Buddhist priests are known by various titles, such as bhikkhu, monk, and lama. However, there can be confusion surrounding the distinction between these terms and their relation to Buddhist practice.
This article will examine some of the typical titles given to religious leaders in various Buddhist traditions, and evaluate similarities and differences between them.
The manner in which Buddhism addresses its priests or monks can vary depending on the specific school of thought within Buddhism.
Buddhism has three main branches:
Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, and each of these branches may have different conventions for addressing its religious leaders.
Additionally, the way in which priests or monks are addressed can also differ in different regions where Buddhism is practiced, as each area has its own unique 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.