Dalai Lama, The Fourteenth (1935– )
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
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
Coleman, Graham, ed. A Handbook of Tibetan Culture. Boston
Shambhala, 1993.
H. H. Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama at Harvard Lectures on the
Buddhist Path to Peace. Ithaca, N.Y. Snow Lion Publications,
———. The Meaning of Life from a Buddhist Perspective. Translated
by Jeffrey Hopkins. Boston Wisdom Publications, 1992.
———. My Land and My People Memoirs of the Dalai Lama of
Tibet. 1962. Reprint, New York Potala Corp., 1983.
———. Transcendent Wisdom. Translated by B. Alan Wallace.
Ithaca, N.Y. Snow Lion Publications, 1988.