The origin of the titles of Dalai and Panchen Lamas

Dalai and Panchen LamasThe title “Dalai Lama” can dates back to 1578, when the Mongol King Altan Khan gave Sonam Gyatso, the abbot of the Zhaibung Monastery, the honorific title of "Shenshiyiqiewaerdala Dalai Lama". From then on, the form of address, Dalai Lama, came into being in the Tibetan history.

"Shen" , according to Buddhism, means to go beyond the mortal world; 'shiyiqie' means to know everything, the address for the person who get the highest achievement in the world of Buddhism; 'waerdalaila' (Sanskrit), refers to the person who get the highest achievement in Tantric Hinduism; 'Dalai' (Mongolian) stand for ocean; 'Lama' (Tibetan) means Great Master. So, the whole title means the Great Master who gets the highest achievements in both Buddhism, going beyond the mortal world and having the knowledge as wide as an ocean. This honorific title was sent personally between the representative figures of Mongolians and Tibetans, having no political or legal significance. At that time, Altan Khan had been conferred the title of 'Shunyi Prince' by the Ming Dynasty, so, Sonam Gyatso asked him to submit his own request for a title to the Emperor, and wrote to Prime Minister, Zhang Juzheng, for it. Soon, Wangli Emperor of the Ming Dynasty issued an imperial edict with the exact words "Dalai" in it. In 1587, the Ming Dynasty officially approved this title and appointed the minister to confer it. Thereupon, Sonam Ggatso became the 3rd Dalai Lama, and his two predecessors, Genzhuba (a disciple of Zhong Kaba) and Gengatso, were admitted and conferred posthumously as the first and second Dalai Lamas respectively.

In 1653 (Shunzhi 10, the Qing Dynasty), the fifth Dalai visited Beijing at the Emperor's invitation. Continuing to adopt the honorific title given by Altan Khan, Shunzhi Emperor bestowed on him the title "the Dalai Lama, Overseer of the Buddhism on Earth under the Great Benevolent Self-subsisting Buddha of the Western Paradise", together with the golden volume and golden seal (with Chinese Han, Manchu and Tibetan in it). From then on, the title of "the Dalai Lama" started to own its legally political power.

In order to rule Tibet more conveniently, in 1751, the Qing Dynasty assigned the 7th Dalai Lama to take charge of the local regime. Therefore, the combination of religion and politics came into being. And, it was the 14th Dalai Lama who went into exile in India.

The title "Panchen Lama" came into being in 1654, when Qosot Mongol Gushri Khan conferred on Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen (a Gelug-pa abbot of the Tashihumpo Monastery) the honorific title of "Panchen, Great Scholar". "Pan" is short for a Sanskrit, which means scholar; "chen" means great in Tibetan, so "Panchen" refers to the great master. In 1713, Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty conferred on the Panchen the title "Panchen Erdeni", with Erdeni meaning ”great treasure” in Manchu. Thereafter, the title "Panchen Lama" was adopted by the Panchen system exclusively.