Life and work of the Dalai Lama

by Mia Fischer July 13, 2019 6 min read

Dalai Lama - buddhakind

Life and work of the Dalai Lama 

"We do not live to believe, but to learn." (Dalai Lama) 

On July 6, 1935, the son of a peasant family named Lhamo Dhondup, who would later make history as his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, was born in the small village of Taktser in Amdo Province, northeastern Tibet. When the boy was two years old, he was recognised as the reincarnation of His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, and officially declared the 14th Dalai Lama at the age of four. Although he is the spiritual leader of Tibet, he still describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk. 

In Tibet, the Dalai Lamas are incarnations of Chenrezig or Avalokiteshvara. He is the Bodhisattva of universal compassion and patron of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have chosen to be reborn on earth to serve humanity by transcending the suffering of earthly existence and attaining Buddhahood during their lifetime. 

Monastic education in Tibet 

"Knowing and doing nothing is like not knowing." (Dalai Lama) 

As early as at the age of six the young Dalai Lama started his education as a monk. He also received his religious name: Tenzin Gyatso, the abbreviation of Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso. His main subjects included fine arts, logic, Sanskrit grammar, and medicine. However, the main focus of his education was on Buddhist philosophy. 

At the age of 23, in 1959, the Dalai Lama passed his final exam with distinction as part of the annual Great Prayer Festival at Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. He was then awarded the degree of Geshe Lharampa, which corresponds to the highest doctoral degree in Buddhist philosophy. 

Political leadership responsibility 

"The most difficult time in our lives is the best opportunity to develop inner strength." (Dalai Lama) 

In 1950, the Chinese invaded Tibet. Now, the spiritual leader of the country had to take full political power. Back then, the Dalai Lama was only 15 years old. His meetings with Chinese politicians were mainly unsuccessful. After Chinese troops violently and brutally repressed the Tibetan people's uprising in Lhasa in 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to flee. Ever since, he has lived in exile in Dharamsala in the north of India. 

From exile, the Tibetan Central Administration, led by the Dalai Lama, turned to the United Nations. The UN General Assembly then passed three Tibet resolutions - 1959, 1961 and 1965. 

Peace initiatives of the Dalai Lama 

"In the end, human determination and truth will prevail over violence and oppression." (Dalai Lama) 

In 1987, His Holiness the Dalai Lama held a speech to the members of the US Congress in Washington, DC. In his speech, he presented a five-point peace plan for Tibet. This was intended as a first step towards the peaceful settlement of the situation in Tibet, which had worsened progressively. The five points of this peace plan were as follows: 

  1. Transform Tibet into a zone of peace, 
  2. End the Chinese policy of population transfer, which poses a threat to the very existence of the Tibetans as a people, 
  3. Recognise and respect the fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms of the people of Tibet, 
  4. Protecting and Restoring Tibet's nature and environment and prohibiting China to use Tibet for both the production of nuclear weapons and nuclear waste disposal. 
  5. Serious negotiations on the future status of the nation of Tibet and relations between the peoples of Tibet and China. 

In 1988, the Dalai Lama gave a speech to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He took the opportunity to elaborate in detail on the last point of the Five Point Peace Plan. Through talks between Chinese and Tibetans, he hoped to bring about the merger of the three Tibetan provinces, which should form a self-governed democracy. At the same time, this merger would be linked to the People's Republic of China. The Chinese government would continue to have control over Tibet's foreign policy and military defence. 

International recognition 

"The life of all living beings, be they humans, animals or others, is precious and everyone has the same right to be happy. Everything that lives on our planet, the birds and the wild animals are our companions. They are part of our world, we share it with them. "(Dalai Lama) 

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has dedicated his entire life to peace. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent struggle in the name of the liberation of the nation of Tibet. Although he often saw himself and his people exposed to extreme aggression, he always advocated a policy of nonviolence. In addition, he was the first Nobel laureate awarded for his concern for global environmental issues. 

His Holiness has travelled a lot. During his travels, he has visited more than 67 countries on all six continents. For his message of nonviolence and peace, interreligious dialogue, universal responsibility and compassion, the Dalai Lama has received more than 150 prizes, awards and honorary doctorates. Furthermore, he wrote and co-authored over 110 books. 

Over the years, His Holiness has held numerous discussions with leading representatives of various religions, and participated in countless events promoting interreligious communication and harmony. 

Since the 1980s, the Dalai Lama has engaged with modern scientists, especially in the fields of quantum physics and cosmology as well as psychology and neuroscience. As a result, Buddhist monks and internationally renowned scientists have worked together to work out insights and methods that will help people achieve their inner peace. These collaborations 

have also resulted in modern science being added to the traditional curriculum in monastic schools established in Tibetan exile. 

The political retirement of the Dalai Lama 

"Live a good, respectable life! When you are older and think back, you will be able to enjoy it again. "(Dalai Lama) 

In the spring of 2011, His Holiness turned to the Tibetan Parliament in exile with a written request: He asked to be released from his political power. He ended the tradition, which was in place since the fifth Dalai Lama, and according to which the Dalai Lamas in Tibet exercised both spiritual and secular power. He also announced his intention to resume the status of the first four Dalai Lamas. These had dealt exclusively with spiritual matters. From now on, the country's democratically elected leadership would take over all political responsibility for Tibet. 

In May 2011, the 14th Dalai Lama signed the document officially declaring his political retirement and handing over his political power to the democratically elected government of the people of Tibet. After 368 years, the tradition that a Dalai Lama was not only the spiritual, but also the secular head of Tibet was ended. 

Future of the tradition of the Dalai Lamas 

"Embrace change, but do not lose sight of your values." (Dalai Lama) 

The reincarnation of a Dalai Lama can come from the entire Tibetan people. This has been the tradition of Tibet since the second Dalai Lama. For the finding and recognition of the Avalokiteshvara, the next Dalai Lama, certain signs and references are used, which the incumbent Dalai Lama indicates. They say, one of the signs that led to the finding of the current Dalai Lama was a vision of a "house with a blue roof". Apparently, another indication of a valid reincarnation of the Cherenzig is when a candidate, usually a toddler, spontaneously recognises members of the Dalai Lama’s family without ever having seen them, or from a series of similar items identifies those which belong to the current Dalai Lama. 

Due to a lack of directives, there is a great risk that certain parties might try to exploit the situation for selfish purposes if the peoples of Tibet, Mongolia and the Himalayas express their desire to appoint a successor to the 14th Dalai Lama. For this reason, clear guidelines were announced in 2011 for the recognition of the future Dalai Lama, leaving no room for doubt or even deception. 

At about the age of ninety, the Dalai Lama seeks to consult with leading lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, as well as the Tibetan public and others interested in Tibetan Buddhism, and then assess the institution and tradition of the Dalai Lamas and the possibility to have a successor. 

His Holiness will leave clear written instructions explaining how the process of election and appointment of his potential successor should take place. In addition, in his 2011 statement, he formulated an explicit warning that only a reincarnation should be valid, which was recognised by legal methods, and that no aspirant, chosen for political reasons whatsoever, will be accepted or even acknowledged. 

 

Mia Fischer
Mia Fischer


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