vietnam in Southeast Asia. See Bodhisattva, Hinayana, Theravada.
Mantra: a word or a short phrase which is considered sacred or efficacious; to be uttered, usually many times in repetition, during prayer or meditation. Both Eastern and Western religions have traditions that utilize forms of mantric speech.
Manu, Law of Manu: created sometime between 300 BCE and 300 CE, an ethical and social code which became the standard for Hindu conduct and behavior. Most notably, the Law of Manu is the source and "cosmic rationale" for the institution of caste in traditional Hindu society, as well as for the establishment of the prescribed stages of life through which every upper-caste male is expected to pass, i.e., student, householder, retirement from society and finally complete asceticism.
Maya: loosely translated as "illusion," in Hinduism, it refers to the nature of the temporal world as a compilation of "appearances" which, in themselves, are not intrinsically bad, as they are generated by the shakti, or "power," of the universe. In this sense, veneration of images, the fine arts, etc. are products of maya. We are, however, "imprisoned" by maya when we regard the objects and impressions of our perception as absolutes in themselves when they in fact are, along with our respective selves, one holistic reality, i.e., Brahman.
Mecca: the Holy City of Islam in Saudi Arabia. It is the birthplace of Muhammad and the destination of the Islamic pilgrimmage or Hadj.
Mencius: in Chinese, Men Ke Tze (371-289 BCE); after Confucius himself, the most influential carrier and innovator of his teachings. In the text that is called by his own name, i.e., "the Mencius," he approaches Confucian social ethics from the standpoint of his belief in the innate goodness of human nature as their basis.
Messiah (Meshiach): Hebrew for "anointed one" or "chosen one;" from the 2nd century BCE, it referred to one who would deliver Israel from her enemies and restore her to prominence in the world. Jewish apocalyptic writings have applied this title in diverse ways, while Christianity tied it directly to Jesus of Nazareth. See also Christ.
Midrash: in Rabbinic Judaism, a running exposition and ever-evolving commentary upon the Hebrew scriptures, i.e., the Tanakh.
Mihrab: a niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates to direction of Mecca.
Miko: in traditional Japanese Shinto practice, a female shaman or priestess who, after performing rituals of purification, can speak directly to the kamis (spiritual presences or "energies" associated with nature, sacred places, etc.).
Minaret: a high tower alongside a mosque from the top of which the muezzin sings forth a public call to prayer.
Mishnah: created in about 200 CE, a Rabbinic legal commentary/discussion that applies certain Jewish laws to certain life situations. Over the next 400 years, the rabbis created two huge commentaries on the Mishnah called the Talmud.
Moksa: in Hinduism, "liberation, i.e., the release from samsara, or the temporal/material cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The final aim of "The Four Aims of Man." See also Purusartha.
Monism: the belief that there is but one fundamental reality, despite the appearance and/or experience of diversity. See also Henotheism, Monotheism, Pantheism, and Polytheism.
Monotheism: the belief in one god, not as merely supreme, but as one and only. See also Henotheism, Monism, Pantheism and Polytheism.
Mosque: the Islamic place of worship; usually services take place on Fridays
Muezzin: literally, "announcer;" an Islamic offical in a mosque who calls Muslims to prayer, traditionally sung forth from atop a minaret.
Muhammad: (570-632 CE) the "Seal," i.e., the final prophet, of Islam. Never thought of as the "founder" of Islam, he is regarded as the human channel through whom God revealed and produced the Quran.
Muslim: literally, "one who has surrended;" a follower of Islam.
Mysterion: a Greek term meaning "the mysteries." It refers to various secret and cultic societies whose ritual practices focused on a promise of rebirth and immortality in an afterlife. Initiating new members through baptisms and ritual meals, the mysteries centered around the life, death and resurrection of such deities as Dionysus, Mithras and Osiris (via Isis). These groups are significant because much of their ritual activity prefigures similar practices in the Christian church. See also Gnosticism.
Myth; Mythology: a story, usually of teleological content, that relates not historical fact but historical "experience" of its writer or culture. It is not a chronicle of "what was or is" but a profound expression of "how things are." See Fictionalized History and Historicized Fiction.
Necromancy: (from necros, "corpse," and -mancy, "divination by...") communication with the spirits of the dead for purposes of divination, fortune-telling, etc., by means of an oracle, medium, or other agency. See also Divination.
Neo-Confucianism: a later development of Confucian thought (ca. 11th c. CE) which sought to establish a synthesis between Confucian social ethics and the metaphysical character of human existence. Among other things, Neo-Confucianism re-interpreted the traditional Confucian concept of Li ("ritual propriety") as a kind of cosmic ordering principle that we are to reflect in our behavior and comportment.
Nevi'im: Hebrew for "prophets;" along with the Torah (law or instruction) and the Ketuvim (writings), these three collections comprise the Hebrew scriptures. See also Tanakh.
Nirodha: "Desire must be overcome," the third of The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha.
Nirvana: from the Sanskrit, "to cool by blowing;" in Buddhism, the enlightened condition of utter non-attachment, in the sense that all desires-- the source of suffering and delusion-- have been extinguished. May be loosely equated, therefore, with an absolute state (or perhaps more accurately, a non-state) of emptiness.
Orality: the practice of sharing and preserving cultural history, stories, traditions, etc, solely through the spoken and heard word, as opposed to the textual practice of writing and storing.
Orientalism: the erroneous Western tendency to view all Asian cultures as a kind of homogenous whole and to place them within an artificial framework that is distinctly opposed to our own (which is also somewhat artificially conceived); i.e., all Westerners are rational and linear, all Asians are non-rational and spatial, etc. Even the most responsible Western scholarship falls prey to this now and again-- to look into another culture is "to look through a glass darkly;" often what we see is our own assumptions reflected back to us.
Orthodoxy: literally "right opinion;" any practice or teaching that falls within the established framework of the conventions, beliefs and doctrines of a given religious tradition. See also Heresy.
Orthodoxy, Jewish: a sect of Judaism that stresses traditional values and practices with very little accommodation to modern secular culture. It is further divided into "Centrist" and "Ultra" Orthodoxy. while both sub-sects hold that the Torah is of divine origin and follow a wide range of ritual conventions, the ultra orthodox hold such things as dress, hairstyle, and language to be within the realm of religious commands. Formally speaking, Orthodox Judaism appeared as a reaction to the Reform movement.
P ("Priestly"): according to the Documentary Hypothesis, "P" is independently-created material incorporated into the Torah that presents an alternative account to those of J and E. It is dated anywhere from the 7th -5th centuries BCE, either just prior to or just following the Babylonian conquest of Judah (i.e., the Southern Kingdom of Israel) in 586 BCE.
Pantheism: the belief that all reality is essentially divine, i.e., that there is no distinction between the creator and the creation. See also Henotheism, Monism, Monotheism and Polytheism.
Parable: from the Greek, "to throw alongside;" an instructive metaphor in narrative form in which the images and/or characters of the story illustrate larger principles or ideas, usually intended to challenge or overturn the traditional perspectives or assumptions of the hearers. Jesus and others like him used parables as a teaching device.
Parvati: a primary female consort of Shiva. See also Shahkti.
Pentateuch: another name for the Torah, or the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures.
Phenomenalism, Phenomenology: an approach to religious studies in which one examines and analyzes sacred objects, rituals, etc. in terms of how they are experienced by those who participate in them. One cannot, of course, "see" subjective religious experience, but one can observe and analyze the results of it in peoples' lives and assumptions.
Place and Space: see Space and Place.
Polytheism: the belief in many gods, each of whom pervade and control a given aspect or natural phenomenon of the universe. See also Henotheism, Monism, Monotheism and Pantheism.
Priest: a "ritual technician" who speaks to the holy or sacred on behalf of the people of a given community. Generally speaking, priesthood is a formal profession into which one enters voluntarily and for which one trains. A common feature of ancient religious traditions and/or primal communities is the existence of a "priestly class," i.e., an inner circle of ritual experts who can be called upon by an individual or by the community at large. See also Prophet.
Primal: of or concerning a culture or religious tradition that is holistic, non-technological, often oral, and, in most cases, intimately tied to its natural land or tribal "place" as a universal pivot or spiritual center that exists nowhere else. See also Space and Place.
Prophet: from the Greek, "one who speaks for someone else." A prophet addresses the community on behalf of the holy or sacred, often in a state of ecstatic possession by the spiritual power in question. Like a medium in a seance, the prophet is the vehicle or mouth of the transcendent. The role of the prophet is usually not voluntary, in that one is simply chosen or empowered by the given spiritual power to perform this role in the community, perhaps even against one's conscious will. In this sense, the role of the prophet is opposite that of the Priest.
Prophetic Tradition: referring primarily to the Hebrew literary tradition of the prophetic figures (e.g., Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, Amos) who were called by God to "remind" Israel of the expectations of the covenant during the eighth through the sixth centuries BCE. The prophets addressed the behavior of individual kings as well as the social fabric of Israel as a whole.
Protestantism: referring to any Christian tradition or denomination that arose from, or developed as a later result of, the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, in which many clergy "protested" against certain abusive ecclesial practices and eventually broke away from the Roman Catholic Church.
Protestant Principle: philosophically, the absolutizing of the relative; theologically, the equating of anything with God, i.e., Idolatry.
Psychic Affinity: in primal religious consciousness, the condition in which a human being experiences an intimate and direct psychological connection with the rhythms and dynamics of the natural environment, especially animals. A contemporary example of this is expressed in the recent film, "The Horse Whisperer."
Puja: the worship or veneration of a Hindu deity. The word "puja" is usually in reference to a specific day or period of time that is set aside for festive rituals that honor a particular deity (similar to the "feast day" for a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition). There are numerous pujas throughout the calendar year.
Pure Land Buddhism: a popular form of Mahayana Buddhism that flourished in ancient China and the in Japan. It taught that one only needs to chant the mantric phrase "I place my faith in the Amiddha Buddha," in order to be transported after death to the "Pure Land in the West," prior to one's final transformation in Nirvana. Probably the most widely practiced and popular form of Buddhism today. See also Amiddha Buddha.
Purusartha: in Hinduism, "The Four Aims of Man," i.e., Kama (sensual enjoyment), Dharma (ethics, righteousness), Artha (wealth, success) and Moksa (liberation from the material and temporal bonds of the previous three).
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