The name is similar to the Sanskrit term guru (see Tibetan Buddhism and Bön). lama (la-ma or huo-Fo): General Tibetan term for spiritual teacher or guru. "Lama" means literally "heavy with qualities".
In other traditions, one must earn the title "lama" by way of demonstrating their qualities over the years - or because they have been recognized clearly as a "Rinpoche" - and then are a "lama" by definition!
See also; "rinpoche."
- (1) personal religious teacher, especially of Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism);
- (2) head or leading figure within a spiritual community (gompa);
- (3) a properly qualified performer of Tantric ritual. Note that the roles of lama and MONK are different. Most monks are not lamas, and lamas are not necessarily monks.
Today the title can be used as an honorific title conferred on a monk, nun or (in the Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya schools) advanced tantric practitioner to designate a level of spiritual attainment and authority to teach, or may be part of a title such as Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama applied to a lineage of reincarnate lamas (Tulkus).
Similarly, Tibetan Buddhism was referred to as Lamaism by early western scholars and travelers who perhaps did not understand that what they were witnessing was a form of Buddhism; they may also have been unaware of the distinction between Tibetan Buddhism and Bön.
The term Lamaism is now considered by some to be derogatory.