Dalai Lamas are the head monks of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama was born as Lhamo Dondrub (or Thondup) on July 6, 1935 in the small Chinese hamlet of Taktser, Qinghai (also known to Tibetans as Amdo).
His family were farmers and horse traders. He was one of seven children. His eldest brother Thupten Jigme Norbu had been recognized at the age of eight as the reincarnation of the high Lama Taktser Rinpoche.
He grew up speaking, in his own words, “a broken Xining language which was (a dialect of) Chinese” as his family did not speak the Tibetan language.
The 13th Dalai Lama had predicted the invasion of Tibet and announced that he would die early, in order that his new incarnation and successor would be old enough to act as a leader for the Tibetan people at the time of this invasion. He died a few months later in Lhasa, on December 17, 1933.
It was said that, amongst other omens, the head of the embalmed body of the 13th 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 in 1937.
The two year old Lhamo Dondrub was presented with various relics, including toys, some of which had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama and some of which had not.
It was reported that he had correctly identified all the items owned by the previous Dalai Lama, exclaiming, “That’s mine! That’s mine!”
The Chinese Muslim General Ma Bufang did not want a 14th Dalai Lama. Ma Bufang unsuccessfully stationed his men to place the newly identified Dalai Lama under effective house arrest, saying it was needed for “protection”, refusing to permit his travel to Tibet.
A bribe was paid, and the small boy eventually arrived in Tibet.
Due to his young age, the regent acted as the head of the Kashag.
His monastic education then commenced at the age of six years old.
At the age of 11, he met the Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, who became his videographer and tutor about the world outside Lhasa.
Then on November 17, 1950, at the age of 15, he was formally recognized as the reincarnated 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.
At the age of 23, the Dalai Lama took his final examination at Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple during the annual Monlam or prayer Festival. He passed with Honor’s and was awarded the Lharampa degree, the highest-level geshe degree, roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.
Then during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, fearing for his life, the Dalai Lama had to flee to India with the help of the CIA, where he denounced the People’s Republic and established a Tibetan government in exile.
The Dalai Lama has since traveled the world, advocating for the welfare of Tibetans, teaching Tibetan Buddhism and talking about the importance of compassion as the source of a happy life.
In 1989, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Today, his devotees, as well as much of the Western world, often call him His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Around the world, institutions still face pressure from China not to accept him.
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