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Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

Born: July 6, 1935
Taktser, Tibet

Tibetan religious and political leader

The Dalai Lama is the fourteenth leader in a line of Buddhist spiritual and political leaders of Tibet. Buddhists are followers of Gautama Buddha (c. 563c. 483 b.c.e.), who believed the troubles of this life can be overcome through moral and mental discipline. The Dalai Lama fled his country and took safety in India in 1959 during the revolt against Chinese control of Tibet. Since that time, while still in exile (a forced or a voluntary absence from one's country), he has promoted Tibetan religious and cultural traditions.

Early family life

The name given the Dalai Lama when he was born on July 6, 1935, was Lhamo Thondup. He came from a very small village in northeast Tibet called Taktser. At that time there were only twenty families living in all of Taktser. "Dalai Lama" is a name of honor and respect that was given to him by the Buddhist monks of Tibet. "Lama" means "teacher" or "wise person." "Dalai" means "ocean." When put together Dalai Lama is translated as "Ocean of Wisdom."

The young Dalai Lama's parents were farmers who raised sheep and grew barley, buckwheat, and potatoes. In addition to Lhamo there were six other children in the family, four boys and two girls.

The Dalai Lama

The current Dalai Lama is the fourteenth person to hold that title in straight succession. This means the role is passed from one person to another with no break in order. The people of Tibet believe that when one Dalai Lama dies he is reincarnated (reborn) in a young child. In other words, they believe that the soul of the current Dalai Lama is the same soul that was in the first Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lamas have been the head of the order of Gelugpa Buddhism, which means "Yellow Hat," since the fourteenth century. The Dalai Lama took on the additional role of political leader in the seventeenth century. All Dalai Lamas since that time have had that dual responsibility.

How he was discovered

The thirteenth Dalai Lama died in December of 1933. When he died, the Buddhist monks prayed for guidance to find the new Dalai Lama. They felt signs and oracles (divine answers or prophecies) would lead them to him. They finally received a vision that the new Dalai Lama would be found in the northeast part of Tibet. He would be living in a house that had strange gutters and that was near a monastery (a place where monks live and pray).

Many monks went out on the journey. After much searching, a group of them came to the village of Taktser, which has a monastery nearby. There they found Lhamo at his house, which had strangely shaped gutters. They spoke to him and to his parents and performed a test. The monks had brought several items with them from their home monastery. Some of the items had belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama and others were imitations or just common objects. Lhamo correctly identified the objects that had belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama. The monks knew they had found the reincarnation of their leader. Lhamo was two years old at the time.

His education

The monks took Lhamo to a monastery in Kumbum, Tibet. For two years he was given the basic education he would need to lead his country both spiritually and politically. After this he was brought to the Potala palace in Lhasa, the capital of the country. The Potala palace is a structure of over one thousand rooms built into a mountain. There he took his place on the Lion Throne, a richly carved, wooden throne covered with jewels. He was only four years old on February 22, 1940, when the monks declared that he was the new Dalai Lama. He took the name Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso in honor of lamas who had served before him. Since then, however, he has only used a shortened version of that name for himselfTenzin Gyasto.

The monks at the Potala palace gave the Dalai Lama private instruction. His only classmate was one of his brothers. According to a long-standing tradition, when the young Dalai Lama misbehaved in class, it was his brother who was punished. Over the years the Dalai Lama learned penmanship, history, religion, philosophy, Tibetan medicine, art, music, and literature, among many other subjects. Throughout all of his study he attended meetings of the government.

The Dalai Lama loved working with mechanical things. He spent a great deal of time with his telescope. He enjoyed taking watches and small machines apart and putting them back together. There were only four cars in all of Tibet at that time and three belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Tenzin Gyatso loved working with the engines and trying to drive the cars.

The Dalai Lama took over the political leadership of Tibet in November 1950, not long after the Chinese Communist army invaded the country. (Communism is a political system based on the belief that property should not be owned by any individual but should belong to everyone in common. Communists also believe that all business should be under the control of the government.) The Dalai Lama was fifteen years old and leading a country on the brink of crisis.

His exile

Mainland China had become a communist nation in 1949 after World War II (193945; a war in which the Allies, including France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States, defeated the Axis forces of Germany, Italy, and Japan). Mao Zedong (18931976) led communist China. Eighty thousand members of the Chinese army invaded Tibet in early 1950. The Chinese said the people of Tibet invited the army to save them from the rule of a cruel government. The Chinese also claimed that Tibet was originally a part of China.

Neither of these statements were true. The Dalai Lama visited with the Chinese to ask them to leave Tibet. They would not. He visited neighboring countries to try to get help to push the invaders out. The other countries, however, were afraid of what might happen to them if they opposed a nation as powerful as China, and they offered little support. After years of trying to negotiate with the Chinese and seeing his people suffer under Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama finally fled to India in April 1959. He has been away from his native Tibet since then.

His life after exile

The Dalai Lama learned Buddhist thought and practice as part of his monastic (done by monks or nuns) training. The people of Tibet still consider him to be their spiritual and political leader. Since his exile he has worked tirelessly to help Tibetans who have managed to flee their country. He has worked with many Westerners for the cause of returning Tibet to its own people.

The Dalai Lama's contact with Westerners has broadened his interest beyond Buddhism. He has given many speeches and written several books. In them he discusses how religions are similar in their development of love and compassion and in their pursuit of goodness and happiness for all beings. He is greatly admired, not just by Buddhists, but by people everywhere. He speaks not only of spiritual matters, but also of global peace and environmental concerns. His thoughts are received as popular and universal messages.

In 1987 the Dalai Lama was the recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, named after the famous Dr. Schweitzer (18751965), who worked in Africa. In 1989 the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Dalai Lama remains an active and revered humanitarian (someone who believes in human welfare and social reform) throughout the world, even though an intestinal illness he suffered in January 2002 caused him to cut back on his schedule. He has spent much of his time traveling, speaking against communism, and working for peace. He has a devoted following that includes individuals from all over the world and from all walks of life. His struggles for peace and freedom have made him one of the most recognized and well-regarded political and spiritual leaders in the world.

For More Information

Dalai Lama XIV. The Buddhism of Tibet. London: Allen & Unwin, 1975.

Dalai Lama XIV. The Dalai Lama at Harvard: Lectures on the Buddhist Path to Peace. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1988.

Dalai Lama XIV. Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama. New York: Harper Collins, 1990.

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Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama (Lhamo Thondup; born 1935), the 14th in a line of Buddhist spiritual and temporal leaders of Tibet, fled to India during the revolt against Chinese control in 1959 and from exile promoted Tibetan religious and cultural traditions.

The 14th Dalai Lama (loosely translated "Ocean of Wisdom") was born Lhamo Thondup on July 6, 1935, in Taktser, a small village in far northeastern Tibet. In 1937 a mission sent out by the Tibetan government to search for the successor to the 13th Dalai Lama, who had died in 1933, felt led to him by signs and oracles. It is reported that when they tested him, Lhamo Thondup correctly identified objects belonging to his predecessor, and a state oracle confirmed that he was the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lamas. On February 22, 1940, he was officially installed as spiritual leader of Tibet, though political rule remained in the hands of the regents. He took the name Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso.

As the 14th Dalai Lama, he followed in the line of Tibetan Buddhist spiritual and temporal leaders with roots in a reform movement led by Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419), who sought to restore Buddhist monastic discipline and founded an order of Buddhist monks known as the Gelugpa or "Yellow Hat" sect. In 1438 the head of the order and the first Dalai Lama established a monastery at Tashilhundpo, but the second Dalai Lama established the monastery of Drepung, near Lhasa, as the permanent seat of the line. The third Dalai Lama (1543-1588) was first given the title "Dalai Lama" (lama is a Tibetan term that translates the Sanskrit guru, or "teacher"; dalai—"ocean, or all-embracing"—is apparently a partial translation of the third Dalai Lama's name) by a Mongol leader, Altan Khan, who led his followers to convert to Tibetan Buddhism. The grandson of Altan Khan was identified as the fourth Dalai Lama, thus solidifying Mongolian-Tibetan ties but threatening the Chinese rulers.

The Dalai Lama gradually gained his temporal power over Tibet through skillful use of Mongol and Manchu support. Finally, with the help of a western Mongol tribe, the fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) extended the rule of the Gelugpas over all of Tibet. He built the large winter palace, the Potala, in Lhasa, which has become a symbol of Tibetan nationalism. It was during his reign that the Dalai Lama was confirmed by "newly discovered texts" to be the reincarnation not only of the previous Dalai Lamas but also of the Buddhist Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, a celestial bodhisattva (enlightened being) who comes to the aid of people in need and often functions as do the gods of India and China, and, for some, as a patron deity of Tibet.

Repeated power struggles between western Mongols and Tibetans during the early 18th century, including a violent civil war in 1727-1728, resulted in intervention by the Ch'ing dynasty of China in 1720, 1728, and 1750. Their final solution was to firmly and finally establish the Dalai Lama in the position of full temporal power and Tibet as a protectorate of the Ch'ing Empire under the supervision of residents (ambans) from Peking.

The 13th Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso (1875-1933), took an interest in modern technology, sent Tibetan students abroad for education, and attempted to raise the standard of education of the Tibetan monastic community. The renewed assertion of control over Tibet by the Ch'ing government with broad reforms in 1908 proved so intense that when Chinese troops arrived in Lhasa in 1910 the Dalai Lama fled to India. He returned to Tibet in 1912 when the Chinese withdrew the troops in response to the 1911 revolution in China, and in January 1913 the Dalai Lama declared the independence of Tibet. The declaration was recognized by the British, who were colonizing South Asia, but not by China.

The 14th Dalai Lama, then, inherited his office on the basis of the belief that he was a reincarnation of each of the previous Dalai Lamas as well as the 74th manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, the first being an Indian Brahmin boy who lived at the time of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. Each Dalai Lama is "discovered" on the basis of omens and signs. Letters from the previous Dalai Lama are often cited in identification. Most important for determination is the Nechung oracle, who is believed to incarnate the god Pehar or Dorje Drakden, one of the protector deities of the Dalai Lama and with whom he consults at least annually. A medium enters a trance in which his face is said to be transformed. A 30-pound helmet is placed on his head; he wields a sword and dances slowly while speaking words of the deity which need interpretation. Consulting this and other oracles remains a regular element of the Dalai Lama's activity.

On October 26, 1951, Chinese troops again entered Lhasa. With the signing of the Sino-Tibetan Treaty, the Dalai Lama attempted to work within the strictures imposed by China, visiting Peking in 1954 and negotiating with Chinese leaders. He was attracted to Marxism but repulsed by Chinese activity in the "liberation" of Tibet. The Chinese attempted to use the Panchen Lama, the second spiritual leader, to counteract his influence, but this failed. With the Tibetan uprising in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he set up his residence in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.

The Dalai Lama received an extensive education in Buddhist thought and practice as part of his monastic training. His contacts with Westerners broadened his interest beyond Buddhism and he often spoke and wrote of the similarities of religions in the development of love and compassion and in the pursuit of goodness and happiness for all beings. Global peace and environmental concerns round out his popular message. In 1987 he was the recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award and in 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Dalai Lama remains an active and revered humanitarian throughout the world. His struggles for peace and freedom have made him one of the most recognized and regarded political/spiritual leaders in the world. He has spent much of his time traveling, speaking against communism and for peace. He has a devout following which includes individuals from all over the world and from all walks of life.

Further Reading

Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama (1990) introduces the life and personality of the 14th Dalai Lama. See also his The Buddhism of Tibet (1975) and The Dalai Lama at Harvard: Lectures on the Buddhist Path to Peace (1988). Several accounts of recent Tibetan history have been written by Tibetan leaders. See for example Chogyam Trungpa, Born in Tibet (1966), and Rinchaen Dola Taring, Daughter of Tibet (1970). The most accurate survey of Tibetan religion is Helmut Hoffman, The Religions of Tibet (1961). See also "The Dalai Lama" by Claudia Dreifus in the New York Times Magazine (November 28, 1993). □

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Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama. The office of temporal and spiritual leadership of the Tibetan peoples, of which the present holder, Tenzin Gyatso (Bstan-ʾdzinrgya-mtsho) is the fourteenth. The history of the office begins with Gendun Drub (Dge-ʾdun-grub-pa, 1391–1475), the third successor of Tsong Khapa as head of the Geluk school. Gendun Drub was the first member of the Geluk to adopt the tulku system of reincarnating lamas. His successor was Gendun Gyatso, whose own successor Sonam Gyatso (1543–88) accepted an invitation to renew the Tibetan-Mongolian priest–patron relationship. In a respectful exchange by Lake Kokonor in 1578, Altan Khan gave Sonam Gyatso the Mongolian title ‘Ta le’ (Ocean [of Wisdom]) Lama, which, retrospectively applied to his two predecessors, made Gendun Drub the first ‘Ta le’ Lama (‘Dalai’ being a W. transcription).

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has based himself in Dharamsala, India, from where he has become well-known internationally, and been styled a ‘god-king’ by the Western press. This potentially misleading term stems from the Tibetan consideration of eminent beings as emanations of Buddhas or bodhisattvas, and the Dalai Lama in particular as an emanation of Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. Among Tibetans, he is more commonly called ‘Gyalwa Rinpoche’ (Precious Eminence), or simply ‘Kundun’ (Presence). An active statesman, Tenzin Gyatso continues to negotiate improved conditions for his people and terms for his own return, and has overseen the transformation of the previous theocratic government into a democratically elected autonomous body (albeit in exile). In 1989 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his adherence to the Buddhist principle of nonviolence in the Tibetan struggle, although in the 1990s a wing of the Tibetan Youth Congress advocating armed resistance has become more vocal.

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Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama (Grand Lama) Supreme head of the Yellow Hat Buddhist monastery at Lhasa, Tibet. The title was bestowed upon the third Grand Lama by the Mongol ruler Altan Khan (d.1583). In 1642, the Mongols installed Ngawang Lopsang Gyatso (1617–82), fifth Dalai Lama, as political and spiritual ruler of Tibet. Dalai Lamas thereafter retained political leadership, but spiritual supremacy was later shared with the Panchen Lama. In 1950–51, Tenzin Gyatso (1935– ), 14th Dalai Lama, temporarily fled Tibet after it was annexed by the People's Republic of China. Following a brutally suppressed Tibetan uprising (1959), he went into exile in India. In Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is revered as the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. When a Dalai Lama dies, his soul is believed to pass into the body of an infant, born 49 days later.

http://www.dalailama.com

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Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism and, until the establishment of Chinese communist rule, the spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet. Each Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, reappearing in a child when the incumbent Dalai Lama dies. The present Dalai Lama, the fourteenth incarnation, escaped to India in 1959 following the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

The name is from Tibetan, literally ‘ocean monk’, so named because he is regarded as ‘the ocean of compassion’.

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Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama (dä´lī lä´mə) [Tibetan,=oceanic teacher], title of one of the main leaders of Tibetan Buddhism. Believed like his predecessors to be the incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, 1935–, was installed in 1940. In 1959, following a Tibetan revolt against Chinese rule (see Tibet), he fled into exile. He has traveled widely, pleading the Tibetan cause, and was the recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize and the 2012 Templeton Prize. He stepped down as the political leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile in 2011.

See the 14th Dalai Lama's autobiography (1990); studies by P. Iyer (2008) and T. Johnson (2011).

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Dalai Lama

Da·lai La·ma / ˈdälī ˈlämə/ • n. the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism and, formerly, the spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet.

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