Advaita: non-dualism

Ahuti: any solemn rite accompanied with oblation

Ananda: bliss, the unadulterated joy of pure being

Asanas: postures that strengthen the body and sharpen the mind; practised for the purpose of achieving one-pointedness

Ashram: hermitage. A secluded abode for study and spiritual practice

Atman: the true or higher self as distinct from the ego conscious self. The permanent essence and individualised super-consciousness. The non- individualised supreme consciousness is Paramatma

Aum: primal sound or vibration from which the universe emanates. The sacred sound and symbol which represents Brahman

Aum Namoh Narayana: Aum, thy name is Narayana, a mantra saluting Vishnu

Aum Namoh Shivaya: Aum thy name is Shiva, a mantra saluting Shiva as the higher self

Avatar: incarnation of the divine in human form

Baba: an affectionate term meaning “father”, used for a guru or a holy man. Many venerated saints are referred to as Baba or Babaji. The Ji is a suffix denoting respect

Bhagwati: one of the names of the universal mother

Brahman: Absolute or ultimate reality. The One Absolute Being from whom everything emanates

Brahmanda: universe, cosmos

Buddhi: root - budh, to know. Knowledge and the faculty of discernment

Chandra: moon

Chetna: awake awareness

Chit: awareness. Pure undifferentiated consciousness

Darshan: literally to see; direct experience. To have darshan of a guru refers to the insight gained from a manifestation of divinity

Damaru: small drum varying in length from 6 to 12 inches. Associated with Lord Shiva who plays this instrument when he dances the tandava nritya. The drum is shaped like an hour-glass with two skin heads laced to the body by a thread

Dhuni: a sacred smouldering fire, tended by ascetics

Gorakh: literally meaning a person who has mastered his senses (indriyas) and has complete control over the five vikritis (negative qualities) in human nature, namely kaam (sexual impulses), krodh (anger), lobh (greed), moh (attachment) and madh (ego)

Gunas: the 3 aspects or qualities of the manifest Godhead and of Prakriti. Sattva being the force of truth, harmony, purity. Rajas is the tendency towards power, desire and energy. Tamas, the inclination towards inertia and stagnation. When the Gunas were in disequilibria, the godhead manifested the known universe

Guru: literally that which dispels darkness. Spiritual teacher. Often this relationship is cemented when a guru initiates a disciple into meditation. The sadguru or satguru (enlightened master) commits to guide his disciple all the way to enlightenment, through lifetimes of living if need be

Guru Purnima: day reserved for homage to the Guru. A festival, related to the element of Spirit. Occurs in late July or early August.

Jal Samadhi: see Samadhi

Jiva/Jeeva: individualised soul

Karma: Root - kri, to act, do or make. A completed action. Actions, though complete, exist in subtle form in the unconscious mind and the result of the karma will manifest sooner or later.
The law of Karma, or causality, states that samskaras (subtle impressions) dictate our actions. Action in turn creates fresh samskaras, thus leaving us trapped in the vicious circle of causality with no free will. Karmas can be beneficial or negative and are categorised as:
Sanchita: stored or dormant
Prarabdha: active
Kriyamana: potential
Only by breaking the cycle of Karma can we master our own destiny

Kathopanishad or Katha-Upanishad: a part of the Yajur Veda. Depicting an interaction between the ideal student and the ultimate teacher, it narrates how a boy, Nachiketa, visits the realm of Yama, the Lord of Death to seek knowledge of the eternal truths

Koan (Japanese): word or phrase creating a problem that cannot be solved by the intellect or pure reason or thought, but one which requires intuitive understanding, a leap of faith

Kriya: root - kri, to act. an action being performed. Distinct from karma, which is a completed action
Kriya Yoga: practices that are aimed at purifying the body and the nervous system for ascendance to higher states of consciousness. Series of recharging exercises and meditation techniques that lead to the ultimate liberation (realization) of the divine nature of the Self or soul
Kumbh: literal meaning - a vessel. The Kumbh mela or festival is celebrated every 12 years at the sites, where according to legend, the elixir of life fell from the vessel carrying it. The elixir manifests its properties every 12 years when the sun is in the house of Capricorn. The term Kumbh is also used to refer to a special spiritual gathering of sages

Kundalini: literal meaning, the coiled one. The cosmic shakti or dormant potential that lies coiled in the body. When kundalini awakens in the body it moves up the central subtle channel piercing the chakras and initiating various yogic processes that bring about total purification and rejuvenation of the entire being

Lila: divine play of consciousness

Maha: great, eternal

Maharaj: literally king, a term used to refer to a respected sage

Mahatma: great soul

Mahant: spiritual leader, head of an ashram or sect

Mahabharata: India’s greatest epic poem, fifteen times longer than the Bible. The first written versions of it date back to the fifth or sixth century BC

Mahamandaleshwar: title conferred on a respected sanyasi who heads a sect, region or religious order

Mahavtar: great incarnation of the divine

Mandir: temple

Mantra: root - manas, mind; tra to protect. Mantras are words or syllables that are recited during meditation practice to release the mind from unfocussed activity and prepare it for the state of illumination

Mataji: an affectionate term meaning “mother”, used for a guru or a holy woman

Mauna: Observance of spiritual silence

Maya: the primal substance from which nature is formed. One of its qualities is form producing. However, while it produces form it also tends to veil the truth. When a mind starts to identify with the form instead of the underlying reality, it experiences a diminishing of intuitive and intellectual capacities. The truth hides behind this veil. Maya, therefore, is illusory but not an illusion

Mukti: liberation

Muni: sage or saint

Nachiketa (or Nachiketas): literally Na Chiketas, the unperceived, the spirit or the flame that burns within. Nachiketa is the young seeker in the Kathopanishad who journeys to Yama, the lord of Death and seeks knowledge of the ultimate state of being, immortality and the Unmanifest

Nirvana: state of liberation, beyond duality, where the atman merges in the paramatman. Ignorance and conflicting emotions cease and the atman attains freedom from compulsive rebirth in samsara

Pandavas: descendants of Pandu, patronymic for five sons of Pandu, heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata

Paramatman: param, beyond or transcendental; plus atman. Thus, the Supreme Soul

Parvati: literally, daughter of the Himalayas, eternal consort of Shiva

Parikrama: circumambulation

Prakriti: source, original or material cause of anything, nature, the manifest universe

Prana: the life force that pervades nature

Pranam: to salute or bow in reverence

Pranayama: breathing exercises, breath control practised in Yoga that regulates the strength and circulation of prana in the body

Prasad: an offering made to the divine, which is then distributed to devotees with his blessings

Pravachan: a religious discourse

Purush: pure, unmanifested consciousness

Quila: fort

Ramayana: one of the great Hindu epics

Renunciate: one who has relinquished attachment to objects, emotional states and actions

Rishi: sage or saint

Rudraksha: seeds from a tree known to be sacred to Shiva. Often strung as beads on a string and worn as a mala (necklace)

Sadhu: a monk, an ascetic

Sadhak: one who is on the spiritual path

Samadhi: root – sam, to put together. Complete consciousness. A state of consciousness where the yogi separates the astral and causal bodies and wanders in the Bramhand (the cosmic sphere). When a yogi is in a state of samadhi, his body appears lifeless and his thoughts assume a perfect balance. This is not a trance state but one of clear and undifferentiated awareness.
Sthal Samadhi: samadhi taken underground.
Jal Samadhi: samadhi taken underwater

Samsara: objective world, sea of change, cycle of birth and death, characterised by suffering

Samskaras: subtle impressions. All actions, whether mental, physical or verbal, leave subtle impressions on the mind. These lead us to action, which strengthens our samskaras and so on, leading to a never-ending cycle

Sankalpa: will and determination towards a predetermined end, to make an event or circumstance or thing to manifest.

Sant: saint

Sanyasi: ascetic. One who has forsaken the household life to seek knowledge (female equivalent - sanyasini)

Sat, Satya, Satvva: Truth. Also harmony and purity

Satvik: from Satva,or Satya, truth, harmony and purity

Shakti: cosmic creative force. Also the aspect of kundalini which, when aroused, leads to positive spiritual awakening
Shiva: a name for the all-pervasive supreme reality; also the third aspect of the Hindu trinity, symbolising the destructive aspect.

Shraddha: faith

Shloka: a short verse

Siddha: perfect, realised or enlightened being. One who has acquired siddhis

Siddhi: spiritual powers that control self, others and the forces of nature

Swayamvara: ceremonial occasion at which suitors are invited so a girl can choose her own groom

Tandava: a dance form representing the forces of life and death. It is associated with Lord Shiva and is referred to as Ananda Tandava when it is performed in joy and Rudra Tandav when performed for the purpose of destruction

Tantra: root – tan, to expand. A system of practices for achieving particular goals, awaken innate abilities and achieve union with the infinite. The meaning of the word extends in the context of weaving and expanding the fabric of life

Tantrik: a practitioner of tantra

Tapasya: penance, asceticism

Tika: a mark placed on the forehead signifying commitment to a spiritual ideal

Triloka: literally the three worlds, earth, heaven and the nether regions

Triloka Tika: symbol of universal protection

Trishul: a trident, symbol of Lord Shiva

Upanishads: the end part of the Vedas, a collection of sacred texts. Root, Upa, under; ni, near and sad, sit. Sitting at the feet of an illumined master. The Upanishads reveal the accumulated wisdom of the sages, which show the path to ultimate knowledge of the Brahman

Upma: South Indian preparation with semolina

Vaikunth: the celestial abode associated with Vishnu

Vairagya: renunciation, freedom from desire, detachment

Vedas: root - vid, to know, therefore the revealed knowledge of the sages. The Hymns of the Vedas date back to perhaps 1500 BC and are the oldest religious scriptures known. The Vedas consist of four collections, Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva. The first part of the Vedas, the Karma Kanda, preserves ancient hymns, rituals and codes of conduct. The second part, the Jnana Kanda, contains the Upanishads, the sacred teachings

Videhi: one who is in his subtle or light body, one who can materialise and dematerialise his body at will

Yagna, yagya: ritual sacrifice of the Vedas

Yama: the first mortal. Lord of the region of Death

Yoga: Union. The Path, which leads to the ultimate union, the Self, merging with the Universal Consciousness

Yogi: one who travels on the Path. A practitioner of Yoga


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