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Tibetan Buddhism Nomanclature

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Part of the article on Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism is known by various names, including

  • "Lamaism," an archaic, discredited term apparently derived from the Chinese lama jiao ("lama religion"), and formerly used to distinguish Tibetan Buddhism from Han Chinese Buddhism (which however received no such qualifier). The term was taken up by Western scholars including Hegel, as early as 1822.[1]
  • Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana Buddhism (on analogy with the other "vehicles" of Hinayana and Mahayana). This arguably obscures the degree of commonality between Tibetan Buddhism and other forms of Mahayana Buddhism (Tibetan Buddhism being a form of Mahayana in terms of bodhicitta motivation, if not always in terms of methods). Also, tantric practice is by no means universal among followers of Tibetan Buddhism, and is found in other forms of Buddhism as well (such Japan's Shingon Buddhism).
  • Alternative geographical descriptors such as "Indo-Tibetan Buddhism"; "Inner Asian Buddhism"; "Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism"; "Himalayan Buddhism", etc. These vary according to the emphasis of the researcher, and underscore the reality that "Tibetan Buddhism" is not only a Tibetan affair.

In the Tibetan language, no special qualifier is used. Chos ("dharma") is assumed to apply to all versions of Buddhism, including Tibetan ones; while the word for an adherent of Buddhism would be nang pa ("insider").



  1. Lopez, Donald S. Jr. (1999). Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 6, 19f. ISBN 0226493113. 

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