Since the 14th century, Buddhists have believed a Dalai Lama chooses a body into which he is reincarnated. That reincarnated person, when found, becomes the next Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and temporal leader. This is the true story of a two-year-old boy born into a farmer’s family of five children, found by Buddhist monks to lead as the next Dalai Lama. Born on July 6, 1935, in Taktser, Amdo, in the northeastern province of Tibet, Lhamo Thondup, the two year old was said to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. Lhamo Thondup the chosen 14th Dalai Lama renamed Tenzin Gyatso and later His Holiness Dalai Lama, has since 60 years been the face of Buddhism fighting for a free Tibet.
This monk may not have a Ferrari to sell but has an estimated net worth of USD 150 million.
Becoming a Monk
Tenzin Gyatso’s enthronement ceremony took place on February 22, 1940 in Lhasa. Considered a living Buddha, he entered the monastery at the age of six. Here the monks taught him what is termed as the Nalanda curriculum, consisting of subjects like medicine, Sanskrit, grammar, logic, fine arts, astrology, poetry and drama. He was also taught the Buddhist philosophy: Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom; Madhyamika, the philosophy of the middle Way; Vinaya, the canon of monastic discipline; Abidharma, metaphysics; and Pramana, logic and epistemology. In 1942 Dalai Lama took the vows of novice monk from Taktra Rinpoche. In 1954, he received Gelong Ordination from Ling Rinpoche. In February 1959, he received a doctorate equivalent in Geshe Lharampa, the Buddhist examination at Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple.
While he was still to wield complete political authority over Tibet, the Buddhist people of Tibet had started to suffer under communist China’s anti-religious legislation. China invaded Tibet in 1949 which finally led Dalai Lama to assume political power from November 17, 1950.
In the period from 1950 to 1959, Dalai Lama relocated from Lhasa to Dromo and back to Lhasa. He also visited China for multiple peace talks from July 1954 to June 1955 holding discussions with Mao Zedong, Chou En-Lai, Chu The, and Deng Xiaoping. From November 1956 to March 1957 he came to India to participate in the 2500th Buddha Jayanti celebrations.
On March 15, 1959, Mao Zedong of China ordered the Chinese army to fire artillery shells outside Norbulingka Palace in Lhasa where the people of Tibet had started to uprise against China. Dalai Lama not only had to stop practicing and preaching Buddhism but had to flee Tibet for his safety. On March 31, 1959, he landed in India where he was granted asylum at Birla House in Mussoorie. On April 30, 1960, he finally set up home in Dharamsala and has been living there since then.
From his exile, His Holiness Dalai Lama has been leading the Central Tibetan Administration to the United Nations to consider freeing Tibet from China’s military rule to grant the country Independence. While the General Assembly adopted three resolutions on Tibet in 1959, 1961, and 1965 the Tibetan Buddhists continue to protest in their non-violent way. In 1989, Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his nonviolent campaigning for the people of Tibet.
Ancient science, modern outlook
His Holiness Dalai Lama has received over 150 awards, honorary doctorates, and prizes in recognition of his work towards peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion.
He has met and addressed personalities in more than 67 countries. In the 80s he along with few monks worked with scientists in areas of psychology, neurobiology, quantum physics and cosmology to help them understand how meditation affects the brain. Dalai Lama at a scientific conference once explained, “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality.”
He has also authored/co-authored 110 books. July 6, 2020, an album of music, mantras and chants called “Inner World’ was released to celebrate the 85th Birthday of Dalai Lama.
Important dates and events in the life of Dalai Lama
Since he arrived in India, His Holiness Dalai Lama has continued his efforts to establish Tibet as a self-governing democratic state.
- 1959: On April 18, holds the first international press conference from exile in India
- 1967: Travels abroad for the first time since exile to visit Japan and Thailand
- 1973: Spends three months in Europe from September to November visiting Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, UK, West Germany & Austria
- 1979: Re-establishes contact with Chinese government
- 1987: Delivers 5-Point Peace Plan for Tibet, in front of US Congress in Washington
- 1988: Strasbourg Proposal for Tibet to members European Parliament
- 1989: On December 10th awarded Nobel Peace Prize at Oslo, Norway for peacefully campaigning over 40 years to end China’s domination and to restore human rights in Tibet.
- 2001: First elections held by Tibetans for a senior minister
- 2003: Invited to “Investigating the Mind” meeting at MIT
- 2005: Named Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People
- 2008: Disagreement between the European Union and China on Tibet issue
- 2011: Dalai Lama retires from politics and ends the custom by which the Dalai Lamas wield spiritual and political authority in Tibet. Lobsang Sangay takes over his jobs.
Dalai Lama’s remark on retirement on March 19, 2011 – “now is the right time to end the dual system of governance established during the fifth Dalai Lama and retain the kind of unanimity and recognition gained by the first four Dalai Lamas in the spiritual domain. Particularly, the third Dalai Lama received the honorific title of an ecumenical master with yellow hat. So like them, I will continue to take spiritual responsibilities for the remaining part of my life.” Maybe His Holiness can now find more time for his hobbies – meditating, gardening, and repairing watches.
Though in 2011, the Chinese foreign ministry declared only the government of Beijing can appoint the 15th Dalai Lama, His Holiness in an interview with Time Magazine in 2004, stated that whether the institution of the Dalai Lama survives, will entirely lie with the people of Tibet.
The Tibetan government in exile believes that Tibet is an independent state but the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to rule Tibet claiming the territory is an integral part of China since its invasion and annexation in 1949/1951.
While many Tibetans, call for the return of His Holiness Dalai Lama only time and Tibetans can truly determine the future of their statehood.