How to address monks and nuns (appropriate terms to greet monastic members)

5 mins read
Published on Jul 11, 2023

Ever felt a little confused about how to greet monastic members in Buddhism?

We get it—it can be a tad tricky with the different salutations floating around. With terms from various languages and Buddhist traditions, it’s easy to feel unsure about the right way to address these esteemed individuals. But fret not! We’ve got you covered. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through a list of common salutations in a conversational style, making it easier for you to greet and show respect to monastic members. So, let’s dive in and unravel the fascinating world of Buddhist salutations together!

Note: The list is not in alphabetical order. If you’re viewing this article on mobile, you may scroll right to see more information listed in the following table. Let’s go!

Mahayana ChineseShī fù师父Chinese“Master” or “Teacher”Use to a skillful person or a master.[Name] Shī fù
Mahayana ChineseFǎ Shī法师Chinese“Dharma Master”Commonly used to address a monastic member who is a Dharma teacher.
Note: This term can be used on non-monks too. Master who is proficient in scriptures is called Dharma master. It is also said that only those who teach themselves with the Dharma and teach others with the Dharma can be called Dharma masters.
There are four categories of Dharma masters (see the following rows)
Hsing Yun Fa Shi 
Mahayana ChineseWén huì fǎ shī闻慧法师Chinese闻 (wén) = “to hear” or “to listen.
慧 (huì)= meaning “wisdom” or “insight”
Used to refer to those who hear the scriptures and teach the words to get their meaning, and turn to others to preach[Name] Wén huì fǎ shī
Mahayana ChineseSī huì fǎ shī思慧法师Chinese思 (sī) = “thought” or “contemplation”
慧 (huì) = “wisdom” or “insight
Used to refer to those who studies the scriptures and teachings with positive thinking, and have gained experience, and then pass it on to the public.[Name] Sī huì fǎ shī
Mahayana ChineseShí xiū fǎ shī实修法师Chinese“实修” (Shí xiū) = “actual cultivation” or “practical practice”
The term means practising Dharma Masters
Used to refer to those who dissociate from the mind and act, and who can use all kinds of legal nature to benefit the group.[Name] Shí xiū fǎ shī
Mahayana ChineseShí zhèng fǎ shī实证法师Chinese实证 (shí zhèng) = “actual realization” or “direct experience,”Refers to those who have achieved direct experiential realization of the Dharma.[Name] Shí zhèng fǎ shī
Mahayana ChineseHé shàng和尚Chinese“Monk” or “Senior Monk”Used to address a senior monastic member.Usually not used as a salutation
Mahayana ChineseLún shī论师ChineseIt combines the characters for “ethics” and “teacher.”This term is reserved for individuals who are proficient in the collection or interpretation of Buddhist scriptures (Abhidharma).[Name] Lún shī
Mahayana ChineseJīng shī经师ChineseLiterally translates as Sutra master or teacher of scripturesCommonly used to address scholars or individuals who possess deep knowledge of Buddhist scriptures and teachings.[Name] Jīng shī
Mahayana ChineseLǜ shī律师ChineseLiterally translates as legal masterUsed to address a person who learns and keeps the precepts, and is good at answering various questions in the precepts[Name] Lǜ shī
TheravadaBhanteBhantePali“Venerable Sir” or “Reverend”A general term used to address a male monastic member.Bhante Gunaratana
TheravadaAyyaAyyaPali“honourable” or “worthy”Used to address a female monastic member.Ayya Tathālokā 
TheravadaBhikkhuBhikkhuPali“Mendicant” or “Monk”Used to address a male monastic member who has taken full ordination (typically in the Theravada tradition).Bhikkhu Bodhi
TheravadaBhikkhuniBhikkhuniPali“Nun”Used to address a fully ordained female monastic member (typically in the Theravada tradition).Bhikkhuni Tathālokā 
TheravadaTheraTheraPali“Elder” or “Senior”Used to address a senior male monastic member.Upali Thera
TheravadaTheriTheriPali“Elder” or “Senior”Used to address a senior female monastic member.Khema Theri
TheravadaMahatheraMaha TheraPali“Great Elder”Used to address a senior male monastic member who has been ordained for at least 20 years.Narada Maha Thera
TheravadaSameneraSāmaṇeraPali“Novice Monk” or “Novice”Used to address a male monastic member in the early stage of ordination.Sāmaṇera [name]
TheravadaAnagarikaAnagārikaPali“homeless one”Used to address a person who has given up most or all of their worldly possessions and responsibilities to commit full-time to Buddhist practice. Usually used to address a white-robed student waiting to be fully ordained.Anagārika Dharmapāla
TheravadaAshinအရှင်Burmese“Venerable” or “Bhikkhu”Used to address a fully ordained male monastic member.Ashin [name]
TheravadaSayadawဆရာတော်Burmese“Royal Teacher” or “Master”Used to address a monastic member who is a teacher or master.Mahāsī Sayādaw
TheravadaSayalayဆရာလေBurmese“Venerable Teacher”Used as a respectful and honorific term used to address female monastic members.Sayalay Dῑpaṅkarā
TheravadaThilashinသီလရှင်Burmese“possessor of morality”, “keepers of moral virtue”Used to address Burmese Theravada Buddhist nun. Thilashins are addressed with the honorifics Sayalay and Daw. 
Tilashins take 10 precepts instead of the 311 precepts. 
Usually not used as a salutation. 
TheravadaAjahn/Ajarn/Ajaanอาจารย์Thai“Teacher” or “Mentor”Northern dialect traditionally refers to a senior monk such as an abbot who is over 50 years old. Sometimes this is used together with Ajahn. E.g. Kruba Ajahn. Ajahn Jayasaro
TheravadaChao Khunเจ้าคุณThai“Your Highness”Title of recognition given to senior monks for their past acts of service. The Thai Sangha authorities will make careful selection of these monks and the king bestows the title personally.Chao Khun Keng
Theravada Kruba/ Khruu BaaครูบาThai“Teacher”Northern dialect (Isaan) traditionally refers to a senior monk such as an abbot who is over 50 years old. Sometimes this is used together with Ajahn. E.g. Kruba Ajahn. Kruba Siwichai
TheravadaLuang Porหลวงพ่อThai“Venerable Father” or “Respected Monk”Used to address a senior male monastic member in Thai tradition (usually 60 years of age or above).Luang Por Chah
TheravadaLuang Puหลวงปู่Thai“Venerable Grandfather” or “Grand Old Monk”Used to address a senior male monastic member in Thai tradition and typically used to refer to someone who is of an older age.Luang Pu Thuat 
TheravadaLuang TaหลวงตาThai“Venerable Grandfather” or “Grand Old Monk”Used to address a senior male monastic member in Thai tradition. Typically used to refer to someone who is of an older age.Luang Ta Maha Boowah
TheravadaMae Chee/Maechiแม่ชีThai“Sister”‘Mae’ means mother.Used to address a white-robed nun who is taking the Eight or Ten Precepts.Mae Chee Kaew
TheravadaPhraพระThai“Venerable” or “Reverend”Used to address any male monastic member in Thai tradition. Phra Goh
TheravadaTan/Tahnท่านThai“Respected” or “Reverend”An honorific title to address to refer to junior monks (less than 10 years) or whose seniority is unknown. It’s akin to “mister” but only used for monks. 
Usually used with “Ajahn”.
Tahn Ajahn [name]
VajrayanaAniཨ་ནི་Tibetan“Nun” or “Sister”Used to address a female monastic member who has taken the vows of a Buddhist nun.Ani Choying Drolma
VajrayanaGesheདགེ་བཤེས།Tibetan“Learned Scholar” or “Doctor”Used to address a monastic member who is a learned scholar or doctor.Geshe Lakdor 
VajrayanaLamaབླ་མ།Tibetan“Guru” or “Teacher” or “Superior one”Used to address a spiritual teacher or guru.Dalai Lama
VajrayanaKhenchenམཁན་ཆེན།Tibetan“Great Abbot” or “Head of Monastery”Used to address a monastic member who is the head of a monastery or who has achieved a high level of spiritual attainment. Usually used with Rinpoche.Khenchen [name] Rinpoche
VajrayanaRinpocheརིན་པོ་ཆེ།Tibetan“Precious One” or “Precious Jewel”Used to address a monastic member who is recognised as a reincarnated lama or a highly respected teacher.Lama Zopa Rinpoche
VajrayanaThubtenཐུབ་བསྟན།Tibetan“Perseverance” or “Steadfastness”Note: This is more of a name that’s inherited from one’s ordination teacher rather than a salutation.

Other common names are Tenzin and Lobsang.
Thubten Chodron
VajrayanaTulkuསྤྲུལ་སྐུ་Tibetan“an incarnation” and literally means “magically emanated body”Used to address the reincarnation of a great master of the past and typically used with the term “Rinpoche”.Tulku lobsang rinpoche
ZenZenji禅師 (ぜんじ)JapaneseZen Master/Monk/priestUsed to refer to a high-ranking Zen monk honoured by the imperial courtDogen Zenji
ZenSensei先生 ( せんせい)JapaneseTeacher/MasterTypically used to refer to ordained teachers below the rank of rōshi. However, there are exceptions. See here for more. [Name] Sensei
ZenRōshi老師 (
JapaneseLiterally translates as Old TeacherAn honorific title used for a highly venerated senior teacher in Zen Buddhism.
Note: Usage might be different in different sect. See more here
[name] Roshi
Seon (Korean name for Chan Buddhism)Soen Sa Nim선사님 Korean“Zen Master” or “Honorable Zen Teacher”Used to address a Zen master of high esteem and authority.Dae Soen Sa Nim
Soen(Korean name for Chan Buddhism)Ji Do Poep Sa (JDPS)지도법사Korean“Dharma Master” or “Dharma Teacher”Used to address a Zen monastic who has completed intensive training and received Dharma transmission.[Name] JDPS
Soen(Korean name for Chan Buddhism)Sunim/Seunim스님KoreanA Buddhist monk or nun.Used to address a Buddhist monk or Buddhist nun. 
Note: It is considered respectful to refer to senior monks or nuns in Korea as Kun seunim (taken from Wiki)
Haemin Sunim
ThiềnThayThầyVietnamese“Master” or “Teacher”Used as a term of respect and endearment.Usually not used as a salutation
Updated as of 13 July 2023
Table: List of salutations and terms to address monks and nuns from different countries and Buddhist traditions. Note: This list is non-exhaustive.

Phew! We’ve covered quite a list of salutations, haven’t we?

Do note that the use of terms might differ in various contexts. If you find yourself uncertain about which one to use in a particular situation, here’s a handy rule of thumb: follow the lead of regular temple goers in greeting the monastics. They often have an intuitive sense of the appropriate salutation. And if you’re still unsure, there’s always the catch-all term ‘venerable’ that can be used as a respectful and inclusive way to address monastic members. Remember, the most important thing is to approach them with sincerity and reverence.

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Did we miss any commonly used salutations or terms to address monastic members?

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Special thanks to the following subscribers who offered inputs to polish this list together 😀🙏

Tiong Han Toh, Kai Wei, Loh Wei, YC, Ezra, Venerable You Guang, Phra Goh, Ryan Wee, members from Gaden Shartse Dro-Phen Ling.

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