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Honorific Buddhist titles – religious positions & qualifications

Honorific Buddhist titles are covering formal and informal religious relationships.

These may take the form of prefixes, suffixes or replacement of a person’s name, in certain contexts.

It may signify either an official religious position, or a qualification.

This is a list of Honorific Buddhist titles given in divers Buddhist schools around the world.

Lama

Lama is a title for a teacher of the Dharma in Tibetan . The name is similar to the Sanskrit term guru and in use it is similar, but not identical to the western monastic rank of abbot.

Bodhisattva

In Buddhism, is the Sanskrit term for anyone who has generated Bodhicitta, a spontaneous wish, and compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. Bodhisattvas are a popular subject in Buddhist art.

Rinpoche

Rinpoche is an honorific used in Tibetan Buddhism. It literally means “precious one,” and is used to address or describe Tibetan lamas and other high-ranking or respected teachers. This honor is generally bestowed on reincarnated lamas, or Tulkus, by default. In other cases, it is earned over time, and often bestowed spontaneously by the teacher’s students.

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama is a title given to spiritual leaders of the Tibetan people.

They are part of the Gelug or “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Dalai Lama title was created by Altan Khan, the Prince of Shunyi, granted by Ming Dynasty, in 1578. The Dalai Lama is considered to be the successor in a line of tulkus who are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara, a Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The name is a combination of the Mongolic word Dalai meaning “ocean” or “big” and the Tibetan word (bla-ma) meaning “master, guru”.

Mahasiddha

is a term for someone who embodies and cultivates the “siddhi of perfection”. A siddha is an individual who, through the practice of sādhanā, attains the realization of siddhis, psychic and spiritual abilities and powers. Mahasiddhas were practitioners of yoga and tantra, or tantrikas. Their historical influence throughout the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayas was vast and they reached mythic proportions as codified in their songs of realization and hagiographies, or namtars, many of which have been preserved in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The Mahasiddhas are the founders of Vajrayana traditions and lineages such as Dzogchen and Mahamudra.

Karmapa

Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu, the largest sub-school of the Kagyupa, itself one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Düsum Khyenpa, 1st Karmapa Lama (1110–1193), was a disciple of the Tibetan master Gampopa.

A talented child who studied Buddhism with his father from an early age and who sought out great teachers in his twenties and thirties, he is said to have attained enlightenment at the age of fifty while practicing dream yoga.

He was henceforth regarded by the contemporary highly respected masters Shakya Śri and Lama Shang as the Karmapa, a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara.

Lotsawa

Lotsawa is a Tibetan word used as a title to refer to the native Tibetan translators, such as Vairotsana, Rinchen Zangpo, Marpa Lotsawa, Tropu Lotsawa Jampa Pel and others, who worked alongside Indian scholars or panditas to translate Buddhist texts into Tibetan from Sanskrit, Classical Chinese and other Asian languages. It is thought to derive from Sanskrit locchāva, which is said to mean “bilingual” or “eyes of the world.” The term is also used to refer to modern-day translators of Tibetan buddhist texts.

Arhat

Thangka of Bakula Arhat

Buddhist saints representing the earliest followers of the Buddha, always found in a group of sixteen, they are often painted on cloth, murals, and constructed of metal, stone, and wood.

In China, they are called Lohan and are commonly referred to as a group of eighteen or five hundred.

Jambhala

is the god of wealth.

Tulku

A tulku is a reincarnate custodian of a specific lineage of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism who is given empowerments and trained from a young age by students of his or her predecessor.

Abbot (Buddhism)

In addition to its use in a Christian context, abbot is a term used in English-speaking countries for a monk who holds the position of administrator of a Buddhist monastery or large Buddhist temple. In Buddhist nunneries, the nun who holds the equivalent position is known in English as the abbess.

Panchen Lama

Panchen Lama is closely associated with the Dalai Lamas and the monastery of Tashi Lhunpo, the Panchen Lamas are a line of successively re-incarnating teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. The first Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen, was the tutor of the 5th Dalai Lama and the most important Gelugpa teacher of his time.

Pandita (Sanskrit): a Tibetan Buddhist term used to describe either an Indian scholar that assisted, along with a Tibetan scholar, in the translating of Sanskrit texts into the Tibetan language, or a Tibetan scholar that translates Sanskrit into Tibetan.

Shamarpa

Fifth Shamarpa

The Shamarpa, also known as Shamar Rinpoche, or more formally Künzig Shamar Rinpoche, is a lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and is regarded to be the mind manifestation of Amitābha.

He is traditionally associated with Yangpachen Monastery near Lhasa.

Acharya

The Buddhist monastic religious title applied to scholars and academics. It is the most common honorific title used for teachers such as Nagarjuna, Asanga, Dharmakirti, and others. In Tibetan the term is lobpon.

Geshe

Geshe or geshema is a Tibetan Buddhist academic degree for monks and nuns. The degree is emphasized primarily by the Gelug lineage, but is also awarded in the Sakya and Bön traditions. The geshema degree is the same as a geshe degree, but is called a geshema degree because it is awarded to women.

Bhikkhu

A is an ordained male in Buddhist monasticism. Male and female monastics are members of the Sangha.

Khenpo

The term khenpo, or khenmo is a degree for higher Buddhist studies given in Tibetan Buddhism. In the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya traditions, the title is awarded usually after a period of 13 years of intensive study after secondary school. It may roughly translate to either a bachelor’s degree, or nowadays more likely to a terminal degree in Buddhist Studies equivalent to a PhD or MPhil. The degree is awarded to students who can publicly defend their erudition and mastery in at least five subjects of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, namely Prajñāpāramitā, Madhyamaka, Pramāṇa, Abhidharma, and Vinaya. After successfully passing their examination they are entitled to serve as teachers of Buddhism.

Vajracharya

A bajracharya or is a Vajrayana Buddhist priest among the Newar communities of Nepal and a Revered Teacher who is highly attained in Vajrayana practices and rituals. Vajracharya means “vajra carrier”. They are also commonly called guru-ju or gu-bhaju which are Nepali terms related to the Sanskrit term guru, and translate as “teacher” or “priest”. The bajracharya is the highest ranking of the Newar castes that are born Buddhist.

Śikṣamāṇā

In Buddhism, a śikṣamāṇā is a female novice trainee. This training period is to be two years long, supervised by both a monk and a nun. After this period, the trainee may attempt full ordination as a bhikṣuṇī.

Lopon

Lopon is a spiritual degree given in Tibetan Buddhism equal to M. A.

Thero

is an honorific term in Pali for senior bhikkhus and bhikkhunis in the Buddhist monastic order. The word literally means “elder”. These terms, appearing at the end of a monastic’s given name, are used to distinguish those who have at least 10 years since their upasampada. The name of an important collection of very early Buddhist poetry is called the Therigatha, “verses of the therīs”.

Tai Situpa

Tai Situpa is one of the oldest lineages of tulkus in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism In Tibetan Buddhism tradition, Kenting Tai Situpa is considered as emanation of Bodhisattva Maitreya and Guru Padmasambhava and who has been incarnated numerous times as Indian and Tibetan yogis since the time of the historical Buddha.

Tai Situpa is one of the oldest lineages of tulkus in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism In Tibetan Buddhism tradition, Kenting Tai Situpa is considered as emanation of Bodhisattva Maitreya and Guru Padmasambhava and who has been incarnated numerous times as Indian and Tibetan yogis since the time of the historical Buddha.

Tatsag

The Tatsag or Tatsak lineage is a Tibetan Buddhist reincarnation lineage whose first member was Baso Chokyi Gyaltsen (1402–73). Since 1794 the Tatsag has been the owner of the Kundeling Monastery in Lhasa. There has been some controversy over the representative of the lineage in recent years.

Bhikkhunī

A bhikkhunī (Pali) or bhikṣuṇī (Sanskrit) is a fully ordained female monastic in Buddhism. Male monastics are called bhikkhus. Both bhikkhunis and bhikkhus live by the Vinaya, a set of rules. Until recently, the lineages of female monastics only remained in Mahayana Buddhism and thus are prevalent in countries such as China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam but a few women have taken the full monastic vows in the Theravada and Vajrayana schools over the last decade. From conservative perspectives, none of the contemporary bhikkuni ordinations are valid.

Ngagpa

In Tibetan Buddhism and Bon, a Ngagpa is a non-monastic practitioner of Dzogchen who has received a skra dbang, a hair empowerment, for example in the Dudjom Tersar lineage. This empowers one’s hair as the home of the dakinis and therefore can never be cut. The term is specifically used to refer to lamas and practitioners who are “tantric specialists” and may technically be applied to both married householder tantric priests and to those ordained monastics whose principal focus and specialization is vajrayana practice. However, in common parlance, “ngakpa” is often used only in reference to non monastic Vajrayana priests, especially those in the Nyingma and Bonpo traditions.

Mahanayaka

theros are high-ranking Buddhist monks who oversee and regulate the Buddhist clergy in Theravada Buddhist countries. The title Maha Nayaka translates to English as ‘Great Leader’ and it is considered to be a very important position held by a monk in a Theravada Buddhist country. It is usually bestowed upon the senior Buddhist monks who are appointed the chief prelates of monastic fraternities known as Nikayas.

Pandita (Buddhism)

Paṇḍita was a title in Indian Buddhism awarded to scholars who have mastered the five sciences in which a learned person was traditionally supposed to be well-versed.

Sakadagami

In Buddhism, the Sakadāgāmin, “returning once” or “once-returner,” is a partially enlightened person, who has cut off the first three chains with which the ordinary mind is bound, and significantly weakened the fourth and fifth. Sakadagaminship is the second stage of the four stages of enlightenment.

Samanera

A sāmaṇera (Pali); Sanskrit: श्रामणेर, is a novice male monastic in a Buddhist context. A female novice is a śrāmaṇerī or śrāmaṇerikā.

In Buddhism, a sotāpanna (Pali), śrotāpanna, “stream-enterer”, “stream-winner”, or “stream-entrant” is a person who has seen the Dharma and thereby has dropped the first three fetters that bind a being to a possible rebirth in one of the three lower realms, namely self-view (sakkāya-ditthi), clinging to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāsa), and skeptical indecision (Vicikitsa).

Kappiya

is a Buddhist lay manciple who resides in a monastery (vihāra) and assists Buddhist monks.

Imperial Preceptor

The , or Dishi was a high title and powerful post created by Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty. It was established as part of Mongol patronage of Tibetan Buddhism and the Yuan administrative rule of Tibet.

Tenzo

Tenzo is a title given to the chef at a Buddhist monastery. The word tenzo is Japanese for “seat of ceremony”, similar to the english term “master of ceremonies.”

Bhante

, sometimes also called Bhadanta, is a respectful title used to address Buddhist monks and superiors in the Theravada tradition.

Achar (Buddhism)

An achar or achar wat is a lay Buddhist who becomes a ritual specialist and takes on the role of master of ceremonies in various religious rites in Cambodia.

Ajari

Ajari (阿闍梨) is a Japanese term that is used in various schools of Buddhism in Japan, specifically Tendai and Shingon, in reference to a senior monk who teaches students; often abbreviated to jari. The term is a Japanese rendering of the Chinese transliteration for the Sanskrit “âcârya,” one who knows and teaches the rules.” In the Sōtō tradition, this title is used in reference to any monk that has completed five ango—a way of demonstrating respect and reverence for them.

In Buddhism, an anāgāmin is a partially enlightened person who has cut off the first five fetters that bind the ordinary mind. Anāgāmins are the third of the four aspirants.

In Buddhism, an anagārika is a person who has given up most or all of their worldly possessions and responsibilities to commit full-time to Buddhist practice. It is a midway status between a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni and laypersons. An anagārika takes the Eight Precepts, and might remain in this state for life.

Ani (nun)

Ani is a prefix added to the name of a nun in Tibetan Buddhism. Thus, for example, the full title of a nun whose name is Pema becomes Ani Pema

Bhāṇakas were Buddhist monks who specialized in the memorization and recitation of a specific collection of texts within the Buddhist canon. Lineages of bhāṇakas were responsible for preserving and transmitting the teachings of the Buddha until the canon was committed to writing in the 1st Century BC, and declined as the oral transmission of early Buddhism was replaced by writing.

Upāsaka

Upāsaka (masculine) or Upāsikā (feminine) are from the Sanskrit and Pāli words for “attendant”. This is the title of followers of Buddhism who are not monks, nuns, or novice monastics in a Buddhist order, and who undertake certain vows. In modern times they have a connotation of dedicated piety that is best suggested by terms such as “lay devotee” or “devout lay follower”.

Dasa sil mata

A is an Eight- or Ten Precepts-holding anagārikā in Buddhism in Sri Lanka, where the newly reestablished bhikkhuni (nun’s) lineage is not officially recognized yet.

Dhammacārī

Dhammacari is a term used in some Theravada Buddhist communities to refer to lay devotees (upāsakas) who have seriously committed themselves to Buddhist practice for several years. Dhammacaris follow four training vows in addition to the traditional Five Precepts that all lay devotees follow.

Dob-dob

A dob-dob is a member of a type of Tibetan Buddhist monk fraternity that existed in Gelug monasteries in Tibet such as Sera Monastery and are reported to still exist in Gelug monasteries today, although possibly in a somewhat altered form. The status of dob-dobs tended to be somewhat ambiguous and they were generally the less academic monks who had an interest in sports, fighting and other ‘worldly’ matters.

Donchee

A is a pious Eight- or Ten Precepts-holding anagārikā laywoman residing in a pagoda in Buddhism in Cambodia, where bhikkhuni (nun’s) lineage is not officially recognized.

Drikungpa

The Drikungpa, or more formally the Drikung Kyabgön, is the head of the Drikung Kagyu, a sub-school of the Kagyu, itself one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Ganden Tripa

The Ganden Tripa or Gaden Tripa is the title of the spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, the school that controlled central Tibet from the mid-17th century until the 1950s. The 103rd Ganden Tripa, Jetsun Lobsang Tenzin died in office on 21 April 2017. Jangtse Choejey Kyabje Jetsun Lobsang Tenzin Palsangpo is the current Ganden Tripa.

Ubasoku

Upāsaka (masculine) or Upāsikā (feminine) are from the Sanskrit and Pāli words for “attendant”. This is the title of followers of Buddhism who are not monks, nuns, or novice monastics in a Buddhist order, and who undertake certain vows. In modern times they have a connotation of dedicated piety that is best suggested by terms such as “lay devotee” or “devout lay follower”.

Sunim

is the Korean title for a Buddhist monk or Buddhist nun. It is considered respectful to refer to senior monks or nuns in Korea as Kun sunim. In most Korean temples, a middle-aged monk assumes the role of a juji sunim, who serves administrative functions. The eldest sunim is typically seen as a symbolic leader of the younger sunims.

Śrāvaka

Śrāvaka (Sanskrit) or Sāvaka (Pali) means “hearer” or, more generally, “disciple”. This term is used in Buddhism and Jainism. In Jainism, a śrāvaka is any lay Jain so the term śrāvaka has been used for the Jain community itself. Śrāvakācāras are the lay conduct outlined within the treaties by Śvetāmbara or Digambara mendicants. “In parallel to the prescriptive texts, Jain religious teachers have written a number of stories to illustrate vows in practice and produced a rich répertoire of characters.”.

Taklung Tangpa

Taklung Tangpa is a Tibetan Buddhist title, referring back to the founding of the Taklung Kagyu 800 years ago.

Unsui

Unsui, or kōun ryūsui (行雲流水) in full, is a term specific to Zen Buddhism which denotes a postulant awaiting acceptance into a monastery or a novice monk who has undertaken Zen training. Sometimes they will travel from monastery to monastery (angya) on a pilgrimage to find the appropriate Zen master with which to study.

Aasaan

Āśān is a Malayalam and Tamil surname and title that means teacher or guide.

Khambo Lama

A Khambo lama is the title given to the senior lama of a Buddhist monastery in Mongolia and Russia. It is sometimes translated to the Christian title abbot.

Shasanamamaka Jana Prasadini

is a title presented by the Asgiriya Chapter of Siam Nikaya to leaders and other public figures in Sri Lanka for their services towards Buddhism.

Sensei

Sensei, Seonsaeng,Tiên sinh or Xiansheng, corresponding to Chinese characters 先生, is an East Asian honorific term shared in Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese; it is literally translated as “person born before another” or “one who comes before”. In general usage, it is used, with proper form, after a person’s name and means “teacher”; the word is also used as a title to refer to or address other professionals or persons of authority, such as clergy, accountants, lawyers, physicians and politicians or to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill, e.g., accomplished novelists, musicians, artists and martial artists.

Rōshi

Rōshi (老師) is a title in Zen Buddhism with different usages depending on sect and country. In Rinzai Zen, the term is reserved only for individuals who have received inka shōmei, meaning they have completed the entire kōan curriculum; this amounts to a total of fewer than 100 people at any given time. In Sōtō Zen and Sanbo Kyodan it is used more loosely. This is especially the case in the United States and Europe, where almost any teacher who has received dharma transmission might be called rōshi, or even use it to refer to themselves, a practice unheard of in Japan.

Oshō

Oshō (和尚) is a Buddhist priest ; honorific title of preceptor or high priest. The same kanji are also pronounced kashō as an honorific title of preceptor or high priest in Tendai or Kegon Buddhism and wajō as an honorific title of preceptor or high priest in Shingon, Hossō, Ritsu, or Shin Buddhism.

Monshu

The Monshu (門主), or keeper of the gate is a term sometimes used in Japanese Buddhism to denote the head of a monastery, as in the case of Jōdo-shū and Tendai Buddhism, but in the case of the Nishi Hongan-ji sub-sect of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism, it refers to the spiritual leader of the sect, and direct descendant of its founder Shinran.

Kyodo Shoku

Kyodoshoku is a religious official established for the Proclamation of the Great Religion a religious official established for the movement. It lasted from 1872 (1872) to 1884 (1884). The Taikyōsendō movement proved difficult and was abolished when the government adopted a policy of separation of church and state. The religious leaders were appointed by the semi-private sector and included shinkans, Kannushis, Bhikkhus, and other religious figuress, as well as Rakugoka, Waka poets, and haiku poets were also appointed to leadership positions.

Kaisan

Kaisan (開山) is a Japanese term used in reference to the founder of a school of Buddhism or the founder of a temple, literally meaning “mountain opener” or “to open a mountain.” Chan monasteries of China and Japan have traditionally been built in mountainous regions, with the name of whatever mountain it has been built upon then fixed upon the monastery as well as the founding abbot.

Jisha

Jisha (侍者), along with the titles inji and sannō, are Japanese terms used in reference to the personal attendant of a monastery’s abbot or teacher in Zen Buddhism. In the Rinzai school, the term is usually either inji or sannō. According to the book 3 Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery, “While the jikijitsu is the stern father of the zendo, the jisha is the den mother, balancing the strictness that his counterpoint establishes. The jisha prepares for and greets all guests, tends to the needs of the students, takes care of the sick, and organizes the cleaning of the monastery.” According to author Victor Sōgen Hori, “In the Northern Sung period, a master of a large monastery had two attendants, but by the Yüan period the number of attendants had increased to five: an incense attendant, a secretary attendant, a guest attendant, a robe attendant, and a ‘hot water and medicine’ attendant who cooked for him.”

Je Khenpo

The Je Khenpo, formerly called the Dharma Raj by orientalists, is the title given to the senior religious hierarch of Bhutan. His primary duty is to lead the Dratshang Lhentshog of Bhutan, which oversees the Central Monastic Body, and to arbitrate on matters of doctrine, assisted by Five Lopen Rinpoches . The Je Khenpo is also responsible for many important liturgical and religious duties across the country. The sitting Je Khenpo is also formally the leader of the southern branch of the Drukpa Kagyu sect, which is part of the Kagyu tradition of Himalayan Buddhism. Aside from the King of Bhutan, only the Je Khenpo may don a saffron kabney.

Indian honorifics

are honorific titles or appendices to names used in India, covering formal and informal social, commercial, and religious relationships. These may take the form of prefixes, suffixes or replacements.

Householder (Buddhism)

In English translations of Buddhist texts, householder denotes a variety of terms. Most broadly, it refers to any layperson, and most narrowly, to a wealthy and prestigious familial patriarch. In contemporary Buddhist communities, householder is often used synonymously with laity, or non-monastics.

Gyalwang Drukpa

The Gyalwang Drukpa is the honorific title of the head of the Drukpa Lineage, one of the independent Sarma (new) schools of Vajrayana Buddhism. This lineage of reincarnated masters started from Tsangpa Gyare, the first Gyalwang Drukpa and founder of the school. The 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, Jigme Pema Wangchen, is the current lineage holder. He was born at Lake Rewalsar, India in 1963.

Chakravarti (Sanskrit term)

In Indian religions, a chakravarti is a world conqueror and ideal universal ruler who rules ethically and benevolently over the entire world.

Ayya (Pali word)

Ayya is a Pali word, translated as “honourable” or “worthy”.

Zhabdrung Rinpoche

Zhabdrung was a title used when referring to or addressing great lamas in Tibet, particularly those who held a hereditary lineage. In Bhutan the title almost always refers to Ngawang Namgyal (1594–1651), the founder of the Bhutanese state, or one of his successive reincarnations.

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