Indian Arts and Culture Buddhism Lama: Definition Share Flipboard Email Print His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the world's most famous lama. Tasos Katopodis / Stringer / Getty Images Buddhism Origins and Developments Figures and Texts Becoming A Buddhist Tibetan and Vajrayana Buddhism By Barbara O'Brien Zen Buddhism Expert B.J., Journalism, University of Missouri Barbara O'Brien is a Zen Buddhist practitioner who studied at Zen Mountain Monastery. She is the author of "Rethinking Religion" and has covered religion for The Guardian, Tricycle.org, and other outlets. our editorial process Barbara O'Brien Updated March 06, 2017 "Lama" is Tibetan for "none above." It is a title given in Tibetan Buddhism to a venerated spiritual master who embodies the Buddha's teachings. Note that not all lamas are rebirths of past lamas. One might be a "developed" lama, who is recognized for his or her advanced spiritual development. Or, one might be a sprul-sku lama, recognized as the incarnation of a past master. In some schools of Tibetan Buddhism, "lama" designates a tantric master, in particular, one with authority to teach. Here "lama" is equivalent to the Sanskrit "guru." In the West people sometimes call all Tibetan monks "lamas," but that is not the traditional way to use the word. Of course, the most famous lama is the Dalai Lama, an important figure not only within the religion but also in world culture.