Lamaism, the religion of Tibet and Mongolia, is Buddhism (q.v.) disfigured by the introduction of elements derived from Sivaism and Shamanism. Its cardinal doctrine is that of "the three jewels," the first jewel being the Buddha, regarded as the most exalted of saints; to him is due the second jewel, the "doctrine" or moral law, the only form in which the Buddha exists since his absorption in the Nirvana; the "priesthood jewel" consists of the whole company of Buddhistic saints, whether incarnate or purely spiritual and disembodied, and therefore includes the higher Tibetan clergy. Below the saints rank the gods and spirits, including many derived from Sivaism, such as Indra, Yama, Yamantaka, and Vaisravana. The call to worship is heard three times daily, and, when the clergy have assembled, prayers are offered up and hymns are chanted amidst the most confusing din produced by a variety of musical instruments.
An essential element in Lamaism is the organisation of its hierarchy, in which numerous travellers, from the earliest Jesuit missionaries downwards, have, observed a striking similarity to the Roman Catholic system. It owes its present form to the reformer, Tsong-Kapa, who lived in the 14th and early 15th centuries. At the head of the priesthood are the Dalai-lama and the Pantshen, in each of whom a leading disciple of Tsong-Kapa is continually reappearing in human shape. The Dalai-lama and the Pantshen are temporal as well as spiritual rulers, the former being the more powerful. There is also a lower clergy, divided into four orders; the members for the most part live in monasteries.