What Does “Rinpoche” Mean?

Rinpoche translates literally to “Precious Jewel.” But what does it really mean to Buddhists?

Lion’s Roar
22 June 2016
Illustration by Nolan Pelletier.

Rinpoche is an honorific used for important teachers in the Tibetan tradition. It literally means “Precious Jewel.” When a teacher is called “Rinpoche” it usually means they are a tulku, who has been recognized as the reincarnation of a prominent master. He (and, rarely, she) is trained from childhood in Buddhist study, practice, and ritual, and takes over the responsibilities of the previous incarnation when the training is complete. This is the most common form of succession in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Occasionally, exceptional practitioners are given the title Rinpoche later in life to honor their accomplishment (and are often retroactively recognized as tulkus). The honorific Rinpoche is distinct from the title lama, which means “teacher” and is bestowed after the completion of a program of meditation, study, and retreat.

Lion's Roar

Lion’s Roar

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