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The word Dalai Lama attributes its origins to the Mongolic and Tibetan language. ’Dalai’ in Mongolian means “ocean”- which can be traced to the Mongolian title Dalaiyin qan or Dalaiin khan, and the ‘Lama’ emerges from the Tibetan word “bla-ma” meaning “guru, teacher, mentor”.

An Introduction

This might come as a surprise to many that Dalai Lama is not a person but a leadership position. The Dalai Lama is essentially a monk who disciplines from the “Yellow Hat” or Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Je Tsongkhapa. The Dalai Lamas headed  the Tibetan government or most of the Tibetan plateau from 1642 until the 1950s, excluding the years between 1705 to 1750. Their period of rule was considered to be an era of sovereignty, peace and wisdom.The Dalai Lamas are regarded as the manifestations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. According to the belief, those who embrace the Bhodhisattva of Compassion reincarnate to serve people. Till date there have been 14 Dalai Lamas; His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, is the XIVth Dalai Lama.

How is The Dalai Lama found?

Unlike most other leadership positions, The Dalai Lama is not chosen, but found. No matter how much time & effort it takes, the high Lamas of Gelgupa keep searching. The Dalai Lama can be found through their dreams or visions. When the current Dalai Lama is cremated, direction of the smoke is sought to follow the rebirth. The High Lamas often meditate at central Tibet’s holy lake, Lhama La tso to seek vision that might indicate to rebirth of the holy spirit.

After a boy is found, he is assessed against a set of secret tasks. One of these tasks requires of him to select items owned by the previous Dalai Lama, from a set of items presented to him. After the Dalai Lama is found, he is sent to Lhasa to reacquire the Buddhist teachings he accumulated in his previous lives to take over the spiritual leadership. It took 4 years to find the 14thDalai Lama.

The 14th Dalai Lama


His Holiness was born to a peasant family in small village called Taktser in northeastern Tibet. Interestingly, at the age of two, according to the Tibetan tradition, the current Dalai Lama was recognised as the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama. Tibetans normally refer to His Holiness as Yeshin Norbu, the Wish-fulfilling Gem, or simply, Kundun, meaning The Presence.


He commenced his education at the ripe age of 6 and at the age of 25, he completed his Doctorate of Buddhist Philosophy. This is a remarkable feat and very difficult to achieve. Also during his final examination, in the morning he was examined by 30 scholars on logic, in the afternoon, he debated with 15 scholars on the subject of the Middle Path.In the evening, he was tested by 35 scholars on his knowledge of the canon of monastic discipline and metaphysics. His Holiness is in fact, an honors student.

Political life

At the age of 16, in 17 November 1950, His Holiness was enthroned to represent the Tibetan people.  Around this time His Holiness discussed the disparities in Tibet with the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at the 2500th Budha Jayanti celebrated in India. This was also a period of turmoil as Tibet was in constant tension owing to China’s iron fist over autonomy.  However, in 1951, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government were forced to concede to the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet by which it became formally incorporated into the People’s Republic of China.  

After the occupation of Tibet by China, His Holiness left for India to lead a government in exile, in 1959. And in 1960, the Dharamsala, referred to as “Little Lhasa”, became the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Also, in the 1960s the CIA funded the Dalai Lama with nearly 1.7 million US$ in an attempt to launch guerrilla operations against the Chinese.

Dalai Lama wanted a democracy to come into effect in Tibet. For the same purpose he launched into talks with the United Nations. As a result three resolutions with regards to Tibet were adopted by the General Assembly of the UN.

He also conducted a varied range of programs, and published a number of writings to increase awareness on the rich heritage of Tibet. He has even established a number of educational, cultural and religious institutions to preserve the Tibetan identity.

His Holiness is still the spiritual leader of Tibetan people and continues to resolve Tibetan issues. In 1987 he proposed a Five-Point Peace Plan to promote Tibet as a zone of peace. His goal throughout his governance has been to end to the intrusion of Chinese in Tibetan affairs and culture, also to restore fundamental human rights and democratic freedom to the Tibetans. He is against China’s aim to use of Tibet as the grounds for manufacturing nuclear weapons and dumping nuclear waste.

 His Rise to Fame

The 14th Dalai Lama, His Holiness has drawn acclaims from far and wide. This is not merely because of his boundless levels of knowledge or because of the peace he emanates. His Holiness has been successful in reaching out to people and leaders across the globe. Among the many places his teachings have reached, are United States, Canada, Western Europe, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Mongolia, Greece, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Nepal, Costa Rica, Mexico, the Vatican, China and Australia.

His reach has been extended to religious leaders as well. For instance His Holiness had met with the late Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, His Holiness Pope John Paul II,  even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie and the Roman Catholic and Jewish communities.

Dalai Lama, His Highness took it as an universal responsibility to promote peace in the world and educate nations on the importance of freedom. With his insightful speeches and inspirational gestures, His Holiness has created a huge interest in the field of Buddhist Philosophy. While there are a number of awards and accolades to his name, in 1989 His Holiness received the  Nobel Prize for his efforts in the struggle of the liberation of Tibet and the efforts for a peaceful resolution instead of using violence.


It isn’t everyday that we realize how blessed we are to have such compassionate and just leaders watch over us. If it weren’t for personalities like Dalai Lama; who sacrifice their lives and desires to deliver goodwill and hope to people, the world would be a living nightmare.

Recommended Books:

Dalai Lama’s famous works are:

    • The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living
    • Healing Anger: The Power Of Patience From A Buddhist Perspective
    •  The Way to Freedom
  • How To Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life
  • The Middle Way: Faith Grounded in Reason
  • Practicing Wisdom: The Perfection of Shantideva’s Bodhisattva Way
  • The Opening of the Wisdom-Eye: And the History of the Advancement of Buddhadharma in Tibet
  • The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality
  • Ethics for the New Millennium

Some exceptional biographies on Dalai Lama are:

  • Freedom in Exile. The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama. New York
  • My Land and My People. Memoirs of the Dalai Lama of Tibet
  • Ocean of Wisdom. Guidelines for Living. Santa Fe, N.M.: Clear Light Publ., 1989.
  • A Policy of Kindness. An Anthology of Writings by and about the Dalai Lama. Sidney Piburn, ed., Ithaca, NY Snow Lion Press, 1990.

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