Since Indian travelers introduced the religion to the Tibetan king in the 8th century A.D., Buddhism has thrived in Tibet. When greeting Tibetan monks, above all signs of respect and intentions of politeness trump precise gestures. For most monks, a simple greeting of putting your palms together near your chest in a prayer-like fashion and bowing your head slightly, eyes facing down, is sufficient. For higher monks, such as a highly regarded lama known as a Rinpoche, the greetings become slightly more complex.

Stand when the Rinpoche enters the room, particularly if you are in a shrine room.

Prostrate yourself three times upon meeting a Rinpoche.

Offer the Rinpoche a kata, a white silk scarf used in prayer ceremonies, at your first meeting.

Address the Rinpoche by his name and title, such as “Trungpa Rinpoche.” You may add the Tibetan suffix “la” as an honorific as well. If the lama is recognized as reincarnate -- a Tulku, such as the Dalai Lama -- refer to him as “Your Holiness.”

Offer the Rinpoche a seat, if you can. Likewise, offer him gentle assistance sitting or standing as needed.

Bow slightly when the Rinpoche leaves, in a formal situation. Perform a small bow with folded hands in this situation.

Tip

  • If you are a student requesting teaching from a lama, bring an offering. Customary offerings include candles, flowers, fruit or incense.

    In some cases, a simple handshake is sufficient to show your respect, particularly in cross-cultural scenarios. It is usually best to wait for the monk to offer his hand before extending your own.