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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Lama, Grand

A name given to the sovereign pontiff or high priest of the Thibetian Tartars, who resides at Patoli, a vast palace on a mountain near the banks of Barampooter, about seven miles from Lahassa. The foot of this mountain is inhabited by twenty thousand lamas, or priests, who have their separate apartments round about the mountain, and according to their respective quality are placed nearer or at a greater distance from the sovereign pontiff. he is not only worshipped by the Thibetians, but also is the great object of adoration for the various tribes of heathen Tartars who roam through the vast tract of continent which stretches from the banks of the Wolga to Correa, on the sea of Japan. He is not only the sovereign pontiff, the vicegerent of the Deity on earth, but the more remote Tartars are said to absolutely regard him as the Deity himself, and call him God, the everlasting Father of heaven. They believe him to be immortal, and endowed with all knowledge and virtue. Every year they come up from different parts to worship, and make rich offerings at his shrine: even the emperor of China, who is a mauchon Tartar, does not fail in acknowledgments to him in his religious capacity; and actually entertains at a great expense, in the palace of Pekin, an inferior lama, deputed as his nuncio from Thibet.

The grand lama, it has been said, is never to be seen but in a secret place of his palace, amidst a great number of lamps, sitting cross-legged on a cushion, and decked all over with gold and precious stones, where at a distance the people prostrate themselves before him, it not being lawful for any, so much as to kiss his feet. He returns not the least sign of respect, nor ever speaks even to the greatest princes; but only lays his hand upon their heads, and they are fully persuaded they receive from thence a full forgiveness of all their sins. The Sunniasses, or Indian pilgrims, often visit Thibet as a holy place; and the lama always entertains a body of two or three hundred in his pay. Besides his religious influence and authority, the grand lama is possessed of unlimited power throughout his dominions, which are very extensive. The inferior lamas, who form the most numerous as well as the most powerful body in the state, have the priesthood entirely in their hands; and besides fill up many monastic orders which are held in great veneration among them. The whole country, like Italy, abounds with priests; and they entirely subsist on the great number of rich presents which are sent them from the utmost extent of Tartary, from the empire of the Great Mogul, and from almost all parts of the Indies.

The opinion of those who are reputed the most orthodox among the Thibetians is, that when the grand lama seems to die, either of old age or infirmity, his soul, in fact, only quits a crazy habitation to look for another younger or better; and is discovered again in the body of some child by certain tokens, known only to the lamas or priests, in which order he always appears. Almost all nations of the east, except the Mahometans, believe the metempsychosis as the most important article of their faith; especially the inhabitants of Thibet and Ava, the Peguans, Siamese, the greatest part of the Chinese and Japanese, and the Monguls and Kalmucks, who changed the religion of Schamanism for the worship of the grand lama. According to the doctrine of this metempsychosis, the soul is always in action, and never at rest; for no sooner does she leave her old habitation, than she enters a new one. The dalai lama, being a divine person, can find no better lodging than the body of his successor; or the Foe, residing in the dalai lama, which passes to his successor: and this being a god, to whom all things are known, the dalai lama is therefore acquainted with every thing which happened during his residence in his former body. This religion is said to have been of three thousand years standing; and neither time nor the influence of men, has had the power of shaking the authority of the grand lama. This theocracy extends as fully to temporal as to spiritual concerns.

Though in the grand sovereignty of the lamas, the temporal power has been occasionally separated from the spiritual by slight revolutions, they have always been united again after a time; so that in Thibet the whole constitution rests on the imperial pontificate in a manner else where unknown. For as the Thibetians suppose that the grand lama in animated by the god Shaka, or Foe, who at the decease of one lama transmigrates into the next, and consecrates him an image of the divinity, the descending chain of lamas is continued down from him in fixed degrees of sanctity; so that a more firmly established sacerdotal government, in doctrine, customs, and institutions, than actually reigns over this country, cannot be conceived. The supreme manager of temporal affairs is no more than the viceroy of the sovereign priest, who, conformable to the dictates of his religion, dwells in divine tranquillity in a building that is both temple and palace. If some of his votaries in modern times have dispensed with the adoration of his person, still certain real modifications of the Shaka religion is the only faith they follow. The state of sanctity which that religion inculcates, consists in monastic continence, absence of thought, and the perfect repose of nonentity. It has been observed that the religion of Thibet is the counterpart of the Roman Catholic, since the inhabitants of that country use holy water and a singing service; they also offer alms, prayers, and sacrifices for the dead. They have a vast number of convents filled with monks and friars, amounting to thirty thousand; who, besides the three vows of poverty, obedience, and charity, make several others. They have their confessors, who are chosen by their superiors, and have licences from their lamas, without which they cannot hear confessions or impose penances. They make use of beads. They wear the mitre and cap like the bishops: and their dalai lama is nearly the same among them as the sovereign pontiff is among the Romanists.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Lama, Grand'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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