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Home: Religion: Buddhism: Who is the 14th Dalai Lama?.

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Who is the 14th Dalai Lama?

His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama Born on 6 July 1935 to a farming family in northeastern Tibet, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) is both the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet.
At the age of two the child, who was named Lhamo Dhondup at that time was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth in order to serve humanity.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the successive Dalai Lamas form a lineage of reborn (tulku) magistrates, tracing back to the 13th century. Tibetan Buddhists believe the Dalai Lama to be one of many incarnations of the bodhisattva of compassion. Between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lama was the head of the Tibetan government, administering a large portion of the country from the capital Lhasa. He is often styled "His Holiness" (HH) before his title.

The Dalai Lama: A Biography

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is normally referred to in Western media simply as "the Dalai Lama". Contrary to a Western misconception, he does not have spiritual authority over all Buddhists as the Pope has over Roman Catholics. In fact, he is a practising member of the Gelug sect of Buddhism. However, he is influential as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, as the world's most famous Buddhist monk, and as leader of the exiled Tibetan government in India.

Tenzin Gyatso was the fifth of sixteen children born to a farming family in the village of Taktser, or Tengtser, of the Tibetan province of Amdo: he was originally named Lhamo Döndrub . His first language was the Amdo dialect of Tibetan. He was proclaimed the tulku (rebirth) of the thirteenth Dalai Lama at the age of two.

On 17 November 1950, at the age of fifteen, he was enthroned as Tibet's Head of State and therefore became Tibet's most important political ruler one month after the People's Republic of China's invasion of Tibet on 7 October 1950.

In 1954, he went to Beijing to talk with Mao Zedong and other leaders of the PRC. He was also elected as the vice chairman of China's National People's Congress in 1954.

After the collapse of the Tibetan resistance movement in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he was active in establishing the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government in exile) and in seeking to preserve Tibetan culture and education among the thousands of refugees who accompanied him.

He is a charismatic figure and noted public speaker. This Dalai Lama is the first to travel to the West. There, he has helped to spread Buddhism and to promote the concepts of universal responsibility, secular ethics, and religious harmony.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, Honorary Canadian citizenship in 2006, and the United States Congressional Gold Medal on 17 October 2007

Early Life and Background of the 14th Dalai Lama

Tenzin Gyatso was born to a farming family as Lhamo Döndrub or Lhamo Thondup in the far northeastern Amdo province — now part of Qinghai province — in the village of Taktser, a small and poor settlement that stood on a hill overlooking a broad valley. His parents, Choekyong and Diki Tsering, were moderately wealthy farmers among about twenty other families making a precarious living off the land raising barley, buckwheat, and potatoes.

His parents had sixteen children and Tenzin Gyatso is the fifth eldest of the nine who survived childhood. The eldest child was his sister Tsering Dolma, who was eighteen years older than he. His eldest brother, Thupten Jigme Norbu, has been recognised as the rebirth of the high lama, Takser Rinpoche. His sister Jetsun Pema went on to depict their mother in the 1997 film Seven Years in Tibet. His other elder brothers are Gyalo Thondup and Lobsang Samden.

When Tenzin Gyatso was about two years old a search party was sent out to find the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama. Among other omens, the head on the embalmed body of the thirteenth Dalai Lama (originally facing south) had mysteriously turned to face the northeast, indicating the direction in which the next Dalai Lama would be found. Shortly afterwards, the Regent Reting Rinpoche had a vision indicating Amdo (as the place to search) and a one-story house with distinctive guttering and tiling.

After extensive searching, they found that Thondup's house resembled that in Reting's vision. They thus presented Thondup with various relics and toys — some had belonged to the previous Dalai Lama while others had not. It was reported that Thondup correctly identified all items owned by the previous Dalai Lama, exclaiming "It's mine! It's mine!"

Thondup was recognised as the rebirth of the Dalai Lama and renamed Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso ("Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom"). Tibetan Buddhists normally refer to him as Yeshe Norbu ("Wish-Fulfilling Gem") or just Kundun ("the Presence"). In the West he is often called by followers "His Holiness the Dalai Lama", which is the style that the Dalai Lama himself uses on his website.

The Dalai Lama began his monastic education at the age of six. At age eleven he met Heinrich Harrer after spying him in Lhasa through his telescope. Harrer effectively became the young Dalai Lama's tutor, teaching him about the outside world. The two remained friends until Harrer's death in 2006. At age 25 he sat for his final examination in Lhasa's Jokhang Temple during the annual Monlam (prayer) Festival in 1959. He passed with honors and was awarded the Lharampa degree, the highest-level geshe degree (roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy).

Life as the Dalai Lama

As well as being one of the most influential spiritual leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama by tradition is also Tibet's Head of State and most important political ruler. From 1939 at the age of four he was taken by lamas in a procession to Lhasa where he officially was given a ceremony recognizing him as the reborn spiritual leader of Tibet. His childhood was spent between the Potala and Norbulingka, his summer residence. At the age of fifteen, faced with possible conflict with the People's Republic of China, on 17 November 1950, Tenzin Gyatso was enthroned as the temporal leader of Tibet; however, he was only able to govern for a brief time. In October of that year an army of the People's Republic of China entered the territory controlled by the Tibetan administration, easily breaking through the Tibetan defenders.

The People's Liberation Army stopped short of the old border between Tibet and Xikang and demanded negotiations. The Dalai Lama sent a delegation to Beijing, and, although he rejected [citation needed] the subsequent Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, he did try to work with the Chinese government. In September 1954 the Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama went to Beijing to attend the first session of the first National People's Congress, meeting Mao Zedong. However, during 1959, there was a major uprising among the Tibetan population. In the tense political environment that ensued, the Dalai Lama and his entourage began to suspect that China was planning to kill him. Consequently, he fled to Dharamsala, India, on 17 March of that year, entering India on 31 March during the Tibetan uprising.

Exile in India

The Dalai Lama met with the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to urge India to pressure China into giving Tibet an autonomous government when relations with China were not proving successful. Nehru did not want to increase tensions between China and India, so he encouraged the Dalai Lama to work on the Seventeen Point Agreement Tibet had with China. Eventually, in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and set up the government of Tibet in Exile in Dharamsala, India, which is often referred to as "Little Lhasa".

After the founding of the exiled government he rehabilitated the ~80,000 Tibetan refugees who followed him into exile in agricultural settlements.[2] He created a Tibetan educational system in order to teach the Tibetan children what he believed to be traditional language, history, religion, and culture. The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts was established in 1959 and the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies became the primary university for Tibetans in India. He supported the refounding of 200 monasteries and nunneries in an attempt to preserve Tibetan Buddhist teachings and the Tibetan way of life.

Foreign relations

Since 1967 the Dalai Lama has initiated a series of tours in 46 nations. He has frequently engaged on religious dialogue. He met with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1973. He met with Pope John Paul II in 1980 and also later in 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990, and 2003. In 1990 he met in Dharamsala with a delegation of Jewish teachers for an extensive interfaith dialogue. He has since visited Israel three times and met in 2006 with the Chief Rabbi of Israel. In 2006 he met privately with Pope Benedict XVI. He has also met the Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Dr. Robert Runcie, and with other leaders of the Anglican Church in London. He has also met with senior Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Sikh officials.

The Dalai Lama appealed to the United Nations on the question of Tibet. This appeal resulted in three resolutions adopted by the General Assembly in 1959, 1961, and 1965. These resolutions required China to respect the human rights of Tibetans and their desire for self-determination. In 1963 he promulgated a democratic constitution which is based upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A Tibetan parliament-in-exile is elected by the Tibetan refugees scattered all over the world, and the Tibetan Government in Exile is likewise elected by the Tibetan parliament.

At the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1987 in Washington, D.C., he proposed a Five-Point Peace Plan regarding the future status of Tibet. The plan called for Tibet to become a "zone of peace" and for the end of movement by ethnic Han Chinese into Tibet. It also called for "respect for fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms" and "the end of China's use of Tibet for nuclear weapons production, testing, and disposal". Finally, it urged "earnest negotiations" on the future of Tibet.

He proposed a similar plan at Strasbourg on 15 June 1988. He expanded on the Five-Point Peace Plan and proposed the creation of a self-governing democratic Tibet, "in association with the People's Republic of China". This plan was rejected by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile in 1991. In October 1991, he expressed his wish to return to Tibet to try to form a mutual assessment on the situation with the Chinese local government. At this time he feared that a violent uprising would take place and wished to avoid it. The Dalai Lama has indicated that he wishes to return to Tibet only if the People's Republic of China sets no preconditions for the return, which they have refused to do.

He celebrated his seventieth birthday on 6 July 2005. About 10,000 Tibetan refugees, monks and foreign tourists gathered outside his home. Patriarch Alexius II of the Russian Orthodox Church said, "I confess that the Russian Orthodox Church highly appreciates the good relations it has with the followers of Buddhism and hopes for their further development". President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan attended an evening celebrating the Dalai Lama's birthday that was entitled "Traveling with Love and Wisdom for 70 Years" at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. The President invited him to return to Taiwan for a third trip in 2005. His previous trips were in 2001, and 1997.

History of the Dalai Lamas

"Dalai" means "Ocean" in Mongolian, and "Lama" is the Tibetan equivalent of the Sanskrit word "guru", and is commonly translated to mean "spiritual teacher". The actual title was first bestowed by the Mongolian ruler Altan Khan upon Sonam Gyatso in 1578. Gyatso was an abbot at the Drepung Monastery who was widely considered the most eminent lama of his time. Although Sonam Gyatso became the first lama to hold the title "Dalai Lama", due to the fact that he was the third member of his lineage, he became known as the "3rd Dalai Lama". The previous two titles were conferred posthumously upon his earlier incarnations.

The 5th Dalai Lama, with the support of Gushri Khan, a Mongol ruler of Khökh Nuur, united Tibet. The Dalai Lamas continued to partially rule in Tibet until the People's Republic of China invaded the region in 1949 and then took full control in 1959. The 14th Dalai Lama then fled to India and has since ceded temporal power to an elected government-in-exile. The current 14th Dalai Lama seeks greater autonomy for Tibet.

Succession of reborn Dalai Lamas The title "Dalai Lama" is presently granted to each of the spiritual leader's successive incarnations (for example, The 14th Dalai Lama's next incarnation will hold the title "the 15th Dalai Lama").

Upon the death of the Dalai Lama, his monks institute a search for the Lama's reincarnation, or yangsi (yang srid), a small child. Familiarity with the possessions of the previous Dalai Lama is considered the main sign of the reincarnation. The search for the reincarnation typically requires a few years. The reincarnation is then brought to Lhasa to be trained by the other Lamas.

Residence of the Dalai Lama

Starting with the 5th Dalai Lama and until the 14th Dalai Lama's flight into exile in 1959, the Dalai Lamas resided during winter at the Potala Palace, and in the summer at the Norbulingka palace and park. Both residences are located in Lhasa, Tibet, approximately 3 km apart. In 1959, subsequent to the then ongoing Chinese occupation of Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge within India. The then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru was instrumental in granting safe refuge to the Dalai Lama and his fellow Tibetans. The Dalai Lama has since been in refuge in Dharamsala, in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, where the Central Tibetan Administration (The Tibetan Government in Exile) is also established. Tibetan refugees have constructed and opened many schools and Buddhist temples in Dharamsala.

The future of the Dalai Lama

Despite its officially secular stance, the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) has claimed the power to approve the naming of high reincarnations in Tibet. This decision cites a precedent set by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, who instituted a system of selecting the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama by means of a lottery which utilised a golden urn with names wrapped in barley balls. Controversially, this precedent was called upon by the PRC to name their own Panchen Lama. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Buddhists in exile do not regard this to be the legitimate Panchen Lama. The Dalai Lama has recognized a different child, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the reincarnated Panchen Lama. This child and his family have been taken into 'protective custody' according to the PRC, and all attempts by members of the EU parliament and US government to garner guarantees of the family's safety have been denied by the PRC. There is some speculation that with the death of the current Dalai Lama, the People's Republic of China will attempt to direct the selection of a successor, using the authority of their chosen Panchen Lama.

The purpose of a reincarnation is to complete work begun by the previous incarnation, the Dalai Lama is reported to have said. Thus logically as the current Dalai Lama escaped from Chinese control, the next -- if any -- would be born outside of Chinese control. The Dalai Lama said as early as 1969 that it was for the Tibetans to decide whether the institution of the Dalai Lama "should continue or not".


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