Who is the Dalai Lama?
The Dalai Lamas are believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are realized beings, inspired by the wish to attain complete enlightenment, who have vowed to be reborn in the world to help all living beings.
The current Dalai Lama describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk.
He was born on 6 July 1935, to a farming family, in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, northeastern Tibet. At the age of two, the child, then named Lhamo Dhondup, was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso.
His Holiness began his monastic education at the age of six. The curriculum, derived from the Nalanda tradition, consisted of five major and five minor subjects. The major subjects included logic, fine arts, Sanskrit grammar, and medicine, but the greatest emphasis was given to Buddhist philosophy which was further divided into a further five categories: 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. The five minor subjects included poetry, drama, astrology, composition and synonyms.
At 23, His Holiness sat for his final examination in Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple, during the annual Great Prayer Festival (Monlam Chenmo) in 1959. He passed with honors and was awarded the Geshe Lharampa degree, equivalent to the highest doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.
In 1950, after China’s invasion of Tibet, His Holiness was called upon to assume full political power. In 1954, he went to Beijing and met with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping and Chou Enlai. Finally, in 1959, following the brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops, His Holiness was forced to escape into exile. Since then he has been living in Dharamsala, northern India.
In India, the Central Tibetan Administration led by His Holiness, appealed to the United Nations to consider the question of Tibet. The General Assembly adopted three resolutions on Tibet in 1959, 1961 and 1965.
Much happen over the years since the invasion of Tibet including the Charter of Tibetans in Exile and in May 1990, as a result of His Holiness’s reforms the Tibetan administration in exile was fully democratized. The Tibetan Cabinet (Kashag), which until then had been appointed by His Holiness, was dissolved along with the Tenth Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies (the Tibetan parliament in exile). In the same year, exiled Tibetans living in India and more than 33 other countries elected 46 members to an expanded Eleventh Tibetan Assembly on a one-person one-vote basis. That Assembly then elected the members of a new cabinet.
In September 2001, in a further step towards democratization the Tibetan electorate directly elected the Kalon Tripa, the Chairman of the Cabinet. The Kalon Tripa appointed his own cabinet who then had to be approved by the Tibetan Assembly. This was the first time in Tibet’s long history, that the people had elected their political leaders. Since the direct election of the Kalon Tripa, the custom by which the Dalai Lamas, through the institution of the Ganden Phodrang, have held temporal as well as spiritual authority in Tibet, has come to an end.
Since 2011, when he devolved his political authority to the elected leadership, His Holiness has described himself as retired.
The Dalai Lama is a man of peace. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.
His Holiness has travelled to more than 67 countries spanning 6 continents, including Australia and New Zealand. He has received over 150 awards, honorary doctorates, prizes, etc., in recognition of his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion. He has also authored or co-authored more than 120 books.
His Holiness has held discussions with heads of different religions and participated in many events promoting inter-religious harmony and understanding and since the mid-1980s, His Holiness has engaged in a dialogue with modern scientists, mainly in the fields of psychology, neurobiology, quantum physics and cosmology. This has led to a historic collaboration between Buddhist monks and world-renowned scientists in trying to help individuals achieve peace of mind. It has also resulted in the addition of modern science to the traditional curriculum of Tibetan monastic institutions re-established in exile.
As far back as 1969, His Holiness made clear that whether or not a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should be recognised was a decision for the Tibetan people, the Mongolians and people of the Himalayan regions to make. However, in the absence of clear guidelines, there was a clear risk that, should the concerned public express a strong wish to recognise a future Dalai Lama, vested interests could exploit the situation for political ends. Therefore, on 24 September 2011, clear guidelines for the recognition of the next Dalai Lama were published, leaving no room for doubt or deception.
His Holiness has declared that when he is about ninety years old, he will consult leading Lamas of Tibet’s Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people with an interest in Tibetan Buddhism and assess whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue after him.
His statement also explored the different ways in which the recognition of a successor could be done. If it is decided that a 15th Dalai Lama should be recognized, responsibility for doing so will rest primarily on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust. They should consult the various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the reliable oath-bound Dharma Protectors who are linked inseparably to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. They should seek advice and direction from these concerned parties and carry out the procedures of search and recognition in accordance with their instruction. He further warned that apart from a reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including agents of the People’s Republic of China.
His Holiness’s Principal Commitments
Firstly, as a human being, His Holiness is committed to the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline. He says that as human beings we are all the same. We all want happiness and do not want suffering. Even people who do not believe in religion can benefit if they incorporate these human values into their lives. His Holiness refers to such human values as secular ethics or universal values. He is committed to talking about the importance of such values and sharing them with everyone he meets.
Secondly, as a religious practitioner, His Holiness is committed to the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religious traditions. Despite philosophical differences between them, all major world religions have the same potential to create good human beings. It is therefore important for all religious traditions to respect one another and recognize the value of their respective traditions. The idea that there is one truth and one religion is relevant to the individual practitioner. However, with regard to the wider community, we need to recognise that there are several truths and several religions.
Thirdly, His Holiness is a Tibetan and as the ‘Dalai Lama’ is the focus of the Tibetan people’s hope and trust. Therefore, his third commitment is to work to preserve Tibet’s Buddhist culture, which is a culture of peace and non-violence and protect the natural environment of Tibet.
In addition, His Holiness has lately spoken of his commitment to reviving awareness of the value of ancient Indian knowledge among young Indians today. His Holiness is convinced that the rich ancient Indian understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions, as well as the techniques of mental training, such as meditation, developed by Indian traditions, are of great relevance today. Since India has a long history of logic and reasoning, he is confident that its ancient knowledge, viewed from a secular, academic perspective, can be combined with modern education. He considers that India is, in fact, specially placed to achieve this combination of ancient and modern modes of knowing in a fruitful way so that a more integrated and ethically grounded way of being in the world can be promoted within contemporary society.