At age 81, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the longest living Dalai Lama. The spiritual leader of Tibet describes himself as a “simple Buddhist monk”. Tenzin was formerly known as Lhamo Dhondup, but was renamed by the monks when he was found. Born to a family in Takster, northeastern Tibet, he was recognised as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, when he was just two years of age!
Who is Dalai Lama?
The Dalai Lama, a name that stands for ‘Ocean of Wisdom’, is the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism, and was traditionally in charge of governing of Tibet, until 1959 when the Chinese government took control.
A fairly recent institution, there have only been 14 Dalai Lamas in the history of Buddhism – from 1391 to date – and the first and second Dalai Lamas were given the title only after their deaths. Buddhists believe that Dalai Lamas are reincarnations of tulkuls, a past lama who, instead of moving on from the wheel of life and attaining nirvana, decided to be reborn to continue their important work. These recreations spend their entire lives committed to helping humanity.
Tibetans believe that when one Dalai Lama dies, he is reincarnated in a young child. Therefore, the soul of the current Dalai Lama is said to be the same as the first one.
Choosing a Dalai Lama
Dalai Lamas are not chosen, they’re found.
The main aim of Tibetan Buddhists is to attain enlightenment through the mind and reach Buddhahood, because he who achieves this can choose to put an end to his cycle of life, death and reincarnation. Those who achieve enlightenment but choose to return to life for a desire to help and benefit all living beings are known as Bodhisattvas.
When a Dalai Lama dies, he has the power to choose the body in which he wishes to be reborn. Once this happens, back on earth, the High Lamas of the Gelgupa tradition and the Tibetan government begin searching for the new Dalai Lama. First they meditate at central Tibet’s holy lake, Lhamo La-Tso, awaiting a vision indicating a direction for their search. Then the Lamas set out to find the reincarnation by following the direction of the smoke from the cremation of the previous Dalai Lama. The process of finding the reincarnation can take several years. In the case of the current Dalai Lama, it took four years to find him.
Once found, a series of tests are done to ensure that they’ve found the right person. Amongst other tests, the child is presented with a number of items to see if he has the ability to select those that belonged to the previous Dalai Lama. If the child is successful, and if only one boy is found, the High Lamas approve their judgement with prominent religious and secular figures before announcing it to the government. However, if more than one boy is found, a public lot is performed by officials and monks. After this, the boy and his family are taken to Lhasa where he can study the Buddhist sutra to relearn the knowledge accrued in previous lives of the Dalai Lamas.
The search for the Dalai Lama is generally limited to Tibet only, but Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, says there is a chance that he will not be reborn, and that even if he is, it will be in a country that’s not under the Chinese rule.
The 14th Dalai Lama
Four years after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama in December 1933, the Buddhist monks were guided by their vision to the northeast part of Tibet, where Lhamo Dhondup resided with his family in a house with oddly shaped gutters. After performing some tests, they presented him with a few items, a mix of common objects and a few that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. Lhamo Dhondup correctly identified the objects, and the monks knew they had found their new leader.
Lhamo Dhondup, whose name was changed to Tenzin Gyatso by the monks, was formally recognised as the Dalai Lama after his studies at the age of 15. He fled his country in 1959, during the revolt against China. Fearing assassination, he took shelter in India along with thousands of refugees. Ever since then, he has been in exile and has been living in Dharamshala, India, where he promotes Tibetan religious and cultural traditions.
He established the Tibetan parliament in exile and advocates for the country across the globe. His main aim has been to make Tibet an independent state, free from the rule of the People’s Republic of China.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a staunch believer and preacher of non-violence and peace, and in the tradition of Bodhisattva, he has spent his entire life dedicated to benefiting humanity. He has also written several books and conducted thousands of speeches and conferences at institutions across the globe, discussing a wide range of topics, including compassion, environmental sustainability, religion, happiness, and much more. During his visits abroad, he has stressed the need for a better understanding of and respect among different religions and faiths.
He has also met with many world leaders and heads of state, including Pope John Paul II; Dr Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury; George W. Bush; Barack Obama amongst others. His relentless work on harmony and struggle for non-violence has also won him the Nobel Peace Prize.
In September 1987, during his address to members of the United States Congress in Washington, His Holiness designed and presented a Five-Point Peace Plan for Tibet as the first measure towards a peaceful solution to the worsening situation in Tibet. The plan contained five basic elements: the transformation of the whole of Tibet into a peaceful zone; abandonment of China’s population transfer policy; respect for the Tibetan people’s fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms; restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment and the abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste; commencement of earnest negotiations on the relations between the Tibetan and Chinese people.
In June 1988, His Holiness made another detailed proposal elaborating on the last point of the Five-Point Peace Plan. He proposed talks between the Chinese and Tibetans leading to a self-governing democratic political entity for all three provinces of Tibet. This entity would be in association with the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Government would continue to remain responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy and defence.
In May 2016, His Holiness launched a project titled Atlas of Emotions. According to His Holiness, the more humans are able to get in touch with their emotions, the more inner peace they can to achieve. Paying close attention to one’s inner self from a young age can help humans gain knowledge and achieve happiness. “A happy human being provides for a happy family, happy community, and happy humanity,” he says.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama gives teachings at various venues across the globe. Most of the his talks touch on peace, compassion, spirituality, brotherhood, and other topics close to his heart. Here are some of his notable quotes and philosophies:
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
“If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.”
“Happiness doesn’t always come from a pursuit. Sometimes it comes when we least expect it.”
“The very purpose of our life is to seek happiness.”
“A true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred.”
“Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.”
“Love and kindness are the very basis of society. If we lose these feelings, society will face tremendous difficulties; the survival of humanity will be endangered.”