Born a peasant. Raised a "living god". Respected and revered by millions, hated and feared by a brutal regime. One man’s incredible 69 year journey.
Born on the 6th of June in 1935 the fourth son and fifth child to poor peasant parents Lharma Dhondrub
was to grow up to become a focal point of a nation that was soon to undergo cataclysmic change.
Whether by spiritual intervention or just plain chance this baby boy was to grow to become a symbol of hope not only for his own people but also for many people of different races and religions around the world.
Lharma Dondrub or as he is better known today the 14th Dalai Lama
, spiritual leader of the worlds Tibetan Buddhists and temporal leader in exile of Tibet, was born in Takster northwestern Tibet
on July 6 1935.
At the age of two a vision by the Regent of Tibet
led a team of Buddhists monks to this poor rural area where the two year old Lharma Dondrub was identified as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama and thus the incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion
Taken with his family to Lhasa
the capital of Tibet the young Lama was renamed Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsong Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso
, the “Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate defender of the faith, Ocean of Wisdom” and installed as the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists in a ceremony in February 1940.
The Dalai Lama commenced his education at the age of six and went on to complete a Doctorate of Buddhist Philosophy
at the age of 25 in 1959.
Given his position as a "living God" his childhood was understandably a lonely one. Something of this can be garnered from what he said in latter life that, after he granted an amnesty to prisoners upon the invasion of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China
in 1950, he felt extremely lonely as he was no longer able to watch, from his Lhasa palace, prisoners exercising in the yard of a nearby jail. His only view then of an outside world
On November 17 1950 with 80,000 Chinese troops amassed on Tibet’s borders a 15 year old Tenzin Gyatso was rushed into assuming full temporal powers and appointed head of the Tibetan government and state.
On March 10 1959 increased repression of the Tibetans by the Chinese resulted in a general uprising and Lhasa erupted in riot. It was decided that the young Dalai Lama for his own safety and for the good of the Tibetan people could not fall into the hands of the Chinese so disguised as a soldier he began a 3 week trek out of Tibet into India and a life long exile.
As a result of the brutal suppression of the uprising and the Lama’s move, some 80,000 Tibetens followed him to Dharamsala
India known as “little Lhasa
” where the young Lama and his entourage set up the Tibetan Government in exile and began providing for their fellow refugees.
In what was to prove prophetic upon hearing of his daring escape Mao Zedong
is reported to have said in reference to the importance of the Lama’s escape
“in that case we have lost the battle”
In keeping with Mao’s prophecy to this day and as a direct result of the Dalai Lama's presence China never truly has won the “battle”
A Traveling Lama
In 1967 with his followers settled in Dharamsala and with a Tibetan Buddhist cultural “infrastructure” in place the Dalai Lama began the first of his world trips to promote the cause of Tibet freedom.
His ‘jetsetting” over the ensuing 37 years would see him visit some 47 countries, many several times over, and meet thousands of prominent people including two Popes, Archbishops of Canterbury, royalty, presidents and prime ministers and world celebrities.
Initially he campaigned tirelessly for Tibet’s freedom from Chinese rule but as the years passed the realization that achieving this by other than violent means was impossible slowly dawned and in 1987 he proposed a “Five Point Peace Plan
” which altered significantly his stance on the Tibet issue.
The proposal called for a cessation of the transfer of large number of Han Chinese to Tibet, restoration of fundamental human rights, democratic freedoms and abandonment of China’s use of Tibet as a dumping ground for nuclear waste.
This was followed in 1988 by what has come to be called the Strasbourg Proposal
where the “Five Point Plan” was expanded to calling for a self governing state “in association” with the Chinese. Whilst the “Strasbourg Proposal” was repudiated by the Tibetan Government in Exile in 1991 due to China’s failure to enter negotiations the basic proposal has remained the Dalai Lama’s agenda since then.
Awards and Recognition
The Dalai Lama's position of mediation and a peaceful resolution of Tibet's situation along with his general promotion of peace in the world have brought him countless awards and recognition.
In 1989 he received the Raoul Wallengburg Congressional Human Rights Award
from the United States Congress and later that year the Nobel Peace Prize
. As well he has been the recipient of numerous honorary doctorates from Universities worldwide.
He is also actively involved with many charities for the Tibetan peoples.
The Dalai Lama lives in a small cottage in Dharamsala where when he is not touring the world he arises daily between 3.30 am and 4 am to pray and meditate before beginning his working day attending to administration duties. Each day likewise ends in prayer and meditation.
He is a tall man by Tibetan standards and rather ‘chunky’. Suffering from poor eyesight from an early age he wears eyeglasses that have become somewhat of a trademark along with his flowing saffron robes.
His laughter, which he employs often, is deep and reverberating though sometimes sounding as a high nervous chuckle.
According to various reports he is a keen gardener and environmentalists who loves listening to the BBC in his leisure hours. Despite being treated by some inexperienced journalists as if he has just emerged from some Buddhist cave he is an extremely astute man who suffers fools lightly especially the aforesaid journalists. Many a journalist has come away with the distinct impression of not being “liked” by him.
Despite his life’s goal of seeing Tibet again and an autonomous Tibet going unfulfilled he remains at peace with the world and recently complained that he looks like going to his grave never having experienced the common human condition of “depression”
Relations With China
Mao’s words have proven to be one hundred percent correct. The Dalai Lama’s freedom has been a constant thorn in the side of China’s claim of legitimacy of their rule over Tibet.
Even today despite the passing of some 45 years since the dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet and despite his public position of acceptance of Chinese rule, albeit with riders as to Tibet self determination, the Chinese Government pursue him with an almost maniacal obsession.
Continually denouncing him as a “separatist” despite his stated conciliatory position, maintaining constant media propaganda in an attempt to counter his growing influence and badgering, bribing and threatening foreign governments over his visits to their countries, the Chinese government display symptoms of extreme paranoia.
The Lama himself has even said that he owes much of his “celebrity” to the Chinese themselves. If they had only forgotten about him, he said, so would have the world
Does he hate China for what it has done to his people and himself? The deaths of some 1 million Tibetans and the rape of their culture? The answer is no. In 1996 he was quoted by Asia Week as saying with a touch of his wry humor
“I pray for Tibet everyday. But I also pray for China. I’m optimistic. Of course I have been optimistic for 37 years now.”
The Dalai Lama favorite saying is that he is “just a simple monk - nothing more and nothing less” but the reality is something very different..
”, as the Tibetan people call him, is revered by his people in Tibet.
Whilst it is a criminal offence to have a photo of the Dalai Lama in Tibet many risk jail by doing so. Western tourists apparently are stopped numerous times in Tibet and asked whether they have his picture by adoring Tibetan followers longing to see his image.
So great is his effect on the people that there are numerous reports of simple Tibetans collapsing in his presence overcome by raw emotion at meeting him.
The Lama jokes that the Tibetan people only love him because they never have had to be directly ruled by him but it is far greater than that.
As long as he lives he is the embodiment of their culture, their history, their religion and their hope in a better tomorrow. He is their leader who bravely at the age of 19 traveled to Peking to meet face to face with Mao Zedong and Chou En Lai to plead for his people.
He is the person who has championed their cause to a wider world that would have long forgotten them by now if not for him
Despite this obvious love of him not all Tibetans universally support him however. There are many, especially among young Tibetans in Diaspora who have never seen their motherland, who are at odds with his stance of peaceful resolution of differences between China and Tibet and his acceptance of Chinese rule.
With the hot bloodedness of youth and the lack of actual experience of the reality that is modern day Tibet they call for the use of violence to overcome Chinese rule, a position that The Dalai lama will not countenance
The Lama has far transcended his role as just the spiritual leader of a small number of people practicing an arcane religion in a remote part of the world to become increasingly of far wider importance to many people worldwide
His history, his promotion of peace and his message of a tranquil life in a world increasingly numbed by brutality has drawn a wider group of supporters who see the Lama as being something pure and simple in an non pure and complicated world.
His acceptance of other faiths and his not being seen as a “recruiter” for Buddhism is also respected. He said at the World Congress of Faith
in London in 1981
“I always believe that it is much better to have a variety of religions, a variety of philosophies rather than a single religion or philosophy. This is necessary because of the different mental dispositions of each human being. Each religion has certain unique ideas or techniques and learning about them can only enrich one’s own faith”
He also counsels people from not seeking Buddhism as a panacea but rather to use Buddhist techniques to better practice their own religions. At every event he is involved in organizing he asks for at least one inter-faith event to be held coincident with his own
The measure of his growing relevancy to a non Buddhist world can be seen in his is 2004 world trips where at every occasion he is being greeted by more and more people willing to pay between $20 and $100 to hear him speak.
Only recently an appearance planned for later this year at Florida University has to be moved to a stadium to accommodate some 13,000 “fans”. A trip to Canada earlier in the year witnessed similar phenomena as people came from as far away as the United States to hear him speak and larger venues had to be found to accommodate them.
Much speculation abounds as to what will become of the Tibet issue and Tibetan Buddhism when the Dalai Lama dies. The Lama himself has indicated that the decision as to whether the position of Dalai lama continues is entirely up to the Tibetan people. It is unlikely someone like him, moulded as he was by exceptional circumstances can be found again.
He has said though, in obvious counter to any attempts by the Chinese upon his death to install a puppet Dalai Lama as they have attempted to do with the position of Panchen Lama
, that any reincarnation of him will not be found under Chinese control.
As he has escaped communist rule so has the spirit of the Buddha and by inference the spirit of the Tibetan people.
Happy Birthday Dalai Lama your position in the history of the world is assured