Lama (Wylie bla ma) is a title for a Tibetan religious teacher.
The name is similar to the Sanskrit term ‘guru’ (see Tibetan Buddhism and Bön). The title can be used as an honourific title confered on a monk or nun to designate their level of spiritual attainment and authority to teach, or may be part of a title such as Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama applied to a lineage of reincarnate lamas (Tulkus).
Perhaps due to misunderstandings by early western scholars attempting to understand Tibetan Buddhism, the term “Lama” was historically, and is still sometimes erroneously, applied to Tibetan monks generally. Similarly Tibetan Buddhism was refered to as Lamaism by early western scholars and travellers who did not understand that what they were witnessing was a form of Buddhism; they may also have been unaware of the distinction between Tibetan Buddhism and Bön. The term Lamaism is now considered derogatory.
In the West, lamas are also called those who have achieved significant achievements in spiritual self-improvement.