Milarepa, wearing the distinctive white shawl (zen) of a Ngagpa

Honorific titles in Tibetan institutions and clergy

Tibetan religious leaders

Buddhist monasticism is an important part of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, all the major and minor schools maintain large monastic institutions based on the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya (monastic rule) and many religious leaders come from the monastic community.

There are also many religious leaders or teachers (called and Gurus) which are not celibate monastics and in some cases the lama is the leader of a spiritual community.

Some lamas gain their title through being part of particular family which maintains a lineage of hereditary lamas (and are thus often laypersons).

One example is the Sakya family of Kon, who founded the Sakya school and another is the hereditary lamas of Mindrolling monastery.

Lay clergy & tantric specialists

Tibetan Buddhism also includes a number of lay clergy and lay tantric specialists, such as (Skt. mantrī), Gomchens, Serkyims, and Chödpas (practitioners of Chöd).

Another title unique to Tibetan Buddhism is that of Tertön (treasure discoverer), who are considered capable of revealing or discovering special revelations or texts called Termas (lit. “hidden treasure”).

They are also associated with the idea of beyul (“hidden valleys”), which are power places associated with deities and hidden religious treasures.

Bodhisattva reincarnations

In other cases, lamas may be seen as “Tülkus” (“incarnations”).

Tülkus are figures which are recognized as reincarnations of a particular bodhisattva or a previous religious figure.

They are often recognized from a young age through the use of divination and the use of the possessions of the deceased lama, and therefore are able to receive extensive training.

They are sometimes groomed to become leaders of monastic institutions.

Examples include the and the , each of which are seen as key leaders in their respective traditions.

Glossary of Tibetan Buddhist honorific titles

This is a list of Buddhist honorific titles given in Tibetan institutions and clergy.

Lama

Lama is a title for a teacher of the Dharma in Tibetan Buddhism. 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.

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 , 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”.

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

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.

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.

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 , 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.

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.

Khenpo

The term , 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.

Lopon

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

Tatsag

The 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Ganden Tripa

The 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.

Drikungpa

The , 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.

Dob-dob

A 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.

Khambo Lama

A 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.

Je Khenpo

The , 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.

Gyalwang Drukpa

The 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.

Taklung Tangpa

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

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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