14th Dalai Lama, also called Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, Bstan-’dzin-rgya-mtsho, or Tenzin Gyatso, original name Lhamo Dhondup, (born 6 July 1935, Tibet)
The Dalai Lama is the title for a Tibetan Budhhist monk who has advanced spiritually and has returned to the world after death driven by compassion. The 14th Dalai Lama was the first to become a global leader, due to his advocacy for Buddhism and Tibetan human rights.
The Dalai Lama line began in the 14th Century but it is believed that the line extends further back in history to include the first Buddhist kings of the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. Many believe that the Dalai Lamas are human embodiments of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion and the protector of Tibet.
In the tradition of finding the next Dalai Lama, the authority and responsibility was handed to the regent. The regent would be responsible for locating and educating the next Dalai Lama. A young boy named Lhamo Dhondup, the son of a farmer, was identified to be the next Dalai Lama. After passing some tests, him and his family were escorted to Lhasa and the 14th Dalai Lama was ordained on February 22, 1940. Now as a Buddhist monk, the young Dalai Lama left his family and moved into the Potala Palace, the residence of the Dalai Lamas and the seat of Tibetan government. Here he began a rigorous monastic education under the tutelage of distinguished scholars.
In 1949, the Chinese communists took over China and claimed that Tibet was part of the ‘Chinese motherland’. With a crisis looming and violence breaking out across Tibet, the Dalai Lama, at the age of 15, was appointed head of state on 17 November 1950. On 23 May 1951, a Tibetan delegation in Beijing signed a “Seventeen-Point Agreement” (under duress), ceding control of Tibet to China. On 9 September 1951, Chinese troops then marched into Lhasa. Over the next seven and a half years, the Dalai Lama sought to protect the interests of the Tibetan people. He departed China in 1954 for a year-long tour, during which he met with China’s leader Mao Zedong. Two years later, the Dalai Lama traveled to India to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment.
The Dalai Lama then returned to Tibet, only to find the situation worse. Despite the turmoil, the Dalai Lama sat for his examination for the rank of geshe (“spiritual friend”), the highest scholastic achievement in the Dge-lugs-pa sect in February 1959. Rumours that Chinese authorities planned to kidnap the Dalai Lama led to a popular uprising in Lhasa on 10 March 1959. Mass civil unrest led to a breakdown in communications between the Dalai Lama’s government and Chinese military authorities. Disguised as a Tibetan soldier, the Dalai Lama escaped and sought refuge in India.
In light of China’s invasion of Tibet, thousands of Tibetans followed the Dalai Lama into exile. Many of them set up farms and Buddhist monasteries across India. While in exile, the Dalai Lama’s mission was to preserve Tibetan culture and to look out for the welfare of Tibetan refugees. In the 1970’s the Dalai Lama began travelling internationally to Europe and North America to spread awareness of the Tibetan struggle and to share the main tenets of Buddhism. For his efforts, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
In 2011 the Dalai Lama stepped down as the political head of the Tibetan government-in-exile. The 14th Dalai Lama, now aged 85, continues to spread the message of peace and advocating for Tibetan human rights. He was the first Dalai Lama to achieve a high level of visibility to the struggle of Tibetans and has also become the most famous Buddhist teacher in the world.