Mahayana (Great Vehicle) is one of the two great branches of Buddhism, the other being the Hinayana (Small Vehicle).  The Mahayana, which arose in the first century C.E., is called Great Vehicle because it offers  many-sided approach, and asserts that all beings can attain enlightenment because all beings possess the buddha-nature.  It opens the  way of liberation to a great number of people, and expresses the intention to liberate all beings. While Hinayana seeks the liberation of the individual, the follower of Mahayana seeks to attain enlightenment for the sake of the welfare of all beings.  This attitude is embodied in the Mahayana ideal of the bodhisattva whose outstanding quality is the limitless compassion.  The modern Mahayana emphasizes the development of compassion and wisdom to benefit all others most effectively, and to embrace a sense of global responsibility.

The Mahayana divided into a series of further schools, which spread from India to Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan.  The two of the most important Mahayana schools in China were Chan and Pure Land.  These two schools were further developed in Japan as Zen and Amidism, respectively.  The teachings of the Mahayana are contained in the Mahayana sutras (such as the popular Diamond Sutra , Heart Sutra , and Lotus Sutra , etc.) and doctrines, among which are some of the most profound writings of Buddhism.

Mala  is a string of precious beads that is used to count repetitions in the recitation of mantras, and the name of Buddha.  The number of beads in a Buddhist mala is 108.

Mandala is a symbolic representation of cosmic forces in two- or three-dimensional form, which is of considerable significance in the Tibet Buddhism.  It is used primarily as supports for meditation.  The picture can be used as a reference for a particular visualization.

Mantra is a series of syllables that manifests certain cosmic forces and aspects of the buddhas, sometimes also the name of a buddha.  Continuous repetition of mantras is practiced as a form of meditation in many Buddhist schools.  Mantra can be defined as a means of protecting the mind.

Mara is the Buddhist “Tempter” figure.  He is often called “Mara the Evil One,” or  the “Opponent of Liberation” because Mara wanted to prevent the Buddha from showing men the way that liberates from suffering.  According to legend, when the Buddha was seated under the Bodhi-tree, Mara tried in vain to obstruct his attainment of Enlghtenment, first by frightening him through hosts of demons, etc., and then by his three daughters’ allurements.  But, the Buddha acted on his own Insight in all cases.

Meditation  (mental development) is the development of concentration to very high levels. Its goal is to bring the consciousness of the practitioner to a state in which he can come to an experience of “awakening,” “liberation,” and “enlightenment.”  In Buddhism, there are two kinds of mental development:  (1) Development of Tranquility, i.e. concentration.  Tranquility is the concentrated, unshaken, peaceful, and therefore undefiled state of mind;  (2) Development of Insight, i.e. wisdom. (See: Insight)

A common mark of all forms of meditation is that practice of the meditation concentrates the mind of the practitioner, calms and clarifies it like the surface of a turbulent body of water, the bottom of which one can see only when the surface is still and the water is clear.

This is accomplished through different techniques, depending on the method of training.  It may be done in silence, stillness, by using voice and sound, or by engaging the body in movement (such as walking meditation).  All forms emphasize the training of attention and concentration.  For example, meditation can be practiced by breathing exercises, by concentration on symbolic forms, on feelings such as love or compassion, and on a Koan in Chan (Zen),  etc.

Meditation is central to Buddhist practice.  It helps to deepen understanding of the Four Noble Truths and theNoble Eightfold Path.  People have been purifying and transforming their minds through meditation for thousand of years.  If you meditate regularly, you get greater calm, improved concentration and more connection to others; and you will be more aware of both your inner workings and what’s happening around you.

Merit.  This term generally refers to the karmic merit gained through giving alms, practicing generosity and compassion, performing Dharma services,  and so on, which is said to assure a better life in the future.  Accumulating merit is a major factor in the spiritual effort of a Buddhist layperson.  The commitment to transfer a part of one’s accumulated merits to others is a significant aspect of the bodhisattva vow.

Middle Way (the Noble 8-fold Path) generally is a term for the way of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, which teaches avoidance of all extremes, like indulgence in the pleasures of the senses on one side, and self-mortification and asceticism on the other.  The Buddha avoided these two extremes and found the Middle Path, which opens the eyes, produces knowledge, and leads to peace, insight, enlightenment, and Nirvana.

The  Noble 8-fold Path is the Middle Way, since in following it, both wallowing in sense pleasure and asceticism are avoided, and it leads to release from suffering. They are: right view (understanding), right thought, right speech, right bodily action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.  The Middle Way is a basic doctrine of Buddhism.  Following the Middle Way brings detachment from craving and opens the mind to reality and an understanding of oneself and the world.

Mind, the key concept in all Buddhist teaching, is generally used as a collective name for the 4 mental groups: feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness.  As the sixth of the six bases, mind is the basis for all mental functioning and acts as controller of the first five bases.  The false mind, the ordinary mind, is dominated by conditioning, desire, aversion, ignorance and false sense of self.  To achieve true and complete mastery fo the Mind is to become a Buddha.

Mindfulness.  Practicing mindfulness in Buddhism means to perform consciously all activities and to assume the attitude of “pure observation,” through which clear knowledge, i,e, clearly conscious thinking and acting, is attained.  The intention of mindfulness practice is to bring the mind under control and to a state of rest. This practice brings insight into the transitory, unsatisfying, and essenceless nature of all existence, and is thus the basis for all higher knowledge.

Mindfulness is one of the 5 Spiritual Faculties and  Powers, one of the 7 Factors of Enlightenment, and the 7th link of the Noble 8-fold Path, and is, in its widest sense, one of those mental factors inseparably associated with all karmically wholesome. ” Mindfulness on In-and-Out-breathing” is one of the most important exercises for reaching mental concentration. With its emphasis on awareness and mindfulness, Buddhism has much to offer the new enrivonmentalism.

The “4 Foundations of Mindfulness” are: Contemplation of Body, Feeling, Mind, and Mind-objects.  The only way that leads to the attainment of purity, to the overcoming of sorrow and regret, to the end of pain and grief, to the entering of the right path, and to the realization of Nirvana are the “4 Foundations of Mindfulness.

Morality is a mode of mind and volition manifested in speech or bodily action.    Buddhist Morality is the clearly conscious and intentional restraint from the bad actions in question and corresponds to the simultaneously arising volition.  Morality is the foundation of the whole Buddhist practice, and therewith the first of the 3 kinds of higher trainings that form the 3-fold division of the Noble 8-fold Path, i.e. morality, concentration and wisdom.

(Spring Liao, 06/19/2011)