The 14th Dalai Lamaˌ Tenzin Gyatso, shortened from Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, born Lhamo Dondrub, in 6 July 1935 is the current Dalai Lama and is the longest-lived incumbent. Dalai Lamas are important monks of the Gelug school, the newest school of Tibetan Buddhism which is nominally headed by the Ganden Tripas. The 14th Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and is known for his heartfelt advocacy for Tibetans worldwide and his lifelong interest in modern science.
The 14th Dalai Lama was born in Amdo, Tibet and was selected as the tulku of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1937 and formally recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama at a public declaration near the town of Bumchen in 1939. His enthronement ceremony as the Dalai Lama was held in Lhasa on February 22, 1940 and he eventually assumed full temporal (political) power over Tibet on 17 November 1950, at the age of 15, after China’s invasion of Tibet. The Gelug school’s government administered an area roughly corresponding to theTibet Autonomous Region just as the nascent People’s Republic of China wished to assert central control over it.
Lhamo Döndrub was born in a farming and horse trading family in the small hamlet of Taktser, at the edges of the traditional Tibetan region of Amdo, which was politically part of the Chinese province of Qinghai. His family was of Monguor extraction. He was one of seven siblings to survive childhood.
A search party was sent to locate the new incarnation when the boy who was to become the 14th was about two years old. It is said that, amongst other omens, the head of the embalmed body of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, at first facing south-east, had mysteriously turned to face the northeast, indicating the direction in which his successor would be found. The Regent, Reting Rinpoche, shortly afterwards had a vision at the sacred lake of Lhamo La-tso indicating Amdo as the region to search, specifically a one-story house with distinctive guttering and tiling. After extensive searching, the Thondup house, with its features resembling those in Reting’s vision, was finally found.
The Chinese General Ma Bufang did not want the 14th Dalai Lama to succeed his predecessor. Ma Bufang stationed his men to place the Dalai Lama under effective house arrest, saying it was needed for “protection”, refusing to permit his leaving to Tibet. He did all he could to delay the transport of the Dalai Lama from Qinghai to Tibet, by demanding massive sums of money in silver. The demanded payment by Ma Bufang was 100,000 Chinese silver dollars.
Lhamo Thondup was recognised formally as the reincarnated Dalai Lama and renamed Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom) although he was not formally enthroned as the Dalai Lama until the age of 15; instead, the regent acted as the head of the Kashag until that time. Tibetan Buddhists normally refer to him as Yishin Norbu (Wish-Fulfilling Gem), Kyabgon (Saviour), or just Kundun (Presence). His devotees, as well as much of the Western world, often call him His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the style employed on the Dalai Lama’s website.
According to the Dalai Lama, he had a succession of tutors in Tibet including Reting Rinpoche, Tathag Rinpoche, Ling Rinpoche and lastly Trijang Rinpoche, who became junior tutor when he was nineteen. At the age of 11 he met the Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, who became hisvideographer and tutor about the world outside Lhasa. The two remained friends until Harrer’s death in 2006.
In 1959, at the age of 23, he took his final examination at Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple during the annual Monlam or Prayer Festival. He passed with honours and was awarded the Lharampa degree, the highest-level geshe degree, roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.
Historically the Dalai Lamas had political and religious influence in the Western Tibetan area of Ü-Tsang around Lhasa, where the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism was popular, and the Dalai Lamas held land under their jurisdiction. In 1939, at the age of four, the present Dalai Lama was taken in a procession of lamas to Lhasa. The Dalai Lama’s childhood was spent between the Potala Palace and Norbulingka, his summer residence, both of which are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
China asserts that the Kuomintang government ratified the 14th Dalai Lama and that a Kuomintang representative, General Wu Zhongxin, presided over the ceremony. It cites a ratification order dated February 1940 and a documentary film of the ceremony. According to Tsering Shakya, Wu Zhongxin along with other foreign representatives was present at the ceremony, but there is no evidence that he presided over it. He also wrote:
During his reign, a border crisis erupted with the Republic of China in 1942. Under orders from the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek, Ma Bufang captured Yushu airport to use as a forward operating base against Tibetan independence activists. Chiang also ordered Ma Bufang to put his Muslim soldiers on alert for an invasion of Tibet in 1942. Ma Bufang complied, and moved several thousand troops to the border with Tibet. Chiang also threatened the Tibetans with aerial bombardment if they worked with the Japanese. Ma Bufang attacked the Tibetan Buddhist Tsang monastery in 1941. He also constantly attacked the Labrang monastery.
In October 1950 the army of the People’s Republic of China marched to the edge of the Dalai Lama’s territory and sent a delegation after defeating a legion of the Tibetan army in warlord-controlled Kham. On 17 November 1950, at the age of 15, the 14th Dalai Lama was enthroned formally as the temporal ruler of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama’s formal rule was brief. He sent a delegation to Beijing, which ratified the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet. He worked with the Chinese government: in September 1954, together with the 10th Panchen Lama he went to the Chinese capital to meet Mao Zedong and attend the first session of the National People’s Congress as a delegate, primarily discussing China’s constitution. On 27 September 1954, he was selected as a Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, a post which was left to him until 1964.
In 1956, on a trip to India to celebrate the Buddha’s Birthday, the Dalai Lama asked the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, if he would allow him political asylum should he choose to stay. Nehru discouraged this as a provocation against peace, and reminded him of the Indian Government’s non-interventionist stance agreed upon with its 1954 treaty with China. The CIA, with the Korean War only recently over, offered the Dalai Lama assistance. In 1956, a large rebellion broke out in eastern Kham, an ethnically Tibetan region in Sichuan province. To support the rebels, the CIA launched a covert action campaign against the Communist Chinese. A secret military training camp for the Khampa guerrillas was established at Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado, in the U.S. The guerrillas attacked Communist forces in Amdo and Kham but were gradually pushed into Central Tibet.
At the outset of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, fearing for his life, the Dalai Lama and his retinue fled Tibet with the help of the CIA’s Special Activities Division, crossing into India on 30 March 1959, reaching Tezpur in Assam on 18 April. Some time later he set up the Government of Tibet in Exile in Dharamshala, India, which is often referred to as “Little Lhasa”. After the founding of the government in exile he re-established the approximately 80000 Tibetan refugees who followed him into exile in agricultural settlements. He created a Tibetan educational system in order to teach the Tibetan children the 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 in 1967. He supported the refounding of 200 monasteries and nunneries in an attempt to preserve Tibetan Buddhist teachings and the Tibetan way of life.
His appealed to the United Nations on the rights of Tibetans. This appeal resulted in three resolutions adopted by the General Assembly in 1959, 1961, and 1965, all before the People’s Republic was allowed representation at the United Nations. The resolutions called on China to respect the human rights of Tibetans. In 1963, he promulgated a democratic constitution which is based upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, creating an elected parliament and an administration to champion his cause. In 1970, he opened the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamshala which houses over 80,000 manuscripts and important knowledge resources related to Tibetan history, politics and culture. It is considered one of the most important institutions for Tibetology in the world.
Giving public talks for non-Buddhist audiences and interviews and teaching Buddhism to large public audiences all over the world, as well as to private groups at his residence in India, appears to be the Dalai Lama’s main activity. Despite becoming 80 years old in 2015 he maintains a busy international lectures and teaching schedule. His public talks and teachings are usually webcast live in multiple languages, via an inviting organisation’s website, or on the Dalai Lama’s own website. Scores of his past teaching videos can be viewed there, as well as public talks,conferences, interviews, dialogues and panel discussions.
He is the author of numerous books on Buddhism, many of them on general Buddhist subjects but also including books on particular topics likeDzogchen, a Nyingma practice.
He frequently accepts requests from students to visit various countries world-wide in order to give teachings to large Buddhist audiences, teachings that are usually based on classical Buddhist texts and commentaries, and most often those written by the 17 pandits or great masters of theNalanda tradition, such as Nagarjuna, Kamalashila, Shantideva, Atisha, Ayradeva and so on.
The Dalai Lama sees important common ground between science and Buddhism in having the same approach to challenge dogma on the basis of empirical evidence that comes from observation and analysis of phenomena.
Apart from time spent teaching Buddhism and fulfilling responsibilities to his Tibetan followers, the Dalai Lama has probably spent, and continues to spend, more of his time and resources investigating the interface between Buddhism and science through the ongoing series of Mind and Life dialogues and its spin-offs than on any other single activity. As the Institute’s Cofounder and the Honorary Chairman he has personally presided over and participated in all its dialogues, which continue to expand world-wide.
His appeal is variously ascribed to his charismatic personality, international fascination with Buddhism, his universalist values, international sympathy for the Tibetans, and western sinophobia. In the 90’s, many films were released by the American film industry about Tibet, including biopics of the Dalai Lama. This is attributed to both the Dalai Lama’s 1989 Nobel Peace Prize as well as to the euphoria following the Fall of Communism. The most notable films, Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet (both released in 1997), portrayed “an idyllic pre-1950 Tibet, with a smiling, soft-spoken Dalai Lama at the helm – a Dalai Lama sworn to non-violence”: portrayals the Chinese government decried as ahistorical. Trevor Manuel, a South African official, publicly criticised the Dalai Lama’s politics and lamented a taboo on criticism of him, saying “To say anything against the Dalai Lama is, in some quarters, equivalent to trying to shoot Bambi”.
After the Tiananmen Square protests of 89, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the him with the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. The Committee officially gave the prize to the Dalai Lama for “the struggle of the liberation of Tibet and the efforts for a peaceful resolution” and “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi” although the President of the Committee also said that the prize was intended to put pressure on China, which was reportedly infuriated that the award was given to a separatist.