Lama A term used in Tibetan Buddhism to denote a spiritual leader. Originally restricted to the heads of monastic orders or to great scholars, the term is now generally granted to accomplished or respected monks as well. The highest-ranking lamas in Tibetan Buddhism are those who are considered reincarnations of earlier lamas. Their lama-hood, therefore, is internal rather than learned. The highest of the lamas is the Dalai Lama, the titular head of not only Tibetan Buddhism but also of the now defunct Tibetan state. The Dalai Lama is also thought to be reincarnation of the bodh isattva Avalokitesvara. The next highest-ranking is the Panchen Lama, titular head of one of Tibet’s largest monasteries and a reincarnation of a Buddha known as Amitabha. These offices function as hereditary ones, although new Dalai or Panchen lamas, as well as similar figures, are not familial descendants of their predecessors. Instead, these reincarnations can be found at any time and, theoretically, anywhere in the world. Learned monks identify them by reading certain signs. SEE ALSO: Dalai Lama; Tibetan Buddhism

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