Dictionary Entry Templates for Buddhist Terms

This page explains information to include in common types of entries for Buddhist terms. See the Dictionary Entry Templates for non-Buddhist terms.

Canonical Text

The Concept Label should be set to 典籍 Canonical Text or a more specific type, such as Sutra. The Subdomain Label should be set to the traditional the text belongs to, such as 大乘佛教 Mahāyāna Buddhism. The Notes field should include the name of the translation, the original author (if known), and the reference in the Taishō.


The Concept Label should be set to 法师 Monastic. The Subdomain Label should be set to the the country of origin of the monastic or the traditional that the monastic is be known within. For example, for Kumarajiva the Subdomain Label is set to 中国佛教 Chinese Buddhism. The notes section should begin with the dates that the monastic lived, if known. For example, 'C. 334-413; Kumārajīva was born ...'

Multiword Expressions

Multiword expressions come in a number of varieties. Several are described here.

Idioms are distinct from collocations in that the meaning of the whole cannot be inferred from the individual words (Svensén 2009, pp. 188-190). Examples in English are ‘face the music’ and ‘spill the beans.’ Chinese idioms, 成語 chéngyǔ, are fixed form, usually four syllable, set phrases that have been coined throughout Chinese history from influential philosophies and traditions and are commonly used in modern Chinese (Sun 2006, loc. 1282). In addition, some idioms are also used in canonical texts. For example, the idiom (Jiao et al. 2013, s.v. ‘千方百計’)

    qiān fāng bǎi jì
    [thousand] [method] [hundred] [scheme]
    'by every possible means'

is found in Scroll 8 of Quotations from Chan Master Yuanwu Foguo 《圓悟佛果禪師語錄》(T 1997:0751a08). There are many Chinese idioms, and many are not used in canonical texts, making it not practical to list them. Pan lists 2,327 idioms in alphabetical order (Pan Weigui 2000, p. 6). Jiao et al. give a list of 500 idioms in order of frequency of use based on corpus analysis of modern Chinese (Jiao et al. 2013, p. viii). Jiao’s list provides a better starting point for the study of idioms. One of the problems with using idioms as examples, however, is that the allusions that the make to historic traditions may confuse the user.

Proverbs (諺語 yànyǔ) are a kind of traditional multiword expression that is self contained and usually contain pithy, didactic content (Rohsenow 2003, p. xii). Many Chinese proverbs go back to the Warring States period (475—221 BCE) or before from sources such as the Analects of Confucius. An example of a proverb attributed to the Warring States philosopher Han Feizi's Shuo Lin Shang is (Rohsenow 2003, s.v. 'Y448')

    yuǎn shuǐ bù jiù jìn huǒ
    Literally: ‘Distant water cannot extinguish a nearby fire.’
    Figuratively: ‘Distant or long term measures will solve a present emergency.’

This proverb appears in scroll 19 of Quotations from Chan Master Yuanwu Foguo (T 1997:0803c02). By comparison with the example idiom above, which can be embedded within a sentence, the proverb forms a sentence by itself. Since it is self contained it makes a better example to illustrate word usage. Although this proverb is used in the Taishō, it only appears two times. So far, there does not seem to be any way to identify proverbs that are commonly used in the canon by frequency.

Enumerations are a very common form of multiword expressions in Chinese Buddhism. Example of four mirrors in the Awakening of Faith (FGDB ‘四鏡’). Four kinds of mirror 四鏡 - 4 essences of enlightenment. The mirrors are mentioned in the text by the four kinds of mirror 四鏡 is a later formulation.


The Concept Label should be set to 寺院 Temple. The Subdomain Label should be set to the general location that temple is located in. For example, for 柏林禪寺 Bailin Temple the Subdomain Label is 河北 Hebei.


  1. Jiao, L, Kubler, CC & Zhang, W 2013, 500 Common Chinese Idioms: An Annotated Frequency Dictionary, Kindle ed. Routledge, Oxon, UK.
  2. Pan Weigui 2000, A Chinese-English Dictionary of Chinese Idioms汉英汉语成语用法词典》, Sinolingua, Beijing.
  3. Svensén, B 2009, A Handbook of Lexicography: the Theory and Practice of Dictionary-Making, Cambridge University Press, New York.


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