Dalai Lama – Biography

Biography

The Dalai Lama is the fourteenth leader in a line of Buddhist spiritual and political leaders of Tibet. Buddhists are followers of Gautama Buddha (c. 563–c. 483 B.C.E.), who believed the troubles of this life can be overcome through moral and mental discipline. The Dalai Lama fled his country and took safety in India in 1959 during the revolt against Chinese control of Tibet. Since that time, while still in exile (a forced or a voluntary absence from one’s country), he has promoted Tibetan religious and cultural traditions.

Early Family Life

The name given the Dalai Lama when he was born on July 6, 1935, was Lhamo Thondup. He came from a very small village in northeast Tibet called Taktser. At that time there were only twenty families living in all of Taktser. “Dalai Lama” is a name of honor and respect that was given to him by the Buddhist monks of Tibet. “Lama” means “teacher” or “wise person.” “Dalai” means “ocean.” When put together Dalai Lama is translated as “Ocean of Wisdom.”

The young Dalai Lama’s parents were farmers who raised sheep and grew barley, buckwheat, and potatoes. In addition to Lhamo there were six other children in the family, four boys and two girls.

The Dalai Lama

The current Dalai Lama is the fourteenth person to hold that title in straight succession. This means the role is passed from one person to another with no break in order. The people of Tibet believe that when one Dalai Lama dies he is reincarnated (reborn) in a young child. In other words, they believe that the soul of the current Dalai Lama is the same soul that was in the first Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lamas have been the head of the order of Gelugpa Buddhism, which means “Yellow Hat,” since the fourteenth century. The Dalai Lama took on the additional role of political leader in the seventeenth century. All Dalai Lamas since that time have had that dual responsibility.

How He Was Discovered

The thirteenth Dalai Lama died in December of 1933. When he died, the Buddhist monks prayed for guidance to find the new Dalai Lama. They felt signs and oracles (divine answers or prophecies) would lead them to him. They finally received a vision that the new Dalai Lama would be found in the northeast part of Tibet. He would be living in a house that had strange gutters and that was near a monastery (a place where monks live and pray).

Many monks went out on the journey. After much searching, a group of them came to the village of Taktser, which has a monastery nearby. There they found Lhamo at his house, which had strangely shaped gutters. They spoke to him and to his parents and performed a test. The monks had brought several items with them from their home monastery. Some of the items had belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama and others were imitations or just common objects. Lhamo correctly identified the objects that had belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama. The monks knew they had found the reincarnation of their leader. Lhamo was two years old at the time.

His Education

The monks took Lhamo to a monastery in Kumbum, Tibet. For two years he was given the basic education he would need to lead his country both spiritually and politically. After this he was brought to the Potala palace in Lhasa, the capital of the country. The Potala palace is a structure of over one thousand rooms built into a mountain. There he took his place on the Lion Throne, a richly carved, wooden throne covered with jewels. He was only four years old on February 22, 1940, when the monks declared that he was the new Dalai Lama. He took the name Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso

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