There are many different titles that have been assigned to Buddhism priests. Some of the most common terms are bhikkhu, monk and lama. There is a lot of confusion as to what the difference between these titles really mean in relation to Buddhist practice.
This article will explore some common titles for female religious leaders in various Buddhist traditions to see how they might compare with one another.
Depending on the Buddhist school of thought, the answer to this question may differ. Buddhism has three main schools or branches. These are –
Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Different branches address their priests/monks in different ways. It also varies from place to place where Buddhism is practiced because each region has its own culture and language.
As a rule, monks/priests in the Theravada school receive their unique monastic name in Pali after their ordination. They consider themselves members of Buddha’s family and leave their own families behind. The ordination ceremony for Buddhist monks initiates them into the priesthood as novices or bhikkhus.
In the Vajrayana school, a Buddhist priest is addressed by the prefix ‘lama’. Another prefix may be introduced before the lama prefix to indicate the title of the monk. Such as Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama etc.
Video: I’m a Buddhist Priest. Ask Me Anything.
Bhikkhus are also commonly referred to as monks and Buddhist priests. This was the name Gautama Buddha used to address his companions and monks during his lifetime.
The word “bhikkhu” means “beggar” or “wanderer”. This title was given to them because they begged for their food from house-to-house, town-to-town in accordance with the Buddha’s instructions.
Bhikkhus live lives of simplicity and austerity, relying on donations from the lay community for their livelihood. To become ordained into this lifestyle one must first take refuge in the
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha (the teachings) and then follow ten precepts to live by.