A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms
William Edward Soothill and Lewis Hodous
London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd. - 1937

Warning: the text below is provided with the digital edition of the Soothill and Hodous dictionary. It is provided here for information only as some features may not apply to this website.

Source: Charles Muller's digital edition of A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms by Soothill and Hodous.


Preface to the Digital Edition
Why Digitize Soothill?

Like all other graduate students for the past generation or so who chose to embark on a professional career in the study of East Asian Buddhism, I was, in my early days of study, strictly warned by my mentors against relying on the Soothill and Hodous' Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms as a primary research tool. There were two main reasons for this. First, the dictionary is an extremely dated work, having reached completion during the mid 1930's, several decades before a serious profession of Buddhology had formed itself in the West. Western language information on Buddhism available to its compilers was extremely limited, and even in East Asian there were few reliable and comprehensive lexicons available. Thus the understanding of the philosophical terminology coming out of such systems as Mādhyamika and Yogācāra--which had only barely come to be understood in the West, tended to be simplistic, if not completely erroneous. It was a time in the history of the discipline when "Hīnayāna" was still considered to be something of a distinct historical Buddhist tradition. Beyond this, even concepts contained in the dictionary that were adequately understood were often expressed in archaic terms.

The second reason for pushing graduate students away from this work is related to the necessity of getting them involved as quickly as possible in dealing with resources from the original Asian traditions—in this case, the original texts and secondary resources from China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Beyond this, the constraints imposed by the printing technology of the 1930's of the dictionary have always made the dictionary somewhat difficult to use, with many of the entries in the dictionary being embedded inside other entries. There is also the difficulty brought about by the usage of vertical bars to indicate the repetition of Chinese characters. There is also somewhat of a dearth of useful indexing.

Despite these shortcomings, the fact is that just about every serious scholar of East Asian Buddhism has a copy of the Soothill/Hodous dictionary in her/his personal library (perhaps stashed somewhere next to a copy of Mathew's). This is an indication of an important fact about the dictionary: there is a large amount of information contained within it that can't readily be found elsewhere. Most notably information on Indian and Central Asian place names, personal names, temple names and so forth, but also lots of information on hybrid Sanskrit and transliterations that one will not find in any other dictionary, East Asian or otherwise.

I made the decision to digitize the dictionary upon finding out that it had fallen into the public domain, coupled with the realization that its content could do much to supplement that of my own long-term Buddhist lexicographical project, the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism [DDB (http://www.acmuller.net/ddb)]. Obtaining a grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science [JSPS] I spent, along with a number of assistants, two years in the task of digitizing this material and adding it to the DDB.

I became, in the process of this task, quite likely the only other person besides Soothill, Hodous, and their editorial staff, to read the dictionary in its entirety, and as a result of this concentrated exposure to it, I was led, as a fellow lexicographer, to come away with an immense respect for efforts of its compilers. Very early in the age of attempts at mixed Chinese-Roman typesetting, and several decades before the advent of copy machines, these two men, working on different continents, sent their handwritten manuscript back and forth by ship over the Atlantic ocean no less than four times.

Serious scrutiny has led me to the conclusion that the work is, at least in terms of its translations from Chinese sources, fairly sound. Using modern computing technology in the process of adding this material to the DDB, we were able to benefit from the presence of digitized versions of the Fanyi mingyi ji and the Ding Fubao, which were checked (along with a wide range of other digitized resources) on the addition of each entry. This allowed us to add a good amount of information to the DDB from these sources that Soothill and Hodous—no doubt in the interest of economy—left out. Iit also allowed us to see clearly that both men held a very solid command of classical Chinese. Their renderings from these sources are accurate, insightful, and nuanced. They also extensively and paintakingly consulted the other reference works that were available to them at the time, such as the lexicons by Eitel and Monier-Williams (see Soothill's Preface for a discussion of sources). Making extensive use of Eitel, they were able to add a sizeable amount of geographical location information for place names contained in the various travel records of Chinese monks who went to India and Central Asia.

As noted above, the most obvious area of difficulty in terms of content was that concerned with Buddhist philosophy. They were not aware at all of the complex nature of the relationship between the "Paramarthan" and Xuanzang Yogācāra (the "schools of Idealism"), but more telling (and historically, interesting) is the fact that they had not yet even sufficiently grasped the distinctions between Yogācāra and Vajrayāna, as these two traditions are conflated in a number of places. Also, not surprising for the time period in which they worked and their backgrounds, much of their thinking was informed by Christian theology, and this is sometimes reflected in their renderings of Buddhist concepts. On the other hand, since Soothill was one the early translators of the Lotus Sutra, it is not surprising to note that there is a strong presence of Lotus and Tiantai related terminology in this work, most of it rendered with sufficient accuracy.

Status of the Digital Document and Treatment of its Contents

I started this project with only the intent of absorbing its data into the DDB in a supplementary fashion, and it was not until halfway through the process of digitization that it occurred to me that a separate digital version of the dictionary made publicly available on the internet could be of sufficient value to merit paying attention to the proper preservation of its original format. Thus, unfortunately, during the early stages, almost all attention was paid to devising the most efficient strategies for preparation of the material for entry into the DDB. This preparation included the changing of Chinese transliterations into Pinyin, as well as correction of Sanskrit diacritics, and amendments in diacritical style according to the modern norms used the DDB. However, even this was not done with consistency, as sometimes these changes were made in the Dictionary source files, and sometimes only after they had been added to the DDB.

The major format change one will see in this version is that of the places where Soothill/Hodous had included numerous entries under a single entry heading. For ready absorption into the DDB using computer programming, these were broken down into separate entries. As it turns out, it makes the dictionary much more readable, so I don't see that this will be a problem. Also, our replacement of the vertical bars with the actual Han characters they were used to indicate will make for much easier reading than in the printed original.

Most corrections to the material are usually only found in the equivalent DDB entry. Since we have already gone through the correcting and editing process once while adding the material to the DDB, it does not seem worth it, for our purposes, to go back and try to return to Soothill material to its precise original format. But if someone would like to do that job, they are certainly welcome to do so. There is little doubt that the addition of the material to the DDB in a more readily accessible, searchable format is something that Profs. Soothill and Hodous would have themselves happily welcomed. Prof. Soothill's attitude toward the usage of his work in future projects is well expressed as follows:

Lack of time and funds has prevented our studying the Canon, especially historically, or engaging a staff of competent Chinese Buddhist scholars to study it for the purpose. We are consequently all too well aware that the Dictionary is not as perfect or complete as it might be.
Nevertheless, it seems better to encourage the study of Chinese Buddhism as early as possible by the provision of a working dictionary rather than delay the publication perhaps for years, until our ideals are satisfied—a condition which might never be attained.
We therefore issue this Compendium—for it is in reality more than a Dictionary—in the hope that many will be stimulated to devote time to a subject which presents so fascinating a study in the development of religion.

The basic digital document is structured in XML, using the recommendations for print dictionaries provided by the Text Encoding Initiative [TEI]. This will allow for its transformation into various formats for implementation on the Web, and elsewhere.


The work of digitizing A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms was made possible by a research grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The scanning and OCR work was done in its entirety by Yasuko Suzuki. Ms. Suzuki also did almost all of the editing and correction of Chinese characters contained in the text. Proofreading of the English text, and especially the insertion of diacritical marks was done by Heather Blair, Juhn Ahn, Amanda Goodman, Gina Cogan, James Mark Shields, and Thomas Dreitlein. Please note that due to certain processes of the project, not all of these corrections appear in the present text, but are reflected in their entirety within the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism.

Charles Muller

Tokyo, March 2003


As compilers of the first Dictionary of Chinese Mahāyāna Terms, we are far from considering our attempt as final. Our desire has been to provide a key for the student with which to unlock a closed door. If it serves to reveal the riches of the great Buddhist thesaurus in China, we will gladly leave to others the correction and perfecting of our instrument. It was Dr. E. J. Eitel, of The London Missionary Society, who over sixty years ago, in 1870, provided the first means in English of studying Chinese Buddhist texts by his Handbook for the Student of Chinese Buddhism. It has been of great service; but it did not deal with Chinese Buddhist terminology in general. In form it was Sanskrit-Chinese-English, and the second edition unhappily omitted the Chinese-Sanskrit Index which was essential for the student reading the Chinese Sutras. [Note: 1. A reprint of the second edition, incorporating a Chinese Index, was published in Japan in 1904, but is very scarce.]

Lacking a dictionary of Chinese Buddhist terms, it was small wonder that the translation of Chinese texts has made little progress, important though these are to the understanding of Mahāyāna Buddhism, especially in its Far Eastern development. Two main difficulties present themselves: first of all, the special and peculiar use of numerous ordinary Chinese terms; and, secondly, the large number of transliterated phrases.

In regard to the first difficulty, those who have endeavoured to read Chinese texts apart from the apprehension of a Sanskrit background have generally made a fallacious interpretation, for the Buddhist canon is basically translation, or analogous to translation. In consequence, a large number of terms existing are employed approximately to connote imported ideas, as the various Chinese translators understood those ideas.Various translators invented different terms; and, even when the same term was finally adopted, its connotation varied, sometimes widely, from the Chinese term or phrase as normally used by the Chinese. For instance, kleśa undoubtedly has a meaning in Sanskrit similar to that of 煩惱, i. e. affliction, distress, trouble.

In Buddhism affliction (or, as it may be understood from Chinese, the afflicters, distressers, troublers) means the passions and illusions; and consequently fan-nao in Buddhist phraseology has acquired this technical connotation of the passions and illusions. Many terms of a similar character will be noted in the body of this work.

Consequent partly on this use of ordinary terms, even a well-educated Chinese without a knowledge of the technical equivalents finds himself unable to understand their implications.

A difficulty equally serious is the transliteration of Sanskrit, a difficulty rendered far greater by the varied versions of many translators. Take, for instance, the word "Buddha" and its transliteration as 佛; 佛陀; 浮陀, 浮圖, 浮頭, 勃陀, 勃馱, 部陀, 母陀, 沒馱, and so on. The pages of the Chinese canon are peppered with such transliterations as these from the Sanskrit, in regrettable variety. The position resembles that of Chinese terminology in Modern Science, which was often transliteration twenty or thirty years ago, when I drew the attention of the Board of Education in Peking to the need of a regulated terminology for Science. Similarly, in pages devoid of capitals, quotation-marks, or punctuation, transliterated Sanskrit-into-Chinese may well seem to the uninitiated, whether Chinese or foreign, to be ordinary phrases out of which no meaning can be drawn.

Convinced, therefore, that until an adequate dictionary was in existence, the study of Far Eastern Buddhist texts could make little progress amongst foreign students in China, I began the formation of such a work. In 1921 I discovered in Bodley's Library, Oxford, an excellent version of the 翻譯名義 集 Fan I ming I Chi, i.e. Translation of Terms and Meanings, composed by 法雲 Fa-y n, circa the tenth century A.D. At the head of each entry in the volume I examined, some one, I know not whom, had written the Sanskrit equivalent in Sanskrit letters. These terms were at once added to my own card index. Unhappily the writer had desisted from his charitable work at the end of the third volume, and the remaining seven volumes I had laboriously to decipher with the aid of Stanislas Julien's Méthode pour déchiffrer et transcrire les noms sanscrits qui se rencontrent dans les livres chinois, 1861, and various dictionaries, notably that of Monier Williams. Not then possessed of the first edition of Eitel's Handbook, I also perforce made an index of the whole of his book. Later there came to my knowledge the admirable work of the Japanese 織田得能 Oda Tokunō in his 佛教大辭典; and also the Chinese version based upon it of 丁福 保 Ding Fubao, called the 佛學大辭典 in sixteen volumes; also the 佛學小辭典 in one volume. Apart from these, it would have been difficult for Dr. Hodous and myself to have collaborated in the production of this work. Other dictionaries and vocabularies have since appeared, not least the first three fascicules of the H b girin, the Japanese-Sanskrit-French Dictionary of Buddhism.

When my work had made considerable progress, Dr. Y. Y. Tsu called upon me and in the course of conversation mentioned that Dr. Hodous, of Hartford Theological Seminary, Connecticut, U.S.A., who had spent many years in South China and studied its religions, was also engaged on a Buddhist Dictionary. After some delay and correspondence, an arrangement was made by which the work was divided between us, the final editing and publishing being allotted to me. Lack of time and funds has prevented our studying the Canon, especially historically, or engaging a staff of competent Chinese Buddhist scholars to study it for the purpose. We are consequently all too well aware that the Dictionary is not as perfect or complete as it might be.

Nevertheless, it seems better to encourage the study of Chinese Buddhism as early as possible by the provision of a working dictionary rather than delay the publication perhaps for years, until our ideals are satisfied—a condition which might never be attained.

We therefore issue this Compendium—for it is in reality more than a Dictionary—in the hope that many will be stimulated to devote time to a subject which presents so fascinating a study in the development of religion.

My colleague and collaborator, Dr. Hodous, took an invaluable share in the draft of this work, and since its completion has carefully read over the whole of the typed pages. It may, therefore, be considered as the common work of both of us, for which we accept a common responsibility. It seemed scarcely possible for two men living outside China, separated by 2,000 miles of ocean, and with different mentalities and forms of expression, to work together to a successful conclusion. The risky experiment was hesitatingly undertaken on both sides, but we have been altogether happy in our mutual relations.

To Dr. F.W. Thomas, Boden Professor of Sanskrit, Oxford University, I am deeply indebted for his great kindness in checking the Sanskrit terminology. He is in no way responsible for the translation from the Chinese; but his comments have led to certain corrections, and his help in the revision of the proper spelling of the Sanskrit words has been of very great importance. In the midst of a busy life, he has spared time, at much sacrifice, to consider the Sanskrit phrases throughout the entire work, except certain additional words that have since come to my notice. As an outstanding authority, not only on the Sanskrit language, ut on Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan language, his aid has been doubly welcome. Similarly, Dr. Hodous wishes specially to thank, his colleague at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn., Dr. LeRoy Carr Barret, for the generous assistance he rendered in revising the Sanskrit terms in his section of our joint work, and for his well-considered and acceptable comments and suggestions.

Dr. Lionel Giles, Keeper of the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS., British Museum, illustrious son of an illustrious parent, has also our special appreciation, for he magnanimously undertook to read the proofs. He brings his own ripe scholarship and experienced judgment to this long labour; and the value and precision of the Dictionary will undoubtedly be enhanced through his accurate and friendly supervision.

Next, we would most gratefully acknowledge the gift of Mrs. Paul de Witt Twinem, of Trenton, New Jersey, UṢ.A. She has subscribed a sum of money which has made the publication of our work possible. To this must be added further aid in a very welcome subvention from the Prize Publication Fund of the Royal Asiatic Society. Such a practical expression of encouragement by fellow-orientalists is a matter of particular gratification.

Our thanks are due to Mr. Zu-liang Yih 葉樹梁, who with accuracy, zeal, and faithfulness has written the large number of Chinese characters needed. To the Hon. Mrs. Wood I am grateful for help in the exacting task of transcribing. As to my daughter, Lady Hosie, I have no words to express my personal indebtedness to her. Without her loving and unflagging aid as amanuensis, I should have been unable to finish my part in this work, which-so the authors hope-will once again demonstrate the implicit and universal need of the human spirit for religion, and its aspirations towards the Light that "lighteth every man that cometh into the world".


Oxford, England, 1934.


After the Dictionary went to press, Professor Soothill died. The work on the Dictionary, however, was completed. For ten years we worked together, he at Oxford and I at Hartford, and the manuscript crossed the Atlantic four times. During his semester in New York as Visiting Professor in Columbia University and on my brief visit to Oxford, we had opportunity to consult together on some outstanding problems. The work of organizing the material and harmonizing the differences was done by Professor Soothill. He was well equipped to undertake the task of producing a Buddhist Dictionary, having a thorough knowledge of the Chinese language. His Pocket Chinese Dictionary is still in use. He knew Chinese culture and religion. He possessed a keen sense for the significant and a rare ability to translate abstruse terms into terse English. But even more valuable was his profound insight into and deep sympathy with the religious life and thought of another people.

The text and the indexes were again finally revised during his last long illness by Lady Hosie under his supervision. He was able also to appreciate the kind collaboration of Dr. Lionel Giles on the earlier proof-sheets. But his death meant a vastly increased amount of work for Dr. Giles who, on the other side of the Atlantic from myself, has had to assume a responsibility quite unexpected by himself and by us. For two to three years, with unfailing courtesy and patience, he has considered and corrected the very trying pages of the proofs, while the Dictionary was being printed. He gave chivalrously of his long knowledge both of Buddhism and of the Chinese literary characters. He adds yet another laurel to the cause of Chinese learning and research. And in the same way Professor F.W. Thomas bore the brunt of the Sanskrit proof-reading. We have indeed been fortunate to have had our work checked in extenso by such exacting scholars.

To Sir E. Denison Ross, who kindly looked over the proofs, and added certain welcome corrections, our thanks are due. Also we would wish to acknowledge the help of Mr. L. M. Chefdeville, who, putting his experience of various Oriental languages at our disposal, made many helpful suggestions, especially as regards the Indexes. Nor do we forget the fidelity and careful work of the printers, Messrs. Stephen Austin and Sons, who collaborated with us in every way in our desire to produce a volume a little worthy of its notable subject.

Our object is well expressed by my late colleague. The difficulties in the production of the book were not small. Buddhism has a long history. Its concepts were impregnated by different cultures, and expressed in different languages. For about a thousand years

Buddhism dominated the thought of China, and her first-rate minds were occupied with Buddhist philosophy. For a period it lagged; but today is in a different position from what it was a generation ago. Buddhism is no longer a decadent religion and in certain countries it is making considerable progress. It is therefore to be hoped that this Dictionary will help to interpret Chinese culture both through the ages and today.


Hartford, Connecticut, 1937.


1. The rule adopted has been to arrange the terms, first, by strokes, then by radicals, i. e.: -

(a) By the number of strokes in the initial character of a term; then,

(b) According to its radical.

Thus 佛 will be found under seven strokes and under the 亻 radical; 法 under eight strokes and the 氵 radical; 愛 under thirteen strokes and the 心 radical. A page index is provided showing where changes in the number of strokes occur.

2. A list of difficult characters is provided.

3. An index of the Sanskrit terms is given with references to the Chinese text.

4. A limited number of abbreviations have been used, which are self-evident, e.g. tr. for translation, translator, etc.; translit. for transliteration, transliterate, etc.; abbrev. for abbreviation; intp. for interpreted or interpretation; u.f. for used for. "Eitel" refers to Dr. Eitel's Handbook of Chinese Buddhism; "M.W." to Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary; "Keith" to Professor A. Berriedale Keith's Buddhist Philosophy; "Getty" to Miss Alice Getty's The Gods of Northern Buddhism; B.D. to the 佛學大辭典; B.N. to Bunyiu Nanjio's Catalogue.

5. Where characters are followed by others in brackets, they are used alone or in combination; e. g. in 十善 (正法) the term 十善 may be used alone or in full 十善正法.

6. In the text a few variations occur in the romanization of Sanskrit and other non-Chinese words. These have been corrected in the Sanskrit index, which should be taken as giving the correct forms.

In this Dictionary it was not possible to follow the principle of inserting hyphens between the members of Sanskrit compound words.

Date: 2003.03.02 Author: Charles Muller