I’m a Lecturer in Classics in NUI Galway (Ireland), interested in ancient and early medieval language, history and culture. My focus is on Classical and Celtic languages (principally Latin, Greek and Old and Middle Irish) and the history of education and scholarship.

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Etymologies of Buddhist terms

Rough notes on Indo-European roots of Buddhist terms (and some Hindu) of Sanskrit origin that are well-known in English.

  • ámṛita ‘immortality’ (cf. ἄμ(β)ροτος)
  • avatar; S. avatāra ‘passes over’ < S. ava- (cf. ἀνα?) + *terH- (through, etc.)
  • Buddha; cf. S. bodha-ti ‘he awakes’ < *bheudh- ‘be/make aware’ (cf. bid, bode)
  • Bodhisattva; bodhi ‘perfect knowledge’ + sattvá ‘existing, true, real’ (< *es-)
  • chakra; S. cackram < *kwel- (cf. cultivate, cycle, wheel, buachaill)
  • dharma ‘law, custom’ < *dher-mn- ‘hold firmly’ (cf. firm, throne)
  • guru ‘heavy, venerable’ < *gwerH- (cf. grave, G. barus)
  • Hinayana; S. hīna ‘inferior’, verb. adj. of jahāti ‘leaves, lets go’ (*ghe-ghē-ti; cf. go, heir, etc.)
  • Mahayana: 1) < *megh-; 2) < yāna ‘vehicle, way’ < *yaH- < *ei-
  • mantra ‘thought’ < *men- + S. -tra, instrumental suffix
  • nirvāṇa ‘extinction’ < S. nir- ‘out, away’ + vā-ti ‘blows’ < *weH- (cf. wind, ventum) + ṇa, abstract noun suffix; 涅槃J. nehan
  • saṃsāra ‘running through’
  • sūtra ‘thread, string’ (hence, ‘rule’) < *syuH- (cf. sew)
  • swastika < S. sv-astí- (< *sw + *es-) ‘well-being’
  • tantra ‘loom’ (hence, ‘system’) < *ten-tro-
  • Theravada (Pali ‘statements of the elders’); 1) S. sthavira- ‘thick, stout, old’ < steuH- < stā-; 2) S. vādah ‘sound, statement’ < *wed- (cf. ode)
  • vēda ‘knowledge’ < *woid-o-
  • zen < C. chán < dhyāna ‘thought, contemplation’ < *dhyeh2 ‘notice’ (cf. Dor. sāma, Att. sēma ‘sign, token’, with first palatalisation, cf. medyos > L. medius, Att. mésos, Boet. mettos).
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