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The Dalai Lama
1935 -



His Holiness the 14th the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, is the head of state and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He was born Lhamo Dhondrub on 6 July 1935, in a small village called Taktser in northeastern Tibet. Born to a peasant family, His Holiness was recognized at the age of two, in accordance with Tibetan tradition, as the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama, and thus an incarnation Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion.

The Dalai Lamas are the manifestations of the Bodhisattva (Buddha) of Compassion, who chose to reincarnate to serve the people. Lhamo Dhondrub was, as Dalai Lama, renamed Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso - Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom. Tibetans normally refer to His Holiness as Yeshe Norbu, the Wishfulfilling Gem or simply Kundun - The Presence.

The enthronement ceremony took place on February 22, 1940 in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

Education in Tibet

He began his education at the age of six and completed the Geshe Lharampa Degree (Doctorate of Buddhist Philosophy) when he was 25 in 1959. At 24, he took the preliminary examinations at each of the three monastic universities: Drepung, Sera and Ganden. The final examination was conducted in the Jokhang, Lhasa during the annual Monlam Festival of Prayer, held in the first month of every year Tibetan calendar.

Leadership Responsibilities

On November 17, 1950, His Holiness was called upon to assume full political power (head of the State and Government) after some 80,000 Peoples Liberation Army soldiers invaded Tibet. In 1954, he went to Beijing to talk peace with Mao Tse-tung and other Chinese leaders, including Chou En-lai and Deng Xiaoping. In 1956, while visiting India to attend the 2500th Buddha Jayanti Anniversary, he had a series of meetings with Prime Minister Nehru and Premier Chou about deteriorating conditions in Tibet.

His efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to Sino-Tibetan conflict were thwarted by Bejing's ruthless policy in Eastern Tibet, which ignited a popular uprising and resistance. This resistance movement spread to other parts of the country. On 10 March 1959 the capital of Tibet, Lhasa, exploded with the largest demonstration in Tibetan history, calling on China to leave Tibet and reaffirming Tibet's independence. The Tibetan National Uprising was brutally crushed by the Chinese army. His Holiness escaped to India where he was given political asylum. Some 80,000 Tibetan refugees followed His Holiness into exile. Today, there are more than 120,000 Tibetan in exile. Since 1960, he has resided in Dharamsala, India, known as "Little Lhasa," the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-exile.

In the early years of exile, His Holiness appealed to the United Nations on the question of Tibet, resulting in three resolutions adopted by the General Assembly in 1959, 1961, and 1965, calling on China to respect the human rights of Tibetans and their desire for self-determination. With the newly constituted Tibetan Government-in-exile, His Holiness saw that his immediate and urgent task was to save the both the Tibetan exiles and their culture alike. Tibetan refugees were rehabilitated in agricultural settlements. Economic development was promoted and the creation of a Tibetan educational system was established to raise refugee children with full knowledge of their language, history, religion and culture. The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts was established in 1959, while the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies became a university for Tibetans in India. Over 200 monasteries have been re-established to preserve the vast corpus of Tibetan Buddhist teachings, the essence of the Tibetan way of life.

In 1963, His Holiness promulgated a democratic constitution, based on Buddhist principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a model for a future free Tibet. Today, members of the Tibetan parliament are elected directly by the people. The members of the Tibetan Cabinet are elected by the parliament, making the Cabinet answerable to the Parliament. His Holiness has continuously emphasized the need to further democratise the Tibetan administration and has publicly declared that once Tibet regains her independence he will not hold political office.

In Washington, D.C., at the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1987, he proposed a Five-Point Peace Plan as a first step toward resolving the future status of Tibet. This plan calls for the designation of Tibet as a zone of peace, an end to the massive transfer of ethnic Chinese into Tibet, restoration of fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms, and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for nuclear weapons production and the dumping of nuclear waste, as well as urging "earnest negotiations" on the future of Tibet.

In Strasbourg, France, on 15 June 1988, he elaborated the Five-Point Peace Plan and proposed the creation of a self-governing democratic Tibet, "in association with the People's Republic of China."

On 2 September 1991, the Tibetan Government-in-exile declared the Strasbourg Proposal invalid because of the closed and negative attitude of the present Chinese leadership towards the ideas expressed in the proposal.

On 9 October 1991, during an address at Yale University in the United States, His Holiness said that he wanted to visit Tibet to personally assess the political situation. He said, "I am extremely anxious that, in this explosive situation, violence may break out. I want to do what I can to prevent this.... My visit would be a new opportunity to promote understanding and create a basis for a negotiated solution."

Contact with West and East

Since 1967, His Holiness initiated a series of journeys which have taken him to some 46 nations. In autumn of 1991, he visited the Baltic States at the invitation of Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis of Lithuania and became the first foreign leader to address the Lithuanian Parliament. His Holiness met with the late Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1973. At a press conference in Rome in 1980, he outlined his hopes for the meeting with John Paul II: "We live in a period of great crisis, a period of troubling world developments. It is not possible to find peace in the soul without security and harmony between peoples. For this reason, I look forward with faith and hope to my meeting with the Holy Father; to an exchange of ideas and feelings, and to his suggestions, so as to open the door to a progressive pacification between peoples." His Holiness met Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1980, 1982, 1986, 1988 and 1990. In 1981, His Holiness talked with Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie, and with other leaders of the Anglican Church in London. He also met with leaders of the Roman Catholic and Jewish communities and spoke at an interfaith service held in his honor by the World Congress of Faiths: "I always believe that it is much better to have a variety of religions, a variety of philosophies, rather than one single religion or philosophy. This is necessary because of the different mental dispositions of each human being. Each religion has certain unique ideas or techniques, and learning about them can only enrich one's own faith."

Recognition and Awards

Since his first visit to the west in the early 1973, a number of western universities and institutions have conferred Peace Awards and honorary Doctorate Degrees in recognition of His Holiness' distinguished writings in Buddhist philosophy and for his leadership in the solution of international conflicts, human rights issues and global environmental problems. In presenting the Raoul Wallenberg Congressional Human Rights Award in 1989, U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos said, "His Holiness the Dalai Lama's courageous struggle has distinguished him as a leading proponent of human rights and world peace. His ongoing efforts to end the suffering of the Tibetan people through peaceful negotiations and reconciliation have required enormous courage and sacrifice."

The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize

The Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision to award the 1989 Peace Prize to His Holiness the Dalai Lama won worldwide praise and applause, with exception of China. The Committee’s citation read, "The Committee wants to emphasize the fact that the Dalai Lama in his struggle for the liberation of Tibet consistently has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people."

On 10 December 1989, His Holiness accepted the prize on the behalf of oppressed everywhere and all those who struggle for freedom and work for world peace and the people of Tibet. In his remarks he said, "The prize reaffirms our conviction that with truth, courage and determination as our weapons, Tibet will be liberated. Our struggle must remain nonviolent and free of hatred."

He also had a message of encouragement for the student-led democracy movement in China. "In China the popular movement for democracy was crushed by brutal force in June this year. But I do not believe the demonstrations were in vain, because the spirit of freedom was rekindled among the Chinese people and China cannot escape the impact of this spirit of freedom sweeping in many parts of the world. The brave students and their supporters showed the Chinese leadership and the world the human face of that great nations."

A Simple Buddhist monk

His Holiness often says, "I am just a simple Buddhist monk - no more, nor less."

His Holiness follows the life of Buddhist monk. Living in a small cottage in Dharamsala, he rises at 4 A.M. to meditate, pursues an ongoing schedule of administrative meetings, private audiences and religious teachings and ceremonies. He concludes each day with further prayer before retiring. In explaining his greatest sources of inspiration, he often cites a favorite verse, found in the writings of the renowned eighth century Buddhist saint Shantideva:

For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.

For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.


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.


The Dalai Lama is the traditional head of the Tibetan people and the spiritual leader of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The Office of the Dalai Lama was instituted by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), the reformist leader who had established the Gelugpa tradition and went to Lhasa to confront the traditional Nyingpa leadership. Tsongkhapa's goal was to tighten monastic discipline, reduce the emphasis on magic, and enforce rules on celibacy. He established a monastery at Panchen, and he led in the founding of several other monastic centers at key locations. Gedun Drub (1391-1474), the first Dalai Lama, was a disciple of Tsongkhapa. He established Tshilhunpo monastery, the Gelugpa center in Tsang province. The Gelugpa reforms gradually gained the upper hand, and the Great Fifth Dalai Lama seized temporal power in Tibet and moved to Llasa, where he turned the Potala, an old meditation pavilion, into a large palace.

The person of the Dalai Lama is as an emanation of Chenresi, the Buddha of Compassion, and it is believed that incarnations of the original Dalai Lama have continued to hold the office through the centuries. Traditionally, following the death of the Dalai Lama, leaders of the Gelugpa sect search among the children of the land for his reincarnation. Candidates will be tested with a set of objects, some of which were owned by the late Dalai Lama. The child recognized as the returned Dalai Lama will choose the object owned by the former Dalai Lama and has been known spontaneously to recite Buddhist scriptures he had not been taught or to recognize associates of the former Dalai Lama. The new Dalai Lama is then taken to a monastery to be raised.

The present Dalai Lama, Jampel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, was born on July 6, 1935, in Taktser, Amdo, Tibet, into a peasant family. His father was a farmer. He was brought to Lhasa in 1939 and enthroned the following year. Throughout World War II (1939-45), he was educated by some of the eminent scholars of the land, and as a youth also had what became his famous encounters with Austrian war refugee Heinrich Herrar, recounted in the book and movie, Seven Years in Tibet. Due to the postwar pressures created by an expansive communist China, he assumed formal powers at the age of 16. At the age of 24 he finished his education with the degree of Lharampa Geshe.

The Dalai Lama had little time to enjoy his position. Unable to hold the Chinese back, on March 17, 1959, he was forced to flee Tibet and to establish his government in exile in Dharmasala, India. More than 100,000 Tibetans fled at the same time. A mirror of the traditional Tibetan community, complete with monasteries and headquarters of all of the Tibetan Buddhist sects, have been created in India and Nepal. He set about the task of regaining independence for Tibet, which has been incorporated into China. As Tibetan Buddhism spread from India into the world, especially the West, he opened offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile in many countries sympathetic to his cause. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, though his efforts to liberate Tibet show no signs of bearing fruit.

Through the 1990s, the maturing Dalai Lama, who travels widely, has also arisen as a world spiritual leader. He studied with teachers in all of the major schools of Tibetan lineages whose leaders recognize his accomplished scholarship. He has lectured widely both as the Gelugpa spiritual leader and Tibet's titular leader. He has also authored two autobiographies and a number of books expounding meditation and Tibetan Buddhist teachings.











This web page was last updated on: 09 December, 2008