Before I edit this and change lamaism to Vajrayana, I thought I'd check and see if it's derogatory. Is lamaism ever used inside the relevant community or is this a word used by outsiders to distinguish Vajrayana from real Buddhism? If so, it's derogatory and should be fixed unless required for historical context, e.g. the Soviets who were hostile to Buddhism, called it Lamaism.

Observing the tremendous emphasis placed on the guru in the Tibetan Buddhist vajrayana tradition, they have called this not Buddhism but Lamaism. And they make a distinction between Buddhism and Lamaism.


Tibetan Buddhism, also called (incorrectly) Lamaism, branch of Vajrayana (Tantric, or Esoteric) Buddhism that evolved from the 7th century ce in Tibet.


1 Answer 1


The term 'lamaism' is indeed derogatory and is never used inside the community. We call ourselves Vajrayana or Mahayana. In actuality, we refer to ourselves much more often as Mahayana than Vajrayana.

Here is a quote from http://www.dalailama.com:

Just as there were misunderstandings in the past about the prevalence of the Vinaya in Buddhist countries, there were those who asserted that the Tibetan spiritual system should be called Lamaism, implying that it was not an authentic Buddhist tradition. His Holiness recalled that visiting South Africa after Nelson Mandela became President, he was introduced as a representative of Lamaism.

“I say that it is not Lamaism, but a true lineage of the Nalanda tradition, which is largely derived from Nagarjuna. His 6 texts on reasoning are major objects of study for us. In the Nyingma tantric tradition, Nagarjuna is counted as one of the rigzins, while in the tradition of the New Tantras we received Guhyasamaja through him. Therefore, we are indebted to Nagarjuna for several lineages of philosophy, logic and tantra, which came to us from Nalanda. Suggestions about Lamaism are based on misunderstandings.”

  • I like the term "what the Buddha taught" instead of Buddhism but that doesn't necessarily mean there is anything wrong with Buddhism. I just am trying to be accurate.
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 22:15

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