The term ‘Dalai Lama’ is generally a title given to enlightened beings who must personify the very essence of compassion, peace, and wisdom. They are primarily monks from the Gelug or ‘Yellow Hat’ school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama serves an important role in that he is a symbol of unification of the state of Tibet, as well as a representation of Buddhist values and traditions.
The word ‘Dalai’ means ‘ocean’ in Mongolian, while ‘Lama’ is comparable to the Sanskrit word ‘guru’ or spiritual teacher. Thus, the term Dalai Lama in general means a ‘teacher spiritually as deep as the ocean’. The current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.
Dalai Lama: Early Years
Lhamo Thondup was born on July 6, 1935 in the remote Taktser village of Amdo, Tibet, which is politically part of the Chinese province of Qinghai. Little Lhamo was selected as a reincarnation of 13th Dalai Lama when he was only two years old. This was done by searching and following many significant spiritual signs for several months.
It was through the guidance of a vision that Lhamo Thondup was found. He was also subjected to a couple of tests. One of the tests consisted of showing various pairs of objects by the religious officials. One belonged to the late 13th Dalai Lama – the other did not. Without hesitation, little Lhamo would pick the right object every time. From then on, Lhamo was renamed as Tenzin Gyatso and proclaimed the 14th Dalai Lama.
At age six he began his religious education. He studied Tibetan art and culture, Sanskrit, logic, medicine, and Buddhist philosophy. At age 11, Tenzin had a fateful encounter with Austrian mountaineer, Heinrich Harrer. The two became friends as Harrer taught the 14th Dalai Lama about the outside world.
When he turned 15 in 1950, Tenzin held full political power. However, the People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet on October of the same year, cutting his leadership short. Despite peace talks with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders, their suppression of Tibetan people made matters more complex.
In 1959 during an uprising, the 14th Dalai Lama along with some of his followers fled to Dharamshala in northern India to avoid a supposedly assassination plot. There they established an alternative government, where they can also continue teaching the world about compassion, peace, and contentment. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama resides there as of this day.
Dalai Lama: Works and Teachings
As an important spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama has committed his life in the service of humanity. Occasionally, he would meet with political leaders to discuss topics on peace, environmental sustainability, and to share his wisdom. This is something that his predecessors were not able to do. The 14th Dalai Lama also talks on conferences and universities, as well as holds lectures and seminars at various institutions worldwide. The Dalai Lama wrote numerous books as well.
His message is always clear: that people should practice compassion and respect towards one another. As a public speaker, those who have had the chance to be his audience described him as charismatic and an effective narrator.
Aside from political leaders, the Dalai Lama has also met with religious leaders such as: Pope John Paul II; Dr. Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury; Gordon B. Hinckley, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Patriarch Alexius II, of the Russian Orthodox Church
The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his peaceful efforts for the liberation of Tibet, as well as his works to educate people regarding global environmental problems.
Truly, Tenzin Gyatso is an inspiration to us all to lead more self-disciplined, peaceful lives. For those seeking his wisdom, here are a couple of the best Dalai Lama quotes and sayings.
30 Dalai Lama Quotes on Compassion, Peace, and Life