rightThe present 14th Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the head of the government-in-exile of Tibet. He is revered as a living god by his people and his followers and condemned as a feudal, splittist devil by the Chinese. Soft-spoken and chubby, he lives in India, unable to even pay visits to his homeland, and spends his time traveling the world to gain support for the Tibetan cause and seeking a non-violent solution to Tibet’s problems.

The Dalai Lama was the most widely respected world leader in a survey conducted by the International Herald Tribune in 2008 in the United States and five European countries. Michael Powell wrote in the New York Times, “The Dalai Lama has traveled restlessly and spoken passionately about Tibet, “The fruits of his labors are many: The world is spotted with Tibetan centers, and prayer flags flap from Delhi to London to Zurich to Todt Hill in Staten Island. Tibetan culture is celebrated in Hollywood and in popular art.”

"The Dalai Lama is the world's greatest living example of nonviolence and compassion, accessible to followers of all faiths," The Columbia University Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman wrote in Time. "He refuses to convert anybody to Buddhism and preaches tolerance. He continues the lineage of spiritual activist descending from Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King." Even the Chinese acknowledge that “virtually all Tibetans have the Dalai in their hearts.”

The Dalai Lama is the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet and before his retirement in 2011 was the political leader of Tibetan exile community. He is known as His Holiness to Tibetan Buddhists and HHDL to his Twitter followers.

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “The Fourteenth Dalai Lama — Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Losang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, known to many Tibetans as "the Presence" — has a biography so ripe for mythmaking that Hollywood has sought to capture it on film several times — once directed by Martin Scorsese and once starring Brad Pitt. Despite his oft-stated intention to abandon political life ("Retirement is also my human right"), the Dalai Lama has served longer than Queen Elizabeth, Fidel Castro, and other durable leaders, having taken the throne at the age of five, notwithstanding the fact that, for most of that time, he has not had much to rule.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

“Officially, the Dalai Lama is the senior religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism, though most of his admirers know him from other pursuits. He has lent his name to at least a hundred books, on subjects ranging from ethics to the interaction between science and religion, and, more recently, "Business, Buddhism, and Happiness in an Interconnected World." (Some of these he wrote; many are edited collections of his speeches.) He is the unlikeliest avatar of the global age: a reincarnate lama who didn't set foot in the West until he was nearly forty and, to this day, holds no passport. (He travels on the yellow document of a refugee.) He has evolved from an oddity to a sage and a reluctant icon of endurance. When he alighted in Vancouver in 2004, tickets for his stadium speech sold out within twenty minutes, a spectacle that seemed to his biographer Pico Iyer as if "a president was visiting, in the company of Mick Jagger." [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

The Dalai Lama has received the kind of acclaim and adulation associated more with rock stars than religious leaders. In September 2003, over 65,000 people came to see him sit on stage and offer self-deprecating wisdom in English at New York’s Central Park. Among religious leaders, only the Pope and Bill Graham have drawn more people.

Websites and Sources: Official Dalai Lama site ; Early Dalai Lamas ; Dharamsala (Home of Dalai Lama ) site ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Dalai Lama Quotes ; Dalai Lama Foundation ; Nobel Prize Biography / ; Tibet: Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan government in Exile) ; Chinese Government Tibet website; Wikipedia article on Tibet Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Tibetan History Wikipedia ; Tibetan News site ; Books on the Dalai Lama: “The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama” by Pico Iyer (Knopf, 2008); “Kundun” by May Craig. The Dalai Lama’s autobiography is called “Freedom in Exile”. Film: “Unwinking Gaze”, a film about the Dalai Lama by Joshua Dugdale. Books by the Dalai Lama “Ethics for the New Millennium” by the Dalai Lama; “Freedom in Exile” by the Dalai Lama; “The Universe in a Single Atom” by the Dalai Lama; “The Wisdom of Forgiveness” by the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan

Early Life of Dalai Lama

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Dalai Lama's mother

The present and 14th Dalai Lama was born on July 6, 1935 in born in a mud and stone hut in the 20-family village known in Tibetan as Taktser ("Roaring Tiger"). Known in Chinese as Hongyacun, it is an hour by car today from Xining, the provincial capital of Qinghai, a remote and desolate region in western China formally known as Amdo region. The village is comprised of households clustered on a red-rock hill that villagers say resembles a crouching lion. His parents gave him the name Lhamo Dondrup (which means "Wish-fulfilling Goddess"). In his autobiography the Dalai Lama wrote: “my family was one of twenty or so making a living from the land there.”

Lhamo Dondrup was the ninth child and second son of peasant-farmers, Choekyong and Dekyi Tsering. He was born on the floor of a cow shed on his family’s farm. As a child he dressed in traditional Tibetan clothes and he spent the early years of his life in a square mud walled house without windows. His parents met for the first time at their wedding ceremony. They had 16 children but only seven survived past infancy.

Dalai Lama’s Family

The current Dalai Lama was born to a family of farmers in northeastern Tibet. His mother bore sixteen children, seven of whom survived. His father was a horseman with a short temper. The family was not rich, but it was well established: the boy's elder brother and great-uncle had been recognized as high-ranking lamas.

In 1957, the Dalai Lama's two brothers, who were in exile by then, put the CIA in touch with Tibetan insurgents and helped lauch the CIA’s secret war in Tibet in the 1960s. When the conflicted fizzled out in the mid 1970s one of the Dalai Lama’s brothers settled in Bloomington; another moved to Hong Kong; a third went to New Jersey, where, at one point, he worked as a school custodian known as Sam.

The Dalai Lama’s older brother Takster Rinpoche (Thubten Jigme Norbu) was recognized at the age of 3 as the reincarnated abbot of Kumbum monastery — one of the most important monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism — in Qinghai Province. He was active in the pro-independence movement and lived for more than forty years in Bloomington, Indiana, teaching Tibetan language and history at Indiana University in the United States. He died at the age of 86 in 2008.

Search for the Present Dalai Lama

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Golden urn

After the 13th Dalai Lama died on December 17, 1933, his body was found facing east. Monks later repositioned the head, which reputedly moved on its own to face northwest. There were also reports of rainbows arching across sky in the same direction. After the Tibetan oracle also faced northwest when he put on a mask and went into a trance, parties of monks organized to search for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama headed northwest.

Michael Powell wrote in the New York Times, “The search for the present Dalai Lama commenced in earnest in 1935 when the embalmed head of his deceased predecessor is said to have wheeled around and pointed toward northeastern Tibet. the story goes, a giant, star-shaped fungus grew overnight on the east side of the tomb. An auspicious cloud bank formed and a regent saw a vision of letters floating in a mystical lake, one of which — Ah — he took to refer to the northeast province of Amdo [Qinghai Province].”[Source: Michael Powell, New York Times, January 31, 2009]

The search parties looked for house near a three-story monastery with a turquoise and gold roof that a senior Lama saw in a dream. The monks found three children who fulfilled some of the requirements necessary to become the Dalai Lama. In Taktser, the village of one of the children, the arrival of the lamas had been preceded by several strange omens, including the arrival of many crows where crows had never been seen before. This was the village of two-year-old Lhamo Dondrup.

The Dalai Lama wrote in a 1990 memoir, "Freedom in Exile," the corpse of the previous Dalai Lama had turned its embalmed head to face northeastern Tibet; a senior monk peered into the waters of a sacred lake and saw letters that suggested "Amdo," the region in the northeast, as well as an image of the toddler's family house. When the party reached the home, they monitored the boy for days and then tested him by laying out prayer beads, drums, and other objects and asking him to identify which ones had belonged to the previous Dalai Lama.

Members of the search party arrived in Taktser disguised as traders. The group leader was dressed as a servant but was wearing a rosary that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. Two-year-old Lhamo Dhondrub asked for the rosary and was told he could have it if he guessed who he was talking to. The boy correctly said the leader dressed as a servant was ‘sera aga? — lama from Sera monastery. The boy also impressed the visitors by knowing other details about them.

The senior monk spent the evening observing the child, playing with him and giving him some tests. The young boy passed all the tests: he correctly other things that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama and he answered "the questions" correctly. He also had all the physical features that the Dalai Lama was supposed to have: large ear lobes, sad eyes, "tiger stripes" on his legs, and four or more of the eight important bodily marks.

Enthronement of the 14th Dalai Lama

right According to the Chinese, on December 12, 1938 a local Tibetan official reported to the Chairman of the Commission for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs of the Nationalist Government that three soul boys had been selected. On January 26, 1940, the Tibetan official sent a letter to the central government reporting that the clerical and lay populace of Tibet had chosen the soul boy Lhamo Dondrop to be the genuine reincarnation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.

When Lhamo Dhondrub was recognized as a reincarnated Dalai Lama he was renamed Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatsi (meaning "Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom"). Those around him sometimes call him Yeshe Norbu (the "Wish-fulfilling Gem”).

After being selected as a soul boy at the age of three, Lhamo Dondrup was brought to Taer Monetary near Xining, Qinghai Province, on a sacred white yak, escorted by three lamas sent from Lhasa to find him. After spending some time in Taer Monastery he was brought to Lhasa, where he was "hidden away like an owl," as he put it. Apart from tutors, and occasional visits with his family, his closest contacts were the sweepers who maintained the grounds, and whenever he was called to preside over long, elaborate ceremonies he worried, most of all, about whether his bladder would hold out. He was installed as the leader of 6 million Tibetan Buddhists in a ceremony at Potala Palace at the age of six.

On January 31, 1940, Chinese president Chiang Kai-shek authorized expenses for enthronement and sent a document that read "the Thirteenth Dalai Lama shall be enthroned as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama." On February 22, 1940, the enthronement ceremony for the four-year-old Dalai Lama was held at Potala Palace.

Dalai Lama's Training

After his enthronement, the Dalai Lama lived and underwent rigorous training at Norbulingka summer palace. He studied Tibetan art and culture, Sanskrit, medicine, and Buddhist philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology and logic. At the age of 24, he was awarded a Geshe Lharampa degree (doctorate in Buddhist philosophy).

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Scene from the film Kundun

During his training, the Dalai Lama lived in seclusion, slept on hard, woolen cushions, had no playmates, ate his meals alone, spent most of time meditating, praying or studying and associated mostly with old men. When he had he free time he liked to fix machines, shoot at his toys with an air rifle and take apart watches, a music box, and other devices. He spent so much time looking at the night sky through a telescope that he concluded, contrary to Tibetan beliefs, that the moon was not lit up from within.

As a child he had the run of Potala Palace. He learned calligraphy by copying his predecessors’ will.

When he as four he received envoys from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. When he was seven he was asked if Tibet could be used as part of transportation network to bring supplies to China during World War II. In 1942, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt sent the Dalai Lama a gold Rolex watch with a letter as a gesture to seek relations with Tibet. The monk often tells the story of the watch saying it helped spur his lifelong interest in science. “At the that time, my only interest is the gift of the watch, not the letter,” he said during a visit to Washington in 2010 when he was given a copy of the Roosevelt letter by U.S. President Barack Obama. The Dalai lama had the watch in his pocket when he was presented the Congressional Gold medal in 2007 by U.S. President George W. Bush.

The Dalai Lama’s education lasted almost two decades and included instruction in Buddhist metaphysics, Tibetan art and culture, logic, Sanskrit, and traditional medicine. He secured a “geshe” degree, a Buddhist equivalent of a Ph.D.

On his time at Norbulingka palace, the Dalai Lama wrote, "It was very pleasant there, and I was very happy. I remember everything was fresh, calm and peaceful. There were lots of flowers."

Heinrich Harrer and the Dalai Lama


Heinrich Harrer, a selfish Austrian mountain-climber with connections to the Nazi party, befriended the Dalai Lama and became his tutor. Featured in the film “Seven Years in Tibet”, the friendship began when Harrer was 37 and the Dalai Lama was 14. Harrer taught the Dalai Lama English and geography, informed him about Western customs, and explained the best he could how planes flew, tanks worked and atom bombs were detonated. Harrer and the Dalai Lama shared the same birthday, July 6.

Describing the first time he saw the Dalai Lama in a procession, Harrer wrote: "And now approached the yellow, silk-lined palanquin of the Living Buddha, gleaming like gold in the sunlight. The bearers were six-and-thirty men in green silk coats, wearing red plate-shaped caps. A monk was holding a huge iridescent sunshade made of peacock's feathers over the palanquin. The whole scene was a feast for the eyes — a picture revived from a long-forgotten fairy tale of the Orient." Anything the Dalai Lama touched, Harrer said, was seized as an auspicious object.

Explaining how he met Harrer, the Dalai Lama said, "We had an old movie projector and a generator which always broke down. My aides were afraid I'd be electrocuted." Harrer was called in. "In those days, we considered all Westerners to be experts in mechanical things...During his stay in Tibet, everyone liked him." To amuse himself the Dalai Lama used to take projector completely apart and put it back together.

Dalai Lama Begins to Lead Tibet

leftIn 1950 at the age of 15 the Dalai Lama assumed full political authority as China was invading eastern Tibet and preparing to take over all of Tibet. At that time the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, carried in a palanquin on the shoulder of the faithful. Heinrich Harrier wrote n National Geographic, “Pious Tibetans hurried from far-off settlements to see him, for being in his presence gave incomparable blessing...They lined the entire trail from Lhasa to Chumbi Valley 200 miles southwest with parallel rows of pebbles to protect their harried King from evil spirits.”

In 1947 a battle between the Tibetan Army and monks was triggered by arrests of the regent. The current Dalai Lama watch from Potala Palace with a telescope as monks shot at soldiers.

In 1954 the Dalai Lama declared himself a supporter of the Chinese Communist revolution, He was charmed by Mao when they met face to face but taken aback when Mao declared “religion is a poison.”

Dalai Lama Under Chinese Rule

The Dalai Lama was 16 when the Chinese entered Lhasa in 1950. He responded to the crisis by taking over his duties as the temporal leader of Tibet, two years before he was officially supposed to do so. "I had to put my boyhood behind me," he said, "and immediately prepare myself to lead my country, as well as I could, against the vast power of Communist China."

He wrote in Time, "I was very young when I first heard the word communist...Some monks who were helping me with my studies...had talked about the destruction that had taken place since the Communists came to Mongolia. We did not known anything about Marxist ideology. But we all feared destruction and thought of Communists with terror."

As a young man the Dalai Lama was deeply interested in Marxism. He was impressed by Chinese reforms and wrote poems praising Mao Zedong. In 1954, against the wishes of his people, he left for a year-long tour through China. The trip included a stop in Beijing and meetings with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai.

"It was only when I went to China in 1954-55 that I actually studied Marxist ideology and learned about the Chinese Revolution. Once I understood Marxism, my attitude changed completely. I was so attached to Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist party member."

"Tibet at that time was very, very backward. The ruling class did not seem to care, and there was much inequality. Marxism talked about an equal and just distribution of wealth. I was very much in favor of this.” His view changed when “the Chinese Communists brought to Tibet a so-called liberation.” “Chinese Communists carried out aggression and suppression in Tibet. Whenever there was opposition, it was simply crushed. They started destroying monasteries and killing and arresting lamas."

"In the beginning, I had hoped that we could find a peaceful solution. I even went to China to meet Chairman Mao. We had several meetings in 1955...Until the summer of 1956, the Chinese had some level of trust in me." That changed after he made a visit to India with Beijing approval and visited Tibetan freedom fighters there.

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Mao and the Dalai Lama in 1954

Dalai Lama with a Gun

An elderly Tibetan monk named Tashi Passang told William Dalrymple in an interview published in the Paris Review: "On the evening of March 15, 1959, I was one of twenty-five monks who were told we would have the chance to meet His Holiness. We assumed we were going to join the crowds gathering at Norbulingka. I was excited since I thought I might get to hear His Holiness give one of his public teachings. But we didn’t stop at Norbulingka. Instead we continued straight into the darkness. We crossed the wide Tsangpo River in a small boat, and for the next two days we walked and walked, through empty plains, with only hard balls of tsampa to eat. The monks who were leading us refused to tell us where we were going or what we were doing, and since we were all very junior monks we had no option but to obey. We finally stopped to rest at the village of Chi Thu Shae, a three-day walk from Lhasa. After two hours a party of Khampa horsemen turned up. Among them, to our amazement, was His Holiness, with a rifle strapped to his back. [Source: William Dalrymple, Paris Review, Spring 2010]

None of us recognized him at first, since he was dressed as an ordinary guard, but his spectacles gave him away. He had fled Lhasa in disguise, and we were told that it was our job to escort him. None of us knew he was heading into exile. I am not sure that even he knew it at that stage. All we knew was that we had to escape from the Chinese, and to prevent their soldiers from seizing the Dalai Lama. Of course we were excited, and honored. It was a great responsibility. We walked for several more days through harsh country, struggling to keep up with His Holiness, until we reached Lhuntse Dzong in the southeast.”

It was here that we met a rinpoche in the street. We asked him to release us from our vows a second time, since we were still wearing our monastic robes. We couldn’t fight the Chinese army while still wearing the robes of monks, and we felt strongly that we had to end this ambiguity. The first, very brief ceremony of giving back our vows at Dagpo had seemed very inadequate and hurried, and we were not sure what our exact status was. Were we monks or not? So the rinpoche gave us a lecture. He said, Just because you are giving back your vows, it doesn’t mean you can indulge in loose living and worldly affairs. You are doing this to protect the Dalai Lama. If necessary, you must fight the Chinese and even kill them. But don’t do anything else that will go against your monastic vows. We shed our robes and were given ordinary chubas to wear, and guns to use. His Holiness hurried on ahead, since the Chinese were expected at any moment. We remained behind with the Khampa fighters of the Chu-zhi Gang-drung. We planned to make a heroic stand, and to die fighting for His Holiness. But that is not what happened.”

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Deng Xiaoping and the Dalai Lama in 1954

Tibetan Buddhist Oracle Advises the Dalai Lama to Leave Tibet

In the late 1950s relations between Tibet and Chinese were very tense. There were open revolts and more and more bloodshed. Promised reforms were delayed. Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: "In 1959, the Dalai Lama faced the choice of staying in Tibet or escape into exile. China was pressing a "socialist transformation"; the Dalai Lama was receiving reports of atrocities. For advice, he turned to what he calls his "supernatural counsel" — the official Tibetan Buddhist oracle. The oracle went into a trance, advised the Dalai Lama to escape, reached for a pen and paper, and drew a map of the route through the mountains." [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

The Dalai Lama “relies most heavily on the "state oracle," a deity called Nechung, who communicates through a human medium, usually a monk.” According to the Dalai Lama's description in his memoir, the medium slips into a trance "with bulging eyes and swollen cheeks. . . . His breathing begins to shorten and he starts to hiss violently." The Dalai Lama poses questions, and the oracle responds with enigmatic advice. On complex affairs of state, he writes, "I seek his opinion in the same way as I seek the opinion of my Cabinet." For further help, the Dalai Lama relies on a form of mo divination, in which choices are written on pieces of paper and placed in balls of dough. He then swirls the balls in a cup until the right answer tumbles out. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

When how he balances his trust in science with his faith in the supernatural, he told The New Yorker that he views the oracles as "consultants." "After I consult human beings and these oracles, if there's something clear, something which I can now decide, thenI decide,” he told me. He said he had made “all major decisions” from the age of sixteen with the help of the oracles, and he had become convinced that they are correct.

“These days, the Nechung medium is Thupten Ngodup, an amiable fiftyish monk who likes to garden in his spare time,” Osnos wrote.. “When I visited him one morning in Dharamsala, he explained that he’d been an ordinary monk, overseeing the sculptures and incense at a monastery, until one day, in 1987, when the deity suddenly chose him as the medium — a physical sensation that he compared to an electric shock. “My position is very difficult,” he said. He had joined the monastery at the age of nine, never expecting much drama. “When the oracle chooses me, I?m just a normal monk.” His job now requires him to be on call whenever the Dalai Lama needs a consultation. “Anytime His Holiness needs, he calls.”

Dalai Lama's Leaves Lhasa

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Dalai Lama greets protestors
In 1959, the Dalai Lama wrote, "the crisis had almost reached Lhasa. I had to leave." In March 1959, 30,000 Tibetans surrounded Summer Palace at Norbulingka, where the Dalai Lama was staying, as 30,000 Chinese soldiers were preparing to move on the palace. Followers of the Dalai Lama were worried he might be kidnaped, imprisoned or even killed. One pro-Beijing lama was stoned to death. The Dalai Lama later wrote he felt like he was between "two volcanoes, each likely to erupt an any moment.”

The Dalai Lama decided it was time go. On the night of March 17, after mortar shells had exploded in the palace ground, the Dalai Lama disguised himself as a soldier — donning “unfamiliar trousers and a long black coat” and flung a gun of his shoulder and fled Lhasa with 52 monks in similar disguises who pretended to be on patrol. His golden robe was left on a coach at Potala Palace awaiting his return.

Monks and warriors aided the Dalai Lama's escape by staying behind and fighting the Chinese. Tibetans caught helping the Dalai Lama escape, were given long prison sentences and placed in horrible camps, where many starved to death.

Dalai Lama's Escape from Tibet

The 23-year-old Dalai Lama left Lhasa on March 17, 1959. The Dalai Lama was 23 years old Dalai when he left Lhasa. He traveled with 37 people, including his chamberlain, an abbot and three bodyguards. His family, monks, cabinet ministers and other bodyguards were in other small groups. Many senior monks also left.

The Dalai Lama traveled most of the distance on a brown horse with richly embroidered saddlebags. After crossing the Kyichi River in skin coracles, the Dalai Lama and his group traveled down the Tsangpo River (Brahmaputra) as far as it would take them and then traveled by horseback and on foot on trails through the Himalayas. There are stories that the Dalai Lama created a belt of clouds to hide his retinue from the Chinese Air Force.

The journey from Tibet to India almost killed the Dalai Lama. He endured thunderstorms, long stretches without water and a dangerous blizzard at Lagoe Pass. "We had to cross high passes," the Dalai Lama wrote. "By the time we reached the border, we were exhausted and sick with fever and dysentery."

C.I.A. officials were notified of the Dalai Lama escape. They contacted the Indian government and arranged to have the Dalai Lama and his entourage granted asylum in India. After two weeks of trekking and hiding in the Himalayas, the escape party reached the Indian border. The Dalai Lama arrived to exile in India on March 31. By the time he reached the Indian border he couldn't walk or ride. "I was too ill even to ride a horse. I was put on the back a hybrid yak to be carried out my native land," he said.

Jiang Zemin told the Times of London that the Chinese could have captured the Dalai Lama as he was feeling to India if they wanted. He said, I have myself looked at the record to see what happened, The Dalai Lama was surrounded on a hill. Mao was consulted on what to do. He sent an instruction not to capture him, but to let him leave.”

The Dalai Lama was followed by thousands of refugees, many of whom expected a short stay; when they were urged to plant trees in their settlements, they scoffed at the idea. "People said, 'We're going to be going back in a few years,' " Thubten Samphel, a writer and spokesman for the government in exile later told The New Yorker. "Trees will take fifty years to grow, so what's the point?" [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

Book: “In Exile in the Land of the Snows” by John Avedon describes the 1959 flight into exile by the Dalai Lama.

Dalai Lama in India

When the Dalai Lama arrived in India in 1959 he was still largely ignorant to the ways of the modern world. "While I was leaving Lhasa...many of us made a calculation that things would be solved within a short period," the Dalai Lama told Reuter. "But after reaching India, then we began to realize that it may take a few decades."

The Dalai Lama continued his education in Kashmir, Ladakh and refugee camps in Simla. He finally settled for a life in exile in Dharamsala, a small Himalayan town in northern India near the Tibet and Nepal borders. He lived off of donations and gold and silver that he astutely deposited in Sikkim in 1950 when the Chinese arrived.

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “In the sixties, reports from inside Tibet told of ill-fated farming experiments and brutal ideological campaigns. The Dalai Lama focused on absorbing refugees, while deepening his religious studies, especially Buddhist conceptions of compassion, interdependence, and “emptiness,” according to which any person or phenomenon is by itself devoid, or “empty,” of intrinsic identity. He studied the religious and political lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Baba Amte, and they left a lasting impression on him. “

By1971,”he had come alive philosophically.” The Dalai Lama was travelling and lecturing, and he had discovered that esoteric teachings had a limited Western audience; he developed talks that focussed on a more accessible concept of “basic human values.”

"Exile has made me tougher," the Dalai Lama said. "We planned and founded large communities to preserve Tibetan culture and atmosphere, where we could establish monasteries and build Tibetan schools for our children." The Dalai Lama's younger brother Tenzing Choegyal said, exile has "enabled him to realize his full potential. In the Potala, he was secluded and isolated. If one good thing has come out of his having to leave, it was that he was exposed to his own people and the world. He was given the chance to see things as they really are."

In Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama and his followers have set up a mini-Tibet with monasteries, Tibetans running around in traditional clothes, a Constitution, an elected government and schools that offer instruction in English and Tibetan. He is well known and respected in India outside of Dharamsala. On July 6, 1995, when the Dalai Lama turned 60, there was a three day celebration in New Delhi.

In July 2010, the Dalai Lama celebrated his 75th birthday in India. He greeted hundreds of well-wishers and looked over a series of posters that depicted him at various periods of his life. He received gifts of white scarves and listened to children play flutes and beating drums.

Dalai Lama, Elie Weisel, Washington and China

In the late 1970s, the Dalai Lama the late seventies, he asked for a meeting with Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor. According to Wiesel, the Dalai Lama said, “I’m familiar with your work, what you wrote about the Jewish people losing a homeland two thousand years ago, and how you’re still here. Mine has just lost its homeland, and I know it’s going to be a very long road into exile. How did you survive?”

Wiesel replied, “When we left Jerusalem, we didn’t take all our jewels with us. All we took was a little book. It was the book that kept us alive. Second, because of our exile we developed a sense of solidarity. When Jews left one place for the next, there were always Jews to welcome and take care of them. And, third, good memory. Survival takes a good memory.” Then Wiesel took the Dalai Lama to Washington, where he met Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress and a vocal human-rights advocate. Lantos introduced him to other lawmakers... At the time that he was exploring Washington, the Chinese leaders were experimenting with a more relaxed policy in Tibet, and they opened talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

Privately, some Tibetan officials argued for a bargaining strategy of demanding independence from China, even if they never expected to get it, as a means of obtaining at least some concessions. But the Dalai Lama rejected that idea, saying the approach was morally flawed. “They’re saying something, but their real hope is for something different. It’s wrong,” he told me. The talks failed, and, in the years since, many Tibetan leaders have looked back regretfully. “I think those of us serving His Holiness maybe could have been a little bit more bold,” Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s envoy in Washington, told me recently. He added, “Many decades later, with more gray hair, I sometimes pinch myself to say, “Maybe . . .” — He trailed off.

Image Sources: Dalai Lama com, Purdue University, Cosmic Harmony

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2011

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