Important Titles Throughout Buddhism

Sculpture of a BodhisattvaThroughout the religion of Buddhism, there are many different important titles that are used to refer to followers. Some of the terms that you will encounter include Bodhisattva, lama, guru, as well as what the heck is a hell-being.


Bodhisattva: In Sanskrit, this is a reference to one whose very essence is composed of wisdom. It is often encountered during the stud of Mahayana Buddhism. It makes reference to any future buddhas who choose to wait longer to enjoy nirvana so that the ma help others to free themselves from suffering. It is the goal of most Mahayana Buddhists to become a bodhisattva.


Avalokiteshvara: Described in the sutras titled, “Land of Bliss,” this bodhisattva is regarded as a compassionate individual, who can be encountered when one becomes deceased and enters the afterlife. Avalokiteshvara is often depicted as standing by the side of Amida, who together, welcome new arrivals to the afterlife. Throughout Chinese Buddhism, this particular bodhisattva is looked upon as the female deity, Kuan-yin. 


Kuan Yin: This is a female bodhisattva associated with the Chinese and Japanese Buddhist belief systems. She is often called upon to help those who are enduring times of difficulty. She is said to represent mercy and compassion. If she were to be compared to a figure that is important within the Catholic Christian system of belief, she serves the same purpose as the Virgin Mary in the eyes of Buddhists.


arhat: In Sanskrit, this term means “foe-destroyer.” An arhat is one who has attained nirvana, which is the main goal of those following the word of Theravada Buddhism.


lama: This is the name given to a Tibetan leader of spirituality.


lo-han: This is the Chinese term for arhat, which is a person who has attained nirvana


guru: In Sanskrit, it is the name given to a spiritual teacher of Buddhism


rakan: This is the Japanese term used to refer to arhat.


pretas: Also referred to as a hungry ghost, this refers to those who can be found from the second to the lowest of the six realms of existence. These hungry ghosts are often portrayed as possessing a small mouth or necks, but also have rather large stomachs. Their plight is expressed through their continuous state of frustration, as well as having a craving that will never be satisfied.


Lotus Sutra: This is the shortened version of a title given to the Sutra on the True Dharma White Lotus. Resembling a white lotus, this was a well-known and important Sutra within the Mahayana belief system. With a history that can be traced back between the 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE, this particular reference can be found throughout the teachings of the historical Buddha. It allows a different insight for those following traditional beliefs.


hell-beings: This is the title given to those who belong to the lowest of levels associated with existence. There are six realms in total and hell-beings are placed within this particular realm because they have racked up an enormous amount of bad karma. Karma is the belief of what comes around, goes around. If you do many evil deeds, you will suffer from bad karma. An act that will cause you to come closer to becoming a hell-being is committing murder. Out of all the realms of existence, it is the hell-beings that will receive the highest levels of suffering.