Some confusion exists between two Tibetan words, sometimes used interchangeably:lha and la. The first, lha, is the Tibetan word used to translate the Sanskrit deva, meaning “deity,” “god,” or “divine.” This is also the term used in the Shambhalian sense of natural hierarchy: lha, nyen, and lu. (If we were to be more daring in writing this word like it is actually pronounced, we might spell it hla!)
The word la (bla) literally means that which is “higher” or “above,” as in the word lama, the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit guru (which literally means “heavy,” —heavy with good qualities, as the tradition explains). Lama Ugyen once explained lama as “one who looks down from above (la) with the love that a mother (ma) has for her children.” La is also a Pön term, meaning “soul,” “life force.”
An example of the confusion between these words comes in the alternate spellings of the term drala or dralha. Both are found in texts, and they are usually referring to the same principle or type of deity. The Dorje Dradül much preferred the former spelling, explaining that the word means “above” or “beyond” the “enemy” or “aggression.” We used to translate this as “war gods,” which might be seen to favor the other reading, but it was actually just an attempt to characterize this deity type.