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In Tibetan Buddhism, a spiritual leader. Some lamas are considered to be reincarnations of their predecessors; others have won respect for their high level of spiritual development. The most honored of the reincarnate lamas is the Dalai Lama; second in spiritual authority is the Panchen Lama. The process of discovering the new incarnation of a lama, especially the Dalai Lama, is elaborate and exacting. Oracular messages, unusual signs during the lama's death or during a birth thereafter, and examinations of candidates identify a successor. The child thus identified as the lama's incarnation is given extensive monastic training from an early age.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on lama, visit Britannica.com.